Digital Fertilizer July 2016 Meetup
Last night was the Digital Fertilizer (DF) startup community meetup for July 2016 at the Green Room Lounge in De Pere, Wisconsin, USA. Ben Johnson from Elegant Seagulls in Marquette, Michigan, sporting a fine black piratical eyepatch, regaled us with a presentation called “The Designer of Tales, Wrestler of Whales.” As the DF promo described it:
“Through storytelling and visual experimentation, Ben Johnson and his team at Elegant Seagulls have helped companies like Forbes, ESPN, and Peak Designs connect, convert, and conquer. Ben will be talking about the importance of design storytelling, having empathy for your users, and not being afraid to go for it!“
Short, Engaging, Clear Message
Ben started out by telling us a short and engaging story with a clear message — about how he went on a whale-watching cruise when he was a lad. He got so excited about seeing a whale surface next to the cruise boat that he jumped out of the boat onto the whale, but got his eye seriously injured (knocked out??) by the whale. Thus the black eyepatch.
[Both the story and the need for an eyepatch were fictional…]
He then proceeded to talk about why companies and people need to tell short and engaging stories with clear messages. Very few listeners or potential customers will stick around for a long, non-engaging story, and there’s no reason to tell a story without an easily understood message.
Ben discussed how he tells his company’s story and how he uses empathy to figure out the best way to tell his clients’ stories. He also explained how he started his own company and some of the fun and challenges of being located in Marquette.
Elegant Seagulls is a creative agency that does web design, ecommerce, branding, and UI/UX design. They’re located in the tech remoteness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula but are able to enjoy living in Marquette because their reputation brings them business from afar. I think they only have three clients anywhere near Marquette. Most are on the West Coast or East Coast, while others are in big cities or international locations. They get a good percentage of their work from Dribbble and from a design project where Ben did a “how I would redesign this site” project once a month for a whole year. Prospective clients who have seen Elegant Seagull’s design work in those two places often call Ben out of the blue and tell him they need his team for a project they’ve got coming up.
It sounds like a bigger challenge than finding paying work for the Gang of Elegant Gulls is finding tech talent. Due to the mix of industry sectors in the Marquette regional economy, the distance from any university with a nationally-ranked CS or Design program, the distance from major metropolitan centers, and the climate which is not exactly San Francisco Bay-like, there aren’t hordes of designers and developers burying Elegant Seagulls in mountains of resumes and creative portfolios. On top of that, I think it was mentioned that one employee got hired away from them by Google, and another got hired away by Apple. Hard to compete with those two tech titans. Certainly can’t outbid them. But that certainly says something about the quality of the team at Elegant Seagulls!
One question I asked Ben was about how a company’s website can most effectively tell the story they want their customers to hear, especially with respect to blog posts. Specifically, I was curious about that because of the tendency of web page visitors to move on after 15 seconds:
“…Chartbeat looked at deep user behavior across 2 billion visits across the web over the course of a month and found that most people who click don’t read. In fact, a stunning 55% spent fewer than 15 seconds actively on a page…”
and the tendency of most people, even if they stayed longer than 15 seconds, to not read an entire article on the web:
“I’m going to keep this brief, because you’re not going to stick around for long. I’ve already lost a bunch of you. For every 161 people who landed on this page, about 61 of you—38 percent—are already gone…So now there are 100 of you left. Nice round number. But not for long! We’re at the point in the page where you have to scroll to see more. Of the 100 of you who didn’t bounce, five are never going to scroll. Bye!…wait a second, where are you guys going? You’re tweeting a link to this article already? You haven’t even read it yet!…Wait, hold on, now you guys are leaving too? You’re going off to comment?…
I better get on with it. So here’s the story: Only a small number of you are reading all the way through articles on the Web…”
So I wanted to know Ben’s thoughts about whether the short attention spans of fickle web readers can be countered by great design and storytelling in the blog posts. Or, if blog posts aren’t the best way to tell a company’s story, what is a more effective way. We didn’t have time to arrive at a (free) complete answer to the issue, but we had a great discussion.
John Spigarelli, the director of marketing for Elegant Seagulls, came down from Marquette with Ben. (They were both heading down to Chicago on Tuesday for a workshop with a client located there.) I was lucky enough to be able to chat with both Ben and John after the presentation and learned lots about exciting tech and entrepreneurial goings-on in the Marquette area. If NE Wisconsin is lucky, maybe we’ll be able to talk them into coming down again sometime!
[I’ll send Ben and John a link to this post, along with an offer to publish a guest post from them if they see value in correcting any mangling I did of the Elegant Seagulls story…]