Category Marketing

Images Matter, Now More than Ever

 

image library
The visuals that represent your brand can easily communicate your values, your assets, and what you offer. In the case of a community health clinic, it’s quality, human-centered healthcare where patients (no matter their age) feel empowered.

 

Building an image library is a top priority for any brand that wants to tell their story effectively and connect with their target audience.

You likely already know that quality, relevant, custom images are no longer a ‘nice to have’. Your content—specifically, your visual content—is your advertising.

In short: Your visuals are your brand.

The gatekeepers are gone and you—the independent businessperson, the marketing professional—are in charge of your own media channels.

Remember Spider-Man: With great power comes great responsibility.

All of the digital tools, many free or nearly so, are at your fingertips. Are you purposefully telling the story of your brand: what you do, why you do it, what sets you apart?  Or are you hoping that your haphazard efforts will cause others to automatically ‘get’ you?

If you’re using someone else’s images, words or campaigns, then you’re not telling your own unique story. You’re in the best position to do so.

Cutting through the Noise
People react and connect with authenticity. A stock image isn’t likely to make anyone sit up and take notice, but a real moment, whether shot on an iPhone or a Hasselblad that costs more than your car.

What you Need When you Need it
Content marketing is built on consistently delivering targeted content that is on-brand and on-message. Having an image library means you’ve always got good content that can work for your purposes. Without one, your marketing is going to be less consistent, less frequent and less impactful.

image library
A custom stock image, taken with your people and at your place of business, is specific to your brand.

Gives Structure and Meaning
Having a plan for your visuals and keeping your brand story in mind automatically provides a structure and gives purpose to your photo shoots. Instead of floundering you’ll be producing relevant content that’s meaningful to your brand and useful for the forseeable future.

What are your Seasons?
Every business has seasons. Periods of high or low volume. Cycles of growth and cycles of maintenance. Holidays. When are your seasons? When do you tend to get new clients, and why? When do you tend to be focused on new initiatives and what external events can you build content to match?

image library
Having a plan that extends for months or a year is helpful when targeting activities and processes to photograph before you miss them. Harvest only comes once a year.

Evergreen Content
A good image library has a mix of content which may include video as well as still images. Some is very specific for a campaign, a product, a season, or a person or team. Other images are more ‘evergreen’, meaning they can be used any time of year or perhaps for years to come. They are classic and timeless. Chief among these are……

….Details
Get lots of details. These are the visual metaphors that may punctuate a blog post or marketing piece in a more powerful way than can otherwise be done. These give a sense of your point but allow the audience to fill in the blanks. They aren’t specific to a person, a time, or a location and designers (web and print) love them because of their versatility and timelessness.
image library

Imperfect Shots and Unscripted Moments
I’m not suggesting that the only way you can build an image library is by hiring a professional photographer (like me or my ilk) or spending all of your time producing elaborate photo shoots. A carefully-managed, well thought-out campaign will include professionally-produced content where appropriate and will have a place for less-scripted, less technically perfect images taken by you, your staff, others in your organization, clients, or the public. Depending on your brand, this may be necessary. There should be a place for both.

Less is More
I love crafted, long-form films and videos. The reality is, even if Martin Scorcese produced your video, if it’s longer than three minutes I’d have a hard time watching it. One minute would be better. In fact, video snippets are sometimes the best of all. These short blurbs may get more engagement than longer ones and can be easily done, leading to more consistent content over time. So do video…but keep it super short, as in this behind-the-scenes clip that shows one of the hazards in making custom wooden baseball bats:

 

Behind the Scenes
Show us visuals that takes us places we wouldn’t normally go.  Show us the secret sauce that makes it all work in your organization:  the team members, the interactions, the tools, the back warehouse.  Show us how the sausage is made, showing the care and the humanity that go into a great product or service.

image library
Another image from a custom baseball bat maker’s shop, where custom wooden ‘blanks’ line the walls, with hand-written notes on each one. This kind of detail tells a lot about the quality and care that goes into each finished product.

Faces, People!
People love to see other people. Show them faces. If you make a product or sell a service, show us the faces and lives of the people whose lives are improved by your brand. Show us what your brand means reflected in the faces of your fans, customers, clients, or even your team members.

image library

Keep it Real
If your job is to promote your brand or company, then you can get caught up in your product or service features. Instead, let your visuals show your people, your products, your brand, out in the real world. That’s the one the rest of us inhabit. Some brands seem to lend themselves to this sort of approach, like Nike, but even law firms, hospitals, and others can do this. They just may have to be a bit more creative and less obvious–exactly the criteria needed to create interest and connection.

Five Clicks: Tools for Keeping on Track

 

Being an independent photography professional or content creator is a great, amazing, beautiful thing.

Except when it isn’t.

When you first start as a photographer or designer, it’s like falling in love with a beautiful/handsome other person. Everything is great, and when you’re with that person, time seems to stand still.  Then you get married, and the relationship matures, and as wonderful as it is to spend time together, you also can’t help but notice that the dishes are piled up, the bills need to be paid and the in-laws are coming to visit, again.

If every day could be spent behind the lens while getting a ride with the Blue Angels or documenting a religious festival in the mountains of Catalonia, it would be like that spouse that never gets old, gets angry or challenges you in any way.  But the reality of marriage and of creative careers is that 80 percent of it is the ‘unsexy’ stuff—in the case of content creation it’s the production work, marketing and other tasks that keep the lights on—that makes the other 20 percent possible.

The problem is, it’s hard to stay focused and on track when the tasks are not so fun.  That’s why I love tools that make my job easier, are useful and help keep my animal brain on track. When my willpower or my resolve falters, I just let these pieces of software guide the way:

Activity Timer (iOS and Mac)
This is a very simple custom timer app that allows you to specify and save time blocks of custom length for various activities, and a custom “success” message. I know by experience that 90 minutes is about the longest I can focus on any given task, so most of my time sprints are anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and a half. I have a stand-up desk and I use this tool to remind me to sit down and stand about every 20 minutes throughout my workday in front of the computer.

Trello (Web, Android, IOS, Mac, PC)
I’ve used Trello for at least 4 years. In that time, I’ve found other project management tools but the ‘kanban’ style visual drag-and-drop interface always brings me back. I use it to set up various ‘workflows’ relating to client work, my sales pipeline, and even for my editorial calendar. It’s great for collaborating between teams, too. Using this tool for my work ensures that I keep track of a lot of moving pieces in a consistent way.

Todoist (Web, Android, IOS, Mac, PC)
This is about the 1,000th ‘to do’ app I’ve tried, but at this point it’s won the award for longevity. It’s very simple to use and can interpret deadlines from text (i.e., ‘in two weeks’, or ‘next January 1’) easily. I use it all the time….and I like the way it gamifies item completion—the more you complete, the more ‘karma’ you earn and the more enlightened you become. One of these days, I’ll be a Grandmaster. But not today.

Routinist (iOS, Android soon)
I’m fascinated by the idea of creating good habits (and getting rid of negative ones) by ritualizing them into a routine that you perform daily until they become deeply ingrained. This little app helps create and define routines based on a sequence of actions and habits that, once triggered, run in sequence until they are complete. I’ve used this app to change the way I approach my morning routine.

Streak CRM (Web, IOS, Android)
This software is a CRM (which stands for “customer relationship management” tool) which is a fancy way of saying that it is used for sales, projects, leads, and anything else related to your clients.  It’s capable of far more.  I use it to do project management, sales and client pipelines in situations where most communications are email conversation-based. First I define the stages of a pipeline and also set up email templates for some of the stages. I then create a box for each new client/story/item/lead and move it through each stage of the pipeline until done. It saves me a lot of time but more importantly, Streak is a powerful way to stay consistent on predefined processes built around email. In fact, it’s designed to be used exclusively with gmail, and it operates inside your email browser.   If you’re a gmail or Google apps user, Streak is worth checking out.  It’s particularly powerful for teams, including editors, journalists and bloggers. It allows you to schedule and track emails as well.

I hope you enjoy these tools—and more importantly, find them useful for keeping your own messy business life on track. Hopefully, that unsexy stuff just got a little more sexy.

Why professional photography isn’t cheap

maine commercial photographer

There’s a question I hear more than almost any other, in a few variations:  why do photographers charge so much?

The implied statement is that photography, and professional photographers, are prohibitively expensive.

It’s easy to dismiss the questioner as being cheap, and unwilling to see the value in professional photography.   Instead, I think it indicates a lack of clarity around what photography costs and the reasoning behind it.   In other words, it’s a very appropriate question to ask.   Photographers are sometimes their own worst enemy when it comes to pricing their photography, and it’s no surprise that to the casual outside observer it looks like voodoo trickery.

Being a professional photographer is expensive.  It costs money to pay for equipment, insurance, professional fees and development, marketing and everything else that goes into a photo business.  When they hire assistants, producers and others to help those contractors are getting paid out of pocket, up front.  Things add up, quickly.

When you figure in all of the costs and divide that number by the number of full days per year that a professional photographer might expect to actually create images for clients, you get the Cost of Doing Business (COBD) number. For example, if a photographer has total costs and expenses of $60,000 per year and plans to photograph 60 days per year, their CODB would be $1000 per shooting day, on average.   This is their nut—the number they must make each day they shoot in order to break even. Anything less, and they are losing money.

Photographers who charge less than their COBD fall into one of three categories:  1) They don’t know their ‘numbers’, 2) They are purposefully (strategically) low-balling to get the work or 3) They don’t rely on photography as the main source of their income and livelihood.

Photographers in the former two categories need to adjust their approach if they want to stay in business long-term.

At the same time, images have never been cheaper. There is a glut of relatively high-quality stock imagery on the market, available for free or close to free (and I’m not counting the photos that are ‘borrowed’ and illegally used, a common practice).

For sake of discussion, I’m leaving out the discussion of stock photography.   I’m writing primarily about “custom photography”—that is, when a photographer is hired to create specific, high-quality images of for a brand or company that are completely unique and exist nowhere else.

In a world of endless choice and imitation, ‘unique’ takes effort. ‘Unique’ has value. Effort plus value equals fair compensation. Clients can expect to pay a higher fee—higher, at least, when compared to the almost-free price of images freely available on the internet—because you’re getting so much more. It’s not necessarily expensive….it’s comparatively expensive.

So there are two things, really, that clients are paying for when they purchase ‘custom’ photography.  One is the creativity, experience, vision and effort of the photographer. Let’s call this the ‘service’ component. The second is the value that they get out of the images they receive—i.e.,what they actually use the images for, whether it’s advertising, general marketing on a company website, printed brochures or to hang on public display.  These are all different uses, spelled out with a license agreement, and come with different price points. Let’s call this factor, ‘value’. The more value you need (the more the images are going to be used), the higher the price.

Photographers are all different.  Some will package both their service and the usage together, while others will line-item every single use.  Whichever way they choose to do it, it should make sense and fill two needs: their need to charge enough to keep their business going and the client’s need to get the best quality for the best possible price.   In most cases, quality comes with a price, but also with the peace of mind in knowing your work is being handled by a pro.

The good news is that, in this world of endless choice, there is a photographer—and a quality—to match every budget.

Why Story Matters More Than Ever

brand stories
Alex Bessler, a young Mason at the Triangle Lodge No. 1 in Portland, Maine. These portraits of Maine Masons help tell the story of an evolving and dynamic fraternal organization with a deep sense of tradition and history.

What makes a good image a great image?

Conventional wisdom is that great images should be perfectly formed, flawless, masterpieces of technical expertise combined with a singular artistic sensibility.

If that were true, Robert Capa’s blurry, darkroom-damaged images taken during the Allied landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day would have never seen the light of day.

Instead, they are considered among the most iconic images of the 20th century. Once seen, the haunting images are never forgotten.

Capa’s images are compelling not because they are perfect, but because they tell a story of the hardships, danger and drama of war.

Brands looking to create connection with fans should keep in mind that when it comes to great imagery, ‘story’ is Job One.

Visual content—whether still images or video—should reflect a unique brand story.

All the rest of it—technical aspects like framing, layering, rule of thirds—are just icing on the cake. For some brands, where refinement and elegance is part of their ‘story’, such precise technicality becomes a critical part of their story. For other brands, images that are too highly polished and contrived would be out of place.

So when you think about your brand and the images you’d choose to represent it, think first about what your brand story is and approach your content creation with that story in mind.

brand stories