web design

Marketing Monday: Picky Bars

After looking into the Whole 30 a couple years ago, I started paying more attention to labels. They say that ignorance is bliss, and that’s definitely true for me once I started tuning in. For me, the absolute worst thing was reading the labels on granola/granola bars. “It’s pure sugar” I internally wailed while agonizing over putting it back on the shelf.

Enter Picky Bars, created by Jesse Thomas and Lauren Fleshman. Jesse is a professional Triathlete, and Lauren is a recently-retired professional runner (I’ve listened to her on a few different podcasts now and she’s my hero when it comes to running/motherhood/creativity/health). Picky Bars was born from a need for a way to fuel before/during/after workouts in a natural, not heavily processed way. Way before I started reading the labels on my food, Jesse and Lauren had already been working to create a healthy solution to their problem.

Of course, they didn’t stop at production (this would hardly be a “Marketing Monday” post if they had). Lauren and Jesse found a way to create their product and make it fun along the way.

Social Media

I started following Picky Bars on Instagram about a year ago, which is where this whole thing started for me. One thing that stood out was that they primarily featured their own employees in their content. They have scenes around the office that feature inventory, ‘a day in the office,’ and what their employees are up to (something like “so and so went on this hike today”). From the outside looking in, it seems like a fun place to go work.

pickybarsinsta

Promotions

Another fun thing I noticed on Instagram was the occasional promotions that they run. The week before Halloween, just for fun, all orders were shipped with fake vampire teeth. Sure, it’s not the most profound thing ever, but it was putting ‘out of the box’ in the box, so to speak. They also recently promoted their BFS, or Big Freakin’ Sale, where everything was 30% off. During the BFS, they also ran a Bar for Bar offer that donated a bar to a local charity for every bar purchased in that time period.

Subscription Options and Creative Marketing

While Picky Bars can be found in various retail locations, they aren’t everywhere (the nearest one to me is in Bethel, about 130 miles away). However, they have an easy online subscription system called the Picky Club, where members select the amount of bars they’d like to receive each month and their favorite flavors.


Members also get some perks, like getting a Sneak Peek bar each month and being able to give feedback, and perks not available to the public.

Plus, their call to action is pretty fun. Not to mention the actual names of their bars, from Moroccan Your World, Cookie Doughpness, and Need for Seed, to name a few. My weakness is cleverly named products, and I think this creativity is what sold me on Picky Bars.

pickybarssubscription

The Site

The Picky Bars website is more than just an ecommerce site. From the copy to the font, it reflects the values and personality of the business. You have a pretty good idea what to expect from a customer standpoint. And, that’s what websites are all about, right?

As someone who is fairly active and loves subjects in health and fitness, Picky Bars has found a way to market their already amazing products in a way that’s fun and true to the brand. And, if they ever ask me, I have a few new flavor selections to offer them.

 

 

 

Customizing Templates: Why We Do It

whywebuildwithtemplatesI hate it when I hear people talk bad about me. Thankfully it doesn’t happen often. In part, I’m sure, is because my friends know my ‘don’t tell me if it’s bad’ policy.

In reality, I’m a pretty sensitive person. But occasionally something does get back to me.

“She just customizes templates.” was actually someone’s idea of disdain for my work.

My response?

Uh, yeah I customize templates. But there’s no ‘just’ about it.

Hear that world? We customize templates! I admit it freely and openly in many blog posts even.

So why do we do this? Thought it may be good to clarify why!

Because templates save us time and, as a result, our customers money.

The whole ‘coding from scratch’ thing sounds pretty noble. Like having an architect custom design your house. Or creating your own recipe. Or building your own computer.

But guess what? Having a framework is helpful. That’s why we buy computers with already existing operating systems and software installed, plans to build our houses, and cookbooks.

Letting people figure out and test something then modifying it for our own uses is something we do in lots of areas in our life, why not websites?

I have actually tried build from scratch.

To the delight of parents of picky eaters everywhere trying to get their kids to try new vegetables, I’ve actually tried hand coding websites before I said ‘No thank you, more sweet potatoes please.’

I have hand coded exactly two HTML sites, neither of which are online anymore. It took long (don’t worry, I don’t charge customers for my learning curves, it was only painful on my end) and the results were lack luster compared to what is available today. So yeah, if I have the option of giving someone something better that I have the ability to do more easily anyway, I’m going to do it.

Because the amount of people who have gotten together and created a template is more than one (in almost all cases).

Kind of like how a composite photograph will always be more attractive than a photo of an individual person, a design worked on by multiple people is going to be better. It just is.

By working in collaboration, you can work out the bugs, get different points of view, and have a much better end product. And that’s what we’re starting with before our team even creates a custom design to go with.

(We even try to work with frameworks that are powerful and well known. If you really want to geek out on the difference between a template and a framework: https://cohhe.com/wordpress-themes-vs-wordpress-theme-frameworks/)

Because giving a customer something they can work with means that they are not stuck with us ever.

Because we use a standard system (Wordpress and Joomla) and follow the standard rules (creating child themes, putting design customization in the right file location, etc.) other web types can locate where to make changes in my code easily.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever inherited someone’s filing cabinet (when you bought a business or changed jobs) but it’s kind of annoying. A template means we’ve agreed on well labeled folders so when and if that handoff happens, it’s a smooth transition. Thinking of the person coming after you of course isn’t necessary but something I feel is the right thing to do.

And if you hear of a company that uses a ‘custom CMS’ please run for the hills.

Because templates mean when the customer creates new pages, they will look consistent. 

Do you really want to remember that you have to copy the menu on top, make sure the text is 18 point Helvetica and that the standard photo size is 450 pixels. What about headline fonts/colors, link colors, spacing, etc?

Even if you build something ‘from scratch’, you are going to end up making a page template so the site looks consistent as people browse from one page to another.

With templates you can set rules that all pages follow, when a customer creates a new page, I know that it’ll match all the other pages. Rather than restricting a customer to editing only certain elements of a page, I can let them go wild (I mean it is their website) and know it’ll still look pretty good at the end.

So we customize templates. And everyone who works with us gets a custom design that is unique to them. But we think this is a good thing, versus a bad one.

If I thought something was an inferior product, I wouldn’t offer it. Honestly. I live my life by the French proverb “There is no pillow so soft as a clean conscience”, in my business and personal life.

But as a company, I can firmly say we believe the collective wisdom and work involved in templates is a great start to a great website that is unique to each individual, company, or non-profit we work with.

I guess if this is the worst thing I hear about myself, I’m doing ok. But here’s hoping this clarifies why we customize templates versus building from scratch… and why we’ll keep doing this moving forward.

Changing Website Design Forever: The Grid and PageCloud

About six months ago, someone asked me what I thought of ‘The Grid‘. Started by some folks behind Medium.com, it was a promising startup. The membership model was simple: sign on as a founding member and lock in a low monthly rate. The idea is that artificial intelligence would decide on what was important on your website and optimize it accordingly for display.

thegridhomepage

It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out $8/month times 56,000ish people is not a bad chunk of change.

Now here is where The Grid seems to have gone off the rails. They promised a ‘late spring’ launch. Now late spring can be anywhere from May up to June 22 (the summer solstice) in terms of interpretation. Guess what didn’t happen?

Instead, The Grid launched its ‘beta’ version to 100 founding members in July, promising to do a full release when they had 100 happy users.

Problem was they kept taking out Facebook ads during all this and so people, seeing it in their newsfeed, left comments there, many of which The Grid did not respond to.

At first, people understood the delay… but the delay plus paid ads plus lack of communication started to rile people up. This comment pretty much summarizes the overall sentiment of those not happy with The Grid:

thegridunhappiness

Basic message: yes we’re on Facebook but we’re communicating with founding members via email and the public via Twitter. So I went to Twitter last night and saw this exchange… with a guy that has 39 followers:

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 11.44.30 AM

OK so there’s no time for Facebook updates but there is time for a Twitter engagement with someone who a) might not even be a founding member and b) has a relatively small following? It doesn’t make much sense. I get that they are hesitant to put out a date but as businesses wait for this technology to come out, etc., it’s pretty hard to not know how long the wait will last.

Of course there are some people who have seen The Grid in action and say it is amazing and that they still believe etc. but I think collectively, the public is wary at this point of The Grid. I certainly am, no matter how many tech journalists with thousands of Twitter followers tell me otherwise. Honestly, I will happily pay $25/month when it comes out to just try it.

So I’ve been watching The Grid for about six months and last night, another Facebook ad showed up to me for PageCloud. Look familiar?

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 11.53.59 AM



So the idea with PageCloud is that you can have a designer create your site but PageCloud’s technology allows you to edit it on your screen (move elements, resize, etc.) A bit different than having a website automatically created.

I looked at both The Grid and PageCloud. Pricing is similar ($8ish/month for a locked in membership rate and early access) but PageCloud is rolling this out A LOT differently.

For example they are responding to current articles in their blog, which is being kept up to date:

PageCloud's response to the idea that 'web design is dead'

PageCloud’s response to the idea that ‘web design is dead’

The original 'web design is dead' article in UX Magazine, citing AI as a reason website design is declining/dying.

The original ‘web design is dead’ article in UX Magazine, citing AI as a reason website design is declining/dying.

I will say if I had $1 for every time a client said “I trust your intelligence and experience completely, just design me something!” I’d have zero dollars. Because despite the fact that some people seem to have no opinion, they often get one when they see their website design concept. They suddenly hate purple or their email newsletter more prominently featured. Seriously, I’ve seen it happen.

The reality we all face when we want a website:

1) We want a well functioning beautiful website that looks great on all screens
2) We are not going to like the first thing a designer (or The Grid or anyone else) shows us, even if it is perfect, and
3) We are going to want some things how we want them (Definite side menu! Definite slideshow! Something to decide on definitely.)

(If you don’t believe me on 2 in particular, watch Say Yes To The Dress and – even when they find the exact right dress the first time- notice that the bride always tries on several. My statement is no attack of people being persnickety about web design, it’s just human nature to want to see other options.)



So The Grid and PageCloud have accepted these realities and are dealing with them in two different ways.

With something like The Grid, you can click through automatically generated options until you find one you like. You don’t need a designer to start with. Content is your main feature.

With PageCloud, you can have the layout, etc. likely produced by a professional but maintained by you. You probably want a designer to give you some nice ‘bones’ to work with. Content is what you are changing.

Different products but we can agree both are changing the way we look at web design. But I can bet you can tell which one would be easier for me to sell to a client. (You can go to each website and watch the intro videos to get an idea of how each are different.)

I will say PageCloud is maintaining an active social media presence (responding to Facebook comments, etc) and overall, seems like a more upbeat corner of the internet than The Grid right now. Also, rather than alienating the kind of people who could help them ‘sell’ this service (web professionals), PageCloud seems to want to bring them in. Like this guy who said something they could have easily ignored but didn’t:

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 12.22.35 PM

I’m going to make a call right now that we can all look back on in a few months: PageCloud is going to do better financially than The Grid because:

1) Designers will be involved.
2) People will get to decide elements (ie not have robots do EVERYTHING for them.
3) There is way better PR happening prelaunch, allowing customers and future customers to feel much better about this purchase.

Once I can get in, I’ll be happy to report back on what I think of both systems but this is a prediction! Stay tuned!



Website Launch: Tucker Mountain Log Homes

Tucker Mountain Log Homes was a fun build for us. From the moment we first spoke with Judy, it was clear that everyone on the Tucker Mountain crew is dedicated to the business and delivering a quality product that their customers will love. We even got to sit down with Cliff, Judy, and “the boys” to hear them explain various projects and their unique method of construction. After that, we started our own construction process (apologies for the really corny lead-in…), here is the highlight reel from our latest website launch:

A snapshot from the old site, our starting point.

A snapshot from the old site, our starting point.

Tucker Mountain Log Homes has an incredibly photogenic business, from the logs to the building process to the finished product. It was unanimously agreed that the new site needed to showcase the aesthetics of their work, so we went for a “show, don’t tell” approach. The first place was the home page, which now has a full size featured slideshow:

TMLH_HomePage

The next step was showcasing the log home process from start to finish. Using the amount of high quality images we had and Judy’s recommendation of dividing the gallery among the construction process, interior shots, and the finished product, we developed a gallery that gives clients an idea of what a custom build involves, from selecting the logs to a fully assembled home.

TMLH_CustomGallery

TMLH doesn’t only build log homes- they also do decor, furniture, and refinishing.

TMLH_Refinish

An example of the “Before/After” images used on the Refinishing page.

So we made a page for each of these services with a photo gallery and contact form. This way, as customers browsed, they could easily get to the ‘sign up’ process, no matter what page they were on.

Besides showcasing the different types of projects the crew has done, it was also important that the website lifted some of the weight off of Judy’s shoulders in the office. So, we incorporated a couple custom forms throughout the site. These forms handle general intake questions and specific requests. It’s an easier way for Judy to collect the initial information she needs so she is only following up when the person has done research and is ready for that next step… and we hope it helps ease some of her office management burden!

Getting to meet the team was a lot of fun, and now potential customers can “meet the team,” too! In addition to the business history from the old site, everyone now has their own blurb explaining who they are and what they do at TMLH (and there’s pictures, so you can put names to faces).

These guys already had a pretty good handle on social media, so part of the rebuild process involved linking their Facebook and Instagram accounts to the site. Now whenever they’re on-site and want to share project updates on Facebook, it’ll show up on their website, too. Oh, and all those beautiful images of log homes, decor, and furniture? Totally pin-able (because, who doesn’t have a “Dream Log Home” Board on Pinterest?).

Piece of cake!

Piece of cake!

Between Kassie’s (my) content writing/curating, Nicole adding website functionality and managing the project, and Leslie creating and implementing a custom design, we were all able to use our strengths to take Tucker Mountain Log Home’s website into the 21st century. (You can check out the finished product here).

Overall, we had a great time working on this project. It’s always a pleasure to work with small businesses with big passion for what they do- thanks Tucker Mountain Log Homes and enjoy your new website!

Tech Thursday: Why Don’t You Want My Website to Have Fun?

Some weeks, we end up doing more design than marketing. This was one of those weeks. After some of our meetings, we felt kind of like parents who were telling their kids they couldn’t go to a party, but that they’d thank us later. We aren’t trying to shoot anyone’s design dreams down, but to better explain our rationale, we thought we’d use this week’s Tech Thursday.

We walk the line between artists and technicians in the web design process. It’s not that we don’t want your website to be fun and pretty- because we absolutely do. It’s just that we’re also thinking about things like mobile users and load time-the customer’s overall experience. As Kassie says, when your website’s animated header won’t load on a Kindle, it fills her with nerd rage. We want your site to look great, but also work well!

Tools such as Pingdom (tools.pingdom.com) are a great way to test a website’s load time, and it will show you the elements of the site that are taking longest to load. Most of the time, it’s an image that is slowing your roll. There are also ways to customize your site that aren’t going to impair your site’s load time- think of sprucing up photos by adding drop shadows, rotating pictures in your slideshow- and all that jazz.

To summarize, we aren’t being lazy or lame when we try to steer you away from an idea. We’re just trying to make your site the best it can be!

Tech Thursday: Is Your Website Easy to Navigate?

…or is it mangled up in tangled up knots, like the Grinch? Or those Christmas lights you’ve been trying to hang up outside?

We have a few ideas for getting your website navigation un-tangled. First of all, you want to make sure you cater to both the linear and visual thinkers by using the menu (linear) and sidebar tools, such as buttons (visual). Second, interlinking pages to one another will make viewers’ lives easier. If you have a series of blog posts, or a form that you want people to reach, just add a link on the relevant pages, and people will be much happier. And finally, begin with the end in mind (determine what page(s) on your website are the most important, and try to mindfully build around it).

We hope you enjoy this video, and that your website navigation adventure! As Nicole says, we’re glad that we’re better at handling websites than holiday decorations!



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