Disclosures: Six months or so ago I contacted RadioPopper by voicemail and email offering my services (on spec) because I loved the elegance of the underlying idea behind their product. I got no response. No this isn’t sour grapes.
I have spent hours researching the system and reading and viewing demonstrations online. Photography is my hobby and occasional source of income. Reading about this stuff is my twisted idea of a good time. I haven’t, yet, bought a system.
Why am I picking on these guys? Because using them as an example, others may learn something. Because I really hope they learn from it. I’d like to see them succeed on a grand scale because I love the essential elegance of their idea. Because it’s like shooting fish in a barrel and it makes for a chance to comment on a lot of very common classes of mistakes using only one site. Because I’d like them to give me free gear to thank me. Somehow, I don’t see that happening now though. 😉 I really do think it’s a solid product based on all I’ve seen and read. The site, however, is a trainwreck.
The product and why I think it’s so outstandingly cool:
RadioPopper, (or is it radiopopper? more on this later) is a company that produces eponymously named products for professional and serious enthusiast photographers to make better use of their flashes. RadioPopper’s products enable the use of what are generically referred to as ‘Speedlights’ (hotshoe mounted, battery operated ‘flash guns’) via RF remote control but in ways significantly more elegant and flexible than the most common tool for this purpose, the Pocket Wizard. The secret to this is a delightfully slick integration with the line of sight Infra-Red control systems Nikon and Canon cameras already have built in. I can’t emphasize enough how much I think RadioPopper’s solution is cool. It is, in the parlance of the geek, a truly great hack.
RadioPopper is simply (marvelously) a bridge, a means of converting the existing IR control signals to RF and back again. It’s brilliant because, as far as your camera and flashes are concerned, there is no RadioPopper in the chain of command. That means everything you already know about setting your camera’s controls, your flash’s controls, all your expectations for the behavior of the whole system remain exactly the same except the largest problems with both those systems (Nikon iTTL/CLS and Canon/ETTL); line of sight and serious distance limitations inherent to IR remote control, simply go away.
- Make sure a visitor or searcher finding your site can quickly determine what you make and if they are a potential buyer of your product. Site Fail: There’s no meaningful descriptive text about the product or what other products/systems it works with on the site home page. In fact, you have to dig into a pdf to get a real sense of the value. (see below)
- Know who you are so others can talk about and link to you. Protect your marks. Site Fail: Inconsistent branding. RadioPopper or radiopopper? Text in CamelCase, logo all lower case. Looks amateurish. Pick one. Stick to it. How did the marketing department not commit to the typographical treatment in a design they approved? Why did they approve typography in a logo design they weren’t prepared to follow through with in text? [EDIT: I don’t mean to suggest text treatment and graphic treatment must always match. Rather, if you are doing something ‘cute’ like all lower case or CamelCase, be consistent. All upper case, outside a logo, can seem shouted, that’s a scenario where you might wisely go with standard initial caps in text. See Adobe’s Photoshop branding. Sometimes all caps. Sometimes initial caps. Never CamelCase.]
- Don’t exclude half your potential customers by simple neglect in what you tell them: Site Fail: Their Products page discusses only Canon system compatibility and only once. It only very ambiguously mentions Nikon. They have a Product, that by all indications including third party reviews and commentary works equally well on both leading DSLR systems and yet only one gets substantial search exposed text on the site. You have a product that serves roughly 80% of the DSLR market and yet your main product page only significantly discusses compatibility with half that? If the product works as well as it seems to on both systems, give equal visibility to both. Optimize how you document that to maximize search performance to users searching from the customer bias of either system. Look like you care equally about the two halves of your target market, about both platforms you expended substantial R&D to support. Crow about your product in meaningful and substantial ways that make your site more likely to show up in search for all of your potential customers.
- If you promise a way to engage your customers in an ongoing dialog, deliver. Don’t look for ways to make people wonder if you are even still in business. Site Fail: A blog is personal and regularly updated. Radiopopper have a site section called Blog. A blog is personal and regularly updated yet Radiopopper’s updates are as infrequent as once every three months. Do customers seeing such sparse updates even know they’re still in business? Either blog and have a meaningful and frequently updated engagement with the audience, a humanized editorial presence or delete the blog and move the content to a press releases directory. Companies don’t have to have a blog. There are lots of good reasons not to. A major good reason not to is simply not having the resources to maintain one. Contrast RadioPopper’s blog with their principle competitor’s blog: http://pocketwizard.wordpress.com/. PocketWizard is older, larger, more successful and, in my opinion, from an engineering elegance perspective? Inferior. Don’t make yourself look like a bozo compared to your principle competition. Especially don’t do it when you have competitive advantages over them.
- Don’t appear to be trying to obfuscate your size in a way that is both obvious and pointless. Every company wants and needs to appear to be a leader. Often, companies use good techniques to appear larger and more successful than they are. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this unless it’s actually dishonest or it immediately rings hollow. Site Fail: The home page links to a site section called “Team” that is really a gallery of photographs grouped by photographers who’ve used the product. A lot of the shots are GREAT. All of of them are at least very well crafted. It’s a very good idea to appeal to the aspirational instincts of would-be customers by showing them high quality work using your product. It’s a hideously bad idea to call that section ‘Team’ when, in fact, these are users not employees. It’s an even worse idea to call the section Team when there is no actual team directory of the company. Compare this to another company in a similar market. Really Right Stuff. They do a great job of humanizing the company and staff on their site without making themselves seem either too large or too small to take proper care of their customers and convey confidence in their viability as a business. They almost certainly outsource their manufacturing. That’s fine. Most electronics companies do. Really Right stuff is transparent about their outsourcing. RadioPopper? It looks like two guys working a part time job and being cagey about it. This does not instill customer confidence. Gary Fong looks like one guy working a part time job. He works this almost folksy entrepreneurial angle in his marketing and he sells a LOT of product. You don’t have to pretend to be Sony to be perceived as committed and able to sustain your business and your customers’ investment.
- Offer your customers and potential customers a way to understand who you are, your history and your business goals. RadioPopper have an ‘About Us’ page. Site Fails are legion: Two people are named and, presumably, pictured on this page. One, presumably the founder and President/CEO; Kevin King and VP, Matt Kachevas. Kevin’s name is linked. Mike’s isn’t. Kevin’s link dead-ends unresponsive to an offsite page (presumably his professional portfolio site). You can’t control whether outbound links work all the time. You can make sure there is local content that summarizes and highlights content at that outbound link. You can make sure, if two people are important enough to be featured on your ‘about’ page that they each have a basic bio and contact page. If you’re the founder of the company? You can make sure your site is up. Matt Kachevas is titled as a VP. Either you stipulate both titles or you stipulate neither. Why do I say presumably pictured above? Because the one photo of two people is so small and composed in such a way that it’s impossible to tell who’s shown. It’s not cute, it’s not slick, it’s not arty, it just comes off as amateurish This same page has two major headings, Images and Videos. Both are empty of content. This is particularly problematic because there actually is available content for both headings elsewhere on the site. Images shot by Kevin who was a professional photographer who founded the company based on his own experience in the field should be presented but remember, there are also the gallery images discussed under the ‘Team’ section above. Don’t display prominent headings for content offerings you don’t populate. Don’t squander the content you have.
- If you sell a technical product, customers will be concerned about support. Make them feel they’ll be supported. Site Fails: Oddly, there’s no major site section called “Support”. There is one called “Education”. Don’t get cute about your site section names. If somebody googles “Radio Popper Support” as they research a potential purchase they’d best land on a support page. Once a potential customer gets to the ‘Education’ page because they were psychic enough to figure out that RadioPopper meant support, they will actually be greeted by some useful content. Not just useful, actually pretty well executed how-to videos. Not just well executed but, in the case of Matt’s demonstration of the mounting brackets? Good humored and revealing of some very slick engineering. Hell, on this page, they even, finally, mention Nikon support as if a full peer to Canon. FINALLY, the other half of their potential market is able to see there are products for them. Despite this, this page alone is riddled with epic fails:
- No links to product manuals. The manuals exist. They’re linked from the ‘Products’ page. Link them on the support page.
- The models they have support videos for represent both Nikon and Canon. Name the brand of device discussed in ALL links. Not just the top two.
- No forum for user to user support discussion. If you have any customers, let them work for you to support each other. If you’re just growing your customer base, offer prizes and discounts to major contributors and be open about your goal to build a forum. Crowdsource your ducomentation and support. Collect more search-exposed text about your products at your site. If you don’t have any customers, talk amongst yourselves until you do. Yes, this demands an investment in site moderation. It’s cheaper than taking phone calls.
- No breakdown of the various product lines. No clear delineation of which line does what. They do offer this pdf: http://www.radiopopper.com/docs/radiopopper_x_compatibility_guide.pdf Yes, it explicitly calls out the fact the system is both Nikon and Canon compatible. Yes, this document, finally, discusses, albeit awkwardly how the system actually works. No, in discussing how it works, it doesn’t emphasize the market differentiators (The MUCH older, larger, and widely used PocketWizard product line still can’t do what RadioPopper can) No, it’s not available as HTML. No it’s not hyperlinked and enhancing their exposure to search. Yes, that’s an epic fail.
There are other issues. Lots of them, and I’d encourage you to go check out their site and see if you can spot them. This site is, in so many ways, an object lesson in everything (Except abusing Flash. Congratulations are due them for not making that all-too-common mistake) not to do when building and maintaining a website for a high end consumer product. I’d also encourage you to seriously consider buying the product because, honestly, it looks very cool and uniquely useful. What I wouldn’t encourage you to do is hire the company who is credited as having built the RadioPopper site.