What is Gamification?

In this blog post I will try to answer the question, what is gamification? This is a very important question for any one who needs to motivate people to take action or to simply make a product or service more enjoyable.

Ever wondered what it is about Angry Birds that has generated over 1 billion downloads? Is there anything you can learn from that game to apply to your product to make more people like it, you bet there is. It’s called gamification.

So what is gamification? and how do I apply it to solve real world problems?

There isn’t one universal definition but in general it’s the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts.

For example, Samsung Nation is an example of a company using game elements to get more traffic and more interaction with their products.  They motivate users to write reviews, watch videos, find out more, register products they have already bought, etc. They use simple elements they took from games like leader boards, badges, points etc. They ultimately want you to buy more products and are using game elements to reach that goal.

Another great example is the Nike Plus app. It uses the accelerometer on your phone to make your experience of running more game like. It tracks your data, compares you to other runners, has goals and challenges and if you achieve those goals you earn medals and trophies. They also built in ways to connect with friends to get encouragement. So the game structure around the task of running somehow make the experience of running feel more rewarding by using their app.

A competing app also meant to get people running is Zombies Run.  But here the  app is telling you that you are being chased by a group of zombies that want to kill you and eat your brains.  So it is simply making your run more fun, which is different from Nike Plus which is using challenges and rewards.

There are even products like Keas which is a service that helps people in companies engage in activities that makes them healthier, using regular game elements.  Such as:

  • Points
  • Quests
  • Avatars
  • Social graph
  • Levels
  • Progression
  • Resource Collection

But games are not just a jumble of elements stuck together in a half hazard way, rather they use game design that is systematic, thoughtful and artistic.  All of course, for the purpose of being fun.  This involves technology, algorithms, engineering while approaching problems using concepts that relate to all games while applying them to novel situations.

Some gamification examples focus on the elements and some focus more on the game design but all require a non-game context.  Meaning, what the user is doing is game like but the purpose has a validity and intention independent of the experience of the game-like elements.

I hope this shed some light on gamification and please let me know of other good examples you have experienced in the comments below.




How To Create A WOW Experience


In this post I hope to shed some light on how to create a wow experience for your customers.

Many companies and business leaders talk about the concept of WOW but few, unfortunately, actually take the time to teach their customers or their staff what it means.  It really is more than just a word that sounds good and when you break it down a little you start to see how vital it really is.
One company that strives to master WOW is Zappos.  They define WOW as the following…

“WOW is such a short, simple word, but it really encompasses a lot of things. To WOW, you must differentiate yourself, which means doing something a little unconventional and innovative. You must do something that’s above and beyond what’s expected. And whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver. We are not an average company, our service is not average, and we don’t want our people to be average. We expect every employee to deliver WOW.

Whether internally with co-workers or externally with our customers and partners, delivering WOW results in word of mouth. Our philosophy at Zappos is to WOW with service and experience, not with anything that relates directly to monetary compensation (for example, we don’t offer blanket discounts or promotions to customers).

We seek to WOW our customers, our co-workers, our vendors, our partners, and in the long run, our investors.”

Zappos have really hit the nail on the head with this description and I especially love how they talk about creating an internal culture of WOW.  For them, it’s not just about their customers, but they include vendors and co-workers.  Wouldn’t you love to work at a company that teaches your team members how to create WOW experiences for each other?… (now take 30 seconds to day dream about that… yeah that’s nice…)
So, I think this company is saying that the essence of WOW is that gap between expectation and experience.  Here is a simple process you can use to make sure that whatever you are creating strives to exceed expectations.
Make something you would use yourself.  
Take a look at Mint.com.  When you use this website you get the ense that the people making this amazing personal finance tool use it themselves and love it.   Their numerous accolades speak for themselves.
Solve a problem in an unexpected way.
The first example that comes to my mind is a great book by the guys at ’37signals’ entitled Rework.  These guys produced a business leadership book that deals with chapters a completely novel way.  That alone made me want to read it and I’m glad I did because I gained valuable ideas that I have implemented at my own workplace.
Excede expectations.
I would say that the master of this trait is Apple.  There is a reason that I’m writing this post on an expensive Macbook Pro and that I make all my calls from an iPhone.  I appreciate that Apple puts the time into the finishing touches like no other tech company I have seen.  It also explains why they have been setting all the trends since 2005.
So if you’re asking yourself, “how do I do this?” Try answering the following three  questions :

  1. What does a user expect when they encounter my product?
  2. What does failing to meet the users expectations look like?
  3. What does exceeding the users expectations look like?

For a great podcast on this subject check out MichaelHyatt.com

Well I hope this post helps shed some light on the concept of WOW, making it more that just a new trendy word in the business leadership world.  Now keep in mind, it’s probably not possible to make everything a WOW experience, but it should certainly be the norm within the main value offerings of any business.

Please let me know about any WOW experiences you have encountered in the comments below!

10 Ways To Generate More Blog Traffic

Welcome to my newest blog post, 10 Ways to Generate More Blog Traffic.  Like all my posts, they come from my research and experiences working as an online business developer in Toronto Ontario Canada.

In this blog post, I discuss how to generate more traffic to your blog. These are the same basic techniques I use to increase my traffic. You can dramatically increase your blog traffic by following these ten strategies.

Every single writer wants to be read, thats the whole point. They want to influence, entertain and grow their readership. Well it’s not simple, so don’t try to find a silver bullet and get ready to buckle down with these 10 strategies to drive more traffic to your blog. They work.

Now, before doing anything else, make sure you install some kind of analytics tool, like Google Analytics to your site so you can track what is actually happening. If you don’t have it, stop what you’re doing and go get it because if you can’t measure your blog traffic, you can’t grow your blog traffic.

  1. Write great content that people will shareIf you are not writing stuff people want to read, smarter marketing will not fix the problem. Content is king, there is no substitute for that. Great marketing actually makes a bad product die faster so make sure you aren’t spending valuable time marketing something that actually sucks. Begin by creating a killer headline that makes people want to read what you have to say. If you don’t know much about writing headlines then become a student of writing great headlines because if you can’t catch people with a headline they aren’t even going to get to your great article. Start by reading Advertising Headlines That Make You Rich by David Garfinkel.
  2. Adhere to a consistent schedule. You can’t expect to increase your traffic if you don’t blog regularly. You can’t get all excited, write a bunch of posts and then leave it for 3 months and expect to see your traffic take off. Frequency leads to visibility and that leads to traffic which then leads to business growth. Some people do it once a day and some people do it once a week… we are still talking about blogging right?. My suggestion is to start with that you can commit to doing regularly. For me, being in charge of a new tech startup and having a band that I’m promoting and having a million other ideas that I want to start, and having a wife who does deserve some attention, I just can’t do more than once a week. That said, three times a week is even better. Five times a week is best—but NOT if the quality of your content suffers.
  3. Don’t be lazy, get your own domain name. If you don’t have your own domain that you own you simply don’t look like a serious blogger. Also, it’s much easier for someone to pass along your blog to others when they can say JonoLandon.com instead of ljasdfljasdflkjsfdl.jonolandon.com/094308734250-89723460897. Also, if you don’t own your name online then buy it, even if someone owns it, just buy it for as much as you can afford. It’s your name and down the road I think that the value of that is going to grow exponentially for everyone, not just bloggers.  Not that I think they are the best by any means but I buy all my domains and do my hosting at GoDaddy just ’cause I started there a long time ago and I’m too lazy to go find a better solution.
  4. Place your blog address everywhere. It should appear virtually everywhere your name appears. You need to treat each and every impression as precious, so if there are 5 people that see your twitter profile in one day that is 5 opportunities to get their eyes on your site, and when they share your content with their friends it gets your blog in front of their faces too. Get it? What about business cards, presentation slides, facebook timeline image, printed on your shirt, tattooed on your nose… wherever you can think of put it. Of course, be tasteful.
  5. Make it easy to subscribe to your blog. You don’t want to depend on your readers to remember to come back to your blog. Instead, you want them to subscribe, so they get every new post you write. They should be able to do so by either RSS or email. (Use both.) Position these two buttons prominently so that those who want to subscribe don’t have to hunt for them. With out a subscribe button you are basically expecting people to sit with your blog open patiently waiting for you post something new. Not a good retention strategy by the way. Make sure you have an RSS feed icon with your social icons at the top right corner of your page because that is the easiest place to find it. If you are using WordPress, which you should be, there are great plugins that are super easy. Think about how cool it would be to have your blog posts automatically show up in people’s email inboxes. Well it couldn’t be much easier to do. I use a free plugin called Subscribe / Connect / Follow Widget which took me all of 2 minutes to install.
  6. Optimize your posts for SEO. In case you are very new to this SEO means Search Engine Optimization. Which means that when people go to Google and do a search for keywords that are connected to your posts topic. This doesn’t happen unless you optimize your post for SEO. Again, no other blogging platform holds a candle to WordPress which offers plugins that makes it super easy to have the added functionality to make sure your blog has every thing it needs to be found. I use two plugins for this called: All-in-One SEO Pack and the other is Scribe SEO.  The latter is paid for but worth the money.
  7. Utilize social media. Use social media to network, build relationships, and announce new blog posts. Let’s say you have a retail store, and you are standing outside the shop and wondering where all the people are. Well, did you put your store in a busy place? did you put up ads on billboards? Well for a website the one of the most important places to make sure your seen is on the social networks you like to use. Pay attention to that last part, the ones “you like to use”. People think that it matters which networks you use but I don’t think it does because they are all great and all that matters is that you love using it so you keep using it and keep getting the visibility from using it. One caveat, do NOT spam people. You have to be social not spammy. For instance, on Twitter you can and should post your articles but don’t just repeatedly annoy people with them. Rather spend more time just developing rapport with other users. Re-Tweet other articles, reply to tweets you like, share them with other people etc. It’s all about reciprocal actions.  If you’re in the Toronto area and are looking for someone to teach you about this check out Sarah Zeldman @ theemarketingmaven.com.
  8. Be part of the conversation. Make it easy for your readers to comment on your posts because people want to participate and when they do it’s great for you. I recommend the facebook comments (It’s what I use and guess what, that’s right, there’s a WordPress plugin for that). Don’t make them have to register. This only adds friction. Engage in the conversation yourself, reading your comments and replying as appropriate. The facebook comments is great because when someone comments it gets posted on the facebook feeds of their friends with a link back to your post. We call that social optimization.
  9. Comment on other blogs. As you read other people’s blog posts, leave comments. I’m not taking about spamming people with invitations to read your blog. Instead, engage in the conversations that interest you and build credibility. Make sure that you register with their commenting system if possible, so there is always a link back to your blog.
  10. Be a guest blogger. I have to admit, I don’t do this yet myself. That is primarily due to being to busy to write for myself more than once a week. There are many very successful bloggers who get their traffic almost exclusively by guest blogging on sites that get lots of traffic .

Beyond that you want to make sure you are using a good , SEO-optimized blog theme. There are hundreds on the market. I use Twenty Eleven and like it a lot.

Also, please remember that there really is no silver bullet and this takes time so be patient. Think of this like the turtle and hare, who always wins?

If you have a question or comment please email me.

What’s Your Startup’s Growth Strategy?

A couple of weeks ago someone suggested I read the book “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries.  So I went and did just that, and I’m very happy I did. As a product management guy, this book is invaluable and does a wonderful job of clarifying essential methods for any startup to employ.

There are many activities that businesses can engage in to create new customers but there exists three main mechanisms of growth that determine the kind of activities that should be tried, tested and optimized.

Let me clarify that this post in no ways means to discuss how much value you are offering your customers. I want to zone in on the mechanism that makes businesses able to expand and continually offer their products or services to new customers.

Eric Ries does a superb job of summing them up in the following categories.

Sticky Growth: This refers to businesses that brings in new customers and grows by retaining them. They need to be focusing their attention on tracking the attrition or churn rate which is a fraction of customers in a defined period who no longer engage with the product.  If the rate of acquiring new customer is greater than the churn rate, it will grow.  An example of this would be a mobile phone service provider whose goal is for you to remain a customer for a long a possible, in contrast with a car manufacturer who is focused on selling you at least just one car.

Viral Growth: Refers to a product that creates new customers directly from the usage of current customers. Inherent in this growth strategy is that the product itself delivers the most benefit to a customer when shared with others. The most obvious example of this kind of product is a social network. The goal is to create a viral coefficient of at least 1 so that there is a continued rate of growth. Anything lower than 1 means the growth rate will slow down to an eventual halt.

Paid Growth: This refers to a business that needs to sell it’s product at least one time per customer but the cost of acquiring a new customer (CPA) is low enough that the business can afford to continue acquiring new customers while still generating profit.  So take two different companies, one sells a product for $1 and purchases sponsored links on Google Adwords with a CPA of $0.80, while the other sells a service that costs $100,000 and pays sales people a salary and purchases commercial slots on t.v. networks with a CPA of $80,000.  They both have the exact same rate of growth which is 20% of their revenue that is now left over to acquire new customers.  The CPA will be divided among different things depending on the business.  A car dealership will pay for commercials and commissions on the sales, whereas a cafe will try to plop itself in the middle of a highly trafficked tourist area where there is heavy foot traffic.  The CPA has to be deducted from the lifetime value of the customer (LTV) and the revenue will then be invested back into advertising, locations etc.

Here’s the thing about growth strategies… they are just as important as the quality and value of the product for each customer.  You can build an amazing widget but if you can’t optimize a growth strategy that continues without dumps of unsustainable advertising or offering incentives that you can’t afford to offer long term, you don’t have a winning business.

The lean approach comes in to this equation by forcing you to test the growth strategy before you purchase wear houses and fill them with your manufactured products, or lease a really expensive storefront.  You can apply the same thought to a new social network you dreamed up and spent 6 months coding.  If you haven’t yet gathered early adopters and tested whether your viral loop is functioning with at least some viral coefficient the you believe you can optimize, then you might not be ready to make the leap to hiring 2 more programmers “Facebook level salaries” just yet.

Another important factor to consider is whether you are focusing your efforts into one growth strategy or trying to accomplish multiple strategies at once.  It’s very tempting to look at your product concept and envision how it will work for this or that segment and but you should consider if you really have the resources to specialize in more than one growth strategy.   Technically speaking there are businesses that operate with more than one growth strategy but they are developed businesses that have had focused success and then developed the resources to utilize other approaches.  Having different growth mechanisms requires different operational expertise and if you are a startup then the likelihood of accommodating that is low.  A successful startup is one that found a market and created a product that offers value to them and creates a sustainable engine of growth.  That is huge success when that happens and there is no need to layer on confusion that will take away from your chances of hitting that win.



Will Niche Directories Survive?

With the fast approaching Social-mobile era is a new opportunity for niche internet directories to become the preferred locations for focused content. Surprisingly this arrises from the incredible success of everyone’s favourite behemoth search engine. Now that Google has been the place to go for so long the SEO’s have polluted it by learning how to manipulate their search placement. As awareness of search manipulation increases, trust of a Google search will continue to decrease. Currently 50% of searches that are not handled well by Google are taking place on “non-search” sites like Wikipedia, Match.com or Realter.com. Another major challenge for Google search is that in a few years the majority of computing will occur on mobile devices which is currently only 1% of Google searches. Considering that already half of all the internet connected devices fit into the palm of your hand, Google is very quickly becoming much less important. So, unless Google figures out how to offer a better search experience than focused apps offer, they will be left in the dust. Meaning, niche internet directories that have achieved their traffic from occupying top placement on Google searches are at risk because there will be less searches on Google due to decreasing trust and relevance as we move into the mobile era. But that does not mean there is no opportunity for them, rather they just have to find a new way to be found…Enters social networking features.

If a niche directory can offer value for joining their community, and sharing their community and content with others, then they can become the known and trusted place to go search for that specific content.Why would I go to Google to look for a retirement home when I can go to RetirementHomes.com? Only because I don’t know that it exists. But, once I’m aware that there is such a place I won’t waste my time with Google. The challenge for a lot of directories is that people only look for what they index once in a while, like retirement homes, or schools. These are decisions that are made only a few times in someones life time. As opposed to a local restaurant directory that someone could use 3 times a day. So if your only way of gaining traffic is via Google SEO then your days are numbered. However, that challenge totally vaporizes if you can create a community of industry stakeholders that connect about and around this specific industry. Those that are regularly affected as a stakeholder could have a reason to be active in a community very often.

So how is this done?

Step #1. Continuously give stakeholders content that helps them with their challenges in the industry.

Step #2. Build a social community that connects stakeholders to each other so they can benefit from each other’s knowledge and experiences.

Step #3. Constantly offer incentive for stakeholders to bring more stakeholders into the community.

I think it’s safe to say that Google search is going to be around for a while. That said, long gone are the days that a directory can keep growing by simply occupying good search rankings. You can’t ignore the social thing anymore. What Facebook does is what users expect. If Facebook decides to put their main navigation bar along the site of page, guess what, in a short time the entire world will be used to that and then you will only benefit from doing the same. There is a reason why Google+ and now Twitter look almost identical to Facebook. So, why aren’t you creating social features? The whole world is used it… what are you waiting for?

Now, you might be asking yourself, “why would someone connect with a community on my site when they already connect with people on facebook?” To answer that question, you have to ask another… what is the purpose of Facebook? By no means do I think it’s time for you to invest in a product that competes with Facebook. That would be stupid. The social networks are created and there is no room for another Facebook competitor. Leave that feature fight for Twitter and Google+ who are trying to fulfil the same purpose as Facebook. As long as you are solving a problem that Facebook isn’t solving then there is no competition. Two websites can have identical features but if they have different purposes then there is no competition happening. Take Linkedin for example. People go there to network on a professional level. It’s an online resume, job fair, and networking event all wrapped into one and given a healthy does of steroids. It even has some very similar features to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ but none of the big three can fulfill the purpose that drives over 150,000,000+ people to Linkedin. It’s too specific for them to touch. Have you ever given someone a job reference on Facebook? Probably not because it would be totally useless, and potentially harmful to someone’s career.
If you are a niche directory you are by definition fulfilling a unique purpose and social features, if done well, will only help. Oh, ya… and make sure it is accessible on a mobile app too!


What marriage teaches you about product development.

Today I was brought to a fascinating realization.  Finding your soul mate is very similar to creating a great product.  How?  Well, it’s a little known secret that finding your ideal partner is actually a process of understanding and developing yourself to the point that you can recognize your ideal match.

Take an average singles scene where unfortunately the shiny, sexy exterior is what motivates a lot of unfortunate people to base their dating choices on.  Now don’t get me wrong, like any new website, oops I mean person, you need some initial attraction to peak your interest but if it’s no good under the hood then your relationship won’t last.  So too with a web product.  You might be able to get people onto the site to poke around a little but unless you are offering users real value don’t expect them to come back and you certainly shouldn’t expect to achieve any viral reach.

This analogy can really be applied to anyone who is into self-development of any kind. Thinking back to the product managers I know I realized that like me, they are always the ones with the self-help books lying around.  We’re always trying to find the most impactful places to make improvements.  We’re always asking the questions like, How can this be more efficient? What would make this experience better? etc…

So here is something I’ve learnt in recent years after getting married and moving back to Toronto to focus my efforts as a social and viral web business developer.  No matter what area of your life you are trying to improve, whether it’s your attitude, your marriage, or your website, focusing on purpose and and values will always offer the best results.

The Opportunity for Niche Social Networks

Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are the places you go to shout pretty much anything to anyone who will listen, or for most users the place to hear what anyone has to say at any given time.  It’s the place to browse and see what is going on with everyone in your world.

Google+ has entered the game with a simple and fun way to categorize your feed of ever faster moving information by which ever circle you are filtering through at that moment, but it is still there to connect you to the whole world just like Facebook.

The pace at which information is flying by your eyes is dizzying and the more connections you have the faster it goes.  The unfortunate result is that that the faster is goes, the less impact your posts have on the world.  So if everyone is posting on all three, which one you choose to use becomes a preference of features.  No wonder it took a Google to create a third competitor…

Recently I was consulting a Toronto based social network startup called Keek.com as their Director of Product Management.  They want to “be like twitter, only better”.  Their belief is that if people like sending short messages to each other why not send short video messages instead.  So they’ve created a pretty sweet product and they’re betting millions that people will use keek.com when they want to communicate socially with video.  Are they really going to do that better than Facebook, Twitter or Google+ who already allow you to do so fairly easily?  We’ll see.  I’m not putting my money on it because when it comes to creating a product with the same purpose of Facebook, you’re not going to win by features alone.

Then enters Linkedin who has similar features to Facebook but exists for a very different purpose.  People go to Linkedin to connect and network socially, but have you ever gotten an update from a Linkedin connection about how angry someone is with Blair from Gossip Girl?  Probably not and chances are you never will.  Why?  Because it’s the ultimate “work people” circle.  People go there with their game face on trying to project the most professional, successful and valuable appearance they can.  This is their place to be seen for their professional successes and to find new or better professional opportunities.  It’s purpose is to be an online job fair or networking event and it does it fairly well.

Focused social networks are the opportunity today.  If you can create a place for people to gather around a specific purpose that can’t be met on the major networks, and offer users a way to connect and share in a custom way then you just may have the next big success story.

What does viral actually mean?





So what does viral actually mean? I get asked this question a lot.  Well to be honest it’s usually not asked directly but the blank, glossy eyed stare that comes over peoples faces when the topic comes up is enough for me to launch into my usual explanation.  Which is the following:

To me, viral product is one that gives people benefit when they share it with others. This could be an article that you share with someone because you think it’s really informative or really provocative, or it could be a product that is totally useless unless others also have it. A telephone, for example, is a viral product.  You don’t get much use out of it unless someone else has one.  Or, take facebook.  How great would facebook be if none of your friends were on it.

So some viral products are the content that gets shared, like a funny video about a shower gel, or it’s the means by which people actually share it, like twitter.