Tips on Planning a 15th Anniversary Party

When our team at Matrix put their heads together and agreed that we were going to celebrate our 15th anniversary with a big party, my hand was in the air, ready to volunteer to help. The thing that I love about big events is that at the end, if you do your job right, the payoff will be smiles and compliments from guests who had a great time, ate some good food and got to make connections with other guests who they may never have met if it weren’t for your party. I think Joanna’s and the Matrix team’s focus on a low key, fun-filled party made my job easy, but with any event you are planning there can be road bumps. Here’s some advice on how to ensure your next party is smooth, drama free and fun!

Come up with a great, catchy theme.

Matrix 1th anniversary logoThe marketing team put their thinking caps on and realized that the 15th anniversary is typically celebrated with crystal. We turned this tradition into a crystal ball themed party and the tag line “The Future Looks Bright,” was born. Having a theme makes everything from invitations to decorations easy. Our main focus point for decorations were two silver trees with crystal balls holding all of our client logos in them. Even our cake had a crystal ball topper emblazoned with our Matrix logo on the inside and our tag line in fondant with tons of purple icing. It was a big hit with all the guests and we were very lucky that crystal and purple go so well together!

 

Find great vendors. Find vendors you trust.

From your caterer to the staff at your event venue, it is important that you establish a great working relationship with all the people you will be in contact with from start to finish. We had the great luck to work with the same caterer we used for Matrix’s 10th Anniversary.  Seana Hale from Occasions Catering took the lead and had great suggestions on food menu choices, where to put our tables and how to organize the flow of the event. You hire professionals because they’ve done this a lot and they know how to make an event work. Listen to their advice but also know when to give your feedback if it is really important to you. Your one event could be the start of a great working relationship in the years and events to come.

Give your DJ a playlist. It helps set the tone for the party.

Joanna called me at the end of the day a few weeks before our party and said, “I have a playlist tell me if you think this is crazy.” She rattled off artists like Prince, Katy Perry, Pharrell and Lou Bega of Mambo Number Five fame. I thought it was perfect. The artists she chose were upbeat, catchy and obviously danceable. I think that helped set the tone of the event for the rest of the night. Guests felt relaxed, happy, ready to mix and mingle with strangers and I know I saw more than a few people dancing after a few Matrix mojitos. I know because I was one of them!

Get your guests involved with social media.

Before the big party we created our own hashtag (#matrix15) and an Instagram and Facebook account for our guests to post their photos and thoughts about the event. It was very cool to come back the next day to see how much fun our guests had and all the pictures they took during the event. You would never have seen these moments without social media outlets.

Do your research. You can always get something for less if you look. 

I don’t have to tell you that anything can be found on the Internet and that if you have a strict budget to stick to a simple search on the world wide web can save you hundreds of dollars. I saved about $500 on our decoration budget by simply doing Google searches for the things we wanted. I also did a lot of price comparisons and reading customer reviews before deciding on any of our vendors and I know that this helped a lot in the success of our party. It pays to do your research.

Order extra invitations and be ready to make phone calls.

Things happen and invitations will inevitably get lost or will get thrown away accidentally. You want to make sure that everyone who is important to you knows about your event so try to reach out in every way possible if you haven’t heard from that VIP on your list. Joanna and the staff were making phone calls and sending emails almost weekly to make sure that their clients and friends were invited and ready to party with us.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

No matter how much pre-planning you do you will need help in the days leading up to the event. It helps to come up with a task list for things that can be delegated to other people on your team. When the day of our event came around, I had my team members answering phones, printing RSVP lists and name badges. It takes a village but the village won’t know you need their help if you don’t ask.

Hire a professional photographer. They are the key to recording your memories!

These days everyone is ready and willing to snap a photo on their iPhone and post it on Facebook, but five years later when you are trying to recall the night of your big party, where will those cell phone photos be? We considered nixing professional photography, but we came to realize how important these photos would be five or ten years later when it’s time to celebrate our next anniversary. We had a great photographer who snapped away all night long and in a few weeks we got to relive the fun night with a CD full of photos. Worth every penny!

Be a proactive problem solver!

When things go wrong it doesn’t help to worry about what went wrong, it actually just wastes time. The day of the event we arrived at our venue earlier than staff expected and they wouldn’t let us in. Not a big deal! We just asked if we could start our setup process in the loading area and they agreed. We put together our decorative tree, made phone calls to staff who needed information and even had time to gather ourselves and get dressed. Problem solved!

Take some time to enjoy yourself!

After all the food is on the table, the decorations are up and the badges have been handed out, take a step back and look at what you have accomplished! Be sure to take time to enjoy the event that you worked to put together. It will give you the energy and the courage to raise your hand again when the next event needs to be planned!

Matrix 15 anniversary cake and candy bar

Check out photos from our event on our Facebook page and Flickr!

Alex Pineda

Creative Director

The Gentle Art of Persuasive Design

Every day each of us engages in some form of persuasion, whether its:

  • Getting that man/woman to give us their phone number at the bar
  • Convincing your husband/wife that it’s their turn to take out the garbage
  • Or coaxing your kid to eat their vegetables.

women said, woman listening to gossipIn advertising, of course, we are very familiar with the goal of getting consumers to buy products, support causes, etc.

At Matrix Group, we persuade our clients to follow a user-centered design process.  This means that we take the goals/needs of users as the basis for all design decisions.  Taking this process a step further, we also need to ensure that these decisions that customers make align with our clients’ strategic goals.  How do we do this?  How do we entice, cajole, convince, PERSUADE, visitors to do what we want them to do?

Principles of Persuasive Design

There are a few principles that we adhere to, that make this decision-making process successful:

1.  Clarity

The first thing we need is clarity from our clients as to what are the most important goals of the organization.  We ask them to list, in order, what the most important success metrics are:  is it gaining new members, selling more products from the store, increased donations?  With this list in mind, we convey a clear value proposition that supports these calls to action.  For example, if the main goal is to sign up new members, we make sure that potential members are presented with content that shows the benefits of membership, are enticed with discounts that are only available to members, testimonials from current members.  We also make sure that the membership signup form is no more than one click away from every page of the site/app.

2. Simplicity

Related to the first principle, simplicity is all about presenting content and calls to action in an easy to digest form.  Rather than loading a page with 5 million links, present just one, or at most a handful, with the most important one easily picked out.  Give content and actions breathing room.  Make their path to conversion an easy to one to follow, with as few steps as possible.

3.  Hierarchy

Visual hierarchy, in design terms, is the order in which the human eye perceives what it sees.  This means making the really important things stand out in terms of color, size, contrast, and placement.  If there’s one thing you want a user to click on, put it closer to the top of the page, make it stand out, and make it very clear what it will do.

By following these basic principles, the art of persuasive design can be used to gently guide your users to where you both want to be, that happy place where the needs of your customers and the goals of your organization both come together.

Kelly Browning

Director of Strategy

Getting Started with User Research

How do we know if our website is actually working the way we want it to?  Web analytics data can tell us part of the story, but we need user feedback to help us understand the full picture. Otherwise, we know what people clicked on, but when we don’t know why.

Fortunately, getting user feedback doesn’t have to be expensive. There are “do it yourself” methods that you can use right now.

Surveys

You can set up a quick survey (just a few general questions) on your website to get a sense of your user’s feelings, likes and dislikes, and pain points.  It’s a great starting point to get a broad view from many different perspectives.

Here are the questions I would suggest as a starting point:

  1. What brought you to our website today?
  2. Were you able to do what you hoped to do?
  3. What did you enjoy about your experience?
  4. What can we do to make the website better?

Note that this type of survey doesn’t make a lot of sense as a pop-up on your homepage.  Not only are homepage pop-ups annoying to most people, the users haven’t had a chance to interact with the site yet (since they haven’t even loaded the homepage).  An interview like this makes much more sense as an exit interview, or possibly a subtle call to action on 2nd or 3rd page into the visit.

Interviews

A user interview is a conversation with a user so you can hear about their experience with your website.   If you’re new to user interviews, here are some quick tips for getting started:

  1. Practice with a couple of co-workers and friends so you can get your style and approach smoothed out a bit, before you start working with real users.
  2. Keep it conversational and natural.   I find that the best interview style for me is what folks in the industry call “semi-structured.”   It’s a hybrid between just going through a list of questions, and just having an open-ended conversation.  So, do you have a list of questions?  Yes.  Do you read down the list like a drill sergeant?  No.  Keep  it natural.  The interviewee is doing most of the talking of course, but your goal is to keep them talking, and to listen, and to probe to really understand what they’re trying to say.
  3. See if you can get the user to talk about a specific thing that happened in the past.  When a user generalizes and says “it’s hard to find things,” that’s interesting and you can explore those experiences and feelings with them.   But when somebody tells you “last week I tried to search for the conference agenda, and I typed in “xyz” and the only result I got was “abc,”  that can be especially useful because it’s so specific and real.
  4. Have the website available for you and the participant.  Whether you’re conducting the interview in-person or over the phone, make sure the website is available for both of you to reference as you talk.   Trying to  discuss the website based on memory alone won’t get you very far at all.  If you’re doing the interview over the phone, have a Webex or GoTo Meeting set up so you can both look at the website together.

Usability Testing

This is the single most important thing you can do. Surveys and interviews give you useful information, sure. But actually sitting down with a user while they try and navigate your website?  It’s the motherlode of user feedback.  It’s pure gold. The more you do it the better your website will be and the more knowledgeable you will become about the different ways that people interact with websites. It is truly mind-expanding!

Like interviewing, it takes a little practice to get good at usability testing – but it’s not rocket science. There are DIY approaches that can be invaluable.

Here are some tips for getting started:

  1. Narrow your focus. Chances are your website is way too big and complex to usability test all of it (that’s a big part of why the surveys and interviews are valuable, they fill in some of those gaps).  Usability testing is an investment of time and effort, even on a small, DIY scale. Decide what questions you need to answer.    Orient everything you do around that.
  2. Think of one important user goal or activity that you’d like to understand better.  Good candidates are e-commerce checkout, event registration, and other conversions that are critical to the success of your website.
  3. Set up a time with a friend or a co-worker to sit down with you and do this task.  When you ask them to do the task, frame it in terms of the goal: for instance, “register for the annual conference.”
  4. Before the user gets started, ask them to talk to you and explain their thought process. This is called the “think aloud” technique.
  5. Watch and learn! 

Once you’ve gone through this little experiment, you may just catch the usability testing bug.   If so, your next steps might be….

  1. Think about ways you can expand and apply this type of research to your website.  Other tasks? Who should you test with?
  2. Keep learning. Refine your techniques and your approach to the level where you are most comfortable.

If you are just going for a basic, DIY approach, Steve Krug, who wrote the usability classic, Don’t Make Me Think, also has a great book on guerrilla usability testing and it’s a relatively quick read.

rocketsurgerycover Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug

If you decide that you want to take your usability testing skills to the “next level,” here is another great book that can introduce you to more formal techniques and advanced theories around usability testing.

handbook of usability testing cover Handbook of Usability Testing by Jeffrey Rubin, Dana Chisnell, and Jared Spool

Final Thoughts

User research can range from guerrilla methods to formally trained PhDs working in labs and running statistical analysis. Good news: even the most basic, informal methods are better than nothing. Astronomically better!  I hope that some of these ideas encourage you to give user research a shot.

Sherrie Bakshi

Director of Marketing and Social Media

What We Love About MailChimp

Clients regularly ask us to recommend a broadcast email platform. Our answer is almost always MailChimp, the popular email provider.  Here at Matrix Group, we’ve been using MailChimp for more than two years. We even designed and implemented a responsive email template that dynamically responds based on the device recipients are using to view emails — thanks to the functionality of the email provider. MailChimp logo

Here are a few reasons why we prefer MailChimp over other providers:

  •  It’s easy to use. MailChimp offers multiple templates for you to use to create newsletters, emails, etc.   MailChimp also makes it easy to add your own templates. Once implemented, it makes it easy for staff who are not as familiar with HTML to create, edit and send out emails.
  • Updating and managing lists is easy.  You can update lists on an ongoing basis and MailChimp will automatically remove unsubscribes. You can also pull lists of emails that bounced back.
  • The reports are fantastic. MailChimp’s reports provide some great insight on your campaigns. You can view overall open and click-through rates, recipients who have opened your emails and links that were clicked on the most.

MailChimp is a great marketing tool for organizations. It makes sending emails easy and looking good!

Do you use MailChimp?  What features do you like about it?

Helena Stamper

Project Manager

Get your Web Content Ready in Time for Launch

You’re planning your timeline for the new website and you’re excited. But, you know you need to update content and write new content. What do you need to do to accomplish this? Silver pen

Planning

When should this content development plan start?  This needs to start as soon as your website design project kicks off.

One of the continued challenges for an organization that is having their website re-designed or even designed for the first time is generating content for the site.  Taking the time to create a content development plan is key to any web site re-design or initial design.  Your development plan should include conducting a content audit of your website, determining which content is going to be re-used, revised, or deleted, identify which content can be done through an automated content migration vs. manual content migration, and producing a content writing schedule.  Breaking down these tasks into manageable project milestones will alleviate much of the challenges that are felt with a newly designed web site launch date that is quickly approaching.

The content development plan needs to start with doing a content audit of your existing website.  This can be a spreadsheet that lists out each page of the website with the page title so that you have an idea of what content exists.  The next step is to have a content audit review meeting with all parties involved with editing the website content.  During this meeting, it is determined which content stays, goes, or needs to be revised.  It would also be at this time that people are assigned writing assignments with deliverable dates (building the content writing schedule).  When reviewing the content, you should also start identifying which content could be migrated manually vs. automated.

Recommended Milestones

Below are recommended project milestones that will assist in your content development plan.

  • Content Audit
  • Review Content Audit for content that is staying, going, or being revised
  • Create Content Writing Schedule
  • Weekly Content Update Meetings

Remember that keeping up with the content writing schedule is key.  The time frame for having all content written/updated should coincide with build out of the new website.  As the developers are building out the pages, they will be able to add the content saving you both time and money in getting this task done at the same time.

Have you got any tips or tricks you’d like to share?