The Internet Marketing Driver: Glenn Gabe's goal is to help marketers build powerful and measurable web marketing strategies.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Viral Marketing Campaigns, Important Elements to Consider to Enhance Campaign Effectiveness


Viral Marketing Effectiveness, Important Elements to ConsiderViral Marketing is a hot topic, especially since the web is an incredible catalyst for getting the word out about something. Depending on your business, viral marketing can be a powerful way to drive exposure, traffic, and sales. You can get your brand in front of thousands of people in a relatively short amount of time. By the way, I’m not referring to organic Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM) or Buzz Marketing. If you want to get technical, I’m referring to Amplified WOM, or an online marketing campaign with a goal of taking your message viral, spreading it across the web like wildfire, exposing your brand on a grand level, and hopefully turning it into revenue down the line. Don't worry, I explain a few examples below. You don’t have to be a large company to utilize viral marketing. You just need to be creative and develop ideas that leverage the viral nature of the web to achieve your goals… Let’s take a look at what I believe to be some important elements to consider while developing your viral marketing campaign.

Concept Development, Make Sure It’s Fun, Memorable, and That It Has a Hook
During your brainstorming, if you read a concept and remotely think it won’t be fun, inspiring, or intriguing enough, then throw the idea away. The bar is constantly being raised, so you need to ensure people will want to take part. If it just sounds ok, then it’s probably worse. If you get goosebumps while reading it, then you’re on to something. I use this test often while mapping out creative strategies….if it doesn’t give me chills while reading it, then it’s not good enough, period.

Here’s an interesting example of a viral campaign: Weight Watchers recently hired FaintStarlite, a popular video blogger to help promote their "Stop Dieting, Start Living" campaign. There’s a myspace page for the campaign and FaintStarlite vlogs away… She is asking others to post about their diet experiences, their Weight Watchers journey, and talks about her own experiences. Right now, her WW myspace page has over 6300 friends and 430 comments. Reading through the comments, you can see the campaign seems to be resonating. Women (and some men) are talking about dieting, when they joined Weight Watchers, laughing about the craziest diets they have tried, etc. This is a good example of tailoring the campaign to your target audience. Actually, I'd love to hear from FaintStarlite about how the campaign is going from her perspective.

Another good example was the Hammer and Coop viral campaign by Mini Cooper. I won’t go into all the details, but it has ultra-high production value, it's extremely funny, and I spent 15-20 minutes there before I even realized it! Good concept, excellent creative, and got me talking about the campaign…

A Common Question I Hear:
“How controversial or extreme should we make our viral marketing campaign?” I’m a big fan of humor. It’s a great way to generate a viral effect. Think of the CareerBuilder monkey tv commercials, which spurred the CareerBuilder viral campaign "Monkey Mail". It’s a serious subject (your career), but they really took a light angle by using the monkeys… If you can weave humor into a sound marketing concept for your viral campaign, then you are off to a great start. I’m not saying that controversial campaigns don’t generate buzz…but at what price? And by the way, you can shock people with humor and not leave them writhing in their seats… Another option is taking real world experiences and using them as the basis for your campaign. Let your actual customers talk… Let the true stories of helping customers resonate with your target audience. It’s not funny or shocking, but depending on your customer stories, it could generate a lot of viral activity.

Interactivity, Participation and User Generated Content (UGC)
Don’t create a 30 second spot…please. Sure, you might get some views on YouTube, but I firmly believe you need to have people interact with your campaign (and that’s not sitting and watching a 2 minute video). I think it’s a great idea to have video as part of the campaign, but not part of a one way viewing experience. There are so many ways to have people take part in your campaign, especially with web-based campaigns. For example, let’s say you are a clothing retailer and you’re launching a new line of jeans. As part of your campaign, run a contest letting customers create their own commercial for your jeans and give them some creative assets to start with. Maybe your logo, a few snapshots of models wearing the jeans, some music you have licensed for the campaign, and a few video clips from your stores. As participants create their commercials, have them upload the final video to your site, along with supporting commentary (what inspired their idea, their bios, who helped with the production, what their acceptance speech would be if their commercial won an award, etc.) Then have visitors vote on the winners… The winner gets a $2000 shopping spree on the website. It’s a great way to have people interacting with your brand, product, etc. And since they have created intriguing content for your site that others are voting for, your brand and product are now being viewed by more and more people…and maybe on other sites like YouTube, Google Video, etc. Think interactively….and not old-school television.

Giveaways, Grand Prizes, and Runners Up
If you choose to launch a contest as part of the campaign, then I cannot emphasize my next point enough. The winners should get something really, really cool that obviously fits your target market. So don’t give away a Blackberry to a retired guy living in a 55 and older community down in Florida. I'm not saying he wouldn’t like it, but he would probably enjoy a $500 restaurant gift card from Visa. Hey, I understand this crowd well since I know several snowbirds from New York. ;-) Do you target high tech customers, give away a jacked Macbook. Target moms? Give away a shopping spree at Babies R Us. You get the point. And, if you can give away your own products, even better. Then you’ll just pay the Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) and shipping. For example, if you sell footwear, then giving away 25 pairs of shoes doesn’t cost you the retail price, right? If you’re COGS are 30%, then you are giving away $1500 on $5000 worth of footwear. If you have products that people dig, then this is a great way to go. Keep in mind the viral nature of your campaign, though…will winning a year’s supply of paper clips excite anyone??

Brand Your Campaign and Develop a Dedicated Section of Your Website
Brand your campaign! This has several benefits, including giving people an easy way to communicate the campaign to their friends, helping with natural search, tying easily with your concept and creative, and obviously making it memorable! i.e. My friend Matt tells me about the Actober campaign by Major League Baseball, so I go to Google and enter Actober. If you’ve done your job correctly (and many don’t), your site and others referencing it should come up. If you didn’t give the campaign a name, then what would people search for?? Major League Baseball? On your website, add a directory matching the title of the campaign. i.e. www.yourwebsitename.com/yourcampaignname/

Sidebar, Do not waste those precious links!
I’ve seen campaigns generate thousands of links, which will greatly help a site’s natural search power, but then the companies shut down the campaign section or microsite after the campaign ends. NOOOO!!! “Sir, please step away from your web server…” Leverage that search power by either archiving those pages or using 301 redirects. A good link is a horrible thing to waste. ;-)

Get the Word Out, Advertise Your Viral Marketing Campaign
OK, so you have developed a great campaign, it’s a killer idea, the creative looks incredible, and you are getting goosebumps like I mentioned earlier. Now what?? You need to get the word out via a range of online marketing channels. Use your email list to stir up your base, use social media sites to communicate the campaign, advertise on targeted websites, use paid search to capture targeted visitors, and use PR to send waves across the web. Also, don’t forget to advertise on your own network of websites… I think this is sometimes overlooked. Create advertisements for key traffic areas on your own websites. Hey, there’s no ad spend! Add a footer to any email that goes out (confirmation emails to buyers, your email newsletters, etc.) Have your customer service reps explain the campaign at the end of phone calls. You get the picture. Leverage your own infrastructure to help get the word out.

Have Legal Approve Everything…
You are not a lawyer, so don’t make the mistake of not having your legal team or outside legal counsel approve your campaign. Let me say this again just so I’m clear. DO NOT LAUNCH A CAMPAIGN WITHOUT LEGAL REVIEWING EVERY ASPECT OF THE PROGRAM. I’ve seen campaigns run without a hitch and I’ve also seen campaigns come close to imploding. It’s all about the execution. I’m fanatical about this stage…it’s just in my blood. Listen to your lawyers…legal is a necessary element to your successful marketing campaigns. Make changes based on their feedback and get final approval before moving forward. Believe me, you won’t regret it.

Summary
So there you have it, some important elements to consider while creating your viral marketing campaign. This obviously doesn’t cover everything involved, but I plan on writing more posts related to viral marketing in the future.

Here are a few final words of advice…
* Be sure to view your ideas from the perspective of a would-be participant. It might be a great idea to you and your staff…but might fall flat with the people who will actually be participating.
* Definitely try to inject fun and energy into your campaign.
* Use technology to make it as interactive as possible.
* Use a wide range of online marketing channels to promote your campaign.

Last, my lawyer wanted me to add a line from him:

“This blog post about viral marketing sets forth the entire blog post and understanding of the parties relating to the subject matter hereof and supersedes all prior viral marketing blog posts and understandings, both written and oral, among the parties with respect to viral marketing, amplified word of mouth marketing, generating buzz, webfire, or any other terms related to viral marketing hereof.”

See, I told you to have legal review everything. :-) Sorry, I had to poke fun of legal at least one time in this post...

GG

Related Posts:
The Difference Between Viral Marketing, Word of Mouth Marketing, and Buzz Marketing
7 Drivers of Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM)

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Using SWFObject 2.0 to Embed Flash While Providing SEO Friendly Alternative Content


Providing Alt Content for Flash Using SWFObject 2.0
Or is it friendly? More on that later... While mapping out and building your website content, chances are you have come across a situation where you really want to utilize flash versus html content (for some functionality). Although flash can provide an extraordinary level of interactivity, the problem (SEO-wise), is that flash content cannot be indexed by the search engines (at least for now). So, you might find yourself wanting to use flash for a given task, but you might also be struggling with the lack of search engine friendly content. I have been developing with flash for over 10 years and I also work extensively on Natural Search projects, so believe me, I feel your pain. :-) I wanted to write this post to introduce and explain SWFObject 2.0, the latest and greatest version of the popular flash replacement library.

A Quick SWFObject Disclaimer:
Unfortunately, I (or anyone else for that matter) cannot tell you that using SWFObject is entirely search engine safe. In a perfect world, providing an accurate, alternative html version of your flash content is extremely beneficial. I’m sure that Google and the other engines would have no problem with developers using it that way. But…and it’s an important but, there will always be those who exploit something like SWFObject for cloaking.

Let’s define cloaking: Providing one version of your content to the search engines while providing a different version of content to visitors. i.e. Altered content meant to trick the search engines.

You can easily see why this could be problematic for the search engines… There has been much debate about whether SWFObject is search engine safe or not, and I cannot give you the answer. That said, I think if you utilize SWFObject to provide alternative content that directly reflects your flash content, then you should be fine. I will show you how to do this later in the post.

SWFObject 2.0 Versus SWFObject 1.5
So what’s the difference between SWFObject 2.0 and SWFObject 1.5? Well, 2.0 is the latest version of the package (thank you Captain Obvious), which enables you to provide alt html content for your flash content using standards compliant markup. Version 2.0 will replace 1.5 and other forms of flash replacement like the flash player detection kit and UFO. That said, SWFObject 1.5 is still a great solution and you may choose to keep using 1.5 until you feel comfortable using 2.0. However, you will probably want to use version 2.0 based the benefits of the new process. :)

Static Versus Dynamic Publishing
There are 2 ways to use SWFObject 2.0, providing alt content using standards compliant markup (called static publishing) and inserting alt content using unobtrusive JavaScript (called dynamic publishing). Using dynamic publishing with SWFObject 2.0 is very similar to using SWFObject 1.5, where using static publishing is the new process. In this post, I will cover the standards compliant way (static) to use SWFObject 2.0 to embed flash content in your webpage. Let’s get started.

Download SWFObject 2.0
First, visit the Google Code Project for SWFObject 2.0 and download the zipfile containing the files you need. (FYI, you should download swfobject_2_0_rc2.zip). You can also download the official documentation and always have it handy. Extract the files to your hard drive and then copy the contents to your working directory. That way, you always have the original as a backup….good lesson from my programming days. :) View the screenshot below to see which files and folders your swobject2 directory should contain.

Folder Contents for SWFObject 2.0

SWFObject and Static Publishing
Let’s implement the standards compliant version of the package to replace your flash content with alternative html content. The alt content should directly reflect the content contained in your flash movie.

1. In your swfobject2 directory, open the index.htm file, which uses the static version of swfobject 2.0. Use this file as the template for your own implementation.
2. Look at the source code to follow along. In the head of the document, you will notice the following line of code:

Adding the SWFObject JavaScript Library to Your HTML Document

3. This line of code adds the SWFObject JavaScript library in your document. Including this code is a necessary component for the package to work properly.
4. Next, let’s hop down to the html portion of the document. Note, I have changed the code below to reflect my own flash movie and alt content. You can still easily follow along, though:

Click the image below to view a larger version:
The Nested Object Tags When Using the SWFObject Static Method

5. The code above includes a series of nested object tags, which enables the SWFObject package to provide cross-browser support. When adding your own content, you will need to replace a few items:

a. Replace “swfobject2-exampleb.swf” with the name of your actual flash movie. Note, the swfobject download includes a file named “test.swf”, so if you want to run the page using that flash movie, you should be good to go.

b. Change the width and height to match your actual flash movie’s width and height. My flash movie is 400x300.

6. About half way down the page, you will find a div tag for your alternate content. This is where you will provide alternate html content that directly reflects your flash movie's content. Feel free to use any html tags here to provide your alternative content. As you can see in the image below, I described my flash movie content in HTML.

Click the image below to view a larger version:
Providing Alternative HTML Content for Your Flash Movie

7. Let’s move back to the head of your html document for a second. You will need to register your flash movie with the swfobject library. Note, my page uses "exampleID" for the outer object tag id. You can use whatever you like or just keep the current id. You will see the following lines of code:

Register Your Flash Movie with SWFObject

8. The three parameters contain:

a.The id of the outermost object tag (myID). Note, you can change the id of the outermost object tag, but it must match what you enter in the JavaScript code when you register your flash movie. So, if you entered “flashID” instead, then you would need to enter “flashID” when you register your flash movie in the code above. Again, I used "exampleID".

b. The version of the flash plugin you are targeting (9.0.0), and

c. The name of the express install flash movie (if you wish to use one). Note, express install will display a standard dialog box that will enable your visitors without the required plugin version to download the flash plugin. I have noticed some buggy behavior with the express install functionality, so I just provide my own link to the flash plugin. Therefore, I enter false as the third parameter.

SWFObject 2.0 Code Generator
That’s all you need to do in order to use the standards compliant version of SWFObject 2.0. I know that opening the hood and working with code directly can be tough for non-programmers, so the creators of SWFObject have been nice enough to create a code generator for you. I didn’t want to mention it until after you went through the code so you can get a good feel for how this works. :-) I know…tough love! You can download the generator from the Google Code Project. The generator presents a form where you can enter the necessary information about your projects and then it generates the right code for you. I actually find it easier to drill into the code, but that’s what I’m used to!

A Working Example
Here is a simple example of using the standards compliant version of SWFObject 2.0. After viewing the flash content, you can click View, and then Source in your browser to see the alt content in the html. I also uploaded a webpage where I am forcing the browser to show you the alt content. This is what visitors would see if they didn't have the required version of the flash plugin. In addition, the static version of SWFObject 2.0 doesn’t rely on JavaScript to provide your flash content, so your visitors will see your flash content even if they have JavaScript turned off. A nice benefit. When you look at the source code, you can see an additional parameter I added for turning off the standard right click menu. You need to add this in two locations (both object tags) as you’ll see in the code. You can use a number of flash parameters and the SWFObject 2.0 documentation lists them for you. i.e. menu, loop, quality, wmode, etc.

Adding parameters within your object tags.

Click to Activate this Control
I know…Ugh. I won’t go into how or why Internet Explorer 6+ users must click to activate a flash movie, but it’s extremely annoying (especially for flash developers that work hard on creating killer flash movies!) Unfortunately, the standards compliant version of SWFObject 2.0 doesn’t alleviate this problem, where the dynamic versions of both SWFObject 2.0 and 1.5 alleviate the problem! Go figure. If you are looking to get rid of the dreaded “click to activate” message, then use the dynamic version of SWFObject 2.0 or 1.5 (not covered in this post). I may detail using the dynamic version of SWFObject in future posts, but this post is already getting too long! ;-)

Summary
OK, that was a lot to cover, but now you have a way to provide alternative html content for your killer flash content…and the search engines can index the alt content to boot! Again, nobody can guarantee that this is 100% search engine safe…thanks to some bad people who exploit this functionality. That said, if your alt content directly reflects your flash content, you should be ok. Used properly, this enhances the accessibility and usability of your site and will enable your killer content to be found by the search engines.

Just don’t go nuts when providing your alt content… :)

GG

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Banana Republic Meets and Exceeds My Valentine’s Day Challenge


Banana Republic Exceeds the Valentine's Day ChallengeIn my last post, I traveled across the web to see which online retailers were targeting (and looking to help) Valentine’s Day last minute shoppers. I found a range of targeting (or lack of targeting) during my journey, including some websites without a mention of Valentine’s Day and others with dedicated sections for Valentine’s Day. Of the websites that I visited, Banana Republic was the winner, providing clear calls to action on the homepage, identifying next day delivery for last minute shoppers, and providing a dedicated section for Valentine’s Day gifts. They did a fantastic job.

My Challenge to Banana Republic
At the end of my journey on February 12th, I decided to purchase a gift from Banana Republic, trusting that their Next Day Delivery Service would come through. So, did Banana Republic come through? I know you’ve been eagerly awaiting the results, talking about my challenge at the water cooler, and even picketing outside my office to know the results. OK, that might be a stretch…but here are the results. :-)

Banana Republic not only met the challenge, they exceeded my expectations. Not only did I receive my gift-wrapped Valentine’s Day order the next day, I received it before 10AM. I was extremely impressed to see an online retailer make a promise to last minute shoppers and then exceed expectations. And, I don’t believe we are at the stage yet from an e-commerce standpoint where this happens often…

The Bigger Picture
Banana Republic exceeding my expectations like they did builds credibility and confidence in their company and service. When even the slightest doubt in a consumer’s mind will push them to exit the checkout process, experiences like this will help build confidence, which in turn, will help convert more customers. In addition, during the hiccup I mentioned in my first post, I was able to reach a customer service representative quickly and have my question resolved. I wasn’t thrilled with the answer, but she was polite and pointed me in the right direction fast. This also helps build confidence.

The Bottom Line for Online Retailers
If you target holiday shoppers (and I mean truly target holiday shoppers…) and want to follow an online retailer that’s doing a great job, check out Banana Republic. I will tell you that they have piqued my curiosity… I’m eager to test out Banana Republic during the Christmas shopping season. If they come through as well as they did here, I might just have to write another post! ;-)

GG

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Valentine’s Day Online Shopping, Will Retailers Live Up To Shipping Promises


Valentine's Day Online Shopping and ShippingLet me start by saying that I already purchased gifts for my wife, children, and mother. ;-) But as I viewed various emails coming in yesterday from online retailers, I was shocked to find that only a few were still targeting Valentine’s Day shoppers. Yes, I know that they would only be targeting “last minute shoppers”, but they are still customers, right? And, last minute shoppers will always be there…it’s their M.O. So, I started wondering…which online retailers are targeting Valentine’s Day shoppers heavily? How visible are the promotions, what kind of shipping options are available, and how were they communicating to last minute shoppers? I decided to take a little trip around the web to see what I could find. I visited several of the websites that my wife buys from, and who knows, maybe I’ll be so confident that a gift will get here on time that I’ll make a purchase today! Cue cliffhanger music. ;-)

Sephora.com
My wife loves the website and their retail stores. At first glance, there is not a single mention of Valentine’s Day. Really?? I was shocked to see this…given that they are one of the most popular beauty retailers (with both a strong offline and online presence). I saw a promotion for free shipping over $75 so I clicked through. Nothing about Valentine’s Day. Let me add something to my cart and see if they mention Valentine’s Day shipping…Nope. Wow, so you’re telling me that the hottest beauty retailer is not paying attention to Valentine’s Day?? I think they need to rethink this approach…

Banana Republic
OK, so I’m not out of my mind to think this is a relatively important day to target…Banana Republic has a nice area of real estate on the homepage targeting Valentine’s Day shoppers. Thank you Banana Republic! “Ensure Valentine’s Day Delivery by WED, February 13th” (see visual below). Excellent. Big, red, and clear as day. So I click through the advertisement and I’m taken to a section dedicated to Valentine’s Day. They have a left side navigation breaking down their Valentine’s Day gifts by gender, product category, gift cards, etc. They also provide links to their shipping policy, returns policy, gift packaging, and other helpful tools. Banana Republic gets it...and I’m confident they are reaping the benefits of being so thorough. I just might be back to make a purchase before I end my journey across the web…read on.

Click the image below to see the full size graphic:
Banana Republic Homepage Ad for Next Day Shipping

JCrew
Danger…the homepage had no mention of Valentine’s Day. I clicked through to a few product categories, but still no mention. I went to search the site for any mention of Valentine’s Day and to my complete disbelief, there wasn't an on-site search box on the page...a link to the search box was buried at the bottom of the page. It produced 0 results when I entered Valentine's Day. Then I used a site command in Google, which also showed 0 results. Wow, I guess JCrew believes that their shoppers don’t want to give JCrew products as Valentine’s Day gifts. ;-) Needless to say, I think JCrew can improve their Valentine's Day promotion...

Apple Store
Although not completely apparent on the homepage (it was hidden in the middle of the screen below the hero image), the apple store does provide a Valentine’s Day section. They actually have a gift guide, broken down by product category. They also have a left-side section in the navigation for shipping information (along with a link to their shipping calendar.) It only took me a minute or two to find possible gift ideas and to see if it would arrive on or before the 14th. In addition, the shipping calendar was broken down by product. Very nice. As usual, I like what Apple did here… I might be back before my journey is through.

Amazon.com
Upon hitting the homepage of Amazon.com, I clearly found links and promotional advertisements to their Valentine’s Day “gift central” section of the website. In this section, they break down possible gift ideas by several major categories, including color (yes, red, pink, white, etc.), flowers, chocolate, jewelry, fragrances, then by price, relationship, personality, etc. Within the website template, Amazon also provides a text link in the top right corner about 2 day shipping for Valentine’s Day, but I’m not sure that’s enough. It links to their Amazon Prime service, which is a premium service that enables you to earn fast shipping. But what if I just wanted to view the last day that I can place an order so I can have the products delivered by the 14th? I think Amazon did a great job with their gift guide, including getting you to the gift guide, breaking down the guide by category, etc., but as you approach the big day, you really want to know if your order will get to you on time. I know that it’s tough for Amazon to do this, since you might be purchasing from other vendors and shipping can be dictated by those vendors. That said, when you approach a holiday (which is obviously time-sensitive), you really want to know the final day that you can place an order to have gifts delivered on time. So, if it was a week out, I would say that Amazon did a great job…but being only 2 days out, I would be nervous ordering…

The Journey Ends…
That was my little trip around the web to see which websites were readily handling last minute Valentines’ Day orders and providing clear shipping schedules. Nobody wants to be disappointed on the 14th, so it was interesting to see the differences between online retailers. Based on my journey, the winner is Banana Republic. I think they earned it…they did a fantastic job of providing clear information about shipping for Valentine’s Day, they created a dedicated section for Valentine’s Day gifts, and simply made it easy to find the right gift… So although I’ve already purchased some gifts, I added one more this morning from Banana Republic. They are guaranteeing next day delivery, which means I should receive my order on the 13th.

Now, let’s see if they live up to their promise of Next Business Day Shipping. I’ll write a follow up post to let you know how it goes. :)

{UPDATE}: And just when I spoke so highly of Banana Republic, a problem pops up!… I added some items to my cart and didn’t see any option for next day delivery…it was only showing Standard Delivery of 4-7 days. That’s after they guarantee next day delivery for Valentine’s Day! So I called the 800 number and spoke with a very nice customer service representative. She explained that 2 categories of products in their gift guide cannot be shipped next day… But they are in your gift guide right next to your advertisement about next day delivery? "I know…she says…I’m sorry." Ugh. So I’m going back on the website to see if I can find something else that fits (no pun intended). OK, so I found another gift that I think my wife will like. I just placed the order using Next Business Day Delivery. Yes, this was a little hiccup in the process, but we’re back on track. I’ll let you know how this ends up!}

GG

Read Part 2 of this post, which contains the results of my Valentine's Day challenge to Banana Republic!

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

G-Squared Catches the Curve, A Review of The Blackberry Curve 8310


G-Squared catches the curve and reviews the Blackberry Curve 8310So there I was standing outside the AT&T store in Princeton thinking about which upgrade path to take…the iPhone or the Blackberry Curve 8310. I love Apple’s products, but I knew that for my given situation, a Blackberry would probably be the better fit. I love the slick functionality that the iPhone provides, but I also knew that the latest Blackberry Curve (8310) would rock at what I needed most… Also add that the new Curve has a GPS Navigation System and it made my decision even easier. So after some internal debate, I recently upgraded to the 8310. Here is my initial review.

Setting Up The Blackberry 8310
I purchased the Curve and was waist deep in testing out the device within 15 minutes. :-) The 2.5 inch screen is clear and large enough for my needs. The interface is easy to navigate and the trackball works extremely well. I was traversing menus on my curve quickly and efficiently. I installed Blackberry’s desktop software and was syncing with Outlook before I knew it. It was an easy and intuitive process, to say the least. So, I’d say that within 1 hour, I was already using my Curve for business. That’s not bad…

Email Setup and Performance
The Blackberry’s claim to fame is its rock solid and fast email connectivity. The Curve supports up to 10 email accounts and I added 3 very quickly. It was a simple process and it took less than 5 minutes per account. Then it took about 15 minutes to start receiving emails. Each account shows up separately in the main interface and customizing notifications for each account was easy. It doesn’t take long to understand where the phrase “Crackberry” came from…

The Qwerty Keyboard
The Curve has a qwerty keyboard that works extremely well. The only issue is that I sometimes mistakenly hit multiple keys while typing (and no, I don't have giant fingers). This has gotten a little annoying so spacing the keys out slightly would be a good solution in future versions of the device. I’ve also heard this from other Curve owners. It’s not horrible, but when you type a few paragraphs and then see the typos, it makes you cringe (like when I’m on the train to New York during rush hour). It’s a good keyboard, but the spacing is a little tight.

GPS Navigation System
This is a new feature for the Curve and it's one that I am absolutely loving. The Telenav GPS Navigator is a great feature and works extremely well. I’ve tried to trick the system a few times and it quickly adjusts the route based on my changes. The price is right at ~$10/month and having everything centralized on my phone is optimal. I’m digging the GPS navigation system. ;-) Actually, it has saved me a few times already…

The Curve’s Web Browser
The web browser does a good job and is easy to navigate. It’s not slick…but it’s also not horrible to maneuver. For my needs, I’ll be using the browser for quick research, reading articles, blog posts, etc. and for these purposes, I believe the Curve will do just fine. As long as you understand that the web browsing experience won’t be like what you experience at home in Firefox or IE, then you’ll be ok with it. Also, if you keep in mind how you will utilize the web on the road, you’ll be fine with it. For example, I had a meeting last week in New York and I found out last minute (on my way out of Penn Station) that I would be meeting with an additional key person. So, outside the building, I hit Google on my Curve, and researched that person before entering the building. I didn’t care that it wasn’t the prettiest web browsing experience…I just wanted the information quickly and efficiently.

The 2 Megapixel Digital Camera
The Blackberry Curve 8310 provides a 2 mexapixel camera, which is an outstanding feature. The camera offers a 5x zoom and solid picture quality and color. I’m also digging the camera. :) The Curve offers an LED flash, which sounds obvious to have…but isn’t standard on most mobile device cameras. You can easily choose your picture settings (size, color effect, where to store the photos, and flash setting). It’s definitely a nice camera for a mobile device.

My Only Problem with the Camera…
You cannot capture video. Ouch. I really wanted video capabilities in the 8310…especially since I loved shooting video with my last phone. Sure it was small and somewhat grainy…but I loved the ability to quickly shoot video, if needed. I couldn’t believe that the camera on the 8310 didn’t shoot video. They definitely need to add this feature…

Media Player
The media player on the 8310 is adequate. It supports a fairly wide range of formats, including mp3, aac, and wav audio formats and mp4 (also using h.264), mov and avi video formats. I transferred a bunch of mp3 files and mp4 video files to my Blackberry and they sound and look great. The functionality of the media player isn’t robust, but it does the job. Also, I’m not really looking for it to be my core media player…but it’s nice to know it can handle both video and audio pretty well. I have a 2GB microSD card and we’ll see how much that can handle given my needs.

Mass Storage Mode Issues
Note, I had several problems with Roxio’s Media Manager detecting my Blackberry. (The Roxio software is included with the Blackberry Curve 8310.) I went from easily being able to transfer media files to not being able to transfer anything without notification of what went wrong… This was frustrating…and I can tell you that if happened to me and I couldn’t easily figure it out, then it will happen to many others. A few Google searches revealed several others with the same problem. I basically had to drill into the device settings, turn off mass storage mode, then turn it back on, restart the Blackberry desktop software and then reconnect my Curve 8310. I’m not sure how many others would figure it out quickly, but the fiasco wasted about 30 minutes of my time. I’m hoping this issue doesn’t pop up again.

Bluetooth on the Blackberry 8310
Setting up a Bluetooth device was easy to do. I set up my Bluetooth headset in just minutes and have played around with disconnecting it, connecting it again, using it in several places, on the run, in the car, etc. The setup was simple and the 8310’s Bluetooth functionality works well. Enough said.

Voice Clarity and Performance
The voice clarity on the Blackberry 8310 is solid. Actually, I’d argue that it’s clearer then my land line! Every now and then you might get a slight hiss, but nothing horrible. I’ve tested using the Curve with several friends and family from across the country and it’s very clear. Actually, some didn’t even know that it was my mobile phone….which is always a good sign. Again, I think it’s clearer than my land line! Go figure.

Battery Life of the Curve 8310
Isn’t it fitting to end with battery life? :) The battery life of the Blackberry Curve 8310 has been outstanding. As an example, I used my Curve from 8AM to 10PM the other day in NYC, including using the GPS Navigation feature for part of the time, and my Curve only went from 5 bars to 3 bars for power. That’s pretty darn good. :) I’ll do more testing around battery life, but I know some iPhone owners have complained to me before about the quick battery drain they experience. I definitely think this is a strong selling point for the Curve 8310 (at least in my experience).

Summary
Although it doesn’t have the sizzle of the iPhone, the Blackberry Curve 8310 is a sleek mobile device that offers excellent email capabilities, a solid web browsing experience, a strong GPS navigation system, a 2 megapixel digital camera, a solid media player, and a long battery life to boot. I highly recommend the Curve 8310 for any businessperson who is looking for a relatively cost effective mobile device that handles the essentials extremely well.

As I’ve said throughout this post, I’m digging my new Curve. ;-)

GG

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