Thrifty Loses a Customer for Life When They Could Have Gained One

A couple of months ago I rented a car from Thrifty Car Rental but never again. This week I got a bill from Thrifty, shown below, for $0.70 from a toll road and a $15 administrative fee on top of that.

Thrifty Car Rental Fine

 

Apparently, despite my best effort to avoid toll roads during that trip, I must have gone through a toll booth. Now Thrifty is chasing me down to make sure I pay that $0.70 toll, and they’re charging me an additional $15 fee on top of that for their trouble.

At first I was mad at them, but now I just feel sorry for them and their incredibly short-sighted business practices. Just think of Thrifty’s options:

  1. They could have paid the $0.70 toll themselves. I would have been none the wiser, and I would have remembered renting a car with them as problem free.
  2. They could have sent me a bill for the $0.70 toll. I would have thought it was a little silly to bill me for such a small amount, but I would have understood. Perhaps, regardless of how big or small the toll amount, Thrifty has a process of reaching out to their customers to collect the money for tolls.
  3. They could have sent me a letter, letting me know that I incurred a $0.70 charge from a toll booth during my recent trip, but also letting me know that due to the small amount, they would just pay it themselves. The letter could have thanked me for being a loyal customer and encouraged me to use Thrifty again in the future. And I would have been glad to do so.
  4. They could have sent me a bill for the $0.70 toll plus an administrative fee on top of that. This would reassure me that Thrifty cares more about their short term bottom line than having me as a loyal customer.

Of course, Thrifty chose the last option, and I’m writing this post to remind myself never to use that car rental company again. It amazes me that for $0.70 and the price of a stamp, Thrifty could have gained a loyal customer. But apparently, they’d rather have $15 now and never have my business again.

I don’t know how much Thrifty spends on marketing. Probably not a lot, since they are a discount car rental company. But they must spend something on occasional TV spots, billboards, or online advertising. They likely spend thousands, perhaps even millions a year, on marketing campaigns that may or may not be effective. Here, though, they had the opportunity to spend $1 on a marketing campaign that would almost be guaranteed to win them new business, and not only did they miss the chance but they used the opportunity to offend and lose a customer.

P.S. I also am amazed, if you notice in the image above, that they have the website, ThriftyRentalFine.com. This both cracks me up with laughter and saddens me. Apparently, chasing down customers to pay fines is something Thrifty does so often that they need their own website dedicated to this purpose.

Selfies Effect on Individuals and Society

Selfie by Thiago MarquesA few months ago, I was at an online marketing seminar, and one of the speakers suggested that the audience be part of the breaking of a world record: the most simultaneous selfies posted online. As I pulled my smart phone out, I felt uncomfortable taking a picture of myself. I took the picture, but quickly deleted it. It was then that I realized I had never taken a selfie before, at least not a solo selfie. I have taken selfies of myself and my wife, and on my mission to Argentina, I took selfies of me and my companion at times. But I felt really uncomfortable taking a picture of myself, posting it online, and basically saying to the world, “Hey, look at me!”

As I sat in this room with hundreds of people taking selfies and posting them online, I wondered if I was the only one who felt like this was a narcissistic trend with poor psychological health ramifications for individuals and the society at large.  I thought about people I know, who seemingly take a selfie a day and posts it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or elsewhere, and I wondered what the long term effects would be of such self-centered actions and attitudes.

Maybe I’m going to go out on a limb here but I’m making a prediction: The self-absorbed culture that is manifest in the frequent posting of selfies by so many people is going to have long-term negative effects on our society.

Narcissism leads to terrible things

study on selfies by Ohio State UniversityTo research this subject, I went to the internet and soon found validation for my thought process. An Ohio State University study on selfies was released in early 2015 and shows that “men who posted more online photos of themselves than others scored higher on measures of narcissism and psychopathy. In addition, men who were more likely to edit their selfies before posting scored higher in narcissism and self-objectification, which measures how much they prioritize their appearance.”

The study’s author added, “Narcissism is marked by a belief that you’re smarter, more attractive and better than others, but with some underlying insecurity. Psychopathy involves a lack of empathy and regard for others and a tendency toward impulsive behavior. …Self-objectification involves valuing yourself mainly for your appearance, rather than for other positive traits.”

Finally, the author noted, “With the growing use of social networks, everyone is more concerned with their appearance. That means self-objectification may become a bigger problem for men, as well as for women. …We know that self-objectification leads to a lot of terrible things, like depression and eating disorders in women.”

Pres. Uchtdorf on Selfies and Narcissism

I haven’t heard the modern prophets talk about selfies, with one exception which you’ll see below, but they have spoken often about the spiritual dangers of being self-absorbed and narcissistic.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency of the LDS Church recently noted: “Those who are selfish seek their own interests and pleasure above all else. The central question for the selfish person is “What’s in it for me?” Brethren [and Sisters], I am sure you can see that this attitude is clearly contrary to the spirit required to build God’s kingdom. When we seek self-service over selfless-service, our priorities become centered on our own recognition and pleasure. Past generations had their struggle with variations of egotism and narcissism, but I think today we are giving them serious competition. Is it any coincidence that the Oxford Dictionary recently proclaimed “selfie” as the word of the year?”

Pres. Uchtdorf added, “Naturally, we all have a desire for recognition, and there is nothing wrong with relaxing and enjoying ourselves. But when seeking the “gain and praise of the world” is a central part of our motivation, we will miss the redemptive and joyful experiences that come when we give generously of ourselves to the work of the Lord.” (see Are You Sleeping through the Restoration?, April 2014 LDS General Conference)

In another recent talk by Pres. Uchtdorf, he said, “Impatience, on the other hand, is a symptom of selfishness. It is a trait of the self-absorbed. It arises from the all-too-prevalent condition called “center of the universe” syndrome, which leads people to believe that the world revolves around them and that all others are just supporting cast in the grand theater of mortality in which only they have the starring role. How different this is, my dear brethren, from the standard the Lord has set for us.” (see Continue in Patience, April 2010 LDS General Conference)

What God Has Said About Seeking the Praise of the World

The Lord God himself has also spoken on this subject of pride and seeking the praise of the world (via selfies or otherwise). This is what He has said:

  • “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. …Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” (James 4: 6, 10)
  • “Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men.” (121:34–35)
  • “Behold, the pride of this nation, or the people of the Nephites, hath proven their destruction.” (Moro. 8:27)
  • “And let him repent of his sins, for he seeketh the praise of the world.” (D&C 58:39)

Consequences of Selfishness

The late Mormon Apostle Elder Neal A. Maxwell gave a masterful discourse in 1999 called “Repent of [Our] Selfishness”  in which he spoke on the dangerous consequences of being selfish and prideful.

  • “Each spasm of selfishness narrows one’s universe that much more by reducing his awareness of or concern with others. …Long ago it took a Copernicus to tell a provincial world that this planet was not the center of the universe. Some selfish moderns need a Copernican reminder that they are not the center of the universe either!”
  • “Selfishness likewise causes us to be discourteous, disdainful, and self-centered while withholding from others needed goods, praise, and recognition as we selfishly pass them by and notice them not (see Morm. 8:39). Later on come rudeness, brusqueness, and the further flexing of elbows.”
  • “Alas, gross, individual selfishness is finally acculturated. Then societies can eventually become without order, without mercy, without love, perverted, and past feeling (see Moro. 9). Society thereby reflects a grim, cumulative tally which signals a major cultural decline. This happened anciently when a people actually became “weak, because of their transgression” (Hel. 4:26).”
  • “One of the worst consequences of severe selfishness …is like what happened to an ancient group of children “who did grow up … , that they became for themselves”—hardened and errant (3 Ne. 1:29; see also 3 Ne. 1:30). Devastating cultural change can and does happen “in the space of not many years,” including replacing the much-needed spirit of community with a diversified alliance of dalliance (see Hel. 4:26).”
  • “A narcissist society, in which each person is busy looking out for number one, can build neither brotherhood nor community. Aren’t we glad in this Easter season and in all seasons that Jesus did not selfishly look out for number one? No wonder we have been told, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” and this includes self-worship! (Ex. 20:3).”

The Antidote to Selfishness: Meekness

Fortunately, Elder Maxwell also spoke about the antidote that can cure the sin of selfishness: meekness.

“In daily discipleship, the many ways to express selfishness are matched by many ways to avoid it. Meekness is the real cure, for it does not merely mask selfishness but dissolves it! Smaller steps could include asking ourselves inwardly before undertaking an important action, Whose needs am I really trying to meet? Or in significant moments of self-expression, we can first count to 10. Such thoughtful filtering can multiply our offering by 10 as a mesh of reflective meekness filters out destructive and effusive ego.”

Elder Maxwell also added, “In one degree or another we all struggle with selfishness. Since it is so common, why worry about selfishness anyway? Because selfishness is really self-destruction in slow motion. No wonder the Prophet Joseph Smith urged, “Let every selfish feeling be not only buried, but annihilated”. Hence annihilation—not moderation—is the destination!”

Let us each do our part to root out and dissolve the selfish attitudes and actions that are a natural tendency in this earthly existence. May we meekly and humbly be true disciples of Jesus Christ by following his teachings and example of a selfless life and thereby avoid the consequences sure to come from a selfie-crazed culture and life style.

Website review: Remembering the Wives of Joseph Smith

Our family has a tradition to celebrate the prophet Joseph Smith’s birthday on Dec. 23rd of each year.  A friend recently commented that they did not feel there is much to celebrate about Joseph Smith based on many of the things they have read about him lately. We inquired what this was about and they answered that it was about Joseph’s plural wives and other information they had read on a website called Remembering the Wives of Joseph Smith, wivesofjosephsmith.org.

I decided to check out the website. The friend thought it was a credible website, so I wanted to see for myself. While I’m no historian or Mormon Church history expert, I have read a lot of Church history, including a significant amount on difficult subjects like polygamy. As I perused the websites, here are some of the red flags I saw:

Red Flag #1: The Site Author Remains Anonymous

There is no indication of who runs the wivesofjosephsmith.org website.  There’s no about us section or copyright notice. This causes me to wonder, why are they hiding who they are? Even when site visitors have emailed the author and asked who is the sponsor of this website, they still did not answer (see http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/Who.htm ). All the author will state is that “I am a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” And when asked if he or she is a member in good standing, the author says “Personally, it has been difficult for me to be comfortable with many of the events surrounding early polygamy – and I suppose this has distanced me somewhat at church.”

Red Flag #2: Bias Comes through in Prejudicial Language

Though the author of the site claims to be simply presenting the unbiased information, he or she lets their true feelings come through often by their comments, conclusions, and by the information they choose and choose not to reveal. The author’s bias is loud and clear when he/she says “My greatest hope in this regard is that one day the LDS church will no longer defend Joseph Smith’s involvement in polygamy as appropriate.”

On their FAQ page, http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/FAQ.htm, the use of quotes shows their skepticism regarding Joseph’s revelation on plural marriage. The author further comes to the conclusion that the church phased out the practice due to intense pressure from the government, not because of revelation from God, again showing prejudice. While it is true there was intense pressure from the government, it was ultimately revelation to the prophet that ended the practice of plural marriage and the sites makes no mention of that.

Red Flag #3: Leaving Out Important Background Information

The author of the site quotes Oliver Cowdery, in reference to Joseph’s first plural wife, Fanny Alger, calling it “a dirty, nasty, filthy affair.” What the author leaves out is a lot of important background to this quote. Oliver’s falling out with Joseph and the Church had largely to do with polygamy. When Oliver found out about Joseph taking an additional wife, he accused Joseph of adultery. Ultimately, Oliver Cowdery who was excommunicated and it was under these circumstances that the quote from Oliver comes.

Red Flag #4: Leaving a False Impression

On this page, http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/Praise.htm, the site author quotes material that is clearly out to make Joseph Smith look like a sex crazed maniac, preying on any woman, no matter how young, who stayed in the same home as him. The author wants to leave the impression that polygamy was simply about Joseph satisfying his manly urges. I don’t believe that’s true of Joseph Smith, and I don’t believe there is evidence that Joseph was that kind of man. There’s no evidence of him bragging of his sexual exploits, as you would expect if he really were a sex-crazed maniac. There’s nothing in Joseph’s language or in the record of his associates to support that conclusion. Joseph’s eye was single to the glory of God, and an honest study of his words and deeds shows that.

The purposeful leaving of a false impression reminds me of Elder Neil L. Andersen’s talk on Joseph Smith in the October 2014 General Conference in which he talks about a misleading photograph taken of Elder Russell M. Nelson. “The picture was true, the caption was true, but the truth was used to promote a false impression.”

Red Flag #5: Pinning Statements on Others

Even thought he author remains anonymous, he or she still feels compelled to pin statements the he or she clearly agrees with, on other people. On this page, http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/Why.htm, the author of the site does not take responsibility for the statements below, pinning them instead on “an increasing number of LDS church members,” but it’s clear these are the author’s feelings:

  • “Joseph Smith’s behavior seems inappropriate or manipulative – perhaps even abusive.”
  • “All this seems foreign to the God they worship and the principles they honor and love.”
  • “They hope for the day when the LDS church will no longer defend Joseph Smith’s behavior in polygamy as appropriate.”
  • “I just want you to know that I don’t think this was appropriate, or of God.”

Again, there is nothing unbiased or objective about these statements. Whether these statements are the author’s or someone else’s, they are jumping to conclusions that are contrary to the teachings of LDS Church leaders.

Conclusion

It is clear that the author of that website feels that Joseph’s practicing of plural marriage was manipulative, inappropriate, and not of God, and he or she is trying to persuade others to draw the same conclusion. The author quotes select information, fills in the blanks with conjecture, and implies conclusions that are subjective.

While I have read much of the same historical material as the author of that website, I have come to much different conclusions. I see Joseph Smith as a man and a prophet of God. He was a good man, but not a perfect man. He made mistakes, but he was faithful to the end in his calling as a prophet of God. While some people choose to attack Joseph Smith, I am going to continue to do my best to defend Joseph Smith, honor him as the great prophet of our dispensation, and testify of the wonderful truths and blessings he brought forth as an instrument in the hands of God.

Steve Jobs Quotes on Design, Product Focus, Etc.

As I recently read his biography Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I’m not a big Apple fan (as some of you know) but Jobs was a very successful businessman and the book came highly recommended the book, so I thought I would give it a try.

I found almost nothing praiseworthy in the first half of his life. He all but rejected the Christian religion he was raised on. He did drugs, and he slept around with many girl friends.  He was a jerk, selfish, difficult to work with, arrogant, subject to extreme mood swings, condescending, stubborn, rude, immature, a control freak, obsessive compulsive, and overly critical.

Yet Steve Jobs was one of the most successful business leaders the world has ever seen. He had remarkable aptitude (and plenty of luck) in the business world which paid great dividends when he did eventually mature somewhat. He built Apple into the world’s most successful company, and he ended up making a very positive impact on the field of design, technology, and many other industries.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from or about Steve Jobs and Apple:

design is how it works Design

“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service. The iMac is not just the color or translucence or the shape of the shell. The essence of the iMac is to be the finest possible consumer computer in which each element plays together.” -Steve Jobs in Fortune magazine, Apple’s One-Dollar-a-Year Man

”Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,” says Steve Jobs, Apple’s C.E.O. ”People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” The Guts of a New Machine, Rob Walker, November 30, 2003

Simplicity

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci and the headline of Apple’s first marketing brochure in 1977

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication - Apple II“The way we’re running the company, the product design, the advertising, it all comes down to this: Let’s make it simple. Really simple.”  -Steve Jobs, How Steve Jobs’ Love of Simplicity Fueled A Design Revolution, Smithsonian Magazine

“You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential…We wanted to get rid of anything other than what was absolutely essential,” he said. “To do so required total collaboration between the designers, the product developers, the engineers and the manufacturing team. We kept going back to the beginning, again and again. Do we need that part? Can we get it to perform the function of the other four parts?” -Jony Ive describing one of Apple’s Power Macs, Smithsonian Magazine.

Focus on Great Products

“I remember very clearly Steve announcing that our goal is not just to make money but to make great products.” -Jony Ive, Smithsonian Magazine

“My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits, were the motivation. Sculley flipped these priorities to where the goal was to make money. It’s a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything: the people you hire, who gets promoted, what you discuss in meetings.” – Steve Jobs in Walter Isaacson’s book

make great products - brandautopsy.com“Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!'” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” – Steve Jobs in Walter Isaacson’s book

Soon after returning to Apple in 1997, Jobs was at a big product strategy session. The previous CEO had been urging Apple to develop more and more products. “‘Stop!’ he [Jobs] shouted. ‘This is crazy.’ He grabbed a magic marker, padded to a whiteboard, and drew a horizontal and vertical line to make a four-squared chart. ‘Here’s what we need,’ he continued. Atop the two columns he wrote “Consumer” and “Pro”; he labeled the two rows “Desktop” and “Portable.” Their job, he said, was to make four great products, one for each quadrant. ‘The room was in dumb silence,’ Schiller recalled.” – Walter Isaacson

“The product review revealed how unfocused Apple had become. The company was churning out multiple versions of each product because of bureaucratic momentum and to satisfy the whims of retailers. “It was insanity,” Schiller recalled. “Tons of products, most of them crap, done by deluded teams.” Apple had a dozen versions of the Macintosh, each with a different confusing number, ranging from 1400 to 9600. “I had people explaining this to me for three weeks,” Jobs said. “I couldn’t figure it out.” He finally began asking simple questions, like, “Which ones do I tell my friends to buy?” When he couldn’t get simple answers, he began slashing away at models and products. Soon he had cut 70% of them.” – Walter Isaacson

Working Together

“[Jobs] never worshipped at the altar of consensus.” In 1997, when Jobs returned to Apple as CEO, he “was not tentative in his actions. He was in charge, and he did not rule by consensus.” – Walter Isaacson

“Despite his autocratic nature… Jobs worked hard to foster a culture of collaboration at Apple…He had the Pixar building designed to promote encounters and unplanned collaborations. “If a building doesn’t encourage that, you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity,” he said. “So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.” The front doors and main stairs and corridors all led to the atrium, the cafe and the mailboxes were there, the conference rooms had windows that looked out onto it, and the six-hundred-seat theater and two smaller screening rooms all spilled into it. “Steve’s theory worked from day one,” Lasseter recalled. “I kept running into people I hadn’t seen for months. I’ve never seen a building that promoted collaboration and creativity as well as this one.” – Walter Isaacson

“I realized that A players like to work with A players, they just didn’t like working with C players. At Pixar, it was a whole company of A players. When I got back to Apple, that’s what I decided to try to do. You need to have a collaborative hiring process. When we hire someone, even if they’re going to be in marketing, I will have them talk to the design folks and the engineers.” – Steve Jobs in Walter Isaacson’s book

The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker

I read The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker in 2012 at the recommendation of a good friend. It is a great book on leadership, not just for executives, but for anyone regardless of your title. The book was originally published in 1967, so I was reading it 45 years after the fact. Yet, by and large, the content was as relevant for today’s business leaders as it was when it was first written. Here are some of my favorite quotes (I apologize for not having page numbers for the quotes. I read it on the Kindle, so all I have is the Kindle “location.”):

Strategy and Productivity

  • Working on the right things - Peter Drucker“There are few things less pleasing to the Lord, and less productive, than an engineering department that rapidly turns out beautiful blueprints for the wrong product. Working on the right things is what makes knowledge work effective. This is not capable of being measured by any of the yardsticks for manual work.” – Location 108
  • “There is no lack of ideas in any organization I know. ‘Creativity’ is not our problem. But few organizations ever get going on their own good ideas.” – Location 1587
  • “A decision is a judgment. It is a choice between alternatives. It is rarely a choice between right and wrong. It is at best a choice between ‘almost right’ and ‘probably wrong.'” – Location 2094
  • “[The effective executive] always assumes that the event that clamors for his attention is in reality a symptom. He looks for the true problem. He is not content with doctoring the symptom alone.” – Location 1878
  • “Brilliant insight is not by itself achievement. They never have learned that insights become effectiveness only through hard systematic work.” – Location 76

Priorities

  • “[Effective executives] concentrate—their own time and energy as well as that of their organization—on doing one thing at a time, and on doing first things first.” – Location 1528
  • Priorities - Deciding What Tasks to Tackle - Peter Drucker“The reason why so few executives concentrate [on priorities] is the difficulty of setting “posteriorities”—that is, deciding what tasks not to tackle—and of sticking to the decision.” – Location 1615
  • “It is much easier to draw up a nice list of top priorities and then to hedge by trying to do “just a little bit” of everything else as well. This makes everybody happy. The only drawback is, of course, that nothing whatever gets done.” – Location 1637
  • “Effective executives know where their time goes…They gear their efforts to results…They force themselves to set priorities.” – Location 385
  • “Concentration—that is, the courage to impose on time and events his own decision as to what really matters and comes first—is the executive’s only hope of becoming the master of time and events.” – Location 1656
  • “Act or do not act; but do not “hedge” or compromise. The surgeon who only takes out half the tonsils or half the appendix risks as much infection.” – Location 2298

 Goals and Results

  • “If the executive lets the flow of events determine what he does, what he works on, and what he takes seriously, he will fritter himself away ‘operating.'” – Location 225
  • “The effective executive focuses on contribution. He looks up from his work and outward toward goals. He asks: ‘What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution I serve?'” – Location 795
  • “The man who focuses on efforts and who stresses his downward authority is a subordinate no matter how exalted his title and rank.” – Location 809
  • “The man who focuses on contribution and who takes responsibility for results, no matter how junior, is in the most literal sense of the phrase, ‘top management.'” – Location 810
  • When there is confusion on results - Peter Drucker“When there is confusion as to what [results] should be, there are no results.” – Location 847
  • “The ones who are enthusiastic and who, in turn, have results to show for their work, are the ones whose abilities are being challenged and used.” – Location 1233
  • “People who get nothing done often work a great deal harder.” – Location 1521
  • “Effectiveness, in other words, is a habit; that is, a complex of practices. And practices can always be learned.” – Location 374

Testing and Proving Productivity

  • “[Programs] will not produce results as long as we maintain the traditional assumption that all programs last forever unless proven to have outlived their usefulness. The assumption should rather be that all programs outlive their usefulness fast and should be scrapped unless proven productive and necessary.” – Location 1561
  • Putting all programs on tria - Peter Druckerl“Putting all programs and activities regularly on trial for their lives and getting rid of those that cannot prove their productivity work wonders in stimulating creativity even in the most hidebound bureaucracy.” – Location 1588
  • “One starts with opinions. These are, of course, nothing but untested hypotheses and, as such, worthless unless tested against reality.” – Location 2097
  • “Everyone is far too prone to … look for the facts that fit the conclusion they have already reached.” – Location 2109
  • “We know what to do with hypotheses—one does not argue them; one tests them.” – Location 2114
  • “Feedback has to be built into the decision to provide a continuous testing, against actual events, of the expectations that underlie the decision.” – Location 2044
  • “[The effective executive] had better go out and look at the scene of action, [or] he will be increasingly divorced from reality.” – Location 2082
  • “He insists that people who voice an opinion also take responsibility for defining what factual findings can be expected and should be looked for.” – Location 2119

Focusing on People’s Strengths

  • “[The effective executive] does not make staffing decisions to minimize weaknesses but to maximize strength.” – Location 1071
  • “Before he chose Grant, [Abraham Lincoln] had appointed in succession three or four Generals whose main qualifications were their lack of major weaknesses.” – Location 1077
  • “Strong people always have strong weaknesses too.” – Location 1087
  • “The less we know about his weaknesses, the better. What we do need to know are the strengths of a man and what he can do.” – Location 1256
  • “The task of an executive is not to change human beings. Rather …the task is to multiply performance capacity of the whole by putting to use whatever strength, whatever health, whatever aspiration there is in individuals.” – Location 1475
  • “[Executive effectiveness] raises the eyes of its people from preoccupation with problems to a vision of opportunity, from concern with weakness to exploitation of strengths.” – Location 2474
  • “No executive has ever suffered because his subordinates were strong and effective.” – Location 1091
  • “It is only too easy to be misled this way into looking for the “least misfit” —the one man who leaves least to be desired. And this is invariably the mediocrity.” – Location 1136
  • “‘What can this man do?’ was [General Marshall’s] constant question. And if a man could do something, his lacks became secondary.” – Location 1348

Meetings

  • “The meetings were far too large. And because every participant felt that he had to show interest, everybody asked at least one question —most of them irrelevant.” – Location 603
  • “[If] people in an organization find themselves in meetings a quarter of their time or more—there is time-wasting malorganization. [Though] there are exceptions.” – Location 688
  • “Too many meetings signify that work that should be in one job or in one component is spread over several jobs or several components. They signify that responsibility is diffused and that information is not addressed to the people who need it.” – Location 695
  • “The effective man always states at the outset of a meeting the specific purpose and contribution it is to achieve.” – Location 1049
  • “If executives in an organization spend more than a fairly small part of their time in meeting, it is a sure sign of malorganization.” – Location 683

Personnel Decisions

  • “He has learned the hard way how many men who looked like geniuses when they worked elsewhere show up as miserable failures six months after they have started working ‘for us.'” – Location 1581
  • “An organization needs to bring in fresh people with fresh points of view fairly often. If it only promotes from within it soon becomes inbred and eventually sterile.” – Location 1583
  • “Executives everywhere complain that many young men with fire in their bellies turn so soon into burned-out sticks. They have only themselves to blame: They quenched the fire by making the young man’s job too small.” – Location 1237
  • “[Effective] executives take time out [to ask]… ‘What should we at the head of this organization know about your work?'” – Location 478
  • “[Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., former head of General Motors] was reported never to make a personnel decision the first time it came up. …Only when he came up with the same name two or three times in a row was he willing to go ahead.” – Location 501
  • “People-decisions are time-consuming, for the simple reason that the Lord did not create people as ‘resources’ for organization. They do not come in the proper size and shape for the tasks that have to be done in organization.” – Location 521
  • “One hires new people to expand on already established and smoothly running activity. But one starts something new with people of tested and proven strength, that is, with veterans.” – Location 1578

Delegation

  • “As usually presented, delegation makes little sense if it implies, as the usual sermon does, that the laziest manager is the best manager, it is not only nonsense; it is immoral.” – Location 579
  • “‘Delegation’ as the term is customarily used, is a misunderstanding—is indeed misdirection. But getting rid of anything that can be done by somebody else so that one does not have to delegate but can really get to one’s own work—that is a major improvement in effectiveness.” – Location 593
  • “An enormous amount of the work being done by executives is work that can easily be done by others, and therefore should be done by others.” – Location 593

 Organizational Structure and Communication

  • “In a lean organization people have room to move without colliding with one another and can do their work without having to explain it all the time.” – Location 668
  • “The larger the organization, the more time will be needed just to keep the organization together and running, rather than to make it function and produce.” – Location 757
  • “We have been working at communications downward from management to the employees, from the superior to the subordinate. But communications are practically impossible if they are based on the downward relationship.” – Location 989
  • “The needs of large-scale organization have to be satisfied by common people achieving uncommon performance.” – Location 2466

Designing Jobs

  • “Jobs have to be objective; that is, determined by task rather than by personality.” – Location 1139
  • “Structuring jobs to fit personality is almost certain to lead to favoritism and conformity.” – Location 1158
  • “The effective executive therefore first makes sure that the job is well-designed. And if experience tells him otherwise, he does not hunt for genius to do the impossible. He redesigns the job.” – Location 1201

Government

  • “At least half the bureaus and agencies of the federal government of the United States either regulate what no longer needs regulation… Or they are directed, as is most of the farm program, toward investment in politicians’ egos and toward efforts that should have had results but never achieved them.” – Location 1551
  • “There is serious need for a new principle of effective administration under which every act, every agency, and every program of government is conceived as temporary and as expiring automatically after a fixed number of years.” – Location 1555
  • “A country with many laws is a country of incompetent lawyers,” says an old legal proverb. It is a country which attempts to solve every problem as a unique phenomenon, rather than as a special case under general rules of law. Similarly, an executive who makes many decisions is both lazy and ineffectual.” – Location 1895

Others

  • “Efficiency; that is, the ability to do things right rather than the ability to get the right things done.” – Location 84
  • “Unless [the executive] changes it by deliberate action, the flow of events will determine what he is concerned with and what he does.” – Location 217
  • “A common cause of time-waste is largely under the executive’s control and can be eliminated by him. That is the time of others he himself wastes.” – Location 597
  • “[Many an executive] resign himself to having at least half his time taken up by things of minor importance and dubious value.” – Location 749
  • “If a man wants to be an executive—that is, if he wants to be considered responsible for his contribution—he has to concern himself with the usability of his ‘product’—that is, his knowledge.” – Location 946
  • “The effective executive tries to be himself; he does not pretend to be someone else. He looks at his own performance and at his own results and tries to discern a pattern. “What are the things,” he asks, “that I seem to be able to do with relative ease, while they come rather hard to other people?”” – Location 1449
  • “The distance between the leaders and the average is a constant. If leadership performance is high, the average will go up.” – Location 1470
  • “There are two different kinds of compromise…’half a loaf is better than no bread.’…’half a baby is worse than no baby at all.'” – Location 1985
  • “I always stop when things seem out of focus.” – Location 2316
  • “He needs opportunity, he needs achievement, he needs fulfillment, he needs values. Only by making himself an effective executive can the knowledge worker obtain these satisfactions.” – Location 2525

Email Marketing Best Practices

It’s 2013 and email marketing is alive and well in the online marketing sphere. Most businesses find it to be an effective component of the overall online marketing strategy. Exact Target, in discussing consumers’ preferred direct marketing channel has called email “the number one direct channel in terms of daily use and consumer preference for both personal and marketing communications,” saying 77% of consumers prefer to receive permission-based marketing communications through email.

In 2005, I joined the FedEx marketing department and was heavily involved in their email marketing for several years. FedEx has email marketing best practices well integrated into their processes and ingrained in their corporate culture. The management and my co-workers at FedEx would never have dreamed of doing anything other than permission-based email marketing because no email campaign was worth potentially offending a customer, losing their business, and hurting the company reputation. In recent years I haven’t been as heavily involved in email marketing, but I do it enough and consult (internally and externally) on best practices for email marketing that I thought it worth while to document the following email marketing tips.

Top 10 Email Marketing Best Practices:

  1. Only Email People Who Have Given You Their Permission
  2. Only Email People with Content They Have Requested
  3. Have an Online Email Subscription Center
  4. Send Emails When Your Audience Will Read Them
  5. Send the Email from a Recognizable Source
  6. Use Accurate and Compelling Subject Lines
  7. Honor All Unsubscribe Requests in a Timely Manner
  8. Keep Your Email List Clean
  9. Build Your Email List At Every Opportunity
  10. Have a Clear Call to Action in the Email

1. Only Email People Who Have Given You Their Permission

FedEx email subscription center

First and foremost of my email marketing tips is to always practice permission-based email marketing. This does not mean you can email anyone you want for any reason until they opt out of your list. This means you should only send messages to people who have opted in and requested to receive them. Unsolicited emails wore out their welcome long ago. As one writer put it, permission-based email marketing “has become standard practice for legitimate email marketers because it is a key component for optimizing deliverability, return on investment and recipient trust.” (see bluesite.lyris.com, Permission Email Marketing: Permission is Not Optional).

2. Only Email People with Content They Have Requested

The second major principle of email marketing is related to the first: only send emails relevant to the type of content the person has requested. When you collect email addresses, whether through the Web, paper forms, or otherwise, it should be clearly communicated what type of content the end user will be emailed about: product updates, promotions, contests, newsletters, etc. Be vigilant about only sending your customers emails concerning the type of things they have requested.

3. Have an Online Email Subscription Center

An email subscription center is a page on your website where new people can provide their email address and give you their permission to send them emails. This could be an independent section of your site or it could be a section of a user’s profile. If your company only sends out one kind of email, this could be simply one check box on the user profile page. To the right is a screen shot of the FedEx E-mail Subscription Center, which, if you’re a large company like FedEx, with numerous types of email alerts, can be quite detailed.

4. Send Emails When Your Audience Will Read Them

(Warning, the next sentence is a candidate for the obvious statement of the year.) If you send your emails at a time when your audience is more likely to read email, your email has a greater likelihood of being read. If your target audience is business professionals, and you send your email over the weekend, it is likely to end up at the bottom of a pile of other emails and may never be opened or read. Business to business emails, have shown to have the best open rates on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. According to iContact Best Practices for Email Marketers, personal or consumer targeted emails have the best open rates “between 5pm and 8pm Tuesday through Thursday or between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon.”

5. Send the Email from a Recognizable Source

Many people will only look at the the From line in the email before deciding whether or not to read it. The From name for your messages should either be your company name or the name of a recognizable person at your company (could be the president of your company, or the candidate’s name on a political-type email, etc.). You’ll also want the from email address to be intelligible and memorable, i.e. something@yourcompany.com.

6. Use Accurate and Compelling Subject Lines

Compelling subject lines are a must have if you want your email opened and read. Subject lines should also accurate describe the contents of the email; deceptive subject lines are deceptive, will hurt your company in the long run, and in some cases may be against the law.  If you have the opportunity, it’s always good to test potential subject lines on a small group to see which gets the best open rate before sending the email out to all recipients. Do not use all caps, multiple exclamation points, or excessive dollar signs in subject line or body text because doing this will likely trigger SPAM filters. Some words and phrases like “Free” “Act Now” “Cash Bonus” “Please Read” and “While Supplies Last” also have been known to cause SPAM filters to block emails.

7. Honor All Unsubscribe Requests in a Timely Manner

Not only is it good business to to provide and quickly honor unsubscribe requests, but it is the law. The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 requires that each email message you send contain a visible and operable unsubscribe feature.  At a minimum, the unsubscribe mechanism should be either to send a reply email message or to visit a single page on the Internet. This doesn’t mean that you can’t also encourage recipients to visit your email subscription center. The law also requires that opt-out requests be honored within 10 days, but the sooner the better in my view. At FedEx we occasionally got unsubscribe requests via phone or even via snail mail, but regardless, we opted those people out immediately.

8. Keep Your Email List Clean

Keeping your list clean means taking steps to ensure the email addresses you have are accurate. At FedEx, we kept our email lists very clean and we averaged open rates over 90%. An un-scrubbed email list, on the other hand, can be much worse. You don’t want to think you are emailing 1,000 people, when due to bad data, you actually only have 500 good email addresses.

The undelivered, or bounced, emails generally fall into two categories: hard bounce, and soft bounce. A hard bounce back indicates that the email address is invalid. A soft bounce-back typically is an indication that the recipient inbox is full, or is caused by some temporary situation. It is best to have rules in place such as removing bounced email addresses. A hard bounce back is generally grounds for immediate removal, while you may want to wait for 5 or 10 soft bounces before removing an email address.

Keeping your email list clean also means taking steps up front to ensure the email address is correctly formatted. Electronically this is usually done with scripts that make sure the address has an “@” symbol and such. Looking for and correcting common misspellings (“hitmail.com” instead of “hotmail.com”) is also a good practice.

9. Build Your Email List At Every Opportunity

Typical email address churn can be 20% to 30% a year, which means if you don’t continually build your list, it could be cut in half in two years’ time. Numerous opportunities exist, online and offline, to build you email list. If you have a retail location, have an email sign up form at the point of sale. At conferences or events, bring a paper signup form or have a laptop opened to your Email Subscription Center for interested parties. Prominently promote your newsletter signup form on your company website. Include a link to your Email Subscription Center in all of your emails and encourage users to update their information if it ever changes. Run a promotion each year offering the chance of a prize to people who visit your Email Subscription Center and update their information. These steps will build your email list and also help keep it clean.

10. Have a Clear Call to Action in the Email

Last, but certainly not least, is to have a clear call-to-action in every email you send. The email will, ultimately, only be successful if it effective in getting users to do what you want them to do (i.e. achieving the business objective of the email campaign). You must be able to convert browsers into buyers, or whatever the call-to-action may be, and you will do this by focusing on goals, measuring, and improving.

Designing a good email is a lot like designing a good landing page on the Internet. Think about why you are sending the email. What business objective does it support? Even if it is just a newsletter meant to be read, what action do you hope visitors will take after reading it? Perhaps your call to action is to get readers to visit your online store, or watch a video, or request a catalog. Whatever that call to action is, be sure to measure it. Most email marketing platforms have built in tracking features, but you can also do this with a web analytics solution such as Google Analytics.

Freedom or Security: Where do you stand?

Freedom or SecurityThe debate concerning the balance between freedom and security has been a hot topic in US politics this summer of 2013. The topic reached a boiling point when Edward Snowden leaked information about how the US National Security Agency (NSA) is spying on the US’s own citizens.  Two NSA surveillance programs were revealed, one that gathers hundreds of millions of U.S. phone records each day, and one that taps directly into the servers of nine major Internet companies to gather usage information. Here is a sampling of the news articles:

Miss Alabama: I would rather feel safe

The debate between freedom and security even spilled over into popular culture when a question on the subject came up in the Miss USA pageant. Miss Alabama, Mary Margaret McCord, was asked this question: “Government tracking of phone records has been in the news lately. Is this an invasion of privacy or necessary to keep our country safe? Why or why not?”

Miss Alabama’s response was: “I think the society that we live in today, it’s sad that if we go to the movies or to the airport or even to the mall that we have to worry about our safety. So that I would rather someone track my telephone messages and feel safe wherever I go than feel like they’re, um, encroaching on my privacy.” (see the June 17, 2013 Washington Post article, Miss USA interview questions and answers)

I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard this quote. The fact that this attitude is so excepted and prevalent in our society makes me fear for our freedom. Our freedoms are already slipping away and if the American people so easily give up their freedom, before long they will have no freedoms at all. Why? Because, as has often been said, a government big enough to give you everything you want, including security, is a government big enough to take away everything you have.

Benjamin Franklin: Those who surrender freedom for security will have neither

My sentiment on the matter is shared by one of our great founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin. He said, “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” The Wikiquotes entry on Benjamin Franklin says that statement is a common paraphrased derivative of the actual Benjamin Franklin quote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”, but the point remains.

Barack Obama: The NSA’s encroachments on privacy are the right balance

Of course our 44th President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama II, seems to side with Miss Alabama. In the days after the NSA surveillance programs were came to light, he is quoted as saying, “You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society. … There are trade-offs involved. …[The] modest encroachments on privacy (by the NSA) …[are] the right balance.” (See the June 7th story from Reuters, Obama defends surveillance effort as ‘trade-off’ for security)

Thomas S. Monson: They wanted security more than freedom and lost it all

With these political and popular culture quotes on my mind, I was quite surprised to recently hear the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints weigh in on the issue. Thomas S. Monson, in his July message to all the people of the Mormon faith, said: “We forget how the Greeks and Romans prevailed magnificently in a barbaric world and how that triumph ended—how a slackness and softness finally overcame them to their ruin. In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security and a comfortable life; and they lost all—comfort and security and freedom.” (See his July 2013 Liahona magazine article, The World Needs Pioneers Today)

Where do you stand? Security or Freedom?

Do you stand with freedom or security? Do you stand with Barack Obama and Miss Alabama? Or do you stand with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas S. Monson? As for me, I stand with the latter group. I side with freedom. If we have to err on one side or the other, I would err on the side of freedom because if we don’t, history and logic show, that we will lose both security and freedom.

A Successful Life

A Successful Life - Mitt Romney Quote

I love how Mitt Romney defines a successful life in the article quotes below. It’s not according to how much money, power, or fame you have. That’s how the world defines it, but not Mitt. For him, it’s about living in consistency with your core values. Worldly success is allusive to some and comes easily to others. But ultimately, worldly success will not bring satisfaction or happiness. True happiness and contentment in life, a successful life, is completely in each of our hands and it comes from choosing to live the values of love of family, service to our fellow beings, and devotion to God.

The following are some of my favorite quotes are from an address given by Mitt Romney at the April 1999 BYU Marriott School convocation:

  • “The worldly success stories I have seen result from a blend of factors: yes, the choices you make and control but also the mental equipment you were born with, more than a fair measure of serendipity, and, where He does choose to intervene, the will of our loving Father. I am not convinced that it’s all up to you. Nor do I believe that if you live righteously, your stocks will rise in value, you’ll get a promotion, you’ll win an election, or you’ll get your research published.”
  • “There’s an element of unpredictability, of uncertainty, of lottery, if you will, in the world that has been created for us. If you judge your life’s success by the world’s standards, you may be elated or you may be gravely disappointed.”
  • “That, of course, is the secret to predictably successful living: the choice of standards by which you will judge your life’s success. If you judge by the world’s standards, you may well be disappointed, for too many factors for such success are random or out of your control. But there are other standards of success, where chance is not at play.”
  • “Some years ago, the firm I founded seemed to be coming apart at the seams. Our five partners were at each other’s throats. It seemed we all wanted different things from our lives and from our business. One was consumed with making money; he was obsessed with becoming a member of the Forbes 400. Another wanted power and control. I was of two minds, trying to balance the goals of my faith with the money I was earning. We met with a team-building consultant-psychologist. At the last of our weeklong sessions, he led us to something transforming. He said that if we lived our lives in conflict with our core values, we would experience stress, ill health, and deep regret. How, we asked, could we know what our core values were? He proceeded to ask us to think of the five or six people we most admired and respected, people currently living or who had ever lived. I chose the Master, Joseph Smith, Abraham Lincoln, and my mother, father, and wife. Then he asked us to write down next to each of those names the five or six attributes we thought of when we thought of that person. The attributes that we had then listed most frequently, he explained, represented our core values. Simply, if we lived in concert with those values, we lived with integrity. We would be happy and fulfilled. And, in contrast, if we lived in a way that was not consistent with those core values, we would ultimately be unfulfilled and unhappy. To my surprise, all five of my partners revealed the same or similar values: love, family, service, devotion. While we each may have pushed them aside to a different degree in our daily pursuits, they were at each of our centers.”
  • “I have discovered something else about these core values, about living with integrity, about these fundamental measures of successful living: with these at our center, chance does not come into play in determining our success or failure. The ability to live with integrity with the core of our values of love, family, service, and devotion is entirely up to us. Fundamentally, this is the business of successful living.”
  • “On my father’s 80th birthday, I asked him what had brought him the most satisfaction in his life, what his greatest accomplishment was. He had been a three-term governor, United States Cabinet member, presidential candidate, CEO, multimillionaire, and prominent Church leader. His answer was immediate: ‘My relationship with your mother and with my children and grandchildren is my greatest accomplishment and satisfaction.'”
  • “It is empowering, invigorating, and emancipating to live for the success you can control yourself, to live for your most deeply seated values and convictions.”
  • “When living in integrity with your core values, your success and fulfillment are not subject to votes, to others’ opinions, or to chance.”
  • “When John Bennion went to Harvard Business School, he already had a couple of children, one of whom was severely disabled. Then he was called to serve in a Church bishopric. Because his wife, family, and devotion to God were his core values and measures of success, he accepted the call. He didn’t put it off to a time when it would be more convenient or explain how much work he would have at business school. Surely his grades ended up suffering a little, but his life did not. Now, some 25 years on, his family Christmas letter celebrates these same core values, the same life of integrity—a successful life.”
  • “I have also watched such people lose their money and their worldly esteem without it eroding their lives, happiness, or their measures of success, for their lives were built on the unshakable foundation of personal integrity, of pursuit of values the world cannot corrupt or disappoint.”
  • “You will choose the bases to be won. Bold, beautiful billboards will beckon you to worldly success. But those bases may unpredictably elude you. Ultimately, even if you attain them, they will not satisfy. There are other bases to attempt, rescue, and win. These are ones that are in harmony with your most profound values. Achieving them is not a matter of serendipity or chance. With these, your life’s success is entirely in your own hands. A decision to live with integrity will make all the difference.”

Using Information Scent to Improve Web Usability

Information Foraging DeerOne of my favorite Web usability principles is called information scent. I like because, when properly applied, this principle makes websites tremendously more usable. Information scent has great correlations to search engine optimization and landing page optimization, and it uses the just plain fun and funny analogy of information foraging.

Information Foraging Theory

The theory of information foraging is referred to by Jakob Nielsen as one of the “most important concept to emerge from Human-Computer Interaction research.”  The analogy is a reference to “wild animals gathering food” compared to “how humans collect information online.”  Says Nielsen, “people like to get maximum benefit for minimum effort. That’s what makes information foraging a useful tool for analyzing online media” (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, June 30, 2003: Information Foraging: Why Google Makes People Leave Your Site Faster).

Information Scent: Predicting a Path’s Success

Using keywords, titles, and hyperlinks with good information scent will help site visitors find what they are looking for. Again, quoting Nielsen,“Information scent refers to the extent to which users can predict what they will find if they pursue a certain path through a website.”  But, he warns, “don’t use made-up words or your own slogans as navigation options, since they don’t have the scent of the sought-after item. Plain language also works best for search engine visibility.”

Just like animals in the forest, people tend to follow a strong information scent until they find what they are looking for. But as soon as the information scent dries up, they back track and start looking elsewhere, often going to a competitors website or heading back to the search engine. This is how Nielsen put it: “Predators following a strong spoor are firmly convinced that they’ll find their prey at the end of the trail, and thus are less likely to be distracted and wander off the path…[and] they’ll keep going as long as they continue to find links that seem to take them closer and closer to their goal.“

But Nielsen also reminds us the information scent along is not enough to satisfy information hungry visitors. If the quest ultimately yields no fruit, visitors will remember this and they’ll avoid those unfruitful hunting ground in the future. Ultimately, as has been said time and time again, content is king. “The two main strategies are to make your content look like a nutritious meal and signal that it’s an easy catch. These strategies must be used in combination: users will leave if the content is good but hard to find, or if it’s easy to find but offers only empty calories….Once their next morsel becomes a bit difficult to find, they can move to richer hunting grounds.”

Remember, “what the site actually delivers is more important, but you’ll never get experienced repeat visitors unless their first encounter is fruitful” (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, August 2, 2004: Deceivingly Strong Information Scent Costs Sales).

Recommendations to Improve Information Scent

Here are some best practice recommendations to improve the information scent on your site:

  • Use highly relevant keywords in the navigation menus, headlines, and hyperlinks.
  • Provide real value to end users, so they will want to return to valuable content hunting grounds.
  • Help visitors find what they are looking for quickly and easily with good information architecture and menus.
  • Encourage users to return. Keep content fresh and use social media and email newsletters to bring visitors back to your site.
  • Increase visit frequency by addressing users’ immediate needs.
  • Use intra-site linking liberally (link to other relevant pages within your own site).

All of these tips will help visitors know that your site is fertile hunting grounds for the things they are looking for. And as an added bonus, acting on these tips will also help your search engine optimization (SEO), landing page conversion, and overall site performance.

What Defines a Website?

what defines a websiteWhat is a website? Where does one website end and another begin? These questions about what defines a website are basic and may seem inconsequential to some people, but I have observed that the answer has a major impact on website usability and performance management. I have seen countless times in my career that the inability to define a website leads to organizational confusion, poorly conceived web strategies, en-user frustration, and lack luster performance against business goals.

Consistency Across Four Elements

A website is a group of web pages, content, tools, and features with a consistent experience across the whole of it. What defines a given website is its consistency in four areas: 1) domain (or sub-domain) 2) Site ID or Logo 3) Menu or main navigation and 4) the design, style, look, and feel. These four areas serves as a quadruple redundancy to help users know what site they are on, a foundational element in web usability. Without knowing what site they are on, users get uncomfortable and confused about what they can accomplish and how they can navigate to where they want to go.

This doesn’t mean that sites can’t share design elements and it certainly doesn’t preclude sub-branding. In fact, well designed sites can maintain the integrity of what is a website, per the definition above, while at the same time sharing interaction elements and design styles to communicate familiarity and consistency across a family of websites when that is desired.  And in fact, by adhering to the definitions of a website, families of websites get the best of both worlds: clean boundaries, usable interfaces, and the comfort and assurance that comes from an umbrella brand and style.

An Example of Well-Defined Websites

seminary and institute follow website definitions

These principles of what defines a website are perhaps best illustrated through an example. I am no longer, but at one time I was, the product manager of the two websites: the LDS Seminary website and the LDS Institute website.

  • Domain or sub-domain: The Seminary site is located at seminary.lds.org while the Institute site is located at institute.lds.org. These sites are similar in that they are both websites for programs of religious education for young people in the LDS Church. But the programs and assoc
    iated website have two different audiences: Seminary is for high schoolers, roughly aged 14 to 17, while Institute is for young adults aged 18 to 30. All Seminary program and related content and features is located on the seminary.lds.org sub-domain and Institute stuff is, of course, on the institute.lds.org sub-domain.
  • Site ID or Logo: Every site needs a unique site ID or logo. Using the same site ID on two or more different websites is sure to confuse users. Site IDs tell website visitors at a quick glance where they are and how to return to home, or the highest hierarchical page on the site. With the Seminary and Institute sites, each has a unique site ID. Both also share the site ID with the LDS Church logo. This is an efficient and effective way of communicating that both sites are sub-domains of LDS.org, yet they each have their own unique identity as well. They are children sites in the LDS.org family.
  • Main menu: The website menu is a road map to the content, tools, and features on the site. Since the content in each website is unique, every website should have a unique menu, structured to help visitors find content quickly and easily. In the case of the Seminary and Institute sites, each has its own distinct menu options.
  • Design, style, look, and feel: The last element of a unique website is the design or styles. The Seminary and Institute sites’ main differentiation is there color: Seminary = Green and Institute = Blue. Besides that, the sites share most styles and interaction elements, and that’s okay. Again, they are sister websites, and that is also communicated through the design.