Manifest Digital, based in Chicago, is an award-winning young marketing and design firm of about 50 people that provides interactive marketing services to traditional brick-and-mortar firms and to e-businesses. Companies looking to improve their online presence, to better integrate their website with their other marketing communications, and to offer their customers the rewards of belonging to an exciting online community are likely to ask Manifest for its expert help. Manifest's revenues are in the $7 million range; it works with firms of all sizes and counts among its clients Sony, Texas Instruments, Playboy Enterprises, Kraft Foods, and the Field Museum. Though it started out executing individual online ads and campaigns, Manifest has moved on to creating integrated marketing strategies for its business customers, includingbuilding and remodeling entire websites and crafting interactive product-related games. Along the way it has grown tremendously, but it's retained its focus on user-centered principles that put the ultimate consumer at the center of all its design decisions. The purpose of a company website, Manifest's designers believe, is to acquire, retain, and stimulate the firm's customers. Manifest first sits down with its client companies to address the question, "What do your users need and want to get from their online experience?" Manifest's software designers, who have widely different skills and backgrounds, know the answer isn't always going to mean creating the flashiest graphics or the hottest animation. Most website visitors want above all to find the information they came for, though it's not a bad idea to also offer them a new and rewarding experience they might not have expected. What's inside the user's head isn't always so obvious. Wilson Sporting Goods, Inc., for example, had organized its website the same way its executives think of the company's offerings by product. But Manifest's staff pointed out that most of the site's visitors, often 10-1 5-year-old boys, used the baseball section of the site, for instance, mainly to find out about their favorite players. So its designers undertook a redesign that gave users new player-centric portals to Wilson's site, letting them first find the player bios and videos they most wanted, and then making it easy for them to explore beyond that for product details, dealers, company news and sponsorships, and other information. The new design thus meets Wilson's goals as well- to educate users about the products and to strengthen the brand so customers will choose Wilson products when they get to the store. The redesign was so successful that Wilson asked Manifest to repeat the process for its football, tennis, and basketball website pages too .Other Manifest clients have other needs. NEC Visual Systems, for instance, makes professional-grade plasma displays and projectors. NEC asked Manifest to help it introduce a new plasma display to its customers, and the result was a wildly successful online "advergame"- an interactive game with a marketing purpose. The prize for winning the game was a huge plasma display, and the IT professionals at whom the game was targeted dove in to compete, creating an online community to compare notes and share game strategies. Some enthusiasts even tried to hack the game, which NEC saw as the seal of approval on the game's success. Manifest's engineers kept tinkering with the game to slow the hackers and raise the suspense, and even the ongoing "battle" between them and the players became part of the fun. Manifest relies on customer focus groups and feedback from site users to help improve its software and website designs. It also looks at successful firms like Amazon.com, eBay, and MySpace for benchmarks on creating self-sustaining user communities with the carefully balanced degrees of structure and freedom these firms have designed into their web-sites. One of Manifest's most recent successful online community builds was a prize-winning digital scrapbook, in which Chicago residents were invited to post photos and videos on personalized pages to explain why they think Chicago should become the host of the 2016 Olympics.
For more information about this company, go to www.manifestdigital.com.
1. What type of business model is Manifest using?
2. How does Manifest Digital help its client companies acquire, retain, and stimulate their customers while providing a unique interactive experience?
3. What external factors do you think will change the types of services Manifest Digital may offer its clients in the future, and how?