AuthorHannah Buckley

The Amazing New World of Drones

Today on the Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Brian Gravel about The Amazing New World of Drones.

Introduction

Today on the Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Brian Gravel about The Amazing New World of Drones.

Introduction

Paul: So, if you were to split up, or we’re talking sort of about media production here but you do a lot of websites. Do you do any book publishing or things like that? Or document creation?
Brian: I mean, we have done traditional print materials on the design side. We’ve sourced out printers and local artisans, if you will to do the actual physical creations. But most of our, our work ends up, is in the digital space, and then we outsource anything, you know. We’re not printing any materials really, in-house or anything like that.
Paul: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, we run a copy service. So, alright. Well, we’re here to talk about drones. And drones are, it seems like, everywhere in the news. And they certainly have—
Brian: It’s pretty crazy. Right?
Paul: Yeah, it’s just like, oh my gosh. So, I’ve been watching drones. I don’t own one. I don’t play one on TV. And you know, drones are anywhere from the tiny little things that you can go to Brookstone and buy, and they have bigger ones too, all the way up to military drones, that are 15, 20 feet long, 50 feet long. I’ve seen those. Recently went to the air and space museum, and they have some drones there. And they were like…well, these are huge. I mean, they’re like airplanes. It’s like a Cessna. First of all, what, what got you thinking about drones?
Brian: Yeah. I think probably in 2012, 2013, we consume a lot of media, through different sources online. And, our video team kind of had their eye on, like, wow, there’s a lot of drone footage popping up. And then, I think, the company DJI, which is the brand that we use, really, got out at the forefront of focusing on kind of this prosumer level style of drone. It wasn’t really, though, the one you’re buying at BestBuy now, but it also wasn’t your military style investment where you’re spending $100,000. They were, they made it kind of like the DSLR boom, with like Nikon and Canon and companies like Sony, that they made quality product affordable.
And when we started seeing that we took what we were doing video-wise, and we were thinking like, “Well, what can a drone replace?” It can replace a dolly. It can replace a crane shot. It can replace… It gave you all these tools in a fairly inexpensive package. We were already using GoPros at the time and their Phantom series interfaced with GoPro. So it made sense for us. Like, “Let’s get one and try it out and see what we can do.” And, it became a love affair after that.
Paul: Okay. So that was pretty much the Wild West, compared to where we are now. I mean, things have progressed quite a bit.
Brian: Things have happened fast.
Paul: So back then, there were no rules, per se.
Brian: There were rules, but it was very gray. Things were always changing. You know, there was no… There was- the process was very convoluted to how to do things by the book.
Paul: So let me as you this. How heavy is your drone?
Brian: Our drone…it’s probably the size of, like maybe a backpack, I guess I would liken it to. And it weighs probably about 10 pounds.
Paul: 10 pounds. Really. Okay.
Brian: Yeah. It’s not super heavy.
Paul: Alright. But it is over the limit.
Brian: What’s that?
Paul: So I was just reading an article about this. And apparently, if you have a drone that’s over five— 0.55 pounds up to 550 pounds, you have to have a license to fly it for commercial use. So taking pictures.
Brian: Hmmm. Are you talking about registering it?
Paul: Registering it. Yeah, you have to register anything over 0.55 pounds.
Brian: Right.
Paul: And then… I mean, you as a person, just as a, as a consumer. You can go out and buy a drone that’s 54 pounds. I can’t imagine buying a 54-pound drone. Like, how much money would I have to spend for that? But you have to register that. Over 55 pounds, there’s a whole bunch of, a whole different role.
Now, from what I understand, and I know we’re not experts on this, but I think it’s a good discussion for people to hear, if you go out and say, “Hey, I’m going to put up a sign and charge $5 for every drone shot I do. And I’m going to sell to my real estate people.” If you’re doing it commercially, you have to have a license from the FAA.
Brian: Yes. So there’s two… The, the history behind it is there was at first what was called the FA333 exemption, which was basically like, like, it was more or less a company exemption. So you had all these rules attached to it, specifically one that was very hindering was that the person flying the drone had to have a pilot’s license.
Paul: Wow, a real pilot.
Brian: Yes. I think the minimum requirement was a sport pilot certificate was basically like the minimum requirement you could have to film…well, to use it commercially, which was still 30 hours of flight school and X amount of time in a plane. So that became very challenging for people to really accommodate. And then last August, they released what’s called Part 107, which is more or less the new set of standards and rules. And in that, you can acquire a remote airman certificate, which is more or less you take a knowledge-based test and based on a passing score, you can get a certificate to fly commercially.
Paul: And do you have one of those?
Brian: We have both.
Paul: You have both of those? Wow.
Brian: We have FAA 333 exemption. And, we also have staff who are Part 107, are remote airman certified.
Paul: Cool. Now, just so our listeners are there. I mean, we’re not lawyers, and we’re not giving you legal advice. But you need to be careful about this stuff. If you go out and buy a drone today, and it weighs less than 0.55 pounds, you don’t need to do anything. You can just fly it. Do whatever you want.
Brian: Yeah. I mean, if you have that Brookstone drone, you’re pretty safe. But there’s a lot of drones that you can buy. I mean, you can buy a pretty decent drone at Best Buy and I just saw some stuff that may change that. If you’re flying as a hobbyist, you don’t have to register it.
Paul: Right. That’s the big loophole.
Brian: Yeah but as of right now, you’re right, if it’s over that weight, you’re supposed to register the drone regardless of if you’re flying it commercially or just for fun.
Paul: So if you do buy a drone that weights a pound you need to register with the FAA. It’s an easy process.
Brian: It’s an easy process. It’s like a $5 registration fee.
Paul: Right. Now there is a difference though between me, you know, just general citizen, and you, a company. I understand you guys actually have to file flight plans.
Brian: Flight plans, dependent… Like Boston and greater Boston are particularly tricky areas to film because there’s a lot of airports in close proximity to kind of like the places where people want to capture media. With the 333 exemption you had this blanket certificate of authorization.
Paul: Really. That’s cool.
Brian: And that gave you certain filming capabilities within X amount of miles from the airport. I think it was five or seven, depending on the space. Now, basically if we wanted to fly in Beverly, you file for a certificate of authorization to go along with the pilot in command’s remote airman’s certificate. So yeah, there’s some processes. Not to mention if you’re flying commercially, you definitely want to carry insurances, but for both the drone and for the company and liability so… Yeah, what I’ve seen is there’s a lot of people who are getting into the commercial aspect inside of it a little willy-nilly and not thinking through all these other things that go along with it.
But, you know, there are also a lot of people out there and you know, one-man shops and guys who are out there starting businesses just based on drone usage and flight, that are doing things the right way and really trying to take advantage of a market. We’re kind of somewhere in-between. You know, we’re using it as a tool in addition to our video production services.
Paul: Right. So you’re actually producing some sort of show or video — an end product. You’re not just coming in and saying, “Hey, I want you to…” Do you do real estate?
Brian: We’ve done real estate. We’ve done all different markets. And we have gotten hired more than a handful of times just specifically to do drone stuff. But a lot of times, what it is is like — going back to the B-roll conversation — we’ll be shooting a piece and we’ll use the drone to to get accompanying shots for that specific piece. Maybe it’s a piece of the city of Peabody and we’re shooting, shots of downtown. That’s just one example, but that type of thing. We did these profile pieces all across the country a couple of years ago for a client, and we would just bring the drone out to get kind of like that establishing shot. You know, when you’re out in an oil field, out in, South Dakota, or if you’re out in wind turbines in Oklahoma, it’s to give that perspective of like flying in that, even at 200 feet, you get that…
Paul: It’s cool.
Brian: Yeah. It’s that shot you can’t see. You get the big picture. And it’s funny how mentally, you know, when you start that wide, like 200 feet looking down at something versus shooting something on the ground, it kind of tells that story of where you are.
Paul: Right. Yeah. I mean, I think it’s fascinating because we’ve never really… Roll back 20 years. You’d have to get, rent a helicopter, you know. Or maybe out of a plane. But it was unique. And there was very little time for normal citizens, normal consumers, to actually be at 200 feet. They just couldn’t see. You know, because when you take off, you go to 30,000 feet pretty instantly. So this is a very new view. And it’s cool. Do you think that will wear off?
Brian: Maybe a bit. It could be, it could be a little faddish. However, I think what I’ve seen in the drone market, at least, is people thinking of different ways to use them.
Paul: So what have you seen?
Brian: Surveying, mapping, inspections search and rescue, you know. I’ve seen… Take any industry, and people are finding ways to apply drones to it. When you mentioned Wild West, it really is that. That feeling that’s a bit of a Gold Rush in certain regards because people are just trying to find ways to take this device and apply it to a business.
There’s a company over in Danvers for a while that I thought had a really unique model. They were doing construction asset tracking with a drone. So basically, they were taking these RFID-type devices, embedding them into concrete, and then the drone would fly over, ping these devices, so they could figure out how much material they had on the ground at any given time at a construction site.
Paul: Oh, that’s a cool idea.
Brian: Yeah. So that’s the stuff that goes beyond just putting the drone up and getting that picture from 200 feet. Right?
Paul: Exactly. So you sort of should have a drone exploitation division. How can we better exploit the drone?
Brian: Yeah. For us, I think we’ll grow with the industry a bit. But, you know, I think it’s still going to be one of those things that we’re using in addition to our video production versus, “this is our primary service.”
Paul: Right. What do you think about Amazon using drones, potentially for delivery? I mean, they’re testing it. When it came out, it sounded like a joke, when the first announcement came. But it turns out, I think it’s going to be real. What’s your thought on that?
Brian: I don’t know. I mean, it’s hard to imagine seeing hundreds of drones in the air all moving at once. But if you think about it, in the ’30s and ’40s when commercial airlines were starting to bud, like the people must have thought it was so weird that, you know, “Oh, there will never be planes overhead.” And we don’t think twice about it, so…
Paul: But they are pretty far apart. I mean, they are a couple of miles apart, at least. So I mean, but I think the Wild West thing is this whole drone… Like, what if there are 10 drones in the area, and they hit each other, and they’re not really trackable on radar, certainly for the smaller ones?
Brian: I think that’s where one of the things that separates out… You know, the technology is just moving so fast. I mean, even, even a drone you buy off the shelf at Best Buy has avoidance collision and all these safety mechanisms built into it. Now, not saying that they’re foolproof. But I mean, the technology is really driving the product. So I think that crashing is less of a worry more. I think it’s going to be more of, in particular case of like Amazon, like, how much of a, of a noticeable nuisance is it to the people on the ground where that product… You know, specifically if they’re having like delivery drop-off points or something like that and you’re near one.
Paul: Yeah. All the time, All the buzzing.
Brian: Think about how many packages I get from Amazon just delivered by ground. I’m like, “Hmmm. I wonder if my neighbors would be really pissed if I had a drone coming to my house every other day.” So, yeah. I don’t know. I mean, I have mixed feelings on it. Our drone, it’s fairly quiet. It sounds like a really loud bee, I would say. But you know, there’s a noise factor involved. As you mentioned, they’re a lot different proximity to you than like a plane in the air. But, I don’t think it’s going to be like that commercial where the people are walking out of the building and all these drones are buzzing overhead. I think that’s a little extreme.
Paul: So… Alright. So we go out. We go to BestBuy. We buy a drone. How much is it going to cost me? A thousand dollars?
Brian: Yeah. I mean, a thousand dollars, you can get a pretty decent model drone. You, definitely can get them under that pricewise. But a thousand dollars, you’re really paying… There’s three parts of a drone that you’re really paying for. You’re paying for the, the drone itself, which is the, you know, the aircraft, and that’s going to, that’s going to have certain features and functionality, depending on your price, just like a camera would.
Then you’re paying for the camera itself. You know, the quality of the footage. Are there detachable lenses that go with it? The functionality of that. And then really, the unsung hero of it is the gimbal, which is the piece that attaches the camera to the drone. And depending on the quality of that and the functionality in that, that’s really what delivers the stabilization. So, you know, when a lightweight drone that weighs five, ten pounds like ours does is getting pushed around in the air, you know, that, that gimbal is holding that camera in place to give you that smooth shot and adjusting with it.
Paul: Okay. I imagine there’s like probably infinite numbers of those of you can buy, all different qualities.
Brian: Most people, if you’re going to BestBuy, you’re buying what’s most likely what’s called the ready-to-fly system, which is basically like all those pieces are going to be together. So you’re not really assembling it as much. You’re not, you’re not really swapping out parts. It’s kind of like, you know, get it, turn it on, register it, and you’re good to go.
Paul: Okay. Well that’s good to… I mean, I think that’s important. He said something there. You might have jumped over, but he registered it. And you’re not talking like warranty registration, you’re talking FAA registration. So that’s important because, you know, you’re going to be flying. And I have a good friend that’s an air traffic controller, and they’re special people. I mean, they have the attention of… I mean, they’re looking at so many pieces of information. And now drones have the potential of mixing that all up, you know. And you have a pilot flying and sees a drone and gets sort of, oh my gosh, and has to move. And then there’s this impact in the air traffic control world. And so you need to do all those things.
So okay. We go to Best Buy. We, we set it up. We charge it. We register it, and I go outside just for fun. What can I do? Can I just fly it over my neighbor’s house? Can I fly it up and down the street?
Brian: Yeah. You know, you bring up an interesting point and one that comes up in a lot of the legal discussions and privacy discussion is, you know, if I own a piece of property, what do I own? How far up?
Paul: How far up the atmosphere does it go?
Brian: Right. you know we, as a company and as a person, we’ve always taken the approach of best practices as much as possible as far as we realize that people are concerned about these things in that they don’t want it hitting their space or capturing their space in a lot of cases. So we try to be very respectful of that.
Paul: Sure. Of course. Commercially, of course.
Brian: Yeah. Commercially. Even when I go out. I’ve done just test flights and stuff in my neighborhood, and you know, I try to be respectable, respectful of how close it is to anything, how low it is, you know, where it’s flying over, just because it’s a lot different if you’re in a field or a park than it is when you’re over a neighbor’s house or in a neighborhood.
Paul: Yeah. I’m not sure about this, but I think it’s the case that recently there was a ruling that you can shoot down a drone over your air space, if you will.
Brian: Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know about the law or the ruling on it. But yeah, some people have taken it to that extreme.
Paul: Yeah. Or just a big net or just put big covers over everything.
Brian: I don’t know if that would be in the Boston area but, you know, you get somewhere out a little more rural, you probably run that risk.
Paul: Okay. So we’ve just bought this drone. We’ve registered it and there’s something cool going on in one of the small baseball teams, AAA is there, and there’s an event going on. Can you go and fly it there? I mean, I’m a normal person. I imagine I could. I can’t imagine I’d get in trouble. The police might be upset with me. I don’t know that they could do anything, but they could look and say, “Well, you know, you’re parked wrong, and we’ll give you a ticket for that.”
So it’s sort of the Wild West in that kind of stuff is that you need to — and I think it’s what Brian’s saying here is you need to respect the area, but we’re in a new world, you know.
Brian: The FAA has put out a lot of educational pieces for both hobbyist and commercial vendors on what to do, safety, rules and regulations.
Paul: There any good sites you could recommend?
Brian: Yeah. BeforeYouFly. I can give you the link. That one is a pretty good one. There’s a few out there that are just like good quick resources to get information. The FAA site is a government site.
Paul: Yeah, it’s hard to use.
Brian: A little bit difficult to navigate. But once you have those other links to the outside sites that they’ve partnered with, the information is pretty concise and clear and documentation on it is pretty good.
Paul: Right. So now, it used to be years ago that you’d go out and have your portrait taken as a family. You’d sit down with a professional photographer. They’d use professional equipment. They’d tell you to smile and the flashes would go off, and then they’d print these out for you professionally. That whole world has changed dramatically. First of all, with SLRs and there was still a big investment, and it wasn’t instant. And then digital came in, and now everybody can be a photographer. And I can take lots of pictures that I never print. I just have them in my computer. And the same thing, I think, is happening in the drone world, you know. So because we talk about a lot of people with their websites. And they’re using stock photos. And it’s, to me, it’s a death knell. You don’t want to use a lot of stock photos. Stock video is completely different than stock photos, but they just look like stock photos.
Brian: You mean guys shaking hands, corporate woman.
Paul: Yes. And so, you know, we say run. Let’s find a professional photographer that can take good photos of you and your team and your assets and things like that. And they make such a big difference. So I think the same goes for drones too. I mean, hey, my nephew has a drone. I’ll go and have him take a picture and well that’s going to be better than nothing. It’s nowhere near what some of the… sort of, intangibles of, I imagine what you do is staging it. Do you do storyboards? Do you do things like that?
Brian: Yeah, not for the drone stuff. It’s pretty much like a call up. “We have a location we want to film. You know, we’ve seen your demo reel. What’s the cost?” That’s kind of typical process of, of getting hired to do it. And then obviously presenting all of our documentation that we’re insured and we’re certified and the whole nine. But yeah. So storyboarding out isn’t as much of a thing. But I agree with you with the direction where you’re going with the sentiment is there’s a whole range. Putting a GoPro on a drone, like we did at first was cool but when you see the difference in quality when you have a good camera and someone who knows how to fly, you know, it goes from having that picture that looks nice on Facebook to someone that’s lit the shot and…
Paul: Yeah. Those are sort of intangibles and a lot of people don’t know what makes a good photo, but they know it when they see it. It’s like, “Wow. That’s incredible.” And I would imagine, you know, for the video, all those rules apply. So I would encourage our listeners, go ahead and play with a drone. Buy one yourself too. But that’s a hobby. If you’re in business, I would seriously talk to somebody like Brian or if you’re not in New England, talk to other people that are doing it and see their demo reels and see what kind of quality they’re doing and talk to their clients too.
Brian: Yeah, and I think anyone looking to get in the drone space should really go in with a clear vision of what they want to do with it because your investment, your life blood is what you invest in your equipment. And if you’re buying a drone and you want to get into, for example, like measurement points and surveying and stuff like that, an off-the-shelf drone at BestBuy is not going to do what you need to do. If you want to get into video stuff, how far are you going to take it? Is it good enough to just put the drone up or are you trying to get hired for feature films where you need to put a camera with a payload on it? You know, so yeah, that, equipment investment where you get like the DSLR movement where people can go and buy these things at BestBuy, it’s a great way for people to see if they like it and, and try it out and get good at it, if you will, but it’s like any profession. You’re going to need to invest in the right gear and the time and the training to get to where you want to be as far as growing it as a business.
Paul: Right. I guess it’s sort of similar to the, you know, anybody can build a WordPress website, so why do they hire professionals? Well, first of all it’s not your job. I mean, you know, if you’re a plumber, you gotta go out and plumb stuff. And what are you doing building a website? It might be fun. That’s great. Okay, that’s a good reason to do it if you want to enjoy it. But if you’re a business, you really need to think hard about where you’re spending your time. And, yeah, you could become a drone expert but is that the best use of your time? And there’s a lot of people out there who are doing the drone stuff. So I think it’s important to highlight the insurance, the registration, the licenses. Those are all critical because, I don’t know where the liability would be. But if something bad happened, and it were your company had hired company ABC to do a drone shoot, and something bad happened, that would be pretty sad.
Brian: Sure. We contacted our insurance company that we had for our business side—
Paul: They would say, “What are you talking about?”
Brian: Yeah. It was new. It was a new feat for them for sure. But, yeah. I mean, we did go out. We insured the, the drone itself. We had to have a separate rider for coverage as far as liability is concerned.
Paul: Now does your insurance company know what a drone is?
Brian: Yeah. Oh, yeah. And it’s funny. There’s companies — we just ran into one recently — it’s like an ad hoc insurance model basically like they’re paying like a per day. They’re insuring companies per day for, so you can get like… You know, I’m going out and flying in this location with these sort of parameters, and you can buy insurance for the day to supplement existing stuff. Yeah. So I think one of the interesting things about the drone industry is it’s not just using the drone. It’s the technology surrounding it. It’s the insurances. It’s all these other industries that are on the peripherals. You know, figuring out, well, I guess how they can make money off it. But you know, also figuring out how it’s applicable to what they do.

Media Technology with Brian Gravel

Today on the Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Brian Gravel about Media Technology.

Show Notes

GraVoc’s Website
GraVoc Video Production and Design
How a Green Screen Works
What is 4K Video?
What is B-Roll?
How To Animate a Photo: The 2.5D Effect

Transcript

Paul: Today I’m meeting with Brian Gravel.

Brian: Hey, Paul. Thank you for having me here today.

“Media Technology with Brian Gravel”

Paul: Now you work at GraVoc?

Brian: Yes.

Paul: You’re one of the family members there from what I understand.

Brian: That’s true.

Paul: And it’s not like a mafia family, is it?

Brian: No. No, more of a technology family.

Paul: Alright. So GraVoc, you’re located in Peabody, Massachusetts. And you’re the vice president of creative tech. Now, what other vice presidents do you have, so we can just get a sort of holistic picture of what GraVoc is?

Brian: Yeah. So we’re a technology consulting company at heart. We have a traditional IT practice. We have the creative technology practice, which I head up. My brother heads up the information security practice, and then we have a software solutions practice, which is more like software customization, ERP system implementation, that type of thing. So it’s like a 360-degree technology approach to business consulting.

Paul: Okay. And, are all of those divisions the same age? Or are they different ages?

Brian: As far as when they started in the company? Yeah, so the creative technology group started in 2006 as a separate company that my business partner Matt and I founded. And in 2010, we merged into GraVoc.

Paul: Oh, okay. Cool.

Brian: So we’re the baby on the block as far as the longevity of each practice. The company really started kind of as a hybrid of the software solutions and IT group, by my dad back in 1993. And then information security practice, that came around kind of during the y2k time and the hysteria that came with that.

Paul: Well you’re dating yourself here. You know, you’re saying… A lot of people listening won’t have been alive during y2k, so what’s the big deal, you know? It all worked? But it was a crisis, unprecedented crisis of potential. There was all these doom and gloom stories. You know, New Year’s Day wasn’t going to happen.

Brian: That’s right. That’s right.

Paul: So you started the creative technology back in 2006?

Brian: Yeah. Correct.

Paul: Wow. So 11 years into this. This is pretty cool.

Brian: Yeah, the foundation of the company at that time, which was called Diverging Soul Media Production was film and music. And we quickly found out that there was a lot of film and music companies out there, and we really needed to expand our services. So we did. We were trying to do innovative things at the time. So we did stuff with digital signage and a whole slew of, of video-related technology products, and that eventually lead us into web development and Matt, my business partner, really took the reigns of that side of things. And then we saw the synergy, with YouTube budding and around that time as well, with video and, and web, and how we could kind of use that as a niche. And then our services have just really evolved from there.

Paul: Okay. So we’re here to talk with you about drones, but I love getting this backstory and sort of the context of what you brought you to drones. And we’ll get more into that. So, you guys must have done ColdFusion. Were you a ColdFusion shop or were you just HTML? Or what did you do? MicroSoft shop?

Brian: I’ll tell you our dirty secret. At first, it was iWeb. I don’t know if you remember that. Yeah. And then just HTML and to Dreamweaver. And then eventually, custom builds, WordPress development and all that stuff.

Paul: So that’s what you’re doing now is…? For the web segment of the creative, is it mostly WordPress stuff or custom or…?

Brian: It really depends on the situation, you know. We do have a lot of WordPress clients, great content management system, in my opinion. But we also do a lot of custom builds, depending on the situation. So Matt specifically likes to describe them as progressive web applications and products that are functioning like web, websites but really are applications as a whole.

Paul: Oh, cool. Excellent. Yeah, we’ve seen a lot of growth in that area, and you know, people wanting more functionality than just a blog, really. You know, our brochureware. And that’s really cool see.

Uh, okay. You know, I noticed at the North Shore Chamber of Commerce — so we’re here in Massachusetts, and we’re on the North Shore, north of Boston — We went to the business expo. And you guys offered to do videos of everybody, so you were going around. So that seems like that’s right in your wheelhouse, is going out and making corporate videos and all the creative that goes with that. Is that one of the things that people would call you for?

Brian: Yeah. We do a real, real mix with our video production. We do a lot of training videos, a lot of corporate video. We’ve done a lot with nonprofits in regards to kind of profile pieces and things like that. Once in a while, we get fun, kind of, Comcast 30-second spots where we’ve done some stuff with animation and just try to, when we get those opportunities, do stuff that’s a little bit outside the box.

Paul: Cool. So now can you give — I’m not asking for specifics — but can you give us an example of a project that you’ve done and how that worked out, what the client was trying to do and how you solved it? So that, you know, as people are listening, they can get an idea of both what you do and how to apply video, because everybody says video is critical for the web right now. I tend to agree with that. But I’d love to hear what you have to think.

Brian: Yeah, I mean, a lot of times when we have a customer come to us, they have a vision in mind, and we’re more on the execution side. So, but you’re right. Most of the stuff is going to web, and it’s really… It could be a delivery mechanism for their message and branding. It could be for training purposes. A significant part of what we do is we’ve essentially built a training portal for a large company on the North Shore and then are producing the videos that go alongside that.

Paul: Okay. Is this for employee training or customer training?

Brian: Yeah. It’s for insurance, safety training essentially.

Paul: Oh, okay. Yeah, that’s critical because it’s compliance.

Brian: So it’s for, for policyholders of theirs. So they’ve built kind of this conduit for people to login train. Eventually they’re bringing it to an e-learning level but really just a resource library of, of safety-style videos. Yeah.

Paul: Cool. That’s cool. And then do you track like who’s completed what and they get some benefit for having done that?

Brian: Yeah. There are components of that built into the system for sure. Yeah. So that’s a good example of kind of how we hit all sides of the project. You know, we built the portal. We built the brochureware, if you will. We built in the content.

Paul: Oh, that’s awesome. So a one-stop shop in a lot of ways.

Brian: Yeah. A lot of times. And, our services kind of talk to one another, and so there’s legacy database systems that know need frontend. So, you know, our software solutions team, which may handle and maintain that legacy system, helps us write API calls to talk to a web frontend.

Paul: Very cool. Yeah, it’s hard to find people that can take all pieces of it, or all facets of something. It’s, so that might, must be nice because you can’t point the finger at anybody. And that’s a benefit to the customer is that there’s no finger pointing. “Well, it was their fault.” “Well, yeah. That’s you.” So…

Brian: No, and it’s good because we… There’s a deep understanding of the different components of it. I think what we’ve run into a lot of times and where we, we see how the value of our company shines through is that you may get someone who is heavily into one side or the other, and they don’t understand how those pieces connect. And you know, based on various projects and hurdles, we don’t work with one particular market segment either. So, you know, the challenge of a manufacturer could be applied to the challenge of an insurance company in some weird way that you would never think. But, you know, we run into these situations where it’s like, “Oh, yeah, we did that on this, and you know, we can connect the dots here.” And so, that’s the part that, for me, that’s fun. And I think that also encapsulates the company as a whole.

Paul: Cool. Now you, as far as the creative side, I think you guys have a studio. Don’t you?

Brian: We do.

Paul: So, now like these training videos, were they done in studio or were they done on location or a mix?

Brian: You know, a lot of have been done on location. A lot of OSHA style, so you need the warehouse or a, or a ladder or something along those lines. But we do have a green screen room where we do a lot of our kind of talking-head profile pieces. The stuff that the studio space, what we moved into a new space in October. And that space, ultimately, gave us the opportunity to bring clients in at lower cost for a project, more or less because we had the space for it, which was all pre-rigged, ready to go versus dragging all the gear out, location to location, you know. So, for, for us, it’s been one of those things where we’re trying to take advantage of giving customers a little bit more flexibility on their budget to get a quality, studio-quality piece.

Paul: So now, just for our listeners who may not know, a green screen is basically a wall that’s painted with a bright lime-green almost?

Brian: Yeah, it’s like it’s…

Paul: It’s an unnatural green.

Brian: That’s right. That’s a good way to describe it. Yeah.

Paul: And what you do is you, you stand in front of it, and you shoot a camera with that and, uh, so you take a video of it. It’s like, what? If you watched the weather on the news, it’s the same way. And afterwards, you can use something called Chroma Key to put a new picture behind that. And you know, it’s not always perfect. It’s getting better and better. But you can see it when maybe somebody moves and you’ll notice that they don’t wear anything green. But that allows you to, you know, effectively have somebody standing on the shore of the Atlantic without having to be at the Atlantic. And so that’s cool. So you’ve got one that’s actually built out and lit. See, the biggest things with green screen is you have to uniformally — uniformally, is that a word?

Brian: I don’t know, but it sounded right.

Paul: You have to uniformally light the green because it has to be the same color all the way throughout.

Brian: Yeah. Shadows are the biggest trip-up in that process. And then when you get to more advanced stages of it, you know, like you look at like maybe an ESPN piece where they do like the 30 for 30s or something along those lines where they have that, really like one side of the face is dark and the other is lit. Uh, that’s where, you know, skillsets really shine through is that, if you know what you’re doing or not. And yeah, that’s the tough part.

And with the studio, for us, it gives us a lot more variables over— a lot more control over those variables. Yeah, so we’ve got a lot of lighting pre-rigged, and then we have flexible lighting on the floor that we can move around and kind of get the look and feel that we want.

Paul: And this is all, you know, you, our listeners… Having been a professional photographer myself, all of these things sound like labor and laborious and like, “Oh, man, that’s, that’s such a hassle.” But it makes the difference between things looking okay and things looking fantastic. Good lighting, good cameras, angles, lenses, all of these stuff adds up to just, you know, knock your socks off. And that’s why you can tell… This is why you go to the movies and you pay all this money — you know, $15 to sit in a sit and watch a movies — because they took all of this into account.

So, what kind of cameras do you guys use?

Brian: We use an array of cameras. I mean, I like to call them small form factor cameras. But it depends on the situation. But I’m, we’re shooting entirely 4k now, so…

Paul: Okay. All 4k. So high, high resolution. That’s four times the normal HiDef of Blue-ray. So that’s a lot of data. So, okay. So…

Brian: So I mean, the trick for us has been to find, 4k cameras that shoot at a bit rate and compress the video enough to where we’re not losing the quality but we’re not having these massive file sizes, because as a photography professional, you probably know, you get into those raw files, and all of a sudden, you know, it became…

Paul: Where do you store them?

Brian: Yeah. Exactly. Where do you store them? How do you back them up and, and that whole process? So yeah. I mean, we’ve been very cautious of that and selective in our decision making when it comes to purchases as far as new technology is concerned. And we also have to work quickly with a lot of files. You know, most of the time, we don’t have a cinematic film-like timeline and budget where you have, you can have these media bays and things like that. And you know, you have to make sure that a project size, the files are, are easy enough to work with quickly and turn out a final product.

And a lot of times, you know, we’re shooting high quality, but eventually, it’s getting down res-ed too, something that’s going to be able to play smoothly on a, on a website. So…

Paul: So you, but you still… So, I mean, that’s a great point. So you’re shooting hundreds of times better quality then is going to be rendered on the web.

Brian: Most likely.

Paul: But you’re doing it. And, and so if you were… Somebody were to come in and say, “Gee, I want a project done — X, Y, and Z,” just on average, how long does it take, start to finish? So, you know, I come in and I say, “This is what I want. I want a talking head video for my company so people can get to know me.” Is that a week? Is that 10 weeks. I know it varies by how busy you are, but let’s say you didn’t have anything else to do. Come in. How much does that take?

Brian: Yeah. No, I mean, it’s a good question. It depends, really, on a number of factors. Obviously like what’s involved with the shooting, how their location shoots… Is it in studio? How much editing is involved. If it’s a quick talking head, those can get knocked out pretty quick, but if you have a lot of B-roll that has to go along with it, the project might be staggered out, depending on when you’re doing pickups or aggregating media.

Paul: Let me interrupt you. What’s B-roll. I mean, let’s educate some of the people. So, is it rolls of bees?

Brian: Yeah, so if someone was filming our conversation right now and we were talking about cameras for example, they might show a picture of the cameras we were talking about.

Paul:: Cut away to that.

Brian: Yeah. Exactly. That cutaway footage and that footage on top of your main dialog or interview is what’s called B-roll.

Paul: Okay. And so you have to shoot that.

Brian: Shoot that, acquire it. You can purchase stock clips. You can use motion kind of effects on pictures sometimes works. We use 2.5D effect a lot of time, which I don’t know if you’re familiar with.

Paul: Well, tell me.

Brian: It kind of looks like you take a still photo and you isolate layers of it and kind of to make it… A lot of PBS-like.

Paul: Yeah. Ken Burns — did he do any of that?

Brian: It’s a little— it’s almost like Ken Burns on steroids a little bit. So it’s that motion of the Ken Burns effect of it panning into a picture or zooming into a picture. But you’re isolating different layers of, of the photo in Photoshop so you have more depth to it.

Paul: I see. So that must be a picture that you’re creating. You couldn’t take that from a…

Brian: Yeah. I mean, sometimes, sometimes media is, you know, only available in picture format, you know. Or a customer may not have a budget to go out and shoot specific things. So with that being said, I mean, every project’s a little different. And I think there’s also a degree of, you know, how much the client knows they want upfront versus, you know, how much are they involved in the creative process, and that, that can draw out a timeline too.

Paul: Cool. Well, I just want to tell our listeners, we, in the show notes, we’ll have some links to examples of the 2.5D effect. Hopefully you can give us one and, and show us that. And links to all the things we talk about as we’re going through this. And, and of course, to GraVoc.

Ed Alexander – Website Content Development and Segmentation

Today on the Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Ed Alexander, founder of Fan Foundry, about developing your Website Content as well as content segmentation and publishing.

Introduction

 

Paul: Hello, and welcome to the Edge of Innovation. I’m Paul Parisi, your host, and today I have Ed Alexander, founder of Fan Foundry.

Ed: How are you doing? Nice to be here.

Paul: Great to have you.

 

Content Development and Cross Pollination

 

Paul: So now, we moved into the area of content development and what it is and the cross-linking and things like that. What are the other steps? Those are certainly not simple. But is it really those two steps? Make sure you have good content and then make sure you cross-pollinate that. Is there something else?

Ed: I think that making sure that whatever structurally you do with SEO on any given page of content is congruent, it resonates with the actual content on the page so that people don’t get false positives, get led someplace they don’t deserve to be or look for something and find something else that’s less relevant or not always as satisfying. That’s a mutually supported proposition.

But we know you hear and anybody can read Google’s and Alphabet, their parent company’s, intention was never to build an ad network. When Sergey Brin and Larry Page first founded Google, one of their first statements was, “No, we’re not trying to build an ad empire, although that’s going to be a byproduct, and it will help fund our operations. What we really want to build is an artificial intelligence machine.” In the year 2000 when Google was founded, the words in their mission statement were, “Don’t be evil but we’re going to build an artificial intelligence machine.” What does that mean? They meant something different then than it does now, but they’re eyes were on the prize.

So we’re now living in the world of natural language processing, artificial intelligence, where computing power enables computers and machines to interpret our podcast, for example, turn it into an article, for gosh sakes, pass it by an editorial filter, and one final pair of eyeballs later, you’ve got a printed article that transcribes our podcast. This is the world we live in today. If that’s feasible, then think again about the value of the content. You can only be so manipulative about your content before it begins to deteriorate in terms of the value it’s giving to the customer. Start first about delivering value to your customer, to your buyer, to the family or the other people who are constituents to the buying decision.

I’ll give you an example. My yacht charter client realizes a lot of people who take yacht charters are families. They’re bringing the kids along. It’s a legacy. It’s a, you know, it’s a bucket-list opportunity. Never had a webpage before devoted to kids. Why is yachting cool for kids? Well, you’ve got to be reminded about that and when you think about it, if a family travels to a hotel, the first people to complain are the kids because the Wi-Fi is not good. You know, when they’re coming back again, no matter how lavish the treatment might be, there’s no Wi-Fi. This is going to miserable for everyone. Let’s fix the Wi-Fi.

So guess what? Hotels now know they have to have the best Wi-Fi coverage and the best cellular coverage. They have to have repeaters everywhere. And that becomes the competitive differentiation. Your customer is not just the buyer. It’s everybody in the buyer’s entourage. Have content for them.

Paul: So…

Ed: So if you’re the doula, you want to have content not just for the mom but for the father.

Paul: That’s true. That’s a great idea.

Ed: But for the family.

Paul: Yeah. What’s a doula? You know, because somebody tangential to the, to this is not going to understand what that is.

 

“I Drink Your Milkshake.” How Synonymous Bridge Words Seed Markets.

 

Ed: That’s right. And analogy for it, that’s not exactly accurate but people think of it often in the same sentence, is midwife.

Paul: Right. Yeah, so would you suggest that a doula do deliberate content things to get the searching from midwives?

Ed: Sure. Why not?

Paul: How would you go about that? So, I mean, you’re not a midwife. And I honestly don’t know the difference.

Ed: Me either. Let’s assume they’re so different that you really can’t say one is the other. I guess you would say one good piece of content to put in your website is, “We’re a doula. We’re not a midwife. How do we differ?” Explain that.

Paul: What if they are similar?

Ed: It might still require some explanation. There’s enough nuance there that a person making the decision would like to know the difference.

Paul: So probably, if I went up to this doula and said, “What’d the difference between you and a midwife?” That’s a great blog post.

Ed: Exactly right. Think about the questions the customer would be asking.

Paul: Ask the answer, the obvious questions.

Ed: Yeah. As they say in the law business, never ask a question to which you don’t already know the answer. And blog accordingly.

Paul: So now, do you just do this once? Set it and forget it?

 

Frequency of Blog Post Publication with a Yacht Example.

 

Ed: I’m frankly, the last, the worst offender of my own pontification about how frequently and how regularly to schedule your content publishing. Frankly, blog articles appear on my site approximately whenever I feel like it. And that’s my schedule, and I stick to it. But in the case of a paying customer, by all means, we make sure they have the appetite, the infrastructure, and can carry on the job of routine, regular publishing of content.

Paul: What is, what is that routine?

Ed: The cadence has to do with the appetite of the viewer. If you have a restaurant and you want to publish weekly specials, you better publish something every week. If you are a charter business, and you’re taking, you’re dealing all over the world, then you have segmented content based on regions of the world, at least once a week.

Paul: So, okay. That’s a great concept to talk about — segmented. So is it different pages on their website, the segmentation?

Ed: Great question. In this particular case, the client’s name, if you don’t mind me mentioning it—
Paul: Yeah, Please.

Ed: Her name is Carol Kent. Carol Kent Yacht Charters has been in business for 30 some odd years. And in her case, since she… Since one of the conditions, one of the trappings, if you will, of a yacht charter experience is that you’re typically working with an executive chef, a good chef, which is no small feat to be able to run a five-star [inaudible 00:34:07] rated kitchen out of a galley of a, of a ship at sea. Think about the planning, you know, the design, and all the features that go into turning out a sumptuous experience for your client.

Paul: A lot of frozen food you got to order. Huh?

Ed: The frankly, it can’t be frozen. It has to be refrigerated. So all the shopping, all the provisioning, all that has to be really, thoroughly carefully planned. That’s quite a ballet to pull off. And it gets done. It gets done. So now, imagine pulling that off. Imagine being that yacht chef. You probably have all kinds of stories. She interviews top-yacht chefs and blogs about them on her top-yacht chefs blog. And she has owed the url topyachtchefs.com, and she points it at that particular site, the blog posts about top-yacht chefs. But she still only has one website, carolkentyachtcharters.com, or carolkent.com.

So you can segment your audiences based on their interests.

Paul: Now, does she have duplicate content? Does she have that blog post on Carol Kent and on yacht chefs?

Ed: It’s actually only in one place. The url points at the same page. It’s promoted differently, but it all looks to the same piece of content.

Paul: So is the idea that, on Carol Kent or… On the yacht chef’s site she says, “Hey, there’s a great new blog post over at CarolKent.com. Go and visit that. Here’s the link.

Ed: It’s a little more transparent than that. It just talks about top yacht chefs, period. It happens to be at Carol Kent’s yacht charters business. But she doesn’t say that the blog post is on Carol Kent’s yacht charters site. It’s on the top yacht chef’s blog. It’s all that the yacht chef cares to know about or the epicurean enthusiasts needs to know about. It may be irrelevant whether it ever occurs on her chef. The point is, it’s great culinary technique, it’s being executed in extreme circumstances.

Paul: So on Carol’s website, does she point back to the yacht chef? Say, hey, there’s a new review over there?

Ed: Yes.

Inbound Links and How They Help

Paul: Okay. Because I’m thinking, if this doula wanted to do this, would she say “Let me give you the best hospitals to birth in Massachusetts.” Starts a new website, .com or something like that and does reviews of that. And she would be the person doing the writing. She would refer back to her site. But on her site, would she say something about this site or not?

Ed: I can’t imagine why not. Rather than that, it would make a lot more sense and be a little less confusing to have one page of content, but have it be referred to from a number of different conduits, your referral sources, your landing pages, your links, your posts.

Paul: Okay. So the idea isn’t necessarily to start another website, it’s to get more inbound links.

Ed: Exactly. Right. What it does is it enriches the value of your main business site by having other content channels link to your relevant content.

 

A Microwave Example: Have Interesting Events and Content.

 

Paul: So on the microwave idea, I just made the better, best microwave in the world, you know. And it’s really great. Would I go and… Obviously, I’d try to get Consumer Reports to cover it and all the different consumer magazines. But I might want to go to who knows what, Appliance daily, and get them to cover it. Is that what I want to do? Or do I want to say, “Let’s do a comparison of that on my own?”
Ed: Yeah, let’s do a bake off on the expression. Right? Or a nuke off, and talk about the different kinds of microwaves and what the results are. Maybe do some actual technical challenges, replicate them, and then blog about them.

Paul: And blog about them on that, on the company’s website.

Ed: Absolutely. Or ask people who, ask a top yacht chef who uses that microwave to blog about why they like that microwave better. Maybe it’s less, you know, tippy at sea. Maybe there’s something electromechanically about the microwave that makes it superior, and you can taste it.

Paul: So let me ask you, with the, with the doula. Would it be reasonable for the doula to say to a mom, “Would you be willing to do a blog post on your experience?”

Ed: Satisfied customer.

Paul: And would that go of the doula’s site or would it go on her, the, the mom’s blogging site?
Ed: Why not both? Or why not just link to the mom’s site if the mom is looking for attention as well, for whatever the righteous reason might be. Maybe that mom has got a home-based business but talks about parenting and raising kids and so forth. Likewise, Stephanie Arnold who I mentioned earlier, the AFE survivor, does exactly that. There are plenty of great stories to be told — frankly some tragic ones as well that are deserving of attention because they point out the need for more research and funding toward AFE, solving the issue. She’s happy to link to people whose stories deserve to be told. She doesn’t have to re-tell them, and she doesn’t have to acquire the traffic. That’s not the point. The point is the stories need to be told.

So you really look at the, frankly, the altruistic, best outcome scenario and say, “How does, how do more people benefit from this?”

Let’s bring it back to your microwave manufacturer. Dynamite microwave oven. Is it that the chrome is shinier? What is it? Why is a superior microwave? Have people tell the story about what they learned. Maybe the microwave oven saved my life. I should tell the world, “That microwave oven saved my life.”

Paul: It’s a bulletproof microwave.

Ed: Exactly. Right. Bulletproof microwave. That’s right. Yeah. It even missed Obama’s head.

Paul: Well the cameras. This one doesn’t have any cameras in it, so…

Ed: Oh, it’s one of those. Yeah.

 

How Do You Measure Content Marketing?

 

Paul: So we’ve talked about some really innovative ideas here of how to actually think through SEO and your pages, your whole marketing, really, in the way your posture out in the world as it’s represented on the internet. How do you measure this stuff?

Ed: That’s a great question. The most low common denominator, which is available to anybody with a website is Google Analytics. You can look at the extent to which a blog post sends traffic to your website or if that page on your website caused the person to bounce, if you’ll pardon the expression, and instead leave your site to go read the real factual story about the person who is the subject of the story. If your intention is to help that person benefit as well, then the bounce from your page to another page is a benefit you intended, and that’s a successful result.

So when we think about these websites as being acquisition targets, I think of them as more as being conduits for learning. If my intention is to help that rising tide lifts all boats and help other people in this lives, then it’s okay to me that someone left my site to go someplace else. I was directing them there Paul: Right. So you helped them find the answer.

Ed: Exactly right. When someone, as a habit, for example, on my own blog on the Fan Foundry blog, I typically include a link or two to either foundational or supplemental or supportive articles, content that either was the basis or the reason for my writing or it was additional reading if the person wanted to look into it more. Since I, you know, none of us wants to be discovered for the frauds that we are. I always, I always like to refer to other people who think like me because in that echo chamber, we seem to support each other’s theories. So why not link to further reading if a person is curious about the subject? I do that. And so to the extent that person clicks that link in the bottom of a blog article, I know I’ve found a reader who is really enthusiastic about the subject. Guess what happens? I get more blog subscribers because people go to my blog article to find the jumping off point to get everything else.

Paul: Interesting. So now how does Twitter, Facebook, all that stuff go into here? Because it sounds like a way to announce something is really what Twitter and Facebook are. Or is that a destination in itself?

Ed: Yeah, well we’ve heard quite often that Twitter is really turning into the headlines, the up-to-the-minute headlines. And that’s sort of a byproduct of where people seem to find the most value, which broadcasting or announcing or, if you will, pardon the expression, bull horning, your content. If you use Twitter for both that purpose and its original intended purpose which was to support chat among people who are like-minded at a point in time.

Case in point, today, I just came to this meeting with you, Paul, from a North Shore Technology Council event where part of the digital ventriloquism I do for them on a pro bono basis is I’ll go to an event — in this case it was a sustainability forum — to take a photographs with the presenters and the host and a few other dignitaries, luminaries, funnel those photos over to my Twitter account that I manage for the North Shore Technology Council, @NSTechCouncil. NS Tech Council. And then initiate the tweet/chat process. Now, my job is done. I could leave and other people in the room are carrying on the conversation. I had to jump over here to meet with you, so it’s almost like touching a match to the tinder and letting it burn away based on however people want to carry it forward.
Likewise, social channels to me, can be extremely effective for helping pollinate your message but also support like-minded messages. I have an equal number of people I follow as follow me. Frankly, Twitter actually has limits. You can’t just do nothing but follow other people and not acquire any followers of your own. After a certain point in time, you trip over a wire. Then Twitter says, “Sorry, you can’t follow anybody else until you’ve acquired some followers,” or word that to effect. If you’ve ever seen that message, you know you’re doing a lot more following, and you’re not contributing content. Where’s the balance in that conversation? They’re there to enforce chat, conversation, and the idea exchange.

 

Wrapping It Up

 

Paul: Discussion, hopefully. Alright. So, we’re talking with Ed Alexander. Are you the founder of Fan Foundry? What’s your title?

Ed: Chief digital ventriloquist. Yes.

Paul: Chief digital ventriloquist. Well, we’re going to cover that in our next podcast. This digital ventriloquist guy and kind of thing. So we won’t get into that too much. But anyway, we’re today talking with Ed Alexander.

Well, it’s been a fascinating discussion about SEO and understanding, really, marketing in the web world. We’re going to be talking with him over several podcasts and I think you’ll find some very interesting things. So, Ed, I want to thank you for being here for this first podcast.

Ed: It’s been fun, Paul. I’m looking forward to what comes next. Thanks for having me.

Ed Alexander – Search Engine Results: Getting on Page One

Today on the Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Ed Alexander, founder of Fan Foundry, about Search Engine Results and getting on page one of search results.

Paul: Hello, and welcome to the Edge of Innovation. I’m Paul Parisi, your host, and today I have Ed Alexander, founder of Fan Foundry.

Ed: How are you doing? Nice to be here.

Paul: Great to have you.

Search Engine Results: Getting on Page One

Ed: Being on page two of the search engine results page is, is maybe not necessarily a bad thing.

Paul: Sure. But it’s not a good thing.

Ed: Sure. Think about it.

Paul: I mean, we’re lazy. Web consumers are lazy. So I dig a lot into the web and find things, and people are always surprised. “How did you find that?” Well, I go to page two and page three and page four and page five, and I tweak the query and I, I change the order of words and I…and all sorts of things. And they’ll say, “That’s how I should have asked the question,” because now I got the answer.

Ed: Bingo. Exactly right.

Paul: But a lot of people don’t do that. They don’t have the patience for that. So how do we, in a real world scenario, I’m, I’m an attorney. Uh, I do elder law, and I want to get more clients. And I’m coming to you for SEO and, and all the things that follow along. So if I get somebody there, you gotta worry about getting somebody there, is what do we do after that? We’ll talk about that in a minute. But really, I’m trying to understand SEO. So we do everything right, uh, and we get on page two.

Ed: Yeah. Are you talking about a real world example?

Paul: No, I’m not. I’m just making it up.

The Blessings and Curses of Page Two

Ed: So hypothetically. Alright. Dealing in hypotheticals is a tough one for me only because it’s entirely possible that if you were an elder law attorney in Beverly, Massachusetts, there may not be that many, and there may be so few that you’ll end up on page one of the search engine results. So this is hypothetical. However, even if it were page two, I would have to think if I was a visitor trying to find that elder lawyer, I’d be looking at a few red herrings, ads and mismatches on page one. So even if the SEO isn’t tweaked or isn’t tuned so that I’m looking at a result on page one, I’ll probably have to go to page two to search anyway. I may not be happy with that result, and maybe I’ll think that Google is failing me somehow because they’re not giving me a page one result, but it is incumbent on me, if I really need to find an elder lawyer in Beverly, Massachusetts, that page two isn’t so bad.

If I’m the elder law attorney, and I have a certain, uh, volume that I can entertain of business, being on page one could be a blessing and a curse.

Paul: Be careful what you wish for.

Ed: Exactly right. You just might get it. So I’m not saying you necessarily need to be satisfied but you have to think in the broader terms of what are you hoping to accomplish and what can you reasonably take on.

Paul: Certainly. That’s good business meeting to sit there and say, you know, I can, I can get 10 new clients or I can get a hundred. I don’t want to put up billboards everywhere and get too many clients and have to turn them away.

Ed: Sure. And you have to think about the type of business persona you’re portraying to the world. If you are a very loquacious lawyer, and you’re happy to speak to the public, and you have a public persona that’s more or less prominent compared to your competitors out there, then that’s an opportunity for you to do something like a podcast or to write articles or to even use something as — dare we say it? — Yelp, a review site, even though people think of that as for restaurants and hotels, nonetheless, Google respects Yelp positioning, and that can help your search engine results.

What is the weighted importance of SEO? Article Titles Matters.

Paul: If you had to draw a pie chart, how much is the SEO? Forget about content. Well, it has good content, we’ll assume. But the reason people are coming is because of SEO and the content that comes with SEO. That is one segment of the pie. And then the other stuff is all the other stuff. And we’ll… I’d like to dig into that a little bit of how you would direct that. But what? Is it 50/50? Is it 25% SEO and 75%?

Ed: To me, it’s increasingly become a concern, uh, to, once you be increasingly concerned with the value that you’re delivering, the value you’re conveying. I can use myself as an example. Let’s go back to the Fan Foundry blog. I’ll tell you a genesis story. It will take a minute.

When I begin writing my first few blog articles back in 2008, I had a, you know, more or less, successful career in marketing and sales leadership, and I thought to myself, “Well, there’s probably enough people out there who are on a different phase of the journey than I am who could stand to benefit from the thimble-full that I know. So let me turn this into a few articles and send it out there, and see how people consume it,” doing my experiments with my content.

One thing I learned early on — frankly, by accident — was using Google’s type-ahead search. You know how it fills the answer in as you’re typing? It’s kind of cool. It shows you other ways other people have asked the same question or similar questions and the results they’ve gotten. I used that. And I thought, “Ooh, you know, the best way to title this particular article on virtual trade shows is, ‘Are Virtual Trade Shows Worth It?'” Specifically that sentence, those words, in that order with a question mark on the end. I used that as the title for a blog article I had written the month earlier about trade, virtual trade shows. I didn’t title it that way. I changed the title, and boom. Suddenly the traffic just… It was an embarrassment of riches, frankly. For a one-month-old blog, I would say I was pleased and embarrassed, and I realized, “Ah-ha. The article title matters.”

Paul: So that’s an ah-ha moment. That’s a very important thing for our listeners. Google, what you’re going to be talking about, try and figure out what the questions are by what Google is going to suggest, and then use that in your titling.

Ed: Exactly right. Use Google’s own machine learning on how people ask similar questions and decide based on the results you’ll see in your type-ahead search which of those is the most effective title for you to use and write your title accordingly.

Paul: Is that search history queryable? I know you can type it in yourself, but I’m wondering is there somebody out there that says, “Here’s everything that’s being searched.” I know on Bing, you can get like the past 10 searches or there’s a catalog of the past searches for the past couple of hours or something like that. I’m wondering. That would be a really interesting vector to look into to see if that’s available.

Ed: Yeah. Well, I’m not a genius; if I’ve imagined it, someone else is out there either working on it or maybe it’s about to be delivered to us all anyway. What I’m speaking of is the notion that all those different variants on the question that you’re typing ahead then get presented to you in a graph that says the searches that got the best results are this particular one. I’m also a little concerned about that because if you, everyone stops us—, starts using the trodden path, it kind of levels the field, and now you’re in a watershed mark, and it’s table stakes and not a differentiator.

Paul: We’ll have to cut that part out. We’ll edit that part so nobody will know about it.

Ed: Okay. Yeah. I was never here.

Doula Search Ranking by Location Query

Paul: Were never here. I don’t even know who you are. So, okay. Let me give you a real world example. We have a client who is a doula. They help moms that are giving birth.

Ed: I get it. Yeah.

Paul: And she works all over the North Shore, southern New Hampshire, all that kind of stuff. And we want to do SEO for her. So we’ll use her as an example. How would you approach it? Because some people say, “I want a doula in Beverly.” Some people, “I want one in Danvers.” So what is the actual real work that we have to do? Do we make landing pages for Beverly, for Topsfield, for Danvers?

Ed: That would help matters, however I’m not sure you need a separate landing page for each one. But I think equally important work for that doula to be doing is to represent him or herself — likely herself, let’s just assume — to represent herself in such a way that anybody who is looking for a doula in the North Shore of Massachusetts lands on a landing page that says, “Oh, by the way, as a doula, I have working relationships and customer stories from people just like you who have used these facilities.”

Paul: Yeah. They’re doing that. They’re doing very good at that, actually.

Ed: Excellent. That’s great to hear.

Paul: But, if you go, “doula in Saugus,” she doesn’t come up. If you do, “a doula in Danvers,” she comes up. So there’s something in her content that is making her relevant to Danvers and not to Saugus.

Ed: Why do you suppose that is? I get that… Well, I’m going to draw an inference since I know the region. There are more robust healthcare facilities and delivery facilities in Danvers. There’s a hospital in Danvers. There isn’t a hospital in Saugus. So my thinking is if I were the tail wagging the dog, meaning the person doing the searching, I probably wouldn’t look for a doula in Saugus. I’d look for a doula near a healthcare facility. And so, just by dint of volume of searches…

Paul: So how would you test that? Because that’s what you’re saying, do experiments. How would that be an experiment? So Beverly, Linn, Danvers has a hospital… Lawrence…

The Difficulty with Words

Ed: Lawrence Memorial is in Bedford, in Medford, rather. There is a hospital in Lawrence, but it’s not called Lawrence Memorial.

Paul: Yes. Of course not. Yes, of course not. Just… It’s New England.

Ed: That’s why you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway, I guess. One of the tools that I’ve found is particularly helpful, and it may not work in granular case, but it has worked in the past, is to use Google Trends and look at the trends over time of people using search terms and phrases to find results.

I’ll draw a parallel example. I have a client who is in the luxury travel business. Specifically in luxury yachting, big boats, million-dollar boats that you could charter for a week or a month or a sabbatical.

Paul: Where do they launch out of? Anywhere?

Ed: Well, this particular client does not own a single boat. They are the go-between, the intermediary that helps. They’re worldwide.

Paul: Okay. So I can get a boat anywhere.

Ed: Right. So this is a client who, to use the phrase I used earlier in another podcast episode, was punching above your weight. She’s able to represent her business with a handful of staff all over the world because they make it a business to travel all over the world to actually, physically, personally, inspect the boats, the captains, the crew, the—

Paul: Okay. That’s part of their value.

Ed: It’s traveling all the time. So they delivered that value with the intimate acquaintance with not just the yachts and the crews and the charters and the marinas but the onshore excursion experiences and the amenities and everything there is to do about enjoying that yacht charter.

Punching above her weight in this case means she could be searched on and found anywhere in the world, even though her offices are in Marblehead, Massachusetts, Newport, Rhode Island, or other cities. It’s not as big a concern for the customer where they’re located as it is do they represent the type of business and the satisfaction because of all the great customer stories of Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, and on their website.

Paul: And is her SEO effective?

Ed: It’s okay. She’s not showing up always on page one of the search engine results for every single search query a person could do about luxury yachting. It’s just so rich and varied. For the New England region, however, she’s it. She’s all over it.

Paul: Why do you think that is? Because her address is in New England?

Ed: Entirely possible. If you look Boston yachting, there is a handful of Boston yachting, and she’s going to…been in the business for over 30 years. So there’s something to be said for being, just having longevity and having driven traffic over that many years.

Reputation: “How do we crack that nut?”

Paul: Sure. Do you think Google takes that into account?

Ed: I can’t imagine they would want to leave it out.

Paul: Yeah. I would agree. Okay. So for a newcomer, let’s say you had a client, you know, another company does exactly the same thing. How are they going to crack that nut? That’s really difficult.

Ed: That’s a great question. You really can’t make up history.

Paul: Right. I guess what I mean is how do they get good SEO or search engine rankings, I guess, is what we should call it.

Ed: Compelling content. Customer stories. It’s a gradual relationship-building process. Frankly, everything old is new again, when you think about it. How do people build a reputation? Over time. One grain at a time. There’s no shortcut to friends. There’s no shortcut to love, fame, fortune, reputation. When you’re naked in your grave, the only thing you have left is your reputation, what people think about you and what they tell about you, no matter how they want to tell it. The only way to build that is over time, one relationship at a time.

Paul: So let’s talk about that. So you’ve got either a new yachting company. We’ve got this doula. The doula has great stories, great testimonials. Is there anything to super-charge that? I mean, there has to be, I would imagine, a deliberateness of posting them, and posting new ones. Is that the bottom line is just keep it fresh?

Ed: Keep it fresh, but I think that prominent posting and judiciously but publicly promoting the customer stories is helpful too.

Paul: Give me an example of that.

More Help for the Doula – A Similar Success Story.

Ed: Alright. Let’s say that a North Shore healthcare facility has a good working relationship with this doula. Their blogs get, their articles get read. This doula could have a byline on one of their articles mentioned and with a link back to her website. So there’s somewhat…certain layer of the SEO. There’s the link from her byline. There’s the fact that she’s the representative on the content. One would hope there would be some photographs, right, group photos of herself with practitioners, enjoying each other’s reputation together, all the things that build credibility.

Paul: Okay. So cross-pollination, really working between organizations or websites and, uh, “I say something good about you,” and people see that and then go off and link it in your site.

Ed: Sure. Funny that you mentioned doula because I can bring to earth an experience for you. A few years back, through another business, a business colleague of mine, I was referred to a woman who lives in the Chicago area who herself had suffered from an amniotic fluid embolism, or AFE, which is until recently was, essentially, a death sentence. It happens that somehow or other, fecal material or material from the fetus travels across the placenta, causes poison reaction in the mom, and both the mom and the baby usually don’t make it, or one or the other doesn’t make it. So there’s a very, very high level mortality, very little understood. Her name is Stephanie Arnold. She had one in May of 2000 and, I want to say, 13. It turns out, both she and her son Jacob were born and are alive and fine only because she took certain precautionary steps in collaboration with the delivery facility. Her doctors made sure certain, unusual equipment was present during the case of the need for resuscitation, extra units of blood and on and on and on, extra precautionary steps that they took that they realize now, now ought to be pretty much what you should do in the case where there’s a high risk. It wasn’t an ordinary procedure at the time. Now it’s becoming pretty standard. So in Chicago land, all medical facilities are expected to do certain things differently than they did before, more than they did before in the case of a mother at risk.

But she started out by telling this story and also of her own survival and used that as a, if you will, an opportunity to help with the drive, the, the impetus to improve funding and research into amniotic fluid embolisms, how they occur and how to prevent them, how to warn, how to mitigate them. She also became a spokesperson for the Amniotic Fluid Embolism foundation, the AFE Foundation, headquartered on the west coast, became very close friends and good acquaintances with their leadership people. And so there, in your community, in the business and world in which your information is related or relevant, if you could forge relationships where you’re supporting one another’s business, that rising tide lifts all boats.

Paul: Yeah. Absolutely.

Ed: And if you can make that happen online, that helps people understand why you deserve the credibility and the reputation you have. And that builds confidence. Most people don’t buy unless they’re happy that they feel, feel confident that they’re making a purchase from a sound, reputable business.

Summary of Discussion on SEO

Paul: Yeah. That’s true. I think that’s absolutely true. So let me just rehash this a little bit. So we’re talking about SEO a little bit, and SEO is, I guess let’s define it. It’s the means by which we get a search engine to show us more quickly, sooner, at the top of the list, as opposed to at the bottom of the list.

Ed: That’s a good definition.

Paul: And that gives people, customers, users, visitors, whatever you want to call them, the opportunity to discover us, click on us. So we manipulate this ranking by optimizing our website so that the search engine will display us at a high level. Okay. So that’s fair. And you’re primarily saying you do that by writing good content, say something. Say something good and interesting. And in the area of local businesses, share that information with local businesses and have them say something or let them have you say something on their website. Build that relationship so that now the people that are out there — customers, potential customers — will see you sooner than later. “I never knew you existed.” You want to answer that thing, that question, so that people don’t have that excuse anymore. They can say, “Oh, yeah. I saw you on the web. I’m interested in talking.”

It’s been a fascinating discussion about SEO and understanding, really, marketing in the web world. And we’re going to be talking with him over several podcasts and I think you’ll find some very interesting things. So, Ed, I want to thank you for being here for this first podcast.

Ed: It’s been fun, Paul. I’m looking forward to what comes next. Thanks for having me.

Ed Alexander – Fan Foundry & How Customers Happen

Today on the Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Ed Alexander, founder of Fan Foundry, about digital marketing and more!

Introduction

Paul: Hello, and welcome to the Edge of Innovation. I’m Paul Parisi, your host, and today I have Ed Alexander, founder of Fan Foundry.

Ed: How are you doing? Nice to be here.

Paul: Great to have you.

About Fan Foundry – How Customers Happen

Paul: So tell me what is Fan Foundry? I mean, is it a sports team thing? Is it…?

Ed: I get that a lot. In fact, one of my… Okay, actually, several of my clients now are in the architecture, engineering-construction space, and I’ve been known to walk the halls at the architecture shows in Boston and when someone sees the word “foundry,” they pull me aside and say, “Oh good. I’ve got these fans that need to be reworked.” There’s nothing mechanical about our business except that the work involved. But no, Fan Foundry was just a product of me spending 5 minutes with thesaurus.com and trying to find some alliterative or other kind of hooky or catchy way—

Paul: When was that?

Ed: … that’s driving how customers happen. That was in December of 2008. So we just past our 7th anniversary. Excuse me, ninth anniversary. Can’t do the math anymore. Calculators are wonderful.

Paul: That’s a long time in the internet space.

Ed: Indeed it is. I parachuted out of a company sale, gave myself a year as a runway, and I was making money in six months and so decided to ride that pony.

Paul: Cool. So Fan Foundry, what is, what is the concept? I mean, I know the words. I mean, it came out of a thesaurus, but what does it, what does it mean? What’s behind it?

Ed: Sure. I understand. The tagline is “How customers happen.” That’s a big tent. There’s lots of room for discussion in there. Your sales people, your marketing people, your service people, and all the technology, and the processes that they employ using those technologies. That whole stack is where we get involved.

Paul: Okay. So the goal is… If you were to summarize it in one sentence, what would you say the goal is?

Ed: Certainly. We help our clients treat their customers well.

Paul: Treat their customers well. So it’s not acquire new customers?

Ed: Oh, sure. When you think about it, as Will Rogers was famous for saying, “A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met.” Likewise, a customer could also be a prospect you just haven’t acquired. So I use the word customer in pretty broad terms.

Paul: Okay. So, you know, we’ve been talking about a couple of different times on the podcast the infrastructure but sort of the world of web marketing and how it works and how it doesn’t work. And everybody is familiar with the term SEO, and you gotta do SEO. But SEO just gets your message… If you had the best SEO in the world and you sold microwave ovens people would be visiting your site about microwave ovens. It doesn’t mean that somebody is going to convert. What do you think about that? I mean, is there a decoupling? I mean, I know they’re together, but there is such a focus on SEO right now. It seems like everybody in the world needs good SEO, and my question is, if you have the best SEO, what are you going to do when the person gets there?

SEO and Google

Ed: That’s a great question, and when you use the phrase SEO, search engine optimization, it means many things to many people. Most people at least associate it to some extent with working with your Google Analytics and your Google marketing console to deter— and doing keyword research to figure out what’s the best way to acquire customers, the best way to attract people’s attention with the content on your website.
We also know that, especially in recent years, you’ve found that Google algorithm—

Paul: Changes every day it seems like.

Ed: —changes. And it, you know, certainly I call it the gainful employment act for any SEO consultant. That aside, however, we’re also learning is that Google themselves are placing — I wouldn’t say diminished but — more or less equal emphasis on the, the, that infrastructure piece, the SEO piece, as well as the extent to which people who visit your content actually show respect for it. Meaning, do they come back to it again? Do they spend more time on it? Although it’s deceptive — you may, you being an SEO expert know too — that when a person visits a page on your website but they don’t spend there long, as long as they don’t bounce, meaning leave the site, and they move on to another page, it’s okay they spent a few nanoseconds on the one page where they landed because they’re satisfied enough to delve deeper into your website. That’s good SEO.

What else all makes that happen, however, is that the content, the text, the stories and the lessons and the information that you have to convey are meaningful and useful enough to the person who’s visiting that they really decide it’s worth investing more of their time in your web content. So with the boards on the page and the value of the content that you’re sharing are really, really should, have always been important and prominent. But they haven’t always been given that much attention.

Paul: So, the difficulty, I think, in some of this is, is… You’re a small business. Okay. So let’s talk about small businesses. Big businesses have a lot more latitude, a lot more money to spend, potentially, but let’s say a small, medium-sized business. They have a website. They have Google Analytics. Somebody comes to the site. How would you measure that, whether that’s successful or not? The page that they’ve come to, is it how much time they’ve stayed on it, or is it that they go to the next step?
The Path

Ed: To me, it’s did person go to the next step. Did they visit more content? Did they convert by clicking on a form-fill link, something along those lines. It’s also true that if your content can be consumed in under 10 seconds, it’s okay if that person spent under 10 seconds on the page. I’m really okay with that. Most people think of the bounce as being, okay, I’m satisfied, but… Excuse me, I’m sorry, not the vibe. They travel further into the site as being that the landing wasn’t satisfactory in some way, frankly. It was quite effective because it enticed the person to visit more. They’ve probably gone to the navigation menu to learn more about who you are, what you’re made of, who your customers are, how to get in touch with you and so forth.
What’s to me is more to look at the path that the visitor follows. If your content is intended to get a person with go to a specific next page, and people do that more often than not, the page is successful. If your content, on the other hand, is intended to get them to go to a certain next page, like in the, that I just said, but they go to a scattering of other pages, then maybe you have to think about that messaging and the value proposition that’s on your page.

Paul: So what you’re saying is that the content did not produce the results you wanted.

Ed: Right. And that’s okay. In these days, you know, marketing, everything moves so quickly. I think of that as an example of an experiment, a marketing experiment. If I try to get something to happen and something else happens instead, maybe there’s something about the way I said what I said that interpreted differently in the mind of the visitor. That’s okay. Now I’ve learned.
So, and I think of a company that, a business, even a small business that’s able to punch above its weight using data-driven marketing. They can learn from those mistakes. I don’t call them mistakes. I call them lessons. It’s experience.

What’s Data-driven Marketing?

Paul: What is data-driven marketing? You just threw that out there, and I want to understand because I’m sure there’s different, there’s different people listening. They’re going to interpret it different ways.

Ed: Absolutely. Just like SEO. Right? It means many things to many people. Yeah, to some folks, data-driven marketing means simply that we look at the reports, and we produce pie charts and it validates the decisions that are made by our executive team. That’s not data-driven marketing. To me, data-driven marketing means you’re looking at all the data that comes in, and you’re learning that there are other opportunities to experiment with the way you present yourselves online. And you can tweak your business and improve results over time based on those experiments and those learnings and those lessons.

Paul: So it’s interactive and iterating?

Ed: Oh, very much so. At the very basic level, I think of, data-driven marketing as, okay, you’ve got the infrastructure. It means you have some way of measuring. Then you have the skills. Right? The people who actually know how to do the interpreting. But then you also have to have the attitudes and the interest in delving beyond the first lesson. And then that becomes a cultural thing. To me, data-driven marketing is as much a cultural thing as it is a technical or a mechanical or infrastructure thing. If you have a culture that fosters or encourages, permits you to experiment, to try a different color conversion button, to try a different phrasing or use of adverbs in the messaging and try them. A/B testing. A/B testing. It’s time consuming, but you learn a lot, and it’s worth it in the end. Some of the best-built websites — Amazon and Airbnb come to mind — are very effective at converting people because of the coloring and the size and the shape of every element on their page.

What about the Little Guy?

Paul: So they are two very different websites that you’ve sited. Airbnb is a single-purpose website. You go there because you want to get a place to stay overnight. Amazon, contrary to everything else in the world, sells everything, and they do an effective job at communicating that. So let’s not focus on the big guys. Let’s focus on some small companies. I don’t care about names, but I’m saying let’s… So, let’s take this analogy of the microwave company. I’m going to come out and make microwaves. Seems like a stupid thing to do but because there’s so many being made. But how could I, do you think, we could effectively create a website that would — and this is the difficulty, I think — produce the results they want? We don’t know what the results are that they want. We can, we can imagine them. I want to sell microwaves. The problem is that most people don’t shop for microwaves. They may or may not. So maybe that’s a bad analogy. You know, maybe we’re a local law firm, and we want to get people that are interested in having a good lawyer, maybe a retirement lawyer. That’s a popular topic right now.

And so, the top 10 pages of Google are saturated with… You know, if you said, “Retirement lawyer,” how would you crack that nut? How would you get it? Now, if I add, okay, we’re in Beverly, Massachusetts. If I say, “Retirement lawyer in Beverly, Massachusetts,” that would— but I know I’m changing the behavior of the potential customer, which is the hardest thing to do. I don’t know how to do that. So how would we…? We do the best and most effective SEO we can, and it’s still going to be on page two of Google. Is that a hopeless situation? Or how do you affect that?

Balancing Expectations

Ed: That’s a great question. If you’re a retirement lawyer in Beverly, Massachusetts, think about the size of the world you intended to influence, the volume of business that you would probably need to entertain to be successful. You’re probably not a 50 or 100-person staff. You’re something, as you said, the proposition you made is it’s a small business. So you’ve got the — if you’ll pardon the expression — bandwidth, the amount of time and energy you can do to devote to clientele before you either hire people or default on a client, and which you don’t want to do.

Paul: It’s been a fascinating discussion about SEO and understanding, really, marketing in the web world. We’re going to be talking with him over several podcasts and I think you’ll find some very interesting things. So, Ed, I want to think you for being here for this first podcast.

Ed: It’s been fun, Paul. I’m looking forward to what comes next. Thanks for having me.

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