To explore the wide range of experiences and opinions within the digital business world, we’re running a series of interviews, ‘A Few Minutes With…’.
Today, we’re speaking with Jim Tattersall.
Jim is the lead developer and founding partner of the New Black, a digital studio based in Hoxton, whose recent projects have included work for the likes of Microsoft, musician Plan B and blockbuster movie Pacific Rim.
Tell us a little about your organisation’s digital activity.
We consult, design and build applications and responsive sites. And we love it.
What digital activity shows you the greatest return?
Although seemingly antiquated, email consistently shows the best conversion rates. From user to purchaser. The reality is the medium is direct to the user and through a solicited channel. Having a good mailing list manager is vital, as it will give you invaluable data to improve your messaging, as well as automatically cleaning the database so data is accurate. My recommendation would be Mailchimp for this.
What great websites have you seen recently?
Purely from a technical standpoint, I am in complete admiration of what the development team at The Guardian are doing with the responsive version of the site. They are building a mobile first version of the site and building outwards until it is a fully responsive version that will work across all sites. Although in Alpha, you can see the new version here.
The information architecture, speed, accessibility and responsiveness are all very impressive. Plus in getting to this point they have created a lot of scripts which they’ve pushed out to the opensource community.
What great mobile apps have you seen recently?
With mobile apps there is invariably a new app that has a guest spot on my home screen for about a week. This week it’s Seene. I well designed app that lets you take photos that appear 3 dimensional. Although very clever, I can’t see it staying on my phone for much longer. Long term app loves include Google Drive.
This app connects to your Google Apps account and allows you to create, edit and manage spreadsheets and word processing files from the cloud. I love the design and simplicity of the app, and all the benefits that cloud documents bring. It’s a big jump for many companies, but moving your Word and Excel files to a solution like this makes collaboration, sharing and backups an absolute breeze.
What do you think has been the most important landmark in the development of digital media in the last few years?
I hark on about it a lot but responsive websites/experiences – it is a major shift for the web community. Responsive design is about creating experiences that work across any size/type of current and future devices. For developers this is super hard as it’s not just screen sizes that vary, but the bandwidth of the device, whether that device is touch based, whether the screen is retina or standard resolution. Despite all of these innumerable combinations the aim is to deliver something that works across all of these devices.
This change has dramatically shifted the design and build process for studios and takes a lot more time to construct. But the reality is with a percentage of your audience browsing over non-traditional means, to ignore them would be to ignore 50% of your audience.
Great examples of responsive sites include, the Guardian alpha (mentioned above), The Government’s site (this in itself is a fascinating case study), and to push a build I’ve just completed Ruby Psuedo (a youth consultancy a cool hunter for the likes of Adidas, Nike, Channel 4 and many others).
Can a business survive in 2013 without a social media presence?
A presence is sort of an ambiguous term. When is comes to any communication about your company there are several methods.
Broadcast – You tell people about your brand. You take numerous steps to encourage them to buy in, and engage with it. This is a typically 1950s method of advertising/engagement. It works to a degree. But generally it’s far more powerful to have numerous conversations around a brand which leads to the user coming to their own conclusion.
For instance, I’m McDonalds.
I may want people to think I’m caring, focused on health. Now they could run an advert saying that, and well, I personally wouldn’t buy it. However, I then see a local marathon which is sponsored by McDonalds, they’re going to match all money raised, and the money is going towards a children’s charity. I then notice that their happy meals have changed to only include healthier options such as carrot sticks, fruit bags and low sugar/salt fish. I’ve now come to (what I think) is my own idea about the company.
Chat – This is communication around your brand, and far more influential. Leading on from the example above. I’m on Twitter and I say “props to @mcDonalds for sponsoring the local marathon for X charity #bigMac4Life”. Now regardless of whether a brand has a Twitter account or any social media account, they have a presence because I am deeming them talk-worthy and am broadcasting for them. I now deemed an influencer. As the message is from me and being broadcast to followers who hopefully – by proxy – respect my opinion, the message is infinitely more impactful. For me this is the best form of social presence. This is not to say that you shouldn’t have a social account, but the end goal should be to do things that encourage people to want to talk about you.
Now many brands encourage false chat. Things like, ‘like this Facebook page to be entered in to X competition’. Things such as a like, or a follow, became extremely important metrics for brands, however as these became abused they became increasingly less valuable. When a friend suddenly likes AXA Insurance, you aren’t really going to take much notice.
In summary, some presence is essential. However, that can be driven by amazing physical packaging for a product that generates news and social awareness organically. A great example of this is Dorset Cereal – good cereal by the way – but amazing packaging.
What pitfalls do you think businesses must avoid when developing a digital media strategy?
Not thinking holistically.
This often happens when digital teams or people work on something without integrating properly with the wider team.
You can create the most incredible digital destination. But to start the momentum you need to drive people to the destination. This awareness can be done digitally, but why not physically as well.
Not analysing data, or not doing it correctly. I don’t blame people, it’s pretty boring. But with anything you do as a company it’s important to analyse the success or failures of the campaign.
For instance you have a Facebook app built. After a month you have 10,000 users. And as such you deem it a success. However… You spent £5k on the app. At 50p a user, how does this compare to other marketing/advertising methods in terms of reach?
It’s not just about reach, how did this actually effect sales, and as such what is the conversion ratio and opportunity cost. Where possible you should try to create clear routes to purchase – affiliate links, coupon codes and so on, to clearly identify which customers came through this campaign.
Always question what you are doing and how it can be better, if you do that no digital (or physical) campaign is a failure.
Being scared. Don’t be frightened to do or try something. The landscape changes daily, so everyone is constantly learning. Be brave, and experiment.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
“Stop whining and just quit your job!” – Paraphrased from my wife (then girlfriend) 4 years ago.
What advice would you give to a business starting up in 2013?
Well done, you’ve done the hardest part. The first year will be hard, but stick in there it’ll get easier and this will be the best decision you’ve ever made.
Be flexible, and do something you believe in. If you don’t have the passion no one will.
What advice would you give to a young designer or developer starting their career in 2013?
Read a tutorials everyday, take on projects that you enjoy and will challenge you, find an opensource project you love and contribute to it. Teach others what you learn. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people to ask for help and advice, regardless of who they are. The development community is a wonderful one, and the sharing of knowledge is a fundamental principle of it. That principle is also one of the many reasons why I am so pleased to be involved with these awards and the founders outlook on sharing knowledge.
Do you see any downsides to the rise of digital media as a tool for business?
Many. One thing I hate is patronising the audience, or some sort of transparent attempt to engage in conversation. I think it’s important to acknowledge the social channels that are right for your company and how to utilise them correctly and respectfully.
For instance. You’re a financial advisor on Twitter.
Hey guys, what does everyone think about the new budget???
We’ve just posted a blog on how the new budget effects X Y and Z, http://blahblahandassociates.com
Hopefully if your blog post is good, people will then share it further.
If you could change one thing about the digital landscape, what would it be?
Anonymity. In today’s society this can be incredibly liberating, however it also creates an environment where people’s darker sides emerge as they feel their behaviour is distanced from themselves and they know there are often no consequences to their actions. I’ve read many social and blog posts regarding people expressing traumatic experiences in a cathartic way, and then sadly any support and well wishing messages people receive are drowned by truly nasty and horrific anonymous comments.
Where do you see the digital media in 10 years’ time?
Everywhere. Look where we are today. I’ve written this on my phone, tablet and now laptop. Connected devices will only increase, hopefully to the point where it’s madness and we will have one central device that simply connects to various screens depending on the environment. This extends to personalised adverts as you walk past billboards or discount alerts as you walk past specific shops. I see digital media as a supporting and hopefully enriching medium for the physical world. The scary thing is how that effects the evolution of us. Things like memory retention become infinitely less important, as do traditional skill sets such as maths and grammar. Then in replacement to that come another set of skillsets which become increasingly more important as they either cannot be replicated, or they aid us in our technological lives.