Two years ago, our companies had an idea for a blog. We thought that we would produce a restaurant review blog. We published it under the title “Frisco Eats.” Our company is based in Frisco, Texas, one of America’s fastest growing cities, just outside of Dallas. Dallas-Ft. Worth is the country’s number one area for consumer spending in restaurants, so we felt the likelihood of success for a blog about both would be high.
The MBMI Companies’ marketing unit, Maximized Brand Marketing International, launched the new business-to-consumer website to serve foodies, families and fun-seekers, while offering restaurant reviews, discount coupons, chef interviews and more.
The launch of FriscoEats.com took more than eighteen months of preparation. We wanted to be sure that our new site would offer the people’s voice about the vast number of eating establishments in its service area. We expected editorial and photos to be competitive with established print offerings with which it would compete for advertising dollars.
This project began on a napkin in an historic eatery near our Vienna office, during a conversation with a brilliant associate, Robert Brndusiç-Dedus. Robert and his wife had recently visited the corporate office in Frisco, Texas. They enjoyed the numerous culinary choices Frisco offered. Now in Vienna over the world’s best schnitzel, we talked about how we might curate restaurant information in a format real diners could rely upon. We also discussed the hurdles that this kind of project might face.
We wondered who determines the “best” of anything? Experts? Trendsetters? Taste builders? Certainly those thought leaders figure into the process but the consumer is the final arbiter. A loyal customer votes with cash, time and expectation investments.
As we talked, we concluded that any website of true value to both foodies and advertisers would require the honest input of real diners, and those come in all shapes and sizes with lots of different tastes.
Next questions: “Who influences the decision to dine in any given restaurant, and what could our site do to address those needs?” Mom, Dad, kids, event management, boss’s prerogative? We had ideas, but we wanted to be sure. It seemed that restaurants had many “customers” who could affect consumer decisions before they became diners. What about vendors and the restaurant’s own staffers? Couldn’t they make or break a restaurant by what they passed on about it? Could we capture the unique personalities of the “Real People Reviewers?”
That doorway led FirscoEats.com to launch a vast and, to our knowledge, unduplicated research study that was carried out by a sister company, MultiBrand Media International. Restaurateurs told us that we would be wasting our money to ask questions that they could answer intuitively without talking to their customers.
Our theory was simple: Multiple constituencies, not just one or two “target” consumers, significantly contribute to a restaurant’s formula for success or failure.
If we could prove that we were correct about which groups contribute most to the successful part of the equation, we could then extend the questioning to how we envisioned that FriscoEats.com could be more engaging, useful and become known as a community resource.
So we designed the study without any upper limit age ceiling. We would allow demos to fall in naturally, except for 13-24s, into which we would salt the respondents with a forced sample. This tactic mimicked the way that restaurateurs often believe kids are dragged along to restaurants.
Our findings were surprising and, for the most part, totally opposite to what our naysayers expected. More to the point, we learned as much about websites, themselves, as we did about foodies.
Depending on whether you are interested in research, restaurants or website construction and design, our FriscoEats.com “foodie study” turned into a massive flow-through of information. Along the way, we learned about consumer vision for the future in the way they take in website information.
Entirely by accident, we had discovered what we call “The Website Time Machine.” Simply defined, the Internet moves so quickly in response to consumer use and requirements, that those consumer use and requirements can evolve between concept creation and website production. In other words, website publishers must innovate and anticipate the next consumer request, long before even the consumer knows what that request is.
Yes, the study told us volumes about our restaurant customer base, but the participant comments and perceptions also told us about a myriad of information that applies to website construction and maintenance.
The Respondent Demos
The study measured the input of 117 respondents across two years, two times, asking the same questions. The screener criteria were as follows:
• 57% female and 43% male in Total Sample.
• 13-18: 21%
• 19-34: 29%
• 35-49: 34%
• 50-65: 11%
• Retired or 66+: 5%
• Unemployed: 7%
• Household Income over $100,000: 41% (Median HH Income in Frisco, TX is $139,00)
• Had Eaten in a Fast Food restaurant within 24 hours: 28%
• Had Eaten in a Casual Sit-Down restaurant within 24 hours: 41%
• Had Eaten in a Fine Dining restaurant within 24 hours: 12%
• Visited any restaurant website or restaurant review website within the last seven days: 36%
• Visited any restaurant website or restaurant review website within the last month: 76%%
• Frequently watches cooking or BBQ television shows: 39%
• Reads “foodie” based magazines or restaurant reviews: 17%
• Reads “Frisco Style” Magazine for food information: 4%
In the second set of interviews, without any prompting by our moderators, the focus groups constantly shifted our discussions away from the restaurants to the attributes of the restaurant websites. The more we probed, the more our “Time Machine” theory evolved and proved itself true and affected the buying decision of diners. As a whole, the respondent group’s usage of websites in general, and restaurant sites in particular, changed measurably during the quiet period between interviews.
Our first discovery linked age of website to experience perception.
The older a website is, or if the website is inactive, the more likely it is to fail the consumer. This is true even if the website represents a “legacy” product.
Older users in the group were raised during a time when television was both babysitter and early teacher. This is the major causal connection between two years ago and today. Two years ago, the respondents were amazed by the v. 1.0 technology that created most review websites. It seemed “magic” in its existence. These older users still expect to see websites accomplish the same tasks as a television because they draw a technical correlation between the screens of computer, communication and television devices. But today, two years later, the same respondents say they want to experience the interactivity that television lacks. Television, then, has taken a backseat to the interactivity of the Internet platform, even for older end users.
Additionally, today’s upper demos use websites as communication portals, entertainment presenters and information sources. In a complete turnaround from when FriscoEats.com began the study two years ago, older respondents now consider their time spent on a website to be much more experiential than “the trip to the store for a specific item” that it was during the first interviews. They expect entertainment, not just information.
As in all good research, an acceptable and reasonable position dictates that some respondents are likely to maintain a different and potentially entirely opposite position. The younger group did not violate that assertion.
The younger the user, the more likely to be unimpressed by even recent technological website development.
These users are the most hardcore we have experienced, thus far, but we know that the next wave of website interactions will be open to even more scrutiny.
In large measure, differentiation between similar websites seemingly relies upon age of the consumer.
These two absolutes helped us to form a corollary to our new theorem:
Younger respondents divide sites into “Old School” and “Future Cool” sites. The Internet acts as a constantly running Time Machine that allows today’s users to visit the future, providing that Today knows where to look for Tomorrow.
By example, text was cool in the beginning, but then became a utility as photo apps entered the marketplace. But technology made transfer of photos tediously snail-like. Soon, faster processors and Internet UL/DL speeds made photos of all formats a standard expectation, even from mobile phones. Text without pictures? Who’d do that? Today, even upper demos expect photo and text integration. What grandmother doesn’t want to see the cute baby pictures?
I’ll tell you who. The younger grandmother who is tired of stills and who wants to see the video of her granddaughter’s first steps, that’s who!
But hold the ferry and make room for a clown car of findings. The new mom wants to see on demand, HD streaming video of her child, all day long in her workplace.
In the Website Time Machine, any content short of scheduled and well-promoted streaming video and audio events, preferably with integrated consumer interaction, is a waste of time for the publisher, even in the restaurant review world. To fail to include streaming video on future sites may even seem dismissive to your consumer.
This brings us to some findings:
1. Absent Streaming Video on Demand Is a Deal Breaker.
Without a streaming video plan that addresses both the interests and the entertainment needs of your user, you might as well send a postcard in snail mail. In the Website Time Machine, content is likely to be king for the foreseeable future. The content will be ubiquitous across platforms that are unimaginable today.
2. Appealing Colors , Fonts and Photos Tell Your Story
In the Website Time Machine, there is so much competition, that even one wrong choice in these areas may affect your ability to retain users. This puts a great deal of onus on the website designer, right?
Our study utilized A/B comparisons of website demos, effectively demonstrating that consumers overwhelmingly prefer websites built by collaborating, but different, Information Architecture Managers, Designers and User Interface Developers. Unlike today’s website artwork, often imagined and produced by a single artist, a Time Machine-friendly website will be a team built creation designed for more contrasts, textures, intuitive motions and eye movement, versus those that were static produced by one or two individuals who are talented designers.
Electronic game development and virtual reality presentations intersect graphic advancements with theater-grade storylines, simplicity of motion that is easy for the eye to track, and the even tactile functionality of digital “buttons” and dials.”
Future websites must meet the same user expectations. All of the aforementioned elements should not only exist in a successful design, they must be honest in presentation and use must be obvious in even casual interaction. Imagine: In the future, as much time will be spent on designing appealing interactive onscreen controls as storyline and art creative.
Utilizing the A/B comparisons discussed earlier, we noted that objective user feedback matched the designer’s intent when the correct interactive elements were in place. Today’s users are almost always objective about websites; Sites are either good or bad, simple to navigate or difficult, compelling or boring. The consumer leaves nothing for attentive developers to guess. When they miss the mark, users are vocal. Just read the reviews for Infinity Runner or Fat City on X Box 360.
Lesson? Ultimately, your team’s composition is not as important as the final visual output you produce. Ever. Bad visual design is like hearing a bad song on your favorite playlist. It stands out for what it is: Bad.
On the subject of site fonts, carefully consider whether or not to use standouts, like Blackmoor and Princetown Let. They may draw attention or lend themselves to a particular story, but use them sparingly or not at all. Users report that non-standard create font burnout.
Flying in the face of conventional website wisdom, our younger respondents suggested that they would prefer that designers mix font types. We found that selectively pairing font types to headline themes provides the most positive recall of the page by end users.
Colors have always been known to alter moods, create certain product associations, better match services, or appeal to specific genders. They also create a page’s continuity balance. When colors clash, time viewing the page significantly declined. Additionally, respondents came away with an inexplicable “funny” feeling about the pages they had viewed. A/B testing additionally indicated that people perceive an image as a “bad photo” if the photo displayed was against inappropriate backdrop colors. The same photo, placed against a complementary background was often more highly regarded by consumers. This phenomenon occurred even when the respondents saw the same images more than one time in the A/B comparison process.
We surmise that these biases may also extend to logos that are displayed against backgrounds that are “wrong.” On the topic of logos…
3. Logos Aren’t Just for Letterhead and Signs Anymore
We drew a correlation between colors, shapes and logos, because logos are graphical like fonts and colors. Traditionally, a company’s standard logo was simply pressed into use on the web. Most marketers and consultants would still advise their clients to do exactly that. Nonetheless, we wanted to explore alternatives to “One logo, many uses” because early indicators were that logos mean different things to different age and gender groups
As marketers, we were repulsed by the idea of a need to create a secondary logo. We were raised on the old insider joke: What does Proctor and Gamble call the guy who suggests a new logo for their popular Tide detergent? Answer: Unemployed.
However, we uncovered the strong preference for what we have tagged as the “electric logo.” Simply explained, a specially designed artistic extension of a company’s official logo for marketing a specific product, contributes to the end user experience of a digital, flowing and often animated visual environment.
We probed this concept and found that younger website users believe the pages actually incrementally add value to, not represent, their favorite brands. This offers marketers an opportunity to view a relatively new and unexplored consumer perception in a somewhat frightening light. Not just brand extension, but LOGO extension!?!
Finally, logos have graduated from their old 2D world to multi-dimensional representations to be used online, outdoors, on signs and sports clothes. Logos are part of the cool pop culture and websites are the access point to cool.
The next step in logos? Texturized presentations that stimulate the sense of touch.
4. The Website Time Machine Creates a Novella
Today’s website might look for page views, click-thrus and time spent with each page. The Website Time Machine fast-forwards over today’s designs and looks for a continuing theme in every category the page provides.
To illustrate, we refer to the fact that this study was executed to deliver information about restaurants. Our respondents overwhelmingly recounted their engagements with television shows like “America’s Top Chef” and “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.” Viewers of those television shows are rabidly loyal to them, often choosing them over big budget network and subscription offerings, because each episode tells the story of real people in pursuit of a dream. The respondents described these shows as interactive, too. Every cook believes that his or her “secret recipe” has what it takes to compete in the kitchen with the best, and who doesn’t identify with a classic car, the open road and that local place everyone loves for their (insert food here)?
The moral of this story is that the Time Machine website requires a story to be told by all of the interested parties, every time, in a communal fashion. Talking wine? Get the opinion of the sommelier and the wine bar patron out for an evening of fun. Discussing the merits of BBQ? Better show some HD video of a scrumptious brisket being prepared, followed by a local celebrity’s backyard backyard concoction. Reviews? Get them from both “real people” and professional reviewers. Don’t forget the kids or the grandparents, a few recipes, and some professional photos of the food. Publish chef profiles to make sure the consumer feels that she has the inside track on a restaurant’s most important member of staff. This was likened to reading reviews of physicians before selecting one.
If the consumer expects that the brand will do more than just inform on its website, could that “more” be that the site will entertain? In the “Today” website, maybe that includes a dancing detergent. In the “Time Machine” version, what if the consumer expects an ongoing cartoon hero detergent or, better still, an ongoing HD on-demand streaming video series to chronicle and archive the antics of Detergent Man? Before you start to laugh, remember the multiple decades long successes of Mr. Clean and the Jolly Green Giant on television. You might even stretch the concept to include the Kool-Aid pitcher breaking down walls to deliver kids summertime refreshment. What are these characters, if not superheroes of their own devices? Even the Jolly Green Giant co-opted Santa’s trademarked “Ho! Ho!”
Entertain the user and huge metrics in every measure of use and popularity will result.
5. Website Time Machine Advertising Is Consumer Focused
Simply put, most of today’s websites incorrectly present advertising.
The MBMI restaurant/website study indicated that younger consumers, not some blue chip company’s initiative, will change the face of online advertising. It will be organic and driven by individual entertainment wish lists. Online advertisers of every sort will be required to seek out opt-ins to view ads, or the consumer will opt out of sites that force advert view compliance. Website Time Machine advertising will cease publishing banner and box ads, in favor of opt-in interest related ads in short auto-run audio and video. The technology needed to achieve these goals will continue to be driven by user demand for entertainment.
The Website time Machine is likely to create a new paradigm in which every website page will be a landing or portal page. Each will invite consumers to choose from an advertiser list, to receive a full screen advertisement. Very different products, or very similar ones, may populate targeted user screens, or maybe eye contacts. Possibilities are endless.
Our respondents vocally supported advertising videos that honestly represent feature/benefit scenarios that the consumer will find relatable. On friscoeats.com, advertisers may produce multiple videos featuring a wide collection of consumer hot buttons. Our goal is to encourage the end user to select the company’s advertising again and again.
This serves the purpose of getting the message out, while building customer profile matrixes using advanced web analytics.
6. The Website Time Machine Is Platform Agnostic
In the future, so many new platforms will exist that every site MUST be a responsive design, meaning that it will adjust to every display methodology and conveyance. Frisco Eats purposely chose an unresponsive site to ensure that design complacency changes frequently.
Consider a virtual reality channel of websites, delivered directly to your tunable, VR-capable smartglasses. The signal can be received across wide regions of the country because it is being delivered on giant amplitude modulated (AM) radio waves. The AM stations now carry 1’s and 0’s in a constant, amazingly wide stream, floating over the air on obsolete 50 Kw radio stations.
Such a delivery system would be much more widely accessed than today’s Internet, because it would be everywhere within a discernable and predictable area. But such a system precludes today’s narrow thinking about content possibilities. Why, locators in the glasses might even permit nearby location advertising videos to move to the top of the landing page advertiser list.
7. Apps Are So 2015
App developers better find a new business. Every respondent under 40 clearly identified “app burnout” with comments like, “They slow down my phone,” “Who wants to go to a third party site to download apps? I’d rather be doing than looking,” and “You never know what malware or other bad stuff is in an app and the producers never take responsibility. I’m done with apps.”
We probably don’t need to elaborate. Responsive design is the way and light.
8. Absolute Spacing Units Are History in the Time Machine
Pixels, points, and even inches or millimeters are a thing of the past in tomorrow’s website design. Instead of absolute units, fluid grid concepts will abound. This challenges future developers to size based on available screen percentages, providing lots of options for flex images and media queries. These website pieces, most often held inside set frames, will be free to float, potentially giving consumers a different experience each time they land on a page. This is a feature end users highly value.
Today, Adobe Cloud leads this development thrust. Adobe’s Edge Reflow product is today’s cutting edge of what likely will develop tomorrow.
9. Younger Users Consider Return on Investment
The younger end of the respondents in the research believe that artistic entertainment should be free and in the public domain. Some have even turned away from Today’s Internet because they believe invasive and auto advertising have destroyed their experiences.
In an entertainment environment in which they receive a perceived high return on their time investment, they are willing to trade their time and attention to advertising, rather than embrace to a pay-as-you-go revenue model.
10. Just Like Sausage, Filler Is Bad
Respondents under 55 spoke with one voice in the study regarding websites that use filler to produce more published pages, and sometimes more ad space. They told us that white space was good and made it easier to find the material they really wanted to find. We heard major complaints about out-of-date material, too much self-promotion of social media (“I’m already on your website. Why do you want me to go to social media and get into things besides you?”) and total absence of meaningful ways to connect with a human at the business.
Leave the filler to the sausage makers.
We at Maximized Brand Marketing, LLC, the owner and publisher of FriscoEats.com, are proud of our new site. It’s still only a baby, though, and only you can make it better. We encourage you to go to the site now and register to become a FriscoFoodie Club member. We’d like to keep in touch, offer you great backstage access to foodie events, and more. If you have questions about our site, ask online or contact us.
Bill Pasha is the Owner and President of The MBMI Companies, LLC, a Texas-based holding company that has interests in Broadcast and Online consulting and content through MultiBrand Media International, LLC. Other companies include Maximized Brand Marketing International, LLC, which grows the customer bases and revenues of stakeholders in the hospitality, Food & Beverage and Aspirational Consumer Goods industries. He also oversees Valoriant Safety, LLC, providing security training programs, close personal protection for entertainers and VIPs, and counterterrorism planning for venues, corporations and municipalities. Bill may be reached at 469.362.1423 or firstname.lastname@example.org