FlashSim Blog

Product simulations, Flash, state machines, and observations

In the process of moving my blog to my company site

It has finally sunk in that I should have my blog off my company site, www.eqsim.com, so I’ve installed WordPress there, found a nice theme, and started the migration.

I am about 1 week away from launching a new EqSim website, so it’ll go live then. In the meantime, you can check it out at http://www.eqsim.com/blog.  I also made my first new blog post over there about putting the product front-and-center.


February 26, 2010 Posted by | business | Leave a comment

E-Learning Designers vs. Video Game Designers – nice insights

Andy Petroski from Harrisburg University’s Learning and Entertainment Evolution Forum pointed out a blog post from Ewan Mcintosh, reflecting on Patrick Dunn’s post about the chasm between e-learning designers and video game designers.

To summarize, Patrick Dunn expresses four differences between e-learning designers and video game designers:

It seems to me that there are at least four diametrically opposing belief sets underlying the two types of learning experience.

  • E-learning designers believe that people learn through “content”. They assume that encountering content will lead people to change their behaviour. Games designers believe that people learn through “experience”. They assume that having experiences – doing and feeling things – leads to change in behaviour.
  • E-learning designers believe we must be “nice” to our learners in case they go away. They assume that the relationship between the course and the learner is a weak one so that if there’s any significant challenge, the learner will give up. Games designers believe that we can challenge people and they’ll stick with it. Indeed, it is progressive challenges that form much of the motivation for gamers.
  • E-learning designers believe that we learn step by step (hence linearity, page-turning etc.). Game designers believe we absorb lots of things all at once (hence HUDs, complex information screens etc.).
  • E-learning designers believe that learning experiences are emotionally neutral (in spite of all that’s written about the importance of emotion in learning). Games designers always seek an “angle”, an attitude.

Patrick states these differences are irreconcilable, but I feel perhaps he is saying that for its dramatic impact: “games are an utterly different vision of learning, separated from e-learning by a huge and uncrossable chasm. Several commentators provide useful feedback to defend the argument that this chasm is, indeed, crossable (as I, of course believe).

Of course the e-learning designer perspective is somewhat stereotypical, but I completely agree that your analysis applies to the vast majority of e-learning being produced today (and yesterday, and the day before, and so on, and probably into the future as well).

I have found that when trainers are responsible for directing the output, the focus shifts from ‘can the learner perform’ to ‘the learner needs to know about such-and-such’. Even the tests created reflect this objective: mostly recall of information presented during the training. The trainers are so passionate about the material, they feel that the learners MUST get an appreciation of that depth. However, most of the time, a more casual understanding (so long as the learning is tested to perform) is perfectly acceptable.

When I consult with clients about producing training for equipment (and now product marketing), I am constantly running into the traditional mindset about simply presenting the facts. Boring, and most importantly, difficult for the learner to apply the facts in the field, without the proper context!

Rather, present materials in a challenge format, and remediate in several stages if the learner is not getting it.

To be an even-handed basher (not just e-learning designers), I should point out the video game creators and technology enthusiasts tend to swing too far the other way. I think they feel they need to inject too much entertainment or technology, which, if not designed properly instructionally, can weaken the learning. Learners do have motivation and incentives to learn the materials (interest, job promotion, increased capability, safety, etc.), so understanding those motivations can help focus how the training is produced. If you lose sight of the personal motivation factor, you will be completely off no matter how boring or how fun you create the training.

I’ve also talked with several manufacturers who want to create “games” to engage and teach customers, but they put the fun and interactive part over the learning objectives. For example, a game that features a product, but the use of that manufacturer’s product is incidental — it could be any of their competitors as well. Who remembers the ‘viral videos’ like the make-your-elven-head (I think Office Depot, or OfficeMax) but people forgot who it was produced for, or even thought it was made by a competitor (Staples)?

January 6, 2010 Posted by | e-learning, games | Leave a comment

Coming across ‘Engagement Marketing’ and ‘Experiential Marketing’

I came across the term “engagement marketing” recently through Twitter  (hey, it even has a Wikpedia page, maybe something I can create for product sim marketing once I figure out what to say!).  Through Wikipedia, then I saw an entry for “experiential marketing“.

Of course anyone could have made up those pages, but the materials seem somewhat credible and they gave me some interesting directions to consider in the proper placement of product simulation marketing.  The ‘experiential marketing’ term came closest, with the opening phrase/definition “Experiential Marketing is the art of creating an experience where the hoped-for result is an emotional connection to a person, brand, product or idea.”  Sounds like a winner.

A thought struck me while reading the engagement marketing entry.  It talked about a two-way conversation, but when I think about simulation, it sounds awfully one-way–the prospect uses the simulation to explore the product and its uses.  Since simulation would be great for aligning a context and desired feature set between the prospect and the product (something I indirectly referred to in an earlier post about using context to create a compelling call-for-action), it occurred to me that the advertisement or presentation ought to do a bit of ‘push’ marketing by offering the prospect I way to find out when new things happen related to what the prospect is interested in.  There’s nothing earth-shattering here, this is done all the time — the checkbox that says “send me more news and info about related stuff”.  However, having the prospect engaged in simulated product use contexts may be able to help the prospect get information he or she really wants, not just the email blast about any new product from that manufacturer.  If the ad/presentation can identify features of the prospect’s context, for example, what stage they are at in the buying cycle, what elements of the products are most relevant to the prospect, and other stuff, the manufacturer can send the prospect very relevant information on new products, or changes to existing products.

For example, if I am looking at new cars and honing in certain features, it behooves the manufacturer to send me information (opt-in, of course) about new cars that share those features.  Something to help the shopper make sense of all the specs.

Again, nothing hugely new in concept, but simulation could let us be more precise about the information we send back (the other way in the conversation, from manufacturer to prospect), and could even identify why the new information is relevant.  A true personal shopper that is learning what is important to the prospect.  Hence the prospect would feel that the manufacturer is being more helpful rather than simply trying to sell more of its stuff.

Experiential Marketing is the art of creating an experience where the hoped-for result is an emotional connection to a person, brand, product or idea

December 25, 2009 Posted by | engagement marketing, experiential marketing, product simulation marketing, simulation-based marketing | Leave a comment

Excellent example of could-have-been product simulation marketing

In my daily RSS scans, I came across a great link yesterday from Matt at Signal vs. Noise, Combining a camera review with a travelogue, which links to Craig Mod’s GF1 Field Test.  The essential idea is that opposed to a traditional, clinical product review, or even a sterile, contrived “field test,” Craig took the camera on an almost ‘boot-camp’ style field test, and in the process described how the features and functionality served him, illustrating his point with real examples (which are beautiful, attesting to his skill and that of the product).

Imagine if, instead of a product review, this were an advertisement or marketing endeavor initiated by the manufacturer–I don’t believe it is, in this instance, but I’m thinking ‘fabulous’.  You would get to see how the camera performed, not just what the specs are, and which the sterile, clinical features are (though of course there is an important need at some point to detail the tech specs).  Imagine, further, if you will, that during the ‘product experience ad’ (I seem to be coining phrases all around me, watch out!), you had some ability to interact with the product in this context, to explore its functionality around specific problems or issues presented in the environment.  Like Craig’s pictures, it lets the product shine through the results it produces, rather than stating technical facts about the camera.

That would be an ad that people would want to participate in, and isn’t 2010 marketing supposed to be about ‘the conversation’?

I need to add this kind of rugged, in situ ‘field test’ to my concept of product simulation marketing.  Notice that the product simulation marketing doesn’t have to be interactive–an ad in this form would almost be like a thought experiment, in which we the viewers are told “put yourself in Craig’s place”.  It is an experience that demonstrates how the product has engaged Craig.

Boy, would I love to work on that campaign — anyone out there remotely connected to someone who wants to do this, please let me know!

December 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It’s about the Engagement, Stupid!

It may be almost two decades since the original President Clinton’s campaign slogan, but I think it’s appropriate for today’s emphasis on engaging users.  The typical talk today is on how to engage through social media, but my take is really about engaging prospects with products directly, rather than the brand as a whole.

I was reading a post from the beginning of the year by Devin Day (I had linked to previously), Authentic Product Engagement, and the message really resonated with me: if you provide users with an authentic interaction (his emphasis) with the brand’s actual products, it will help improve sales in a way (what he says, “drive purchase intent”) conducive for dissemination through social media, rather than trying to hit people over the head with a message or try to sneak something by.  With the app his company developed, he found

To encourage users to interact with multiple styles, we gave each shoe different abilities and incorporated many of the benefits from the real shoes into the game.

This echoes my observation that the more you focus on the benefits of the product, the more effective the engagement will be.  I would also add, place the product in the right context that accentuates those benefits, or reveals shortcomings of competitor products.  I think it’s great to incorporate the brand’s products into games, but when the goal of the prospect is to learn about the product, you likely don’t need the extra, ‘fun’ elements, you should focus on the right interactions with the product.

How might you frame the right context for presenting product interactions?

You can start by compiling a list of problem situations that the product is going to solve (thinking like a prospect: how is this product going to solve my problems?), perhaps prioritizing them with respect to key differentiators and how your product addresses these situations.  Your product likely has several types of prospects, like what David Scott Meerman talks about as ‘buyer personas’, each with a set of problems from your general collection.  It may be easier to think about the universe of problems that your product solves by thinking first about the types of people (prospects) who will use or evaluate your product.  Therefore, the process may be iterative, in that you think of a general class of problems, think about dividing that set by prospects, then thinking about other problems you can come up with for those prospects, then think of more prospects, and so on.

When you have settled on a set of prospects and defined a basic set of their problems, you can then create your scenarios that let prospects solve the problem with your product.

Again, in the end, it is about providing authentic product engagement (thought I’m not sure what inauthentic would be, outright lying?), which is about giving your prospects realistic and meaningful interactions with your product solving real-world problems that are important to them.

December 23, 2009 Posted by | product simulation marketing, simulation-based product marketing | Leave a comment

Essential Marketing Questions for Developing Product Simulations

As I was preparing for a conference call with a prospective client, I tried to boil down the kind of information I look for into a few questions.  Here it goes:

  1. Why do you think prospects buy your product?
  2. Why do you think prospects buy your competitors’ products?
  3. What are the risk(s) your prospects face by not purchasing your product or that of a competitor?
  4. What do prospects have to know that they may not know already about your product?

These are fairly general questions aimed at getting insight into what a manufacturer believes is central to why people buy their product.  I believe I use the answers to help formulate situations or scenarios which evoke the distinctive or compelling product features.

Good product simulation marketing is about providing the right context in which the product is used, not just a faithful reproduction of the device (in the appropriate detail).  The goal is to evoke in prospects what it is like to use the product to solve a real-world problem, and hence determining the right set of context(s), based on marketing objectives, is essential.

December 22, 2009 Posted by | product simulation marketing, simulation-based marketing, simulation-based product marketing | Leave a comment

Settling in on ‘Product Simulation Marketing’

Coming up with the correct wording is essential for any task.  I have been uncomfortable with the terms “simulation-based marketing” and “simulation-based advertising”, because they sound like one is simulating the marketing or simulating the advertising.  However, I have liked those terms because they can get meaning from analogy to “simulation-based training.”

I have come to a new term which I believe is descriptive yet distinctive: product simulation marketing.  Now all that is left to do is fill out what this means!

December 22, 2009 Posted by | product simulation marketing, sim-based advertising, simulation-based marketing, simulation-based product marketing | Leave a comment

Digging into Simulation Research for Sim-Based Marketing

I am still pretty consumed with thoughts of fleshing out simulation-based marketing, or perhaps it is more appropriate as ‘simulation-based advertising.’   Of course part of the process in thinking out this area is to dig into research about what makes simulations effective for training.

Ever since I met Will Thalheimer of Work-Learning.com several years ago, and since then, following his blog and research, I knew he’d be a great person to turn to in thinking some of this out.  Around the turn of the century (neat to be able to use that phrase, though of course I mean the 21st century), he identified five key aspects of simulations that make them particularly effective for practicing real-world skills: Context Alignment, Retrieval, Repetition, Feedback, and Spacing (apologies to Will if I misquoted any of these–I can’t seem to find the article on his web site).

In any event, I spoke briefly with Will recently and he felt that clearly Retrieval, Alignment, and possibly Repetition would be at play in these contexts.  As in training, marketing and advertising activities have their own goals to achieve.  We talked about the idea of coming up with a good diagram to illustrate the process, perhaps a funnel or maze (possibly with multiple entry points and multiple end points–I can see the relevance of David Scott Meerman’s “buyer personas” here).

Another interesting point he made was that for most any significant purchase, say over $100, people don’t decide to buy at once.  Ideally, you want not only to recognize when those people to return, but also trigger the information you have already conveyed about the product.

In all, it is clear that many aspects of simulation-based training have parallels/counterparts in sim-based advertising (or marketing), but potentially at different priorities, due to the overall goal (skill transfer/building, for training, vs. awareness/sales/product research for marketing).  Since simulation-based training has been explored much more fully, it would be wise to use that experience in hypothesizing potential parallels to advertising/marketing.

December 8, 2009 Posted by | sim marketing, sim-based advertising, simulation-based marketing, simulation-based product marketing, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Great insights by David Meerman Scott at BtoBOnline’s Digital Edge

This past Thursday, B-to-B Online hosted a virtual trade show with ON24 called “Digital Edge“.  I assume it will be up in archive form shortly (and you can download his slides, or watch the talk again), but as of today it is not there yet.

I toured the exhibit hall a bit but I was certainly glad to catch the keynote address by David Meerman Scott.  A number of his points really resonated with the approaches I’ve been thinking about and trying to put into practice around online simulations, to give viewers a more engaging view of products and product lines.

He described how he would like to see the shift away from ‘product-oriented web sites’ (and materials, presumably), to what he called “buyer persona” focused approaches.  Rather than sticking a company’s products or brand in front of web site visitors and treating them as a faceless mass, he advocates trying to focus on, and relate to the different types of people who are visiting the site, and what problems your company is solving for that/those personae.  In that vein, he offered the following questions/insights (that I can remember!):

  • What does your product/business look like for that person?
  • Who are they and what information can you provide for them that they need/want?
  • Name him or her, and develop a strategy for each persona
  • What are their problems, likes, etc.

From an engineering perspective, I feel strains of a ‘use case’ approach — identifying who is coming to the site, for what reason(s), and trying to orient the materials to accomodate these personalities.

He followed the overall description of persona with a few questions we need to be asking when we develop our sites (and by extension, most types of distributed materials):

  1. What do you want your buyer persona’s to believe about your business or product?
  2. How are you generating attention?  He spent a lot of time talking about “earning” or “publishing” your way in with great content, blogs, videos, white papers, etc., instead of or in addition to traditional means to get attention (advertising, media contacts, etc.).
  3. What vocabulary is your buyer persona using?  It is critical to speak to them in their own vocabulary (it seems from his blog that he is on the war path against gobbledygook [I never thought I’d actually have to spell out that word!], which is very refreshing)
  4. No coercion, just meaningful content.

A lot of these points go directly to the message I want to craft with the term “simulation-based product marketing” (though I am still developing the ideas to an extent, and thinking about how they all fit together, for an upcoming white paper).

Going back to the bulleted list on top, for I would massage the question a bit “what does your product/business look like for that person?” into “what does your product look like in the hands of, or typical situations, faced by that person?”  This blends into point #1, which is using virtual product demos (a.k.a. simulations) to demonstrate to your visitors what they should believe about your product.

For example, I was looking for a smart phone recently.  When I looked at RIM’s web site, I saw some beautiful graphics and videos about the latest BlackBerry and their product line, but what was remarkably absent was what I really wanted to find out–what does it look like when I receive or send emails, how easy is it to navigate the screens, etc., thing I wanted to do, not hope they’ve filmed someone else (who I don’t really relate to–another great point by David, using real people, customers, etc. instead of the typical models shots we see) do it.

I believe that using simulations in advertising/marketing is an extremely strong way to influence what the buyer persona believes about your product. This is what I have advocated in the many years developing marketing materials to manufacturers.  Create scenarios that involve the visitor to demonstrate the unique and/or compelling features of the product–show that the user ‘saves the day’ because he or she has the XYZ, implying (or letting visitors infer) thank goodness they didn’t buy the competitor’s ABC because then they’d really be up the creek.

In my domain, equipment simulation, the last point (point #4) about ‘no coercion’ really struck home with me because of my frustration when I hear manufacturers asking ‘how about we create a game to get peoples’ attention?’  I argue that people who are looking for information about products, or are looking to engage with products, or need to develop a concrete set of skills, do not need to be entertained to be engaged, rather, one should create compelling interactive content around the product (my tie-in with the “simulation-based product marketing” I have been consumed with for the past several months).

A bit out of order, but it emphasizes his point about point #3, creating great content.  Essentially, if you create great content, content that is relevant to what the visitors want to do, you’ve earned your way to attention, and people will want to come back.  We created training scenarios for Fire Engineering’s web site, the premier training producers in the Fire Service.  They’re not video games, rather, they are instructional materials that have animated graphics, simulating emergency incidents, but under an instructor’s control.  Not only they receive a significant number of visits per month, but they have an astounding return rate.

It’s no surprise that we’ve also been taking these concepts and applying them to marketing products, under the umbrella of “simulation-based product marketing”, and “virtual product marketing”–with astonishing results.

Thank you, David, for an insightful and meaningful talk!

December 6, 2009 Posted by | simulation-based marketing, simulation-based product marketing, virtual product demos | 1 Comment

Making Better Call-to-Actions with Simulation Contexts and Behavioral Tracking

Dynamic advertisement delivery strives to serve ads most relevant to the user’s behavior.  I feel we can develop more effective call-to-actions in a similar way by helping the user select a relevant context, and then using simulation in that context to refine our sense of what call-to-action is going to appeal to that user.  I realized in the process that we have not given this adequate consideration in some recent interactive pieces we’ve produced, but we will be more sensitive to this in the future.

For example, in basic equipment orientation-type of presentations, we always have some means to contact the manufacturer for more information.  We have taken a simple-minded, lazy approach in this, which is bad.  Not only does it require the user to make an effort to tell us what he feels is relevant (which, for those who do so, should be treated specially because the effort in successfully requesting contact likely means the user is fairly serious about something), but also it ignores any patterns of interest we might have detected in the user’s behavior using the orientation.

I think I more productive approach would be to weave the request for information, or suggested contact, much more into the user’s discovery of the content, unobtrusively, but intentionally.  In the title of this post, I mention “simulation contexts.”  What I’m thinking is that one can use a user’s selection of different ways in which a product is used (different contexts) to help narrow what type of relevant information the user might want to acquire.  It’s not just making a simulation that highlights unique or compelling features–it’s creating contexts that have problems which the product is suited to solve (and hence the user can see how the product saves the day).

If we understand better what context is relevant to the user’s pursuit of information, we can make it easy for the user to request that information in that context, or understand where to go for more details.  I believe that the more that the user has to disconnect mentally from content discovery/exploration to go find how to contact the advertiser, the more likely they will not.

November 23, 2009 Posted by | simulation-based marketing | Leave a comment