Review of Ceros Interactive Content with Matthew Wellschlager: One Last Tool 2.6
George : Hey One Last Tool viewers. George B. Thomas here today, and I am super excited for this episode of One Last Tool because we’re going to dive into interactive content. We’re going to talk to New York based company Ceros about how you can make the sometimes boring internet not so boring.
Today, as always, I am super excited because we get to dive into another tool. A tool that might be a right fit for your business, but you won’t know that unless you listen to the entire interview and figure it out for yourself. Without further ado, let’s go ahead and dive into this. Matt, why don’t you tell people who you are, what you do, and who you do it for.
Matt W.: Hey George. I’m Matt Wellschlager, I’m VP of marketing at Ceros. Ceros is a tool for marketers and designers to create cool interactive content without any developers.
George: I love cool interactive things, and I also like that businesses, and we’ll dive deeper into this, can actually do it with … You said, “without developers.” Now, I will tell you folks, one of the things … When I say folks, of course I mean One Last Tool listeners or viewers. One thing you should do after this interview is over, is go over to their website, Ceros website, and check it out. First of all, they’ve got a really cool video that walks through a ton of things. It’s just really well done. Go figure, because they do a tool that’s about creativity and design, and not needing developers.
Let’s start at a 50,000 foot view though. You kind of said it quickly, what you guys do over there. What is Ceros in a not so small nutshell?
What is Ceros?
Matt W.: Yeah, in a not so small nutshell. It is a tool, which is what I said before. Let me think about how to get a little bit more detailed with it. We think of Ceros as covering three important things. The heart of Ceros, or the magic, is the studio. The studio is where be able to bring assets in, determine what your interactive content is going to look like. You can do bigger things, smaller things and then you click publish, and you’ve got live HTML5 content that you can put anywhere so that’s step number two, this magic ability to real-time get this content out into the world.
The third component of Ceros is just a really nice, meaty analtyics backend. So, think a layer down from what you’d see in Google analytics. Being able to drill into … Now that I’ve created interactive content, well what do people click on? Where do they spend time? What are they getting into and how can I use that to inform my content moving forward? But the heart of it is that studio that enables people to create this cool interactive content.
George: So Matt, I love this. One of the things I like to do at One Last Tool is take what … Maybe we just say, “Oh yeah, assets” or really talk about things and really drill down. So what I heard, and you can tell me if I’m correct, is when you say “assets”, you can take things JPEGs or PNG files or videos or … Just different things that you might normally design with, put them in the studio, then make them move, make them look pretty, and it exports out into something that you’re then going to be able to create a page for your website, and see if that thing that you made it move got clicked. Or see how long somebody viewed that video that is actually part of this larger design. Matt, would you agree with that?
Matt W.: Yeah, yeah. You pretty much nailed it. Basically, what you can think is anything that you would have handed a developer to create some HTML5 content, you’re now going to put in Ceros and build it yourself, create it yourself there. So that includes video files, PNGs, stuff you would create in Photoshop, or InDesign like a cool graph or anything you want to bring to life in Ceros. Pretty much anything you would hand a developer, you just put in the Ceros studio.
George: So for those of you are out there, and you want to get somebody like Betty Boop to move across the screen, might be a right fit for you. Just kidding folks, that’s probably not what you’re going to use it for but, Matt, let’s go ahead and dive a layer deeper into this. We’re going to peel the onion apart, and really, let’s talk about how Ceros works.
How Does Ceros Work?
Matt W.: Okay, let’s think about … So drilling into that workflow I was just talking about, you’re typical user of Ceros still starts in that Photoshop and InDesign world. Those are still the power tools for creating assets. So it really depends on what you’re creating. Some people are leaning heavily on video content. Other people, if they’re doing an infographic, like they’re going to be building graphs and things like that in Photoshop or InDesign. You just drag those assets into Ceros. Now, what Ceros looks like when you get into it can be a little bit daunting at first, because it’s a blank canvas. That really is this full breath of creativity, right? We say offhandedly on the sales calls and on the website, “We can create infographics or microsites or eBooks with Ceros.” Well, as far as Ceros is concerned, it’s the same thing. You have a horizontal orientation with arrows, it’s going to feel like an eBook. If you have a long scroll with a menu at the top, it’s going to feel like a microsite. If you make a little widget that you embed on your blog, it’s going to feel like an infographic or micro-content.
So, bring these assets from the creative suite into Ceros, you’re going to decide what you want that experience to look like. Is it long and narrow? Is it horizontal? What kind of asset am I creating? Then you start to arrange those pieces in the studio. So you have things like layers. In a very sophisticated way, but
a pretty straight-forward way you’re able to layer in animations, interactions, “I want this thing to enter from here or exit over there, or when I click on this I want this thing to happen.” So a lot of just if-then’s in the studio in a very intuitive way. You can affect things like timing and all of that stuff. One of the things are users really, really like which is a lot of fun, is it’s a real-time preview. So as you’re working in the studio, you’re going to actually see what it’s going to feel like on the Internet.
That’s one of the things our clients get kind of excited about, because normally you ship this stuff off to a developer, then you wait a day, and they show it to you, and you have to explain over an email, “No it needs to be slower, and I need to feel it differently.” Now, there’s this direct connection between what you’re doing in the studio and what you’re seeing on the web. So if you want to move something, you want to rearrange it, you’re going to see it on the web move or be rearranged or changed the timing in real-time. It’s this direct connectivity on what you’re trying to create. Then you click publish. That publish has two options. It’s going to publish to a URL if you want to present it as a stand-alone piece. Or it’s going to give you an embed code, and that’s an embed code you can just drop right into your CMS. So if you want it to be in the middle of a blog post, or you want it to take up a whole page, you’re basically going to have an embed code that’s going to work anywhere.
After the stuff’s live, you’re seeing it in analytics, what people are clicking on and so on and so forth. One of the nice things about the facts that it’s still hosted through Ceros after it’s live and you’re putting it on your page is, if you see something isn’t working, you can just go into the studio and change it. No one’s clicking the button, I need to move it, I need to change the color, I need to think about the treatment. Hit publish, wherever you have it living is going to be updated in real-time. So you can actually edit this content after it’s live, which I think is fun.
George: Yeah, so Matt, there’s a couple things I want to unpack there. The first is the fact that it’s a “what you see is what it is” editor, and you can just wrap your brain around it real quickly. Love that. Also, I love the ability to iterate, right? Because we should always be A-B testing the things that we’re putting out there, and to know “Well if I just go back in the studio, if I tweak it” and what I think I’m hearing is if it’s an embed code as soon as I tweak it, then the new version shows up automagically, which is #awesome.
Now, I do want to go off the beaten path just for my own design nerd curiosity, is that you start to mention in this studio that there’s layers and we talked about how it works, is that we have to have these individual assets that we’re bringing into the studio and animating. Can I in Ceros at this point … And the answer may be no, and that’s fine. It may be on the roadmap, that might be the answer and that’s fine as well. Can I use something like Photoshop or Illustrator and build out my entire design, and then do some type of import where the layers all fall into place and now it’s just a matter of animating it?
Matt W.: Yes. The answer is yes and sort of. You get to an important thing, which is, it is on the roadmap and it is a thing that’s a priority for this year to be able to do more sophisticated PSD upload import where the layers break apart. So, right now you’ve got to have them as separate pieces. You can import them all at once, but you’ve got to have them set up in the right way as opposed to one big thing. So on the roadmap is to be able to upload an import that PSD and be able to have the separate chunks. But we haven’t found … It’s not a huge interruption to the workflow, but we have a bunch of designers in-house here, so we’re always pairing them up with the product team to tell them how things could be cooler. That’s one of the things they’ve been asking about.
George: Yeah, Matt, I just love the fact that I heard it’s on the roadmap. It’s something we realize that designers are going to want because as soon as you have that nerdy conversation of it’s really awesome design without a developer. Designers are going to be like, “Oh, well that’s cool, but let’s make it even easier for me because I’m a designer.” So, let’s dive a little bit deeper, and we’ve mentioned the word “designers” over and over again in the beginning of this. So, that could easily be the answer to this next question. But I want us to see if we can dive a little bit or drill down a little bit more onto the actual type of person, type of business, maybe type of scenario when I ask you, Matt. Who is a best fit for Ceros?
Who Is A Best Fit For Ceros?
Matt W.: Yeah, what a fun question. So, we sell to designers and marketers. We think of those two roles as really being a team. The marketer tends to be the buyer, and tends to be very involved in the production of content, and the designer is often the power user. We have different clients with different skill sets. We tend to have three speeds with our clients. We have clients that have design chops in-house and they do all the content with the software, we have clients on the other end of the spectrum that have no design chops and we create the content for them with our in-house agency.
Then we have some folks that fall in the middle, and they’ll have us create a couple pieces for them at the offset and use those as templates moving forward that are sort of custom-built for the type of stuff they want to do. The folks that land in the middle, that’s where you see a little bit more ease of use for the marketers because while a marketer is not going to build a beautiful, creative interactive piece from scratch.
They can take an eBook that’s already been laid out, has animations, has the clicks, et cetera and go, “Okay, I want to change the copy, I want to create a copy of this, I’m going to swap out some images, I’m going to switch out some other pieces of content and use this for a different project that I’m doing.”
So those are out three speeds.
Then, from a market perspective, we think of ourselves as selling the three segments. One of them is the B2B world, these are folks that create lots of content but it tends to be very static, very untrackable, unmeasurable, and lost in a sea of static and boring content. They really want to elevate themselves above that. Bucket number two is the publishers, right? They create lots of interactive content on their site. Especially with the advent of brand publishing, where they’re really selling these big visionary pieces to their clients, they want easier, faster ways to be able to create that. Even pitch it going into it, right? Be able to show what they want to build for the clients. The third bucket, which is the most loosely defined, is brands. Really just folks that want to tell cool stories on the Internet without having to pay an agency or have a big in-house development team to spend weeks or months on creating something every time they want to tell a cool story. So those are the three segments that we plan.
George: Love that. Love it, love it, love it. So, we can either go real nerdy with this one, we can keep it semi nerdy. I’m going to leave this up to you, I even think that there’s … I may go down a beaten path again after I ask this, but I’ll give you a chance to answer it. What problem does Ceros really handle?
What Major Problems Does Ceros Solve?
Matt W.: That’s a fun question. I think it handles a lot of different problems depending on who you are. I think the two-dimensional answer to it, the surface level obvious thing that gets people to want to request a demo is just creating stuff that looks really, really cool and is really exciting to your user. Just sort of challenges the norms of the way they’re otherwise delivering content to their user. That’s a very exciting thing for a lot of people. It’s hard to necessarily put a number on it or a ROI model around it but you just know when you see it, exciting content. For so many people, that’s out of reach, right? If you’re not a big brand with a big agency budget, you see the cool stuff that they do and you go, “I wish we could do stuff like that at our company.” I see Ceros as making that a possibility now, finally, for normal companies. But, I think depending on the bucket you’re in, it solves a lot of business problems too. For my background in B2B and coming up in that world … You create a lot of content, and so many of that content revolves around trying to get leads, trying to get engagement, and trying to really have people understand your story and the problems that you solve.
The PDF approach and the gate and the standard unremarkable way that everybody’s doing it, I think, really deserves to be disrupted right now. I think with the evolution of this digital toolbox over the last couple of years, there’s so many tools. I was on your site, you’re using widgets for popups and triggers and things like that. All that suddenly goes out the window the minute you use a PDF, right? You can’t be clever, you can’t have a timed popup for a subscribe, you can’t put a chat widget in there. You can’t put any cookies in there, you can’t have any marketing automation integration in there. But yet, you’re still spending all these resources to create this content. So, in my mind, the obvious thing is the content’s a lot cooler, but then how that connects to the business and just being able to measure it.
Being able to hand it over to a sales guy and go, “This dude has looked at this eBook four times, he’s read the whole thing, he loves it” is way more valuable than “This guy filled out a form and he downloaded the thing, I’m pretty sure maybe he might have looked at it once for a second so you should definitely call him.”
Because we’ve all had that salesperson go, “They’re not an engaged lead, they have no idea who we are. Stop saying you’re giving me good leads” right?
Then, on the brand side, I just think of it in terms of evolution cycles of content. If you think about like, I go out and I spend big quarterly project to do an interactive page, great. We’ve learned some stuff, can’t wait to apply it next quarter. If you’re doing three pieces a month, you’re just learning so much faster. What engages our audience, what do they like, what should we do next time, what different approaches should we do? Having that quick cycle, I think … Overtime, how much better can you get with your content and how much more meaning can you apply when you’re engaging with your audience? I just think it’s really an exciting prospect.
George: So, there’s so much in that segment. One Last Tool listeners or viewers, you should rewind and pay attention to that section again. Now there’s a couple things I want to hit upon. Disrupting a space is always good, right? Immediately where I was going, and you went there with what problem does Ceros handle, is … I would say it in this way, it makes a boring Internet less boring. Right? Because it gets to a point where it’s just the same old, same old, same old. Then when you went into the fact of right now, any good marketer knows that at the bottom of the blog there’s a call to action, you click on that call to action, they go to a landing page, they fill out a form, and then what do you do next? But you deliver them a thank you page, where they’re allowed to download the PDF because that’s how we’ve done it forever. When you started talking about, “Well why isn’t the thank you page just the actual content that would be interactive content that you could see?” No, they wrote … They have scrolled all of this and they have clicked on all of this and we are able to do additional things inside of this versus “Uh, I think they downloaded it.” Maybe. They went to the page, that’s awesome.
So, we’re making the Internet less boring, we’re changing the way that we’re actually offering up our downloadable goods or interactive content if you will. My big fear is that people are out there, and when I say “people” I mean companies that want to change the way that they’re doing this. The question that they have right now, Matt, is do I have to give up my first child? My right leg? How expensive? What kind of budget am I looking at to be able to start to do this. So, my question for you is, what does Ceros cost?
How Much Does Ceros Cost?
Matt W.: Yeah, great question. It’s an important thing to know. So our pricing starts at … Sorry, just had to clear my throat … $3000 a month. The approach that we’ve taken that’s worked really, really well for our clients, is we do a one month pilot with them. It’s a paid pilot but it means no long-term commitment, and it means really getting to see what it’s like to work with Ceros. So, you get an account manager, if you want to leverage our agency you can use our agency. You just get to see what it’s like to create content in Ceros, the same way you would if you were signed up for an annual subscription. So, that’s been a really great way to bring people in, on-board them, get them familiar with the tool, talk to them about what people like in similar situations trying to solve similar goals have done with Ceros, and see if it’s a good fit for them. See if the price makes sense, and then after that we move into an annual subscription. But, that’s really been a game-changer for us, because it just helps people see what the process is like without going, “I’ve got to make a big decision here and I don’t know all the ins and outs of it.”
George: Yeah, so, I will tell you … And again, I want people to see your website, because there’s this video that’s chapterized that you can watch. In one of the chapters, it talked about what you just said, like “There’s 30 days.” You really see if this is a good fit because here’s what you don’t want and what I think is very smart that you guys did, is “Oh, my gosh, I paid for a year, I don’t like the tool” or “I thought I was going to use it, but I’m really not going to use it. It takes more time than I thought it did.” Or whatever thing, whatever hurdle you put in your own way because actually the tool looks really cool and I would love to get in there and mess around with it. But, at least you can say, “Well, hey, this is 30 day run” and now you’ve either … “No”, or you have the opposite. You’ve fallen in love with it, you’re starting to design things that are crazy incredible on your website. You’re seeing more interaction, and you realize that it’s probably a bargain at twice the price because of the immediate engagement that you’re getting on your content, and the metrics that you’re allowed to see that people are actually engaging with it.
So, the other thing that we also want to do inside of a buying cycle, even though we said “Go look at the website, go look at the video, this is going to be awesome for your company, it might be a right fit” is we have to ask the question. Really, just so you know Matt, this is me playing digital volleyball with you. I’m setting the ball so that the second question here that I ask in a second, you can spike it. So, the question now that I’m going to ask you is, who are Ceros’ competitors?
Who Are Ceros’ Competitors?
Matt W.: Yeah, so I’m going to answer that first philosophically and then literally. To be totally honest about what happens for us in the market, most of what you come up against is either status quo, resistance to change, or agencies. We’re comfortable with our agency, and in a lot of cases like the bigger companies have more bureaucracy around it. So, you actually come up once in a while around marketing departments, they can spend a million dollars with an agency without anyone batting an eye. But, they can’t spend $36,000 worth of software company without a ton of approval. So, that’s the philosophical competition. The literal competition that people are playing in the space. There’s not a lot, but there is ion interactive and there’s SnapApp. That’s kind of it in terms of who’s doing this. We all solve the problem a little differently. I think that merits the different types of users, different types of groups.
George: Yeah, so this is what I’ll say, One Last Tool viewers and listeners, is I’ve interviewed SnapApp and so if you’re curious, you can go listen to that interview. What I will tell you, to prove your point Matt, is that your interview, completely different than the interview I did with SnapApp. Right? So, same space, completely different interview. Now, here is the “spike the ball” moment for you, what makes Ceros better than the competition?
What Makes Ceros Better Than Their Competitors?
Matt W.: Well, to be sort of controversial, honestly I think what would make us all happy is if everybody was looking for solutions to create interactive content. We’d all win. Like I said, we’re not going head-to-head on a lot of deals because there’s a giant market out there of people who aren’t creating interactive content. I think what’s special for us is the wide open capabilities of the platform. You really can create anything. That obviously comes with challenges in the sense that you have to have a vision for what you want to create. So, those other tools, they have more of the widgets, the plug-and-play stuff. We’re really giving you a canvas to do whatever you want with. So there’s huge upside for that. But, we don’t necessarily serve the same markets in the same way.
George: All right, good answer. That was very diplomatically answered question. I left the video on you-
Matt W.: We all love each other, we run into each other at conferences, we’re all trying to do it. We all believe in interactive as a way to solve problems.
George: I love it. I purposely left the video on you so that we could see the facial expressions through some of that. Now, here’s the thing. I have, through my journeys on the Interwebs, I’ve realized there really are two types of people, Matt. There are people who are tech-savvy and they just get it, and they rock-and-roll. Then there’s those folks that … Well, not so much. So the question that I want to ask you to kind of close this down a little bit is, if somebody engages for that first 30 days, they’re thinking about doing the year, but they’re just getting started with Ceros, what are the potential problems that they actually might run into with the platform when they first start get going?
What Are The Major Problems A Ceros User May Run Into?
Matt W.: So I think in general, approaching interactive if you’ve never done it before is, it’s just different. It’s a different workflow, and it’s a different approach. If you’re used to making PDFs, you’re used to sending 2000 words to a designer who then plops it into a template, that’s just not the way you approach interactive. You want to approach interactive the way you do a video, where you are ideating on the outline, and the approach and the story you want to tell, then doing a bit of visual story-boarding, then making it all come together. So I think adapting to that process and going … The words and the visuals really need to work together as opposed to plop a bunch of copy on the page and then have some animations around it. So I think that mindset is the shift. I’d say yeah, that’s really the biggest thing. That and taking those processes into your company to go, “Guys, if we’re going to do interactive, we have to have a different approach to the way we ideate, come up with ideas, and execute our content.” I’d say that’s it.
George: So, let me dive a little bit deeper. I get into the studio, Matt, are you going to tell me that it’s so intuitive that anybody can just get in there and start pulling pieces and throwing? Or are there parts that you found difficult and if there are, how are you getting them passed that part so they can become just an avid user of the studio?
Matt W.: Yeah, so look. If you’ve never … It is a sophisticated tool, if you’ve never been in a Photoshop or in InDesign you’re going to kind of go, “Oh, what’s happening in here?” There’s definitely that period if you’re not used it. Most of the folks that are using it have some familiarity with it.
The big things for us are, you have an account manager. An account manager’s going to spend as much time as needed, often in person if that’s possible to do a training.
Usually a follow-up to say, “What are you working on and what can we do?”
And then we’ve got a great team of support folks, so there’s actually in-app chat. So you can chat support, you can ask a question. They’re either going to hop into the studio with you, because it’s a cloud-based studio, so in a Google Docs kind of way. Our support can be in the studio at the same time as you, showing you exactly how to do something and tweaking the piece. Or they’ll give you the information you need to solve the problem. So we’ve built a pretty good support system around helping you to get started. Once you’re over that initial hump, we find people really start to get going once they unlock the possibilities. They really start to have a fun time in there.
George: And folks, that’s exactly what I was looking for, is that if you decide to use this tool, there will be some hand-holding. They will help you get to the point where you can really use the tool to do those things, those magical things that you want to do. So, Matt, people want to learn more about Ceros, they want to connect with you, maybe they have questions. Where do you want to send them?
Where Can I Learn More About Ceros?
Matt W.: Ceros.com is a great place to start. As you mentioned, there’s a good video. It’s in depth, I think it’s about seven minutes long but it covers a lot of bases. If you fill out a demo request, we’ll get in touch with you. There’s obviously no commitment, but it means you get to talk to a human and ask questions. Or we can set up a live call, show you what the studio looks like, show you the back end, and talk about what your problems are and how we might be able to solve them.
George: Well Matt, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. It has been a great interview. Folks, I will tell you, the seven-minute video was probably the quickest seven minutes of my life. It’s chapterized, it’s really well done. They’ve got good lighting, good video, good actors and actresses in it, so trust me, don’t balk at the fact that it’s seven minutes. Especially if you want to really change the way that you’re working with interactive content and the web. Well folks, that’s how we do it here on One Last Tool. No fuss, no mess, just one great tool. So, go out into the world, find that one last tool, and do great business.
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