50 Years in 50 Seconds

Well, the day has arrived: we’ve reached a point where mobile data is fast enough to justify having video on pretty much every type of website I can think of. This is why I’m now pushing for video content wherever possible on my clients’ websites. And, when appropriate, I enjoy handling production of the video personally.

A video can communicate in seconds what might otherwise take minutes (using photos and text). And with the damn-near-zero attention span of typical website visitors, we just don’t have minutes anymore.

If a picture says a thousand words, a video says a million.

Consider this 50 second cross-section of a 50-year-old company:

Using Magic Elf Buttons to Drive Sales

The question I most frequently ask my clients is: “What are the first few questions you always ask your prospective customers?” The reason I ask this is because the answers clients give usually reveal compelling opportunities to ask those same questions through the website in some kind of interactive way.


The Creative Landscape Depot Materials Calculator.

All day, every day, CLD employees ask their customers questions like “What material will you be using for your landscape?” and “What is the shape of the area for the project?” and “What are dimensions of the area?”

CLD employees then run materials calculations for customers. So building an online application that could automate these materials calculations was a compelling project for me. I really wanted to automate this process as much as possible, while establishing communication with a CLD sales associate as soon as possible (and with next to zero effort for the website visitor).

Originally, the application was just a standard calculator. Users could select a material (mulch, sand, lava rock) and an area shape (rectangle, circle, triangle) then input dimensions and depth. Hitting “Calculate” produced the cubic yardage and weight in pounds. At this point I thought the app was pretty cool, but not quite there yet. It was still falling short from a user-experience perspective.

I always try to design user-experience around the absolute best-case scenario. So I run my materials calculation and then what? Stare at the screen and figure out what to do next? Bad. Do I call the depot? Is there a phone number? That’d be a bit of a pain in the ass… and probably a good number of website visitors wouldn’t be bothered to follow through if not prompted to do so.

Back to designing around an idealized experience. Ideally, “something” would happen at the click of some “magic button” which would seamlessly alert a CLD sales associate of my needs. This sales associate would then take care of the legwork like a magic elf. Wait a minute! Good ol’ javascript can get the CLD elves mobilized!

While Googling my way into the mailto: attributes of an anchor tag (fancy coder lingo for an email link),  I discovered that not only was it possible to specify a Subject line in an email link, but one could even build the entire email beforehand, injecting relevant outputs gathered from the user’s materials calculations.

Building a custom email automatically = Super Awesome.

So now the calculator arrives at a volume and weight, and a magic button appears prompting the user to “Get an Estimate”.

Clicking this button pops open a new window and builds the following email:

auto generated email

And now the user has only to click “Send” and the elves do the rest!

I really hope this calculator drives literal tonnes of bulk material for CLD. I also suspect that most businesses could dream up some kind of custom-tailored interactive lead generator like this – one which combines awesome value for their visitors with resultant jet-fuel for sales conversations.

If you have any such ideas for magic elf buttons and care to spitball, please do so in the comments below!