Taking Hubspot’s New Marketing Grader for a Spin

The Hubspot people just launched a new (and free) marketing tool today called Marketing Grader.  Hubspot is a strong promoter of Inbound Marketing and has launched other tools in the past including Website GraderTwitter Grader and Blog Grader.  Marketing Grader is actually the ‘shiny new thing’ that is replacing the Website Grader (but you can still access Website Grader if you want to).

While Hubspot’s primary focus is to sell a comprehensive Inbound Marketing platform, they do an excellent job with providing free resources and tools to promote the concept of Inbound Marketing.  And the new Marketing Grader tool is a homerun in my book – so much so that I knew I had to write a blog post to showcase what it can do.

To start the grading process, you enter the URL of the website you want to measure.  You can also add up to two competing websites for comparison purposes.  For my testing purposes, I used a company and industry that I was familiar with as I used to work there for more than three years.

Hubspot Marketing Grader - Summary Results

The summary calculates an overall score on a 100 point scale and then analyzes how the website is doing for Top of the Funnel (ToFu), Middle of the Funnel (MoFu) and Analytics.  Not only does the tool provide a percentage score of how well the website is doing, it also identifies the top recommendations to improve the score.

For example, the Top 3 Things to Do for the Top of the Funnel include very specific recommendations for improvement:

It is interesting to note that a URL for the iRise blog was found, but the blog has not been active for more than a year and the link currently redirects a user to the homepage.  So, iRise is getting credit for a blog even though it is currently not accessible or active.

Similar recommendations were provided for the Middle of the Funnel:

According to the Marketing Grader blog post on the Hubspot website, the new tool is supposed to help marketers understand:

  • Competitive Benchmarking: Is my marketing more or less effective than my competition?
  • Lead Generation: Are my marketing efforts generating enough leads and sales?
  • Mobile Marketing: Is my web presence optimized for mobile devices?
  • Social Media: How effectively are we using Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter in our marketing?
  • Blogging: Is my blog driving results that justify the time investment, or are we wasting time doing the wrong things?
  • Overall Analysis: What are the strong points and shortcomings in our marketing?

Overall, this is a great tool and resource for improving your marketing function.  The tool has an appealing interface and there is a lot of information included in the report along with explanatory links.  My recommendation is to Run, Don’t Walk and turn the new Marketing Grader loose on your own website.  Did I mention that the new Marketing Grader is FREE?

For more background information on Marketing Grader, check out these blog posts from Hubspot product manager Karen Rubin in the OnStartups.com website – Insider Tips from Hubspot’s Launch of Marketing Grader or from the Hubspot blog – Hubspot Launches Free Marketing Grader Tool to Replace Website Grader.

Farewell to the Catalyze Community

Goodbye Catalyze - It Was Great To Know You

The announcement from iRise yesterday today that the Catalyze Community was merging into the ModernAnalyst.com Community probably didn’t even register a blip on your radar.  But the announcement has more than a touch of melancholy for me as I was the founding community manager from the conception of the community in late 2006 through its growth to over 4,000 members in July 2008 and I want to give the the community a proper send-off.

Giving birth to and nurturing a community is not unlike the experience of raising children as I lived and breathed the Catalyze Community for almost 18 months.  I cut my teeth in community management, tried to set the standard in what professional B2B communities could be, and got started on my journey into social media through my efforts with the community.  I learned a great deal and had a chance to develop many friends in the community space including the team from Mzinga who provided the white label social media software that powered the site (a special thanks go out to Jim Storer, Derek Showerman, Aaron Strout, Isaac Hazard, Mark Wallace and Barry Libert).  I am sure I drove the Mzinga team a little bit crazy as I pushed the envelope to ‘mold’ their software into my idea of what a community experience should be.  I also enjoyed hosting the monthly webinars we held with a wide variety of knowledgeable experts.  Most of all, I discovered my “blogging” voice, and was able to experiment with the new and emerging (at the time) social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare, and LinkedIn.

Of course, a lot of credit also goes out to iRise who was the founding sponsor of the Catalyze Community.  iRise’s funding of  the Catalyze Community and mission to keep it ‘commercial-free’ is what drew many of the members into the community.

The demise of the Catalyze didn’t come as a surprise to me as the community has floundered without a community manager for the past two years – and the site had become a virtual ghost town with very few visitors and sadly, very little fresh content.  Anyone who understands community building realizes that a site that is not actively managed with fresh content cannot be sustained and is destined for failure which ended up as one of my blog posts in January 2009.  In fact, I shared many of my experiences with the Catalyze Community in a number of blog posts.

The original goal of Catalyze was to unite and “catalyze” the disparate factions of  business analysts, usability professionals, user experience (UX) and information architects, designers, software developers and others who define, design and create software applications.  The ModernAnalyst Community is a very robust community and boasts over 38,000 members – and most of the Catalyze members will be nore than well-served by the merger.  I hope that the analytical “left-brain” analysts continue to reach out to the creative “right-brain” designers and usability professionals, and that they can continue to find a common ground in defining and designing better software.  I send best wishes to Adrian Marchis and the rest of his ModernAnalyst.com team on continuing the Catalyze tradition.

Catalyze Community Home Page from March 2008


Marshmallows and Prototyping

I just watched a new video from the TED 2010 conference by Tom Wujec and since I used to work at a company that sold software prototyping solutions, I just had to share these ideas in a blog post.  Tom is a Fellow at Autodesk and is passionate about sharing his ideas around design thinking, visual collaboration and team creativity.

Tom has developed a simple 18-minute experiment called the Marshmallow Challenge to help teams “experience simple, but profound lessons in collaboration, innovation and creativity.” The basic premise is that each team is given 20 sticks of spaghetti, one marshmallow and 36 inches each of masking tape and string .  The challenge is to build the tallest structure that can support the marshmallow on top.

After conducting this challenge more than 70 design workshops across the world, some surprising insights have emerged from the study:

  • Kindergarten graduates do better than MBA graduates
  • Specialized skills plus facilitation skills yields higher success
  • Play and prototyping is essential
  • Design is a contact sport

Comparison of MBA Students vs. Kindergarten Students in The Marshmallow Challenge from Tom Wujec's TED Video

Tom explains that the reason business school students are looking for the single right plan and wait until the end to put their marshmallow on top.  On the other hand, kindergarten students perform better because they build prototypes along the way and refine their results from multiple iterations.

Below is Tom’s 5 minute TED presentation and you can also learn more about how to conduct your own marshmallow challenge by visiting the Marshmallow Challenge website.

The Problem With Software Definition

I am a huge fan of the Common Craft “how-to” videos.  My former work colleague, Dom, just posted a new video on YouTube called “The Problem With Software Definition”.

In my opinion, Dom’s video is even more clever than the best of the Common Craft videos – especially how he is able to animate pictures.  And  the ‘sponsor’ of the movie (iRise) is only revealed in the last few seconds of the clip so you won’t feel inundated with any obnoxious (or otherwise) marketing messages.

The basic points of the video are:

  • Leave static specifications behind
  • Test drive applications before they are built
  • Save time and money
  • Give business what they want

It’s definitely worth your time to check it out…

Tips For Running a B2B User-Generated Commercial Contest

More and more companies are turning to their customers and others to help with their marketing messages.  One of the more recently popular vehicles is to hold a contest for the best commercial.  Doritos has successfully held a contest for the past several Super Bowls.  Other consumer-based (B2C) examples include contests from Heinz Ketchup, Dibbs ice cream, Klondike bars and Brighter Planet.

Using customers and others to help with marketing efforts is an example of crowdsourcing.  Crowdsourcing is a term first coined by Jeff Howe in 2006 in a Wired magazine article.  The Wikipedia link for crowdsourcing lists many examples of how organizations are using this new technique for their benefit.

However, not many companies have tried commercial contests in the B2B space. In my former job, one of my projects was to develop and manage a B2B user-generated commercial contest for a software company and I wanted to share some of the tips and tricks I learned along the way.

My Contest Background – The contest I ran was for a company called iRise where I was Senior Manager of Strategic Projects.   iRise is an LA-based software company that sells a rapid prototyping/visualization solution for companies who want to accelerate their software development process.  In March 2008, Mitch Bishop, the CMO, came up with the idea of hosting a video contest to stoke the creativity of our user base and drive awareness and demand for our product, and I was assigned to develop and manage the project.  The only guidelines that I was given were that the prize total should be $20,000 and that the contest should be over by the end of the second quarter.  So, I had 3 weeks to research and develop the project before launching in early April.

The bottom line is that running a commercial contest involves many different skill sets including “sales”, social media marketing, guerilla and viral marketing, writing, business development, technical web development, market research, marketing analysis and project management.  These skills could be wrapped up in one person or spread across a team.  In my case, I performed all of the skills except for the technical website development.

Developing the Rules - I started out by research user-generated contests and checked out many different options.  There are companies that will actually host contests for you (like Votigo, memelabs and online video contests ), but I didn’t want to lose control and didn’t have the budget to do.  I ultimately patterned most of our contest process and rules after the Heinz commercial contest mentioned above.

Our contest was based on two phases.  In the first phase, people would upload their 30-60 second video to YouTube, register for an account on the video contest website and then submit the YouTube URL to us.  An internal committee would then review the submitted entries and select 10 semi-finalist videos for phase 2.  The criteria for selecting the semi-finalists would be based on:

  • #1) Originality (40%)
  • (#2) Overall appeal (30%)
  • (#3) Likelihood to motivate people to buy or try iRise (30%)

In the second phase which lasted 2 weeks, public voting would determine the final winners.  People were allowed to vote for one video during each 24-hour period and the video with the most votes would win the overall prize.

Creating the Website – The key with setting up the website is to have a very talented web jockey and your own URL.  For the iRise contest, we set up a URL for the “Visualize the Prize” contest at http://irisevideo.com/ and I was very fortunate to have the iRise Webmaster Ray Walker as a resource.  Ray likes to experiment and he came up with some very clever ways to run the site and voting using off-the-shelf open source tools.  While Ray could set up the website infrastructure, there was still a lot of content to develop for the site.  Ray even wrote a Facebook application to display the final 15 video entries from within Facebook.

iRise Visualize the Prize Contest

iRise Visualize the Prize Contest

Getting the Word Out – I spent the better part of the first week promoting the contest in as many outlets as possible.  I joined a number of Yahoo Groups, Facebook Film and Video groups, and other online forums and groups so I could post messages in different forums.  I didn’t keep count, but I probably posted in at least 100 forums or groups and re-visited some of the sites to post reminders.  I also bought ads on Facebook targeted at people with film and video interests and set up ads on Google.  I tried contacting the top film schools to announce the contest to starving film students, but didn’t have much success with that path.  Since I wasn’t sure which of my guerilla marketing efforts would pay off, it seemed like I was just praying and spraying – but in the end, it all worked out for us.

In addition to the guerilla marketing, we issued a press release on the contest and I wrote a couple of blog entries on the iRise corporate blog and for the Catalyze community.  I posted a link to the post on Twitter and several of my Twitter contacts spread the links and wrote their own blog posts.  I was also frequently blogging on the video contest site in order to keep the content fresh.

Waiting for Entries - The most frustrating part was waiting for entries to get submitted.  The contest was launched on April 10th with a submission deadline of June 4th.  I knew we wouldn’t get any entries for the first couple of weeks, so all I could do was to track traffic on the contest website and post blog entries discussing the contest.  I also created and uploaded 2 videos of my own to “prime the pump”.  We were averaging 50-75 visits per day, so I knew we were getting some attention.  Our first contest entry came in with 4 weeks left in the contest and with 3 weeks left, we had just 3 rather mediocre entries.  The big flood of entries started arriving with 5 days before the end of the contest and we ended up with 44 total entries.  I liken the final influx of entries to an eBay auction – all of the action is going to come in the last few days, so just stay calm and let the process take care of itself.

Judging and Selecting the Winners – Our contest rules were set up that an internal committee from iRise would select the top 10 videos from all of the entries and then let public voting decide the overall winners.  We set up the voting so people could only vote once per day.  We ultimately selected 15 videos for the last phase of the contest.

The Results – Overall, the contest was a brand awareness success and the jury is still out on whether iRise will be able to attribute any revenue to the contest.  During the contest, we had over 16,000 visitors to the contest website who looked at 57,000 pages and the videos received more than 30,000 views on YouTube.  Most of the submitted videos were not from iRise customers or partners, but we did have a handful of videos submitted from ‘friends of iRise’.  The majority of the entries were submitted by people who first had to figure out the iRise product and message, and come up with an idea for a 30-second spot.

The contest also generated a bunch of residual content on the contest website and on YouTube.  Longer term, success should be measured by actual sales which could take several quarters or more to play out.  It also remains to be seen how iRise can leverage the video content in the future.

And here is the winning video:

Keys to Success – I believe that there were 3 keys to our success.

Obviously, the first key was that we set the contest prizes at a high enough level to garner interest.  The first prize of $15,000 was enticing enough to induce some people with professional expertise to submit entries.  In fact, we had trouble selecting the top 10 videos for the final voting and decided to expand the final voting to 15 entries.  I think we may have overpaid in that we probably could have gotten away with prizes of $6,000, $3,000 and $1,000 – and would have gotten the same number of quality entries.  Besides the top 3 prizes, we also passed out $100 Amazon gift certificates to the 12 entries that didn’t take home any of the cash rewards which hopefully took some of the sting out of not winning.

The second key was to have a great website that allowed us to showcase each of the video submissions and to capture the final voting.

Thirdly, our guerilla marketing efforts got the word out to enough people who were interested in submitting their work.

Overall, I had a great time and learned a lot about running video contests.  Feel free to drop me a line if you have any other questions or add a comment below with your own experiences.

Announcing the Winners in the iRise Video Commercial Contest

[Note: I developed and managed this contest as one of my projects when I was at iRIse]

iRise Visualize the Prize Video Contest

We are proud to announce the winners in the iRise “Visualize the Prize” Video Commercial Contest.  The 15 semi-finalists received more than 4,500 votes during the two weeks of voting that ended on June 20th, and it was a pretty tight race.

The winning entry was “iRise Recipe” submitted by Brian Palatucci of Santa Monica, California.  Brian wins $15,000 for his video which depicts a man preparing dinner for his girlfriend while asking the question, “What if there was a way to learn from your mistakes without ever having to make one?”

There were 2 runners-up entries that each claimed a prize of $2,500.

“Foresight is 20/20” by Michael Beeson of Great Falls, Montana – This video looked at iRise from the perspective of a spectacle manufacturer which lost its focus before trying iRise.  “It’s made painful hindsight a thing of the past because thanks to iRise, foresight is now 20/20.”

“A Celebration of iRise” by Ron Rogers of Healdsburg, California – This video compared the process of developing company Web sites to the wine industry which doesn’t reveal the finished product until the very end.  “Now that calls for a celebration!”

Visit the official contest website to check out the semi-finalists and all contest entries.

Adopting Rich Internet Applications

What are Rich Internet Applications (RIA) and how can your organization use them?

Maurice Martin, iRise President, COO and Founder, wrote an article recently that answered these questions for Hotel Business Review Executive magazine.

I’ve summarized some key points below and you can get a copy of the article from the iRise Website.

“RIAs represent a real opportunity for companies to improve their online offerings because they are the tools that provide Web designers the greatest flexibility in meeting the needs of your brand. But added richness will not always equate to an improved (or even a good) experience. At every point, you must think about what the best possible experience is for your customers.”

The article also included a discussion of the five pitfalls of adopting RIA:

  1. Not understanding customer needs
  2. Implementing for technology’s sake
  3. Creating a distracting experience
  4. Reduced web site performance
  5. Limited metrics tracking and reporting

If you are interested in learning if RIA is right for you and how to avoid the risks, be sure check out the article.

Visualize SOA with iRise

SOA or service-oriented architecture is a chronically hot topic – and there are as many opinions about it as there are IT vendors.  According to Wikipedia, SOA is “is a computer system’s architectural style for creating and using business processes, packaged as services, throughout their lifecycle. SOA also defines and provisions the IT infrastructure to allow different applications to exchange data and participate in business processes.”  And for a more humorous definition of SOA overload, check out Greg the Architect in the “SOA This, SOA That” video from YouTube.

We recently had an interesting internal email discussion on how iRise deals with SOA and I have excerpted the highlights below:

From Sherrick Murdoff, VP of Alliances and Business Development:

  • “SOA is most often interpreted as back-end plumbing only, but this is not the case.  SOA includes the back-end plumbing, but you don’t start with the back-end plumbing and you don’t start with building web services
  • What many CIOs and industry leaders have learned and are promoting is to start with the customer experience – this should drive your SOA implementation more than anything. iRise lets you visualize the customer experience and iterate with both end-users and IT to gain alignment on what needs to be built that drives the “how”
  • Visualizing SOA is important to let the customer experience drive the requirements for what infrastructure you need to put in place
  • iRise aligns well in any SOA discussion and brings the customer back to what is important – visualizing “what” you need before you begin to think about the “how” you want to implement.”

From Matt Smith, Senior Enterprise Solutions Manager

  • “Most people over-think the relationship between SOA and simulating applications.  SOA basically means there is a provider (machine) and a consumer (machine or human) of a service.
  • The processing of the service is all the back-end wizardry that goes on within the SOA, which iRise doesn’t diagram in the traditional sense of architecture modeling tools, but it does simulate the action.
  • The line of business manager and end-user don’t care how the SOA actually processes the service request.  iRise simulates the important bit from their perspective of application usability.”

From James McWethy, Enterprise Solutions Director

  • “SOA…three loaded letters.  I’ve seen companies spend years talking about defining and implementing an SOA strategy.
  • Why not simulate the end-user experience that will result from the tiresome SOA planning process to: (1) Verify that the information being delivered via the service (informational or transactional) will be of value to the end user, and (2) simulate a set of components (portlets, widgets, gadgets, web parts, etc.) that will show the end result of a system comprised of multiple services.

iRise Customer Success Story - At Fusion ‘07, the Customer Experience team from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan gave a presentation on how they used iRise to simulate a technical proof of concept for their new member portal.  The presentation is available here and can be viewed here.

So, why risk building your SOA infrastructure without using iRise to engaging your end-users?  By simulating the end-user experience with iRise first, both business stakeholders and IT will win.

Success Through Visualization – From SandHill.com

Emmet Keeffe, iRise CEO and Co-founder, had an opinion piece published this week in SandHill.com.  SandHill.com is the premier destination online destination for strategic information on the software business. The site and its newsletters are read by thousands of top software industry executives every week.

Emmet talks about “The Requirement Challenge” and why “Accurate Specs are Key”.  He finishes with “The Benefits of Visualization” which I am paraphrasing below:

  • Business people can fully experience the product and make changes early in the process, saving significant time and downstream costs.
  • Developers can catch design and functional errors before an application goes into production.
  • The process can speed through multiple rounds of functional visual edits to quickly reach decisions on business needs and customer experience.
  • Managers can increase final adoption of system with upfront agreements of the application’s process flow, experience and visual look and feel.
  • User experience professionals can rapidly iterate proposed designs directly in front of customers, dramatically improving customer experience.
  • Software sales teams can demo potential products to customers to get feedback before actually developing the application.
  • The professional service teams can test a potential product for possible needed changes to speed implementation and integration.
  • Sharing visualizations with global sourcing partners is not only easier but cheaper. Visualizations eliminate confusion with global development teams because everyone is speaking the same language.
  • Resellers can sell a solution by showing a visualization of what a specific application could do when integrated into the customer’s environment

He wraps up by repeating his vision, “by 2020, all business software will be visualized before its built, just the same way that every car, airplane and semiconductor are visualized today.”

The entire piece is worth a read and can be found at SandHill.com.

Win $15,000 in the iRise Commercial Contest!

iRise Visualize the Prize Contest

We are very pleased to announce that the first annual iRise “Visualize the Prize” Commercial Contest starts today and has a total cash prize of $20,000.

Why are we doing this? According to chief marketing officer, Mitch Bishop, “We know we have passionate and creative users, and we want to let them share their passion with us and the broader iRise User community”.

So, what does it take to win? Are you passionate about iRise? Has iRise changed your life or the way you do business? Are you creative? Do you have a great idea for telling the world about the power of visualization?  Do you have a great way to motivate others to buy iRise?  Help us tell the world by creating a 30 to 60 second commercial about iRise and you could win $15,000.

Make us laugh, make us cry, make us think, make us say “wow, we didn’t think of that!” or “whoa, we didn’t think of that”.  You have total creative control to write, cast, direct and shoot your commercial.

We encourage you to tell us how you have used visualization and iRise to create something special.  Did you speed time to market, increase innovation, improve user experience or reduce costs?  Note that 30% of the judging criteria will be based on the liklihood to motivitate people to buy or try iRise.

What are the contest details? A summary of the contest information has been copied below and is available from the contest website at www.irisevideo.com.  Please bookmark the website so you can check back frequently for new video submissions – and don’t forget to vote for your favorites during the voting period in June.


  • The 1st place winner will receive $15,000
  • Two Runner-up winners will receive $2,500 each


  • Contest starts Tuesday April 8, 2008
  • Contest ends Wednesday June 4, 2008
  • Top 10 semifinalists selected on June 6, 2008
  • Voting period runs from Friday June 6, 2008 to Friday June 20, 2008

Contest Process:

  1. Create a completely original commercial – 30 to 60 seconds long
  2. Upload your video to YouTube by June 4, 2008
  3. Register on the iRise Commercial website and submit the URL for your video
  4. Wait for iRise to approve and post your commercial on this iRise Commercial website
  5. Promote your iRise commercial video and watch all of the accepted videos on the iRise Commercial website
  6. Vote for your favorite videos from June 6, 2008 to June 20, 2008

  7. Complete rules are available here

In order to prime your creative pumps, here is an example iRise Commercial that I pulled together last week…and don’t worry, I’m not eligible to win: