About Colleen Ross

Marketing Director. Book lover. Mac n' cheese connoisseur. World traveler. Slight technophobe making her way in a fast-paced, mobile-friendly world.

An Introduction to Redis

Originally posted by Algonquin Studios’ Developer Colin Higgins on his blog.

Redis is an open-source, networked, in-memory, key-value data store with optional durability. It is written in ANSI C. The development of Redis is sponsored by VMware. It’s often referred to as a data structure server, as keys can contain strings, hashes, lists, sets and sorted sets.

Simply put, the Redis data model is a dictionary where keys are mapped to values. One of the key advantages of Redis is that it is not limited to storing strings.The session storage native to .NET stores complex objects as well, however, the ability to join between is limited to what you code out, or what is available in ADO.NET/LINQ.

Also, the speed gained from having your session storage in memory could be invaluable. This is an alternative to hitting your relational database in order to persist user specific data between pages.

Redis supports high level atomic server side operations like intersection, union, and difference between sets and sorting of lists, sets and sorted sets.

Persistence

Redis, in typical setups, holds it’s dataset in RAM. This raises some eyebrows for developers concerned about losing data. Persistence is reached in a few different ways.

One method is snapshotting. At determined time intervals, the dataset is asynchronously transferred from memory to disk. The safest alternative is to use journaling. Journaling uses an append-only file that is written to as operations that modify the dataset in memory are processed. In order to avoid indefinite growth, Redis is able to rewrite the append-only file.

Redundancy

Redis supports master-slave replication. Redis slaves are writeable, which allows for inconsistencies between instances. Replication is useful for read (not write) scalability or data redundancy.

Performance

The nature of Redis being in-memory means that it is very, very fast. It is considered a low function, high speed database system. Naturally, the more complexity you add to any system, the more it will slow down. Redis has pub/sub, and transactions. To my knowledge, you’ll have to be okay with optimistic locking. The performance jumps experienced are mainly due to Redis not needing to write immediately to disk every time a change is made.

In conclusion… Redis can very easily be compared to memcached. People preach it’s gospel as just an inter-process communication mechanism. It is also a good caching layer. I would not recommend it as a NoSQL replacement for an RDBMS, but it would work fantastically alongside one. Also, I’ve been hearing a decent bit about Kyoto… I hear it’s faster? I’ll have to update in the future.

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Dialing Up The Web

Originally posted by Algonquin Studios CEO, Steven Raines, on September 23, 2012, on his blog.

When I first met Stephen Kiernan over 15 years ago, my business partner, mentor, friend, and the former CEO of Algonquin Studios was already an experienced programmer, analyst, and professional consultant. Just a few years earlier, I’d been in college working on sites for this new thing called “the World Wide Web” but by the time Algonquin Studios was hired to build a claims adjudication system for a national third-party administrator people had decided that this “Internet” thing probably wasn’t going away.

Early in his career, Steve worked in a software development package called KnowledgeMan, an all-in-one database / UI / business logic development environment. He’d kept up his technical chops in the Microsoft Windows environment as the databases became separate and 4GL languages were taken over by object-oriented ones. I viewed him as supremely technically savvy for someone I then viewed as an “old guy,” which is why I found it funny that Steve, despite his keen mind, didn’t use any of the terms for the web that my other partners and me, or anyone else we knew, used. Instead, he used these weird terms that harkened back to the days of Tomcat BBS. As an example, when he wanted us to see something on the Internet, he’d always say “Dial up that web site” as though he was expecting the screech of a modem at the beginning of each browser launch. This engendered more than a little good natured ribbing from the other partners and myself in those early days when half of the work day was sitting around trying to figure out how to be a business that didn’t make “real” things.

In the last year, I turned the same age that Stephen was when I first met him. In looking back over those years I realized how many of his antiquated (in the sense that things that are older than three years are ancient in the technical world) ways of referencing things had become my own. Not that I’d adopted his specific terms so much as developed my own which must seem equally ridiculous and anachronistic to the young men and women we have hired.

It’s not that I don’t know what I am talking about. It’s said that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert and as anyone who has started a business knows, you invest far more than 2,080 hours a year to grow one. Technology doesn’t grow at a pace that can outstrip that much effort and experience, at least not in just a few years. Instead, it becomes a badge of honor to reference those earlier days when things seemed simpler, whether they really were or not. There is an implication that somehow the things that are done after what you have been through are less visceral and meaningful; somewhere between “you kids have it easy” and “standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Steve could have done all of what we did. Most of the technology was based on things he’d done early in his career. Still, as far as the web was concerned, he decided that it was best left for new dogs. It may be that you can’t escape the technological mindset that you have when you are young and obligation free enough to throw yourself fully into the technology and as you get older you eventually hit a threshold after which the only thing that matters is whether something works… not whether you made it with your own hands. What he kept for himself and shared was his reflections on his triumphs and mistakes and the lessons he’d learned working in those early systems that were in some ways much simpler and in some ways so much more complicated than what we were doing. I know it was a hard transition for him to make… from player to coach, especially now that I find myself in the dug out with my only at-bats in a cage demonstrating mostly to myself that I can still hit the ball.

More than once I have found myself using my own “backward” terminology with my team on purpose, like an inside joke with only one participant. I wonder now whether it was really Steve who was the one messing with us when he used to “dial up” that web site instead of the other way around.

I do find it ironic after all those years of chastising him for it we are now on the verge of having the majority of web use being from mobile devices. It turns out that maybe Steve was right in hanging on to that old dial-up reference. We are now far more likely to use a phone to get to a web site (or at least web services) than we are to make a call. I was recently looking at my phone and found myself thinking “Why do I have the phone icon pinned to every screen when there are plenty of apps I use WAY more often?” Perhaps it’s time to revisit some of his other anachronisms to mine them for the next big thing. After all, don’t they say everything old is new again?

Client Engagement… In The Face of Summer Hours and Vacations

We’re in the midst of the Dog Days of Summer. It’s been so, so hot lately and, here in Buffalo, it hasn’t really rained in what feels like a year. Certainly, just getting to work can feel like an accomplishment on these 90 degree days, but once I am here, one of the real challenges of any marketer’s job begins – keeping engagement rates up in a time of summer hours, long lunches, and 2 week-long vacations.

Based on research conducted by our email vendor, I’m proud to say that Algonquin’s email outreach attempts are usually incredibly successful. We consistently record email open rates of approximately 12% higher than our industry’s average, with click-through rates at an even-higher 15%. Come summer, these numbers drop a bit, not unexpectedly (thanks to those pesky vacations, I’m sure), but we still record rates well above the average for other companies in the consulting and professional services fields.

How? I’m so glad you asked…

Consistency
Once upon a time, the marketing team here at Algonquin picked a monthly newsletter “publication” date and we’ve stuck to it. While our choice was random – the second Wednesday of every month – I don’t think the results we’ve seen are. By consistently delivering content to our clients and prospects at the same time each month, we’ve set an expectation that we’re now living up to. When our newsletter pops up in their mailboxes, our recipients aren’t surprised… they’ve been expecting it. In fact, I like to think they’ve been looking forward to receiving it and are excited about reading its contents and learning more about what’s happening at Algonquin Studios.

Quality
Obviously, we could provide the most consistent schedule of emails known to man, but if they didn’t contain interesting, relevant information those emails would probably never get read. While it’s easy to generate sales copy touting the next great idea or product, offering real substance is more difficult but it’s also what keeps clients listening. Here at Algonquin, we like to feature recently completed projects, as a way to both showcase our work and give clients ideas about how we might be able to help them; we always include information about our non-profit soccer program, so that clients and friends are kept up to date on the exciting work Buffalo Soccer Club staff and volunteers are doing with children in the City of Buffalo; and we offer information on the user groups and webinars we run to help clients get the most out from their technology.

Loyalty
If you’re a regular reader of the Algonquin Studios blog, you’ve probably heard us talk about our relationship-building approach to business. Here at Algonquin, we’re not looking to be a quick fix or one-time vendor for our clients; we want to establish a longterm relationship with the companies that need our services, getting to know their businesses and pain points and providing consulting and web and software development that will make real, positive impacts on the way they do business. Our focus is on these longterm relationships, not flash-in-the-pan interactions and I think our email recipients may be more likely to read our emails because they know and trust us and understand that our communications will provide value, rather than simply being a vehicles to drive sales.

Fun
This last one might seem a little silly (how appropriate), but having fun is an important part of the way we do business. Afterall humor is one of the Four H’s we espouse here at Algonquin. So, we try to make sure there’s something fun in our monthly newsletters. For example, every month we run a trivia contest and offer our readers the chance to win a prize (this summer, we’ve been giving away 4 packs of tickets to Buffalo Bisons’ games). It may seem like a little thing, but most of us like to win things and if the trivia contest keeps people coming back from more Algonquin Studios news, I’m ok with that!

So, now that you’ve heard about how we do things here at Algonquin, tell me… How does your company work at engaging clients and keep them coming back for more?

Learn from my Mistakes: Switching to Mac

Originally posted by Algonquin Studios CEO, Steven Raines, on June 19, 2012, on his blog.

Last year, in order to work on a project targeted at the iPhone, I switched my primary computer to a Macbook Pro. At that point I hadn’t used a Mac in over 20 years, so it was a significant transition for me. After about 8 months, I am generally very pleased with the Mac so I thought I’d share some of the things that I have learned in the transition.

You still need Windows. The Mac comes with a lot of great software, but you are almost certainly going to need Windows. Because of Apple’s relatively small market share, lots of applications are not available for the Mac. Visio, Subversion, and numerous financial packages just aren’t available for Mac. If you use Exchange, support for Outlook on the Mac is severely diminished (see below.)

There are a number of solutions for running Windows as a VM on the Mac, and my personal recommendation is Parallels Dekstop for Mac. In Parallels, you can create a VM and run the software in what they call “Confluence” mode, which allows you to run Windows applications on the Mac desktop instead of having a separate Windows desktop (which you can also do.) It also allows you to merge your Windows and Mac Desktops, Documents, Pictures, etc. The best part about having the Windows VM is that its just a file so you can back it up. And Mac’s Time Machine is nice enough to let you restore an older version when an Windows Update goes awry.

Quick tip: Make sure for Mac has at least 8MB of RAM (sorry Air owners) to get good performance from both systems.

Another Quick Tip: The Mac Remote Desktop Client is also crash-prone. If you need to connect to another machine via Terminal Service, do so with a Windows Client.

Key Mapping is Key The Mac keyboard is greatly simplified compared to the Windows keyboard and the most notable omission is the Backspace key. When running a Windows VM this key acts as the Backspace and Option-Delete acts as Delete. Similarly, All your standard “Control” options (Cut, Copy, Paste) use the Command key on the Mac instead of the Control key (which is still there.) Fortunately, Windows reads both Control and Command as Control, so you can get into the habit of always using Command.

Quick tip: You can map keys between the VM and Mac. If you are using Parallels in Desktop mode, I recommend Mapping Control-Option-Command-Delete to Control-Alt-Delete in the VM. That way, you don’t have to use a mouse to unlock or log into your Windows desktop.

Email is Apparently a Deprecated Technology Email on iOS is WAY better than on the Mac. Don’t expect the iOS experience for mail if you use Exchange.

To connect to Exchange, you need to use Apple Mail or Outlook and neither is a great option. The Mac version of Outlook 2011 lacks many of the features of the software available on Windows and doesn’t use PST files, so you can’t just attach to old mail archives (all mail must be imported.) It can’t talk to Exchange 2003 so if you are n a split environment you won’t be able to view other users calendars or folders and Outlook for Mac only supports one server address, so if you use an internal work Exchange server and you at home you will have to connect to a VPN to access it.

Apple Mail / iCal / Address Book appear to connect easily and support internal / external addresses with auto resolution,  but I had problems getting them to reliably sync, which is not a problem I had on iOS. This caused issues with contact updates not coming through and periodically I’d have to Force Quit Apple Mail to get it to start syncing again. I can only hope the convergence in the newest release of MacOS will resolve this. Additionally, using Apple’s tools won’t allow you to see shared calendars, so if that is important to you, consider installing the Windows version of Outlook on your windows VM. I have tried both and have recently switched back from Apple Mail to using Outlook and when I am at home, using Outlook web access (or my iOS devices.) At this point, OWA is getting sophisticated enough that it may be all you need (though you’ll likely still need two separate URLs to connect at work and at home.)

If you use the Outlook for Windows solution, get used to Option-Delete to remove junk mail. Just hitting Delete is the same as the Backspace so it will navigate you to the previous screen instead of removing messages.

Turn on Single Touch clicks The Macbook track pad has a lot of resistance for clicks. In the Track Pad settings, you can turn on single touch clicking so you only have to tap the track pad to get it to respond.

Where’s my Menu? In Windows, the main application menu is always on the application window you are working in but on the Mac, the main menu always appears at the top of the screen. This takes a lot of getting used to… especially when working on multiple screens and having to go to the main window to access the “File” menu.

Closing Apps Doesn’t Close Them. Except when it Does On Windows, I expect the “X”  in the title bar to kill the application. On the Mac, some applications do close (Address Book) but some only close the window you are working with and leave the core application running (Safari, MS Word, etc.)

Add Windows Explorer to your Task Bar If you make a lot of use of tools that are integrated into the Windows Explorer and go the Confluence route with Parallels, Adding the Windows Explorer bar to your Dock makes things a lot easier. Finder integration is limited.

You probably don’t need Adobe (unless you are a designer) Preview does a great job of rendering PDFs, so there is no need for Acrobat Reader and you don’t need anything special to make PDFs. Mac has the built in ability to make PDFs right from the “Print” option in any program. At the bottom left of the Print dialog is a “PDF” option. You can also use the built in Preview application to merge multiple PDFs into one. Simply open a PDF, open the Sidebar view and drag additional PDF documents to the Sidebar. When you are done, Print using the PDF option outlined above and you’ll get a merged PDF.

If you just occasionally edit photos and  you don’t want to shell out a few hundred dollars for Adobe licenses, consider using Seashore. This is a great little program that does all the key features the casual user is likely to need for photo editing for free. Or check out the App Store.

Quick Tip: You are, of course, going to install Flash and Adobe has a nasty habit of putting its uninstallers in Launch Pad (which you can’t move to the Trash Can.) Instead, create a folder to hold the Adobe junk and put it in a Launch Pad window far off to the right of all of your other applications.

Up Up Down Down Left… Magic Key Combos. You can capture any screen with COMMAND-SHIFT-3. You can select an area of a screen to capture with COMMAND-SHIFT-4. In both cases, the results are saved to your desktop. Add CONTROL to the key stroke and get the images captured to your clipboard instead.

Like Windows, you can switch between apps with COMMAND-TAB. However, you can also switch between Windows within the current application by using COMMAND-~. This is super helpful if you have multiple windows open in Safari, word, etc.

Quick Tip: Apple provides an updated list of general and application specific short-cuts.

Shankman in Buffalo – Part Two

In yesterday’s post, I covered the first two tenets of Peter Shankman’s recent presentation in Buffalo “The Next Revolution Will Happen in Your Pocket” or “Social media is providing your customers with what they want, when and how they want it. And that is great customer service.” Today, I’ll recap numbers three and four:

3) Be Brief and Learn How to Write Well!

Easily my favorite of Shankman’s points started out with a tidbit about the attention span of the average American today – a shockingly low 2.7 seconds. Coincidentally, the same amount of time it takes to read a headline… or 140 characters. And so, Shankman encouraged us to practice brevity in order to gain our prospects’ attention.

But the real take-away from Shankman’s third point was his belief that bad writing is destroying America. I couldn’t agree more, Peter.

Shankman believes that the art of writing well is all but lost today and that businesses need to make sure that everyone in the organization is committed to improving their writing. Competition abounds and it’s difficult enough to set our companies apart; Shankman espouses the idea that great writing is hugely impactful and helps people see you as knowledgable and trustworthy. I think he’s right on target.

4) Stay “Top of Mind”

Shankman’s last tip was to make sure you’re the first option people think of when they think about what you do.

He told a great story about when Barry Diller joined Paramount Pictures as CEO in the 70s. The studio was the least successful in Hollywood but Diller was committed to turning the tide. According to Shankman, Diller went in to work every morning, pulled out his rolodex, randomly selected a few cards, and called those people just to check in. Provided you were someone of reasonable “standing” in show business, you could expect a phone call from Paramount’s CEO a couple of times a year.

So, when you had a new script you wanted read or a hot young actor you wanted to audition for a role, who would you turn to? Shankman points out that you could either hope and pray that someone at another studio would talk to you or you could simply return Barry’s call. Because Diller frequently reached out to his contacts with no motive other than to say “hi” and no sales agenda in his back pocket, he stayed top-of-mind for many in the industry and helped turn his studio around.

Shankman wants us to reach out to our customers, not just with attempts to make sales and announce new products or services, but simply to stay engaged. And he reminds us to really listen to what our customers are saying when we do check in with them.

You can check out Peter Shankman’s site and blog for more of his unique perspective on social media, marketing and PR, and customer service.

Shankman in Buffalo – His Basic Tenets for Great Customer Service

Last Thursday, the Advertising Club of Buffalo hosted a night with marketing and PR guru Peter Shankman. Shankman, founder of Help a Reporter Out and The Geek Factory, a boutique marketing strategy firm in NYC, is also an author, keynote speaker, and consultant to both NASA and the Pentagon. Needless to say, he knows his stuff and is pretty well-respected in the marketing world; I certainly feel lucky that I got the chance to hear him speak.

Shankman’s speech was little bit rambling and more than a little bit funny. There were times the laughter in the room was so loud, I couldn’t hear what he was saying. There were also times I wondered “where’s he going with this?” But, at the end of the presentation, I knew exactly what his point was and I felt excited and empowered to bring the takeaways back here to Algonquin and put them into practice.

Shankman’s main point was a simple one: in the face of exploding social media options and instantaneous news outlets the most important thing a company can do to stay in business is provide good customer service. And he provided four basic tenets for making sure you’re staying ahead of the game; I’ll cover the first two today and visit the others tomorrow.

1) Own Your Own Stuff

Shankman argued that branding and owning everything you do – whether good or bad – is vital to the success of your business. He pointed out that, thanks to technology and social media, any good thing you produce, product or idea, can easily be snatched up and redistributed to the masses in mere moments. If it doesn’t have your name all over it, someone else can take credit and your moment of glory, and maybe even your payday, could be lost forever.

The flip side of the “owning it” coin is, of course, that you have to own your mistakes as well. Sure, you might take some heat when you admit you’ve messed up, but Shankman pointed out there’s nothing Americans love more than building up the person we were tearing down yesterday. Heck, a comeback story is always the best kind of story, right?

2) Be Relevant

Shankman rightly reminded us that the direction of a company is controlled, not by its shareholders, management, or employees but by its customers.  If we’re not giving the people want they want, they’ll find another provider and leave us for them. We have to actively ask our customers what they want (and how they want it) and then we have to give it to them. It’s the only way to guarantee continued success.

He also encouraged us to “embrace the concept, not the brand” and to make sure we know where our audience is. Social media changes daily and what we assume is the next big thing might not carry any weight with the people actually buying our products. If I’m tweeting away but my prospects are checking out my competition on Facebook or Pinterest, what good is Twitter doing me?

So, what do you think of Shankman’s first two customer service tenets? How does your company ensure you’re providing a great experience for your customers and prospects?

Google Penguin, a Focus on Better Content

In late April Google activated new ranking algorithm changes intended to help rid the world of sites and blogs that link excessively, with no regard for quality; engage in keyword stuffing; an/or publish lots of meaningless content in order to get search engine traffic.

Whenever Google rolls out changes to their search/ranking algorithms, a lot of people take notice. And a lot of those people also freak out – I’ve heard stories of small businesses laying off workers in response to the Penguin changes – but I’m pretty happy about them (well, what I know about them so far), and here’s why:

They put the focus on quality content writing.

No more clogging your content with keywords, just for keyword clogging sake. Now SEO is about giving your site visitors relevant information in a clear, concise manner and using keywords when appropriate. Try to cram more in there than necessary and you might even get penalized or removed from the search results, altogether. Focusing on useful, helpful, and educational content that provides real value will keep visitors interested and coming back for more and now, maybe more than ever, it will also keep search engines happy. This is a beautiful thing.

As a writer in the digital world, I’ve spent years arguing for relevant, engaging content that really deserves to be published. At a former job, which I held from 2002-2008, my role went from that of copywriter, editor, and proofreader to something more akin to assembly line worker –  just another cog in the machine, pushing blog posts, articles and advertising copy down the pipe toward publication without any concern for quality or content. It wasn’t that I stopped caring about the work I was producing; but my bosses and our clients certainly did. More was better, cheap SEO was the way to get traffic, and, eventually, my entire department was eliminated as management shifted to a “quantity over quality” mindset that didn’t see the benefit in an editorial department.

With Google bringing us all back to well-written, truly informative content, vindication is mine! Gosh, I love being right.

What do you think of the Penguin updates? Is your company finding it difficult to adjust to the changes or has your focus always been giving the people what they want (quality!) rather than caving to the SEO gods (optimization at all costs!)?

Check out some related info:

  • Good Design Starts with Good Content – Our report on the balance between design and content details ways to ensure you’re providing site visitors with quality, readable content that’s supported by successful web design.
  • SEO Myths Debunked – We cover our favorite myths and point out how to spot peddlers of misinformation.
  • Does Google take manual action on webspam? – Answers from Matt Cutts, Head of Google’s webspam team.
  • Five Common Mistakes in SEO – With special attention paid to Mistake # 4, which starts around the 4:45 minute mark.
  • Google’s Webmaster Guidelines – Following Google’s design and content, technical, and quality guidelines will help the search engine find, index, and rank your site.

Making a Difference, One New Soccer Player at a Time

Author: Anna-Lesa Calvert, Program Director of Buffalo Soccer Club

“Coach Tex, my mom is going to be so proud of me!”

These are the moments that, as Program Director for a youth development program, I live for. For me, there’s nothing better than a child beaming with pride because his good behavior warranted him the opportunity to play soccer with me for a couple of hours and I’m so excited that I’m about to have similar experiences in the coming year.

In November 2011 the U.S. Soccer Foundation issued a Request for Proposal for organizations throughout the country to apply for their Soccer For Success grant program. While I knew that Buffalo Soccer Club (BSC) would be able to successfully implement a program like Soccer for Success, the grant required large amounts of data collection and measurement and a dollar-for-dollar grant match. So, I also knew that in order to submit a successful grant application and bring all of the opportunities involved in Soccer for Success to the children of Buffalo, we would need to partner with other trusted non-profit organizations in the WNY community.

With that in mind, BSC leadership approached the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County to see if they were willing to collaborate with us on the grant. After seeing the value of the Soccer for Success program, the United Way agreed and we began to move forward in the grant writing process. We determined that BSC would be in charge of running and implementing the program and the United Way would help with the administration and data measurements. But, we were still looking for our dollar-for-dollar match partner.

It was good fortune that we coincidentally learned that the Independent Health Foundation was also planning to apply for the same Soccer For Success grant. BSC and the United Way reached out to the Foundation and our three organizations agreed to work together to make our grant application as strong as possible to benefit the students of the Buffalo Public School system. In late February our organizations learned that our application was one of only 13 in the country, and the only one in New York State, to earn one of these prestigious $300,000.00 Social Innovation Fund sub-grants.

Soccer for Success Grant Partners

Members of the team from the United Way, the Independent Health Foundation, and Algonquin Sports for Kids pose with Otis Barker, Deputy Commissioner of Community Services for the City of Buffalo, and children from PS54 at the press conference announcing the grant award on May 2, 2012.

And so, earlier this week I participated in BSC’s first major press conference at Buffalo PS54, one of the schools we’ll be running the programming from, and met the excited young man who told me how proud his mom was going to be when she learns of his participation in the Soccer for Success program. At the end of the day, this boy and other students like him are the reason Buffalo Soccer Club exists. I know that by providing even one child with such a positive experience through the opportunity to play sports and learn important life skills, we’re making a difference. And the Soccer for Success grant will make it possible for us to provide this same experience to even more children; helping them become strong, productive members of our community.

If you’d like to learn more about Buffalo Soccer Club and our programming feel free to check out the following:

Set to Give the Boot to Childhood Obesity; Buffalo News, May 3, 2012
Buffalo Soccer Club NYSWYSA Club of the Month
; New York State West Youth Soccer Association; February 2012
Laying the Soil
; Buffalo.com, July 12, 2011
BSC Earns National Grant
; Details a previous grant win from the U.S. Soccer Foundation

Building A Brand: Some Thoughts From LMA12

At last week’s Legal Marketing Association annual conference, I was lucky enough to get away from our exhibitor booth to attend a breakout session entitled The Evolution of the Law Firm Brand: How to Promote Individual Attorneys within the Parameters of the Firm’s Brand.*

Obviously, I don’t work at a law firm (though I did spend some time in my mid-20s at an old-school firm where the senior partners still smoked cigarettes in their offices and called members of their all-female support staff “baby.” Yes, I’m serious). But, I am responsible for helping to craft the Algonquin Studios brand and for translating it into “outbound communications that strengthen the firm’s marketing message” (stolen directly from my job description), so I figured I’d be able to find some interesting overlap in the marketing messages from this session, as they apply to a law firm or a professional services firm – and I was right!

Some great insights from the session:

For Law Firms

  • There are too many law firms, with too many lawyers, in the mix these days. Legal marketers need to focus on differentiating their firms and attorneys from the competition.

How We Can Apply it at Algonquin Studios

  • Similarly, there are many web and technology companies to choose from these days and our work is frequently commoditized. Clients are often looking for the best price rather than the most helpful service or reliable vendor. It’s important that we strive to constantly distinguish ourselves from the competition and show prospective clients how we’ll bring real expertise and value to our relationships.

For Law Firms

  • Focusing on individual attorneys’ personal brands, rather than pushing the firm’s brand, becomes incredibly important when you consider that 56-75% of legal site traffic happens on attorney bio pages.

How We Can Apply it at Algonquin Studios

  • A quick look at our analytics information shows that, while they don’t pull in the same super high percentage of traffic as bio pages on law firm sites apparently do, our principals’ bio pages and the AS “about” page both consistently rank in the top five for page views on our corporate site. Creating quality content for these pages – content that demonstrates our knowledge but, more importantly, helps site visitors feel connected to us – is not only smart, it’s vital to the success of our company.

For Law Firms

  • In order to make bio pages successful and accomplish the differentiation needed, the attorney and their personal story need to come through in the biographical content.

How We Can Apply it at Algonquin Studios

  • We need to humanize our professionals; allowing prospects to feel like they really know us, understanding what we can do for them and what a relationship with us will be like before they ever call our office or come in for a meeting. Site visitors should be able to tell what we do and, perhaps even more importantly, what we love about what we do.

For Law Firms

  • Legal marketers need to remember that it’s their job to facilitate, assist, and coordinate the creation of thought leadership content at their firms. And, they need to resist the urge to author content on the behalf of their attorneys.

How We Can Apply it at Algonquin Studios

  • In an ideal world, there would be a ton of people here at Algonquin able to pitch in on our content creation efforts. But we’re all incredibly busy and finding time to compose a blog post or co-author a report is tough. This is where our own marketing team comes in – encouraging folks to contribute, managing our editorial calendar, reminding authors of upcoming posts, offering to do preliminary research, and more. Sure, it might be easier (and possibly less time-consuming) to author it all ourselves and slap someone else’s name on it but the content we create needs to have a personality. And that personality needs to be genuine, which can be hard to pull off if you’re pretending to be someone else!

My takeaway from this session was that, while we’re on the right path, we’ve got some real work to do on the Algonquin Studios corporate site and in the creation of our thought leadership materials. I’m pretty excited about working on our brand and our corporate personality… and helping the talented individuals who make up the great team here at Algonquin work on theirs, too!

*Moderator: Adrian Dayton, CEO; Adrian Dayton & Associates
Presenters: Aden Dauchess, Dir. of Digital Media; Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice LLP
Robert Algeri, Partner, Great Jakes Marketing
Peter J. Winzig, Dir. of Mktg. & Corp. Development; Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co., LPA
Joe Calve, Chief Marketing Officer; Morrison & Foerster LLP

Marketing with QR Codes

Two weeks from today, I’ll be representing Algonquin Studios at the Legal Marketing Association’s annual conference. This year, in addition to exhibiting at the conference, Algonquin is participating as the official QR Code Sponsor and we’ve created what we think is a pretty cool and engaging interactive experience for conference attendees to participate in.

One component of this experience is a series of educational pieces about the use of QR codes in marketing but, since most readers of this blog won’t get to experience presentation we’ve developed for the LMA attendees, I thought I’d share some of the topics the presentation covers here:

Are QR Codes a Good Fit for Your Business?

Probably; they’re easily adaptable to many industries. Provided your clientele is comfortable with smartphone usage and wants to engage with you on an “outside the box” level, adding QR codes to your marketing campaigns is an easy way to boost visibility and reach. Just remember to stay focused on using codes in ways that provide your visitors with value and they’ll likely become a great addition to your overall advertising and brand awareness outreach.

How Can You Use Them?

Arguably the best thing about a QR code, from a marketing standpoint, is their wide range of applications. You can create codes that lead to information about your company, employees, products and more:

  • Employee bio pages or vCards
  • Event dates and registrations
  • Special offers and discounts
  • Social media profiles (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter)
  • How-to/Instructional videos
  • Product reviews/comparisons
  • Shopping cart pre-population
  • Phone numbers

And codes can be used on all sorts of company collateral:

  • Business cards
  • Signage
  • Trade show materials
  • Sales brochures / Leave-behinds
  • Corporate apparel
  • Product labels

Why Should You Use Them?

Because QR codes can help you go beyond your traditional marketing and advertising efforts. You can include audio and video elements, create a series of codes that take people on an educational journey, as we’ll be doing at LMA, or help your message reach a broader segment of the population.

QR codes also make it easy to collect information. You can track when and where codes are scanned and identify repeat visitors. You can also create codes that lead to forms asking for contact info like phone numbers or email addresses.

Things to Remember When Using QR Codes:

First and foremost, remember that codes are most effective when used on printed collateral. We’ve seen people use them on web pages, but this makes little sense since the point of most codes is to direct you to the internet. We’ve also seen them used in emails but, since people read emails on their computer or mobile device, this is also an odd choice. Scanning a code would either be really silly (think about holding your phone up to your computer screen in order to scan a code that leads to information on your phone) or downright impossible (how do you use your phone’s camera to scan something on your phone’s screen?).

  • It’s also important to remember that your landing pages and content need to be mobile-friendly (i.e. navigable on a small screen). And, as mobile engagement is often on-the-go engagement, you’ll want to keep things short and sweet.
  • Think about if your viewer will have WIFI access. Sure, subway stations can seem like an ideal place for an ad – you’ve got a captive audience with nothing to do but wait for the next train; why wouldn’t they scan your code?  But, since many subway lines aren’t equipped with WIFI, you could literally paper the walls with your codes and people still wouldn’t be able to scan them and access your info.
  • Remember to keep your content updated. There’s nothing worse than scanning a code that leads to an out-of-date promotion, a registration page for an event that’s already taken place, or, worst of all, a non-existent page. Even if your code was originally intended to drive traffic to time-sensitive content, once it’s over, leave a landing page loaded with something interesting for code scanners who come late to the party.