01/14/2021

Turning up the heat on wikis with technical animations

By: Kelly Schermer, Annie Wegrich

Turning up the heat on wikis with technical animations

Animations are blazing hot sauce in marketing today for good reason. They’re informative, persuasive, and add a spicy zing that keeps your company top of mind—in less than two minutes. With nearly two-thirds of customers preferring to watch a short video over reading a document (Wyzowl), animations offer the biggest bump for your brand. They have the potential to deliver a higher message density (think Scoville Heat Units) per second than other types of video by giving you full control over the auditory and visual elements as well as the interplay between the two.

A lot of animations today target the check-writing, decision-making customer at an organization. Typically, these animations stay at the organization or product level to help business leaders make the best choices for their teams. However, in the B2B technology space, staying at a higher level can sometimes mean burying the details of your main differentiator in technical wikis, docs, and blogs. In short, not giving it the marketing props it deserves.

This strategy can be troublesome as your offering gets vetted down the sales funnel. It forces developers and engineers, who are the key influencers and ultimate implementers of your solution, to slog through technical documents to find and unpack crucial nuggets. Who can blame them if they can’t find your buried differentiators?

A technical animation targets tech-minded influencers  

At 2A, we help B2B clients troubleshoot for these potential pitfalls by considering how a technical animation can be used to round out their marketing strategy. Technical animations target the developer/engineer influencers, homing in on a single feature or capability and describing both how it works and why the audience should care about it—in under two minutes. They can be especially useful if you want to:

Land a technical concept that’s not well understood and explain your product’s advantages

Demonstrate key features and controls you offer that exceed current industry capabilities

Investigate different scenarios and/or environments that might create new use cases

Our technical animations give you the old two-for-one punch by educating influencers about nuanced topics and promoting the value of your solution. If you’ve been relying on classic technical documents to help communicate what sets you apart, you could be missing a valuable chance to stir up more interest with a technical animation.

Spice up a technical story with us!

01/07/2021

Emily Maryatt—webinar maestro extraordinaire!

By: Kelly Schermer

Emily Maryatt—webinar maestro extraordinaire!

In the best of times, writing up a spotlight blog means grabbing a drink with a colleague to dish on work. Seeing as we’re still reeling from 2020, let’s just pretend I’m sitting down with Emily Maryatt at her favorite hangout. Emily’s been with 2A for over a year working as an embedded consultant for Microsoft. She runs the MSFT research webinar series doing everything from branding, pitching, recording, hosting, and reporting. She calls it a marketing-PM-producer role all in one. While most of the presenters are engineers, scientists, and/or researchers under Microsoft Research, they often have guests join from other universities who are working on the same project.

Join me in my imaginary social outing. The scene opens on a small café table where a woman (Emily) sits alone sipping a drink, while a second mug waits in front of an empty seat across from her. Another woman (Kelly) enters and inaudible pleasantries are exchanged. As Kelly sits and unwraps her scarf, the interview begins (okay, this next part is all real).

Kelly: Hearing about your role gave me serious job envy! You must learn a ton of cool stuff! What’s been the most interesting project so far?

Emily: Oh gosh it’s endless. There have been so many topics from improving accessibility in image search, securing election fraud, importance of quantum cryptography, drones, and how you can manipulate data to tell almost any story you want. I think the data visualization webinar was my favorite because it was so applicable beyond our typical researcher audience. It felt like something almost anyone could watch. Then, we had just one last week on how an avatar’s virtual reality environment changes user behavior. 

Kelly: Wait! What does it mean? Is my avatar controlling me?

Emily: It means people tend to make decisions differently based on how much an avatar looks like a real person and what the field of view shows in VR. The less life like, the less they take it seriously. Also when it comes to pain, if a person feels connected to the avatar they are less likely to take risks or more afraid of someone hurting them, say stabbing them in the hand in the VR experience.

Kelly: Oh, that’s very cool, so there’s like a threshold of VR that triggers empathy?

Emily: Haha, I’m no expert, but it seems to imply that people have a different decision path depending on how they connect to the experience.

Kelly: I see that you’re a serious photographer too. How does your experience behind a camera help with your role on the webinar team?

​​Emily: I think having a creative eye always helps in marketing, especially branding. Since I have a lot of freedom in this job, it’s allowed me to choose the design aesthetic, and work with our graphic designer closely. I’m sure he really appreciates all my feedback. lol

Also, I deal with a lot of new clients in photography and am always working with them to achieve their goals and bond with them to make them feel comfortable. I take that same approach when I reach out to new researchers pitching webinars. Once they sign on, I walk them through the process and show them what they can expect while always trying to make it painless and fun. 

Kelly: I love that! You sound like a real asset to the webinar team!! Last question, if we could meet for a drink, where would we meet and what would you order and why?  

Emily: hmm let me think. Pre-COVID I’d probably say Percy’s in Ballard. They have a drink called the awaken one, and it’s the best dang drink around. It’s also just good music and a fun vibe.

Kelly: Let’s plan it for next time! Thanks so much for meeting up with me today. It’s been super interesting to learn about your work.

Emily: Of course! Thanks for the interview. Back to real life, I guess. haha

12/29/2020

2A’s favorite albums of 2020

By: Kyle Luikart + the 2A Team

2A’s favorite albums of 2020

The beginning of the year had me slipping out of the office between meetings, spending what should have been my lunch money on tunes from our neighbor, Everyday Music. Digging through crates of musty cardboard sleeves and jewel cases was a wonderful way to come up for air after being submerged in the world of cloud data platforms and AI/ML. But round about March everything changed, and I no longer found myself next to the record store between meetings. And my commute was axed, so things like FM radio, and podcasts silently slipped out of rotation. My listening habits changed, and I began looking forward to old-music Mondays and new-music Fridays, unintentionally leaning into music recommended to me by algorithms at a time when human interaction had taken a most extreme decline.

Creating marketing materials for machine learning puts an optimistic glow on what technology can do for us, but there’s a lot that goes into how an individual connects with music—time, place, receptiveness, emotion—that’s harder to train into a machine learning model. Just like when your favorite DJ plays a new song on the radio, a good friend suggests an artist they love, or you uncover a gem in a bin after sinking countless hours sifting, discovering new music can bring a tiny thrill of connection.

We hope you connect with some of 2A’s human-selected favorites of 2020.

Adrianne Lenker – Songs (folk/indie) – “Recorded in a tiny Western Massachusetts cabin, Lenker’s songs capture the solitude of 2020 without making it the primary subject. Dreamy finger-picking, gripping vocals, and poetic lyrics make the Big Thief front-woman’s solo album a must listen.” – Mike Lahoda

Bad Bunny – YHLQMDLG (Latin trap/reggaeton) – “Not necessarily what we did this year since the pandemic kept us in and far from concerts, however this album fueled my running in 2020 with its Latin beats and overstimulating electronic arrangements.” – Renato Agrella

Becky and the Birds – Trasslig (R&B/pop) – “Becky and the Birds track “Paris” transports me to a lighter, sexier place, which I needed a lot this year. And those magical, fairly-like vibes carry over to other tracks, building an album that is both moody and uplifting.” – Abby Breckenridge

Chromatics – Faded now (electronic/indie) – “There are so few new albums that I dove into this year, but Chromatics Faded Now is the album that stood out the most to me and made its way into my rotation of regular music pretty easily. Chromatics is such a distinct sound—club bass beats, heavy synth, echoing vocals—and this album follows that legacy. It did really make me miss shows and cocktail bars where this music bleeds seamlessly into the background. Here’s hopin’ for new places to listen to this in 2021.” – Clinton Bowman

Khruangbin – Mordechai (psychedelic/funk) — “This trippy album has been our hypnotic soundtrack for the last several months. It’s been a welcome space to spend time in.” – Daniel Schmeichler

Left at London – Transgender Street Legend, Vol. 2 (alternative/indie) – “Since 2020 had meant staying local, I’ve been listening to KEXP all day long and came across Left at London’s Transgender Street Legend, Vol. 2, which I’ve kept on repeat.” – Annie Unruh

LOOK MUM NO COMPUTER – These Songs are Obsolete (electronic/rock) – “A one-man band and DIY superstar, Sam Battle does some outlandish circuit bending work and skirts using traditional software based production tools to create unique and deftly performed synth rock.” – Kyle Luikart

Neil Cicierega – Mouth Dreams (mash up/electronic) – “Internet titan Neil Cicierega strikes again with his latest ‘Mouth’ mashup album. This fourth installment features remixing and reworking everything from classical orchestra pieces to pop music to commercial jingles to create bizarre, idiosyncratic, and comedic songs. Dreams of a baby wishing it could be a train, a super psycho demanding not to touch his bed, bells ringing on the moon, and rocking Ewoks form a surreal tapestry of sound that had me laughing and baffled in equal measure.” – Thad Allen

Run the Jewels – RTJ4 (hip hop/electronic) – “Killer Mike and El-P released ‘RTJ4’ two days early in response to the protests against police brutality after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. This year has been hard, and this album beautifully captures this very raw moment we’re all living.” – Erin McCaul

Taylor Swift – Folklore (indie folk/alternative) – “Like many, I underestimated Taylor Swift. She released not one but two new albums during a global pandemic. “Folklore” is layered and sharp, and it is the album I find myself asking Alexa to play again and again. Taylor’s voice as a true storyteller, musician and songwriter only gets better.” – Laurie Krisman

Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind (electronic/pop) – “Yves Tumor creates funky experimental pop that feels like a romantic fusion of Prince and David Bowie. When I want to escape from 2020 on a psychedelic audio spaceship, I put on this album.” – Nick Dwyer

12/16/2020

Elevating Stories #6: Rodolfo Agrella

By: Daniel Schmeichler

Elevating Stories #6: Rodolfo Agrella

I knew I was going to enjoy Rodolfo Agrella’s Elevating Stories talk because of our common Venezuelan backgrounds and my appreciation for his work. But what surprised me was the pride I felt seeing him showcase so many home-country inspirations to our non-Venezuelan team. It made me nostalgic for the days when I had more reasons to think about architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva’s iconic Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV). And I realized that the accumulation of time and distance has left me with fewer opportunities to celebrate these cultural influences—with the countless other Venezuelans who have left, and with those who remain.

While telling us about some of the influences on his creative journey, Agrella gave us a quick tour of UCV, which he attended as an architecture student. He shared photographs of outdoor passageways edged by seemingly simple, perforated, cinderblock walls where the strong tropical sun passes through to create an astonishing play of light and shadow. Villanueva’s vision was that the walls would deliver a shifting environment for passersby. Agrella harvested the playful details created by the shadows as a jumping off point for his work.

In a small moment of happenstance, Agrella shared a portrait of Villanueva taken by a friend of mine—the celebrated Venezuelan photographer Paolo Gasparini. The photograph depicts the architect proudly standing in the concert hall he designed with Alexander Calder. What he didn’t show was a beautiful series of photographs Gasparini created decades earlier of the same shadow-and-light passageways at the university. I wrote to Agrella afterward to share the series, and of course he was familiar with them.

In some ways, we are still connected.

12/04/2020

Scrolling bling for marketing

By: Kelly Schermer

We’re coming into the holidays, and you know what that means—it’s time to add a little sparkle and get a little tinseled. After all, there’s nothing like sprucing up to get attention. You might say it works the same way in B2B technology marketing, although (spoiler alert) it’s highly unlikely that blow-up characters and garish lights will seal the deal for you. Not to worry, we’ve got something better to last the whole year through. 

At 2A, we’ve come up with a full-stack approach to lighting up your marketing assets. We put engaging copy and arresting design into motion, creating a scrollable, interactive web experience. You can full-stack just about any written content—from case studies to ebooks to you-name-it-we-can-do-it! It’s a surefire way to put a fresh spin on an asset that’s just too good to miss.  

Recently, we created a full-stack experience for WeaveWorks to add some twinkle to their GitOps ebook. While the content is the same as our PDF version, the experience appeals to a whole new audience and effectively extends the asset’s reach. 

“Removing the barrier of logging in, downloading and waiting for an email allows us to deliver our ebook content to prospects faster,” said Sonja Schweigert, VP of Marketing at Weaveworks. “Giving ours the full-stack treatment allows people the option of scrolling through the content from the convenience of their phone or tablet instead. It’s a nice change from a typical webpage asset, because we can meet the reader on the device and channel of their choice and still give them the full story. 2A Consulting not only wowed me with timely and superb execution but also delivered an outstanding content and design experience for our clients.”  

Curious about how the full-stack technology works? Erin, 2A’s head orchestrater behind the process, takes you behind the scenes of our case studies on the 2A website.  

Curious about how to make the full-stack experience work for you? Give us a ringle jingle!  

11/24/2020

Tips for the 2020 holiday season

By: Erin McCaul

Tips for the 2020 holiday season

When November rolls around each year, my friends and family who celebrate Christmas divide into two groups: those who put their trees up before Thanksgiving, and those who wait until their turkeys have time to cool. I personally fall into the latter camp—and throw some serious side-eye at anyone who plays “All I Want for Christmas Is You” before Black Friday.   

But this year has been heavy, and 2020 isn’t closing out like any other year. My entire workday has turned digital, and like many families—we’ve decided to take our holiday gatherings digital too. However you celebrate, here are a few tips to help make the holidays special this year.  

Shop early and support small  

COVID-19 closures have hit small businesses hard. If you’re gifting, consider buying local, buying handmade, buying gift certificates for services, or buying from people you know. A key to supporting small is shopping early. Lots of independent bookstores, small shops, and artisans take online orders, but they need some extra time to package and ship everything off.  

And if you’re as sick of your own cooking as I am, consider restaurant gift certificates—or getting takeout over cooking your own holiday meal. Love libations? Many local breweries and wineries are offering curbside pickup as well. 

Get creative with your digital celebrations  

This year, everyone in my family is getting a Christmas package that includes Christmas crackers, over-the-top Christmas costume gear, and paintable wooden ornaments. If I can’t see them in person, I want to see them in reindeer antlers and blinking Christmas-light glasses over FaceTime. If your crew isn’t excited about blinking glasses, consider a holiday slideshow of old pictures to reminisce, or throwing together a trivia night to keep things light. 

Give to a charity  

2020 has brought unimaginable hardships to our communities. Food insecurity—already an issue—is on the rise. Millions of Americans are out of work. Schools are closed. Already vulnerable communities are suffering the most. Consider setting aside some of your holiday budget for charities or food banks, or even setting up recurring donations to give organizations near and dear to your heart steady funding throughout the year.   

I miss hugging my grandma. I miss seeing my friends. I miss schools. I miss my office and sitting in an actual conference room with my team. I miss crowded bars and waiting to be seated at restaurants. I’m tired. But I’m starting to see Christmas lights in yards and in town, like little lights at the end of 2020. And if your Christmas tree was up in October, I now say good for you.   

11/19/2020

Be present, think lateral with Oblique Strategies

By: Kyle Luikart

Be present, think lateral with Oblique Strategies

Ask your body. Turn it upside down. Do something boring.

We’ve all heard of thinking outside of the box, but how do you really do it? Famed non-musician Brian Eno and multimedia artist Peter Schmidt developed a unique approach called Oblique Strategies to break through creative barriers. Oblique Strategies is a deck of cards with short phrases meant to introduce constraints or reframe the problem at hand and encourage lateral thinking. Prompts like Ask your body and Turn it upside down help kickstart creativity with somewhat removed and roundabout thoughts.

This year has presented us with a plethora of new challenges to overcome, and it’s obvious that our old way of doing things isn’t cutting it. Curiously enough, the Oblique Strategies hinting at mindfulness have been surprisingly helpful for me lately. I’ve been questioning if I’ve made good use of the time I’ve gotten back from the disappearance of things like commutes and recreational shopping. Strategies like Do nothing for as long as possible and Remember the quiet evenings have a meditative quality and are grounded in gratitude. We’re often so driven by our goals that the pleasure of the moment is lost in the desire to get somewhere as quickly as possible.

There are no correct ways to apply Oblique Strategies. The journey is the destination—lateral thinking puts us in a place to see and understand more. Perhaps the ultimate secret is to stay mindful of where we are and what’s right in front of us. Here are three examples of how to interpret Oblique Strategies to stay in the moment while overcoming obstacles.

Embrace the constraints

A line has two sides. Instead of trying to see through something, look around it. Accept the boundaries you have to work with (like time, medium, or purpose) and spend your time exploring the open space that exists around them. That doesn’t mean accepting things at face value, but truly understanding the box that you’re trying to think outside of. Constraints present a structure, and once we acknowledge the structure, we can begin to create ways to use it in our favor.

Practice the failure bow

What mistakes did you make last time. We’re fallible. To deny that is to deny room for growth. Not all strategies will lead directly to the end goal (they shouldn’t, really), but gracefully accepting failure and letting it flow through allows us to get one step closer to true success. If we look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify them we are welcoming the opportunity to learn from mistakes and cultivating a culture with less ego. In essence, failure is far more powerful for learning than engineering a string of successes—so celebrate those moments!

Unlearn what you’ve been taught

Discover the recipes you are using and abandon them. Many of the processes we’ve learned were developed for a different time and place, so it’s more important than ever to truly step away from the orthodoxy. When time is of the essence this can be a challenge, but prioritize the idea and allow yourself a moment to view something with a child’s eyes and entertain the ridiculous or unexpected.

No matter what you do, accepting what cannot be changed, welcoming failure, and not being afraid to let go will enable out-of-the-box thinking. But maybe more importantly, just Go outside. Shut the door. And Breathe more deeply.

11/12/2020

3 cures for healthcare storytelling

By: Laurie Krisman

3 cures for healthcare storytelling

Sometime in early March of this year, just when kids exited playgrounds and rushed home to continue learning online, healthcare organizations pivoted. Almost overnight, COVID-19 dramatically accelerated the pace of digitization. Pilot projects like remote patient monitoring, telehealth, and scalable remote work environments suddenly took center stage. And as contact tracing and vaccine management changed our lives, the value of integrated data became more important than ever.

As storytellers at 2A, healthcare marketing is on our minds. Considering how healthcare technology has evolved and patient expectations are changing, now is the time for healthcare organizations to rethink how they engage customers. If you’re building marketing strategies that target specialized clinical personas, here are a few timeless guideposts to follow.

1. Balance self-promotion with education

It’s simple: organizations that create high-quality, strategic content generate more leads than those who do not. It makes sense that customers tend to engage with material that brings them entertainment, new knowledge, or skills. So, when building marketing assets like eBooks, infographics, and whitepapers, aim for a balance of educational and self-promotional content that’s relevant to your customers’ lives. For example, this eBook we created for Amazon Web Services and Infor gives healthcare organizations ready-to-deploy ideas for implementing cloud technologies to become more resilient in the face of healthcare transformations.

To generate new content, it always helps to stay up to date with the latest technologies, news, and challenges, so you can be the first to drive home a new insight. 

2. Aim for re-posts and shares on social

Content is key, but so is the vehicle. When it comes to social media, there are many platforms where you can share your message, but finding the right placement helps ensure you’re reaching your target audience. In B2B healthcare marketing, Twitter and LinkedIn are typically good choices. Why? Because influencers and subject matter experts can re-publish your content, giving it the added component of advocacy. Take this approach a step further by being creative and finding new ways to be seen.  

3. Remember, B2B loves animation

In the world of digital content, animation is becoming the crown jewel. As a response to digital fatigue, when people see a moving illustration our brains make a heroic effort to understand what it’s looking at. Plus, animations usually include expressive visuals, an interesting narrative, and music—a great recipe for memorable content that communicates your business value to customers. Take, for example this animation we created for the enterprise patient mapping solution, Verato.

As innovations in healthcare evolve, we’re excited to drive new content marketing programs that continue to amplify the message with proven tactics. Need more eyes and ears on your latest breakthrough? Give us a ping.   

10/28/2020

A new flag day

By: Nick Dwyer

A new flag day

America’s trajectory hangs in the balance this November, but one of the ballot measures I’m most excited about is one I cannot vote on. In six days, Mississippi voters will have the opportunity to approve or reject the final design for a new state flag. After more than 20 years of serious efforts to replace the old racist flag, which featured the confederate stars and bars, widespread protests stemming from George Floyd’s murder finally turned the tide with state lawmakers this summer.

I’m excited not just because this marks the removal of a hateful symbol, but because I’m a lifelong vexillophile—a lover of flags. In many ways, what I love about flags is what I love about marketing: the limitations. There is so much to say and represent, but just like marketing, flags depend on simplification to be effective. So, let’s review the proposed flag design through the lens of some classic 2A adages that help shape our approach.

Image of proposed Missipppi state flag

Less is more work

Like our marketing work, the best flags do more with less clutter. Flags flap, drape, and must be recognizable from afar, so they should be designed for practicality. Mississippi’s  new proposed flag benefits from simple symmetry and limited colors, but unfortunately it includes lettering. It’s not the designers’ fault, the words “In God we trust” had to be included. Lettering doesn’t scale down well, is impossible to read at a distance, and makes production more complicated. South Carolina and New Mexico have perhaps the most iconic state flags—in part because they have no letters at all.

South Carolina and New Mexico flags

Find the nugget

There can be a lot of noise on marketing projects, making it hard to figure out the focal point. One message needs to shine above the rest to communicate what’s most important. In the new flag design, there’s no doubt that the centerpiece is the southern magnolia, Mississippi’s state flower and tree. Trees can be beautifully symbolic, just look at Canada or Lebanon, and this flower is instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the Magnolia State. While the flower is an effective central element, it would be more emphatic without the ring of 20 white stars, which represent Mississippi as the 20th state.

Image of Canadian and Lebanese flags

Know your audience

Everyone loves to think of themselves as marketers, but great marketers remember they’re probably not the intended audience. This flag must represent the people of Mississippi. Polls show that nearly half the state wanted to keep the old flag, but the new flag features symbols with broader appeal than the old icons of division. You can’t make everyone happy, but it’s clear more people can take pride in this design.

If any Mississippi voters are reading this, I’ll leave you with one more aphorism I like to repeat at 2A: strategy is about tradeoffs. This new design cannot include everything you might have wanted, but it pops the right elements to serve your state with dignity and hope.

10/15/2020

Rachel’s hot designs thaw the Seattle freeze

By: Katy Nally

Rachel’s hot designs thaw the Seattle freeze

She might not wear flannel (all the time) and has more warm than freeze, but Rachel is firmly rooted in her adoptive city of Seattle. In a classic, Meg-Ryan plot twist, Rachel gave up her fast-paced, New-York-City job as design director at Pearhead to move across the country for love. But just because she’s made a new home in the Emerald City, doesn’t mean she’s abandoned all that she learned in the Big Apple.

From intern to director

As soon as Rachel graduated from the University of Miami—where she double majored in creative advertising and graphic design—she set her sights on New York City. Something about the hustle of the Big Apple pulled her in. Against her mom’s apprehension, she answered a job listing on Craigslist for a design internship, then traded in her sandy beaches for skyscrapers. The small startup gave her lots of room to grow. Within six years she was directing a team of product designers and visiting manufacturers in China to talk shop.

She became that high-rise creative

The career she envisioned for herself had come true. She was leading a creative team, exercising her design skills, and breathing in the artistry of the city. From Pearhead’s office in Brooklyn, she developed her love of typography and print, finding inspiration from Pentagram’s Paula Scher and discovering new ways to use words as design elements.

When she decided to leave New York, Rachel was ready to give up the fast-paced hustle of the city. But she still held on to her vision of working at a creative agency. At 2A, she found her New-York-City equivalent, happily trading in her view of the East River for a peek at the Puget Sound. Rachel was excited to dig in to design for the tech industry, and work with big-name clients like AWS and Microsoft. As a senior designer, she’s brought invaluable efficiencies to the creative process and redefined 2A’s approach to ebooks.  

Soaking up all Seattle has to offer

Rachel’s inner flower child fit in perfectly with the Seattle backdrop of farmers’ markets, weekend water floats, and free-for-all blackberries. Even she acknowledges how she’s “leaned in” to Seattle-themed hobbies, from fawning over fresh-cut dahlias to paddle boarding on Lake Union. At this rate, she’s probably hunting for a Tom-Hanks-style houseboat.