Tough Times: Lessons Learned

Wow, the industry is a mess! It’s the worst it’s been since I started working as a Web designer in ’96. There’s always so much spin and hype that it’s hard to tell the truth from the lies. Everyone is trying to sway the turmoil to his or her advantage, and Internet advertising has gotten the worst rap out there.

Be careful who you listen to and how you position yourself in the industry. The demise of marchFIRST and massive layoffs are just as much the result of a market correction as the consequence of an industry growing too quickly to accommodate the need for qualified people who understand the medium. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak.

Remember This…

The industry has made a lot of progress over the last few years, such as usable interface design, rich media development, and information architecture, to name just a few of its accomplishments. The creative/technology hybridization that has occurred in our industry has been built with hard-won experience and shouldn’t be discounted because of the negative hysteria out there right now. Here are a few hard-learned lessons that everyone should remember and apply as the industry recovers so that when it does finally recover, we can continue to build, but this time on a more solid foundation.

  1. Quality over quantity. Quite often over the last few years, I’ve worked at agencies that were concerned only with churning out tons of ads under the theory that the most hooks catch the most fish. This is like the myth that the first mover into the space will own it. Great work speaks for itself, and a really great hook will catch the most fish without annoying anyone.

  2. Ignore the user experience at your own peril. The majority of the Web population is still constrained by low bandwidth. Creatives who work in interactive can sometimes forget that and create ads and sites that look great on a G4 with a T1 line, but the majority of your audience is going to experience something akin to trying to thread an elephant through a needle.

  3. Users don’t want excuses. You’ve got a great idea, but by the time it’s executed and online, it looks like an overoptimized piece of “something.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to advertising sites with an overoptimized JPEG the size of the screen that takes seconds and/or minutes too long to download. When I see this, my first thought is, Here’s another dinosaur, or traditional-agency “interactive” idea. I bet it looked great when it was sold to the client as a Photoshop comp.

  4. Users don’t wait. Everyone hates to wait, and, by now, everyone should have learned that long downloads suck. I’ve seen up to 75 percent drop-off on a marketing site that had a long downloading screen (30 seconds on a 56K modem). It doesn’t matter how great your idea is if most people won’t wait around to see it.

  5. Interact with consumers; don’t broadcast to them. Another error I’ve seen again and again in online advertising is the ads and/or sites that broadcast their message to consumers. Telling people something online doesn’t work nearly as well as enticing them to interact, providing them the opportunity to prove the value of your proposition. It’s the interactive variation of the old axiom “Show, don’t tell.”

  6. Make your ads relevant. Consumers are barraged with more than 600 ads per day across all media, so unless it’s really remarkable and encoded specifically for them, fuggetaboutit.

  7. Defend your ideas. There’s a lot of hype and spin out there, but if you know your stuff, stick to your guns. There will always be people who “don’t get it,” and if you try to be all things to all people, you end up being nothing to no one. Creatives are the consumers’ advocates and the final barrier to mediocrity. No one will care later why your team watered down a great idea to pablum; they just see the pablum.

  8. Never lose your edge. In times like these, we are busting our asses to keep our jobs because the job market is so tough. But during the good times, it’s easy to get complacent and coast. At the end of the day, you’re only as good as your last campaign or your last site design, and the market can take a serious downturn in one quarter. Never forget that, and keep your portfolio up-to-date and fresh at all times.

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