As digital experiences have evolved, the tools of the trade have had to keep pace. High on the list are rich media -- such as photos, audio and video -- that enable viewers to get a quick introduction into an organization's message or a company's brand.
There are emerging new roles for rich media to support digital tasks. Ten years ago, who thought high-definition movies would become as ubiquitous as phone calls -- and as easy to create as email messages? With the advent of rich media, it now seems second nature to add audio and video to round out our digital experiences.
Today, websites use rich media for e-commerce, online customer service, sales enablement, marketing and digital branding. But the ways companies use these tools to extend their reach is ever-more important to digital experiences. Images, audio and video are often the front door to the user's interaction with a site, a company and a brand.
But challenges abound with these files. Video and audio need editing, and they sometimes need permissions to be requested and then made available for use on a webpage, and they can put pressure on network bandwidth. Finding the right tools to manage these assets and weave them into the total digital experience are still challenges that traditional tools haven't satisfactorily accomplished. Traditional tools have often created static images or video that doesn't account enough for the surrounding Web context they reside in. These elements also haven't worked responsively on mobile devices or been able to display differently according to a site visitor's profile and preferences.
These traditional tools include digital asset management (DAM) systems, which have been around for almost 20 years. DAM software now includes myriad features, but they continue to support only a few targeted tasks. At their core, these systems remain powerful cataloging and publishing engines that primarily manage visual assets and associated metadata. They are designed to group like things together into common collections for production, distribution and broadcast. But they don't necessarily support the flexible workflow that is often required of business operations in creating content, creating marketing messaging and so forth. Not surprisingly, the digital world is exponentially larger than it was 20 years ago, and DAM systems have not kept pace.
New trends in managing rich media
Historically, innovative approaches for enhancing tasks and processes within digital environments have been lacking. Lately, though, I am detecting the winds of change.
Two examples have contextualized rich media for inside sales productivity and interactive learning. What's significant is how, with the right amount of management, rich media enlivens these tasks.
Sales productivity. When it comes to sales outreach, it is now easy to add emotional elements through personalized video messages. The mechanisms for VSNAP, a sales acceleration suite launched by the Boston-based startup, are simple. Inside salespeople record and send short video clips to prospects by emailing or tweeting clickable links.
VSNAP adds the human dimension to communications, enabling sales reps to convey a tone and establish trust through individual video messages. VSNAP also includes a dashboard to append results and integrates with Salesforce.com for systematic customer relationship management.
It's the "modern version of the handwritten note that feels personal," VSNAP CEO and co-founder Dave McLaughlin explained. "Sales is all about engaging buyers and relating to them in an emotional way." According to McLaughlin, some VSNAP accounts have reported a 34% increase in their close rates, despite the noisy space of digitally driven selling.
Weaving experiences for interactive learning. When it comes to learning, rich media adds intuitive elements to the experience. The challenge is contextualizing the content to accommodate learners' goals and intentions.
Mechon Hadar, a nonprofit Jewish learning institution, combines traditional study with leadership development and innovation. Last year, the organization redesigned its website to re-establish itself among its communities of learners and stakeholders. Working with See3 Communications as its digital agency and integration partner, Mechon Hadar has crafted contextualized learning experiences.
In addition to a modern look that mobilizes experiences among multiple devices, Mechon Hadar needed to catalog and offer up more than 10,000 pieces of content -- from songs and wordless melodies, to weekly Torah discussions -- to dozens of video lectures. This includes "the ability to instantly play any song or melody or video, or pull up any piece of content [among] thousands, and to download individual pieces and collections," said Michael Hoffman of See3.
The organization developed a well-defined information architecture based on predefined user personas. Subject matter experts from Mechon Hadar collaborated with See3 designers to develop various taxonomies for weaving together content into different kinds of experiences. Mechon Hadar also uses Drupal, a Web content management (WCM) system. In addition to flexibility and scalability, Drupal supports responsive Web design to deliver content to multiple devices.
Drupal manages content in context, even when the content elements are rich media types. In addition to well-established topic categories about liturgy, philosophy, social issues and lifecycle events, the project team focused on indexing audio and video assets. Categories for music include tempo, meter and tone. This kind of categorization enables creative "mashups" of existing content.
"We want to make it easy for our students to remix melodies, hear tunes that work well together, and develop their own musical themes," said Jason Rubenstein of Mechon Hadar. Learners can explore options interactively, and associate melodies with traditional texts to create their own interpretations.
Rich media, including audio and video, should be like any other content type and can be managed through a third-generation WCM platform. With deep linking, it's now possible to get inside these files and get information about discrete portions -- whether it's a riff in a melody or a few seconds in a video.
Delivering task-oriented results
Our expectations about the role and impact of rich media are very different today from 2007 -- before the iPhone launched an accelerating mobile revolution. We expect audio and video experiences to be integral to workday activities. We now face the challenge of how best to build and deliver the engaging solutions that can meet (or exceed) our expectations. Making rich media useful depends on contextualizing it and having the flexibility to deliver task-oriented results that add value to the total Web experience.
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