Friday, January 21, 2011

Tip #1 - Lifestyle Photography

When appropriate, great lifestyle photography can add pop, color, and relevance to your collateral or package. It's an effective way to draw your customer in and get them to take a closer look.

When selecting stock images or putting together a professional shoot, there are a few rules of thumb that should be applied.

1. Make sure they all "sound" the same. If multiple images are to be used, as in a piece of corporate collateral, they should be consistent in tone and visual style. This helps to maintain continuity through the materials and keeps your reader focused on both your piece and your brand.

2. Say something specific. Images should have something to say. Their message should be as focused and specific as possible while still looking natural and logical within the context of the piece. If you're adding an image to a product package, make sure that image conveys something about the product - ideally about the primary selling feature of that product.

3. Avoid a crowd. You can't always get everyone in the shot. A loud bulls eye always gets you more points than the vague scatter of a shotgun. Analyze your target market and determine most important and central segment - then select or create your images focusing on that group. The others won't feel left out. Trust me.

4. Aim higher. A commonly missed opportunity in lifestyle photography is the chance to appeal to the customer's ideal image of themselves. If your primary target is businessmen over 50, they won't necessarily respond as strongly to a gray-haired man in pinstripe as they would to, say a dark-haired man wearing a tieless Armani. your lifestyle should reflect a model who looks a bit younger, a bit wealthier, and a bit more polished that your actual buyer might be. Everyone wants to be more than they are - and products that speak to that ideal will appeal more strikingly.

5. Use metaphor carefully. Too much metaphorical imagery can come off as pretentious. Use metaphors sparingly, especially in the retail sector. Also, if you choose to go the route of metaphor for some of your imagery, make sure it's a common enough reference that your customer gets it immediately. Private jokes are not always the best conversation starters.

These are a few general tips that will help you select photos that will more effectively convey your brand. Of course these suggestions vary based on the specific products and targets, but I find them good general rules for selecting images, and use them without fail in selecting photos for my work.

Happy marketing. js

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Caveman Marketing

Ever had a client go caveman on you?

As human beings, it is our nature to become reactive when the speed of our world begins to rise. Way back in cave man times - this was a great thing to have - the ability, when faced with danger to make decisions quickly, saving our energies for the things that mattered most to our survival, and ultimately allowing us to retain our high station at the top of the food chain.

Fast forward 10000 years and this once vital survival tactic becomes a mostly vestigial part of our make up. This instinctual, fight-or-flight side of our nature is rarely required for us to get through the average twenty-first century day. Injected into our modern professional world, it can even be dangerous to our survival - our professional survival.

Certainly, in today's business world, there are still those instances where the "dog-eat-dog" mentality can be supremely beneficial. Wall Street comes to mind. Marketing and Advertising does not (at least not once the account is won). That is why we, as marketing professionals should do everything in our power to avoid what I call Caveman Marketing. Whether we like it or not, the politics of swaying, steering, and justifying are every bit as important to our survival as the work itself. Behind the mask of creativity, most of us understand that it is an unsaid part of our job description to keep the project team focused on the original goals. We are obligated, by our own desire to do effective work if nothing else to, when necessary remind our clients of those goals and what, at every stage will work best to get them there.

Marketing is one of the most deliberate, process-driven, and heavily calculating regions of the professional landscape, and it can be difficult for us, as reactive human beings to settle there. Staying on top in the marketing environment requires an almost obsessive attention to detail. It demands a keen eye for what's going on around us, and a religious adherence to process – and it requires this every time. Inconsistencies, missed opportunities, or slipped standards can find us tumbling down the food chain toward the undesirable level of herd animals.

Having spent many years on the OEM side of the retail marketing equation, I have had the opportunity to observe the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of our reactive nature as it applies to product marketing. Certainly, understanding the landscape and being quick to the table as new trends or technologies develop is vital – that's where the caveman excels and is necessary. He should politely be escorted from the room thereafter.

From the OEM perspective, new product launch/marketing is the road that leads to all others. Without appropriate positioning, strategic planning, and brand consistency applied to each new idea, product line, or piece of hardware, that road can quickly become a dead end – putting an end to a products journey before it has truly begun.

As design and marketing professionals we are called on to create the image of a product – developing support materials, advising on sales strategies, and solidifying the personality of each new offering. All too often, I have found myself bumping over-sized cranial cavities with a client's inner caveman. Of course I understand that it is my responsibility to do all I can to maintain focus, integrity, and effectiveness as the work progresses, but as we all know, in the end, the client is always right – caveman or no. This leaves us to do the best we can with the rope we're given.

There is an endless list of factors that awaken this prehistoric saboteur, from waning sales and budget figures, to focus group reactions, to simply being overworked. The worst part is that once he takes over, things have a tendency to snowball. One panicked decision leading to another, inevitably leaving the ultimate goals of a project unfocused and unrealized.

Here are a few suggestions for struggling creatives out there that might help to avoid the appearance of cavemen at your next presentation or strategy session.

1. Set the stage early.
From the beginning the conversation must be about expanding and further focusing the already existing brand direction. Prior to your initial project meeting, make sure to request all of the relevant information relating to the client's brand. Style guides, brand guidelines, logo standards, and any related samples if they are available to you. You should also formulate a list of questions to ask at these initial meetings. Use these questions to fill in any blanks left by the available brand materials. Pick your contacts' brains for any queues as to past directions that were either applauded or lauded by the company. This groundwork will better equip you to justify your creative and strategic decision-making as you expand and stretch the brand into the new areas you've been tasked to fill.

2. Become the brand police.
Without scolding or being condescending, you should become your client's brand police. Make yourself an expert on their brand intent so that you can reason with them from that position as projects progress. Whenever possible justify your actions, words, work with their own brand language. Using their own words and language to justify your decisions, redirection, or concept elimination will not only make you right – it will help your client to see you as a logical team player with their brand interest in mind - rather than a prima donna who simply thinks his way is better. Always make sure you come from a place of reason - this practice will go further than any I've used to solidify and grow the client relationship.

3. Keep the competition close.
When you're developing anything related to the retail environment – do your research. Spend time in the stores. Visit websites. Ask sales associates how products are moving (they typically won't bite or escort you to the exit). Look at the competition closely. Buy examples if possible. Select a couple of key competitors within your category who seem to have created a good overall line look while staying true to their consumer brand. Make these competitors your counterpoint when you need to. Don't let your work emulate them, but learn from them just the same. Identify and discuss what makes them effective. Point out the importance of consistency, which will certainly be evident in a successful product line. Discuss the use of color, design elements, brand identification, and copy. Going through this in detail will be a valuable experience for all involved and will give all members of the team additional leverage when trying to keep things in focus moving forward. Visit the stores often, and make this a repeat process as the landscape shifts.

4. Review and assess your own work
Talk to your client about having review meetings. Schedule a half-day in the conference room every quarter or so (depending on your volume and market need) to put everything you've produced on the table and - well, tear it apart. The goal of these project review meetings shouldn't be to minimize or find fault in past work, but to look at it objectively and identify opportunities to improve future work. Use the discussion to create a bullet list of things that might be done better or differently in an effort to improve the work. Write down every point, every idea, every suggestion thrown out, then focus this list to ten (or so) bullet points that matter most and are most attainable. Make this list your mandate going forward. Too often we (creatives and clients) get so close to our work that we forget to see it in its broader context. This "blinder" effect is unavoidable given the pace of most of today's project work. It happens to all of us. If we don't consciously allow ourselves to step back from our computers and look at what we're doing from a distance, we're bound to continue in the same direction. That means the work gets stale, and that's bad for everyone.

5. If all else fails...
We've all been in situations where the client wants something done their way and flexibility isn't on the table. This isn't tragic when your client understands marketing and respects the importance of brand integrity. However, when this isn't the case, and the client is redirecting purely out of aesthetic preference or their own idea of what the brand should be (both can be symptoms of reactive Caveman Marketing) it can make for difficult discussion and awkward presentations. As the hired help, all we can really do at this point is try to keep the boat heading in the right general direction. At the very least we should make it our goal to eliminate any violations of the brand guidelines; keeping color, typestyle, and measurement standards as close to accurate as possible.

I hope this helps you avoid some of the battles I've had to fight over the years. Doing it right every time can be a tough sell, but isn't that our job?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

It's All About the Bling.

The accessorization of the consumer electronics market.

It’s not news to anyone that the era of function-first shopping is over. The past 20 years have seen a consumer metamorphosis from the “what can it do for me” sensibilities of our parents and grandparents to the fashion-forward, “what does it say about me” focus of the 21st century consumer.

Certainly status and appearance have always been a factor in product development and retail merchandising, but only recently have we seen it become the focus across so many product categories. The automotive industry, for instance is old hat at designing and developing products that sell not only for their function and reliability, but give their owners a sense of status, ideally above their actual position in life. The consumer electronics industry, on the other hand has only recently come to the realization that style, appearance, and the perception of cool that surrounds a product are often times more important its features in getting consumers to bite.

As with many aspects of life over the span of the 20th century, our retail motivations have shifted toward the superficial. Many in today’s sea of younger and younger consumers are more interested in how a product looks “on” them than how it works for them. They prefer to have the latest rather than the greatest. This has no doubt been a boon for manufacturers who have reaped the benefits of short-lived trends and a reduced consumer longevity requirement from their products. Dominating the playing field, for a split-second or for the entire game has become about being the next big thing – and changing frequently enough to hold that position. Though there are still many good products out there, the game is more about the mystique of the product than it ever has been.

Apple, its iPod and iPhone are perfect examples of this trend in buyership. In both cases, Apple set out to redefine what cool was in an already crowded category. First they did what any good R & D department would do given this task; they took an already solid idea and made some improvements. Then they did what Apple does better than any other company in the electronics world – they set out down marketing and P.R. avenues specifically designed to turn their products into fashion accessories. This simple approach resulted in two products that were new in neither concept nor execution, but have come to define mobile electronics over the past decade.

Granted the development of both “iProducts” resulted in devices that leapt far enough ahead of the competition that even more than a decade later, the catch-up game is still afoot. Despite this fact, the real magic was in the marketing. Apple didn’t simply box them up and sell them into the retail channel. They turned them into icons among their target customers. Overnight, far more based on fashion and fun than anything feature-related, these two category-leading products became cool-o-meters for everyone listening to music on the go or talking on a cell phone. This is becoming the trend in industry after industry. Features and function are positioned secondary to the products image – the cool factor.

As an art director, I’ve spent the past two decades watching, dissecting, and comparing anything and everything I see that could be considered marketing (this habit is both a blessing and a curse according to my wife). Packaging seems to be the most obviously transformed (and transforming) medium out there. I have watched a slow decline in the informational, more utilitarian package, where unique selling point (USP), strong feature bulles, and lifestyle are critical to the traditional “packaging formula.” These ubiquitous, packaging 101 elements are being cast aside in favor of image and presentation. The box on the shelf is no longer an advertisement for the product, outlining the benefits of its ownership, it is a portrait of the consumer who will buy it.

In today’s retail isles, consumers aren’t interested in reading more than they absolutely have to. They walk down the isle scanning the products available to them, and pick up the one that does two things best (this is Important): matches their predetermined price point, and looks like it costs more. Since I’ve been working in the world of mobile accessories for the past few years, and am most familiar with the details of the category, I’ll use Bluetooth headsets as my example.

For all practical purposes Bluetooth headsets are wireless communication devices that are meant to make life easier and safer for the user. For all non-practical purposes, Bluetooth headsets are jewelry; accessories to be worn and coveted by others. There are still those who buy electronics for practical reasons, but they are no longer the majority. More often these days the reason behind a given purchase is the ability to display or announce that purchase. 1080P HDTVs are a prime example of this. Does it really make the experience twice as good – or does the buyer just want to be able to say he has the biggest, highest resolution television in the neighborhood?

I digress. Back to Bluetooth.

There are currently three tiers of Bluetooth headsets found at any comprehensive electronics retailer. There are the low cost products; designed, packaged and displayed for the no nonsense bargain hunter who is just interested in getting a headset in their ear for under $40. From a functional and a marketing perspective these products are all but irrelevant, but because this market exists and will always exist, it is requisite that manufacturers develop a skew or two for this tier (though I challenge you to find a $40 Jawbone or BlueAnt headset).

The individual shopping on price alone is often just looking to get a Bluetooth headset. Peroid. Because you’re always cooler when you have a Bluetooth in your ear. This purchase is therefore made based on the cool factor – but only in the most superficial way. Unless their boss has required them to use a Bluetooth for safety reasons, or they are just that safety conscious naturally, this customer is shopping based on looks. The coolest headset within their price range, according to their individual taste, is what they will purchase. Simple. Doesn’t require a lot of marketing savvy or fancy embellishments. Show the product, state the features, and do it on the cheap.

The premium products represent a minority of the overall shelf space but inevitably dominate it with their injection molded packages draped in foil and embossing; these typically ring up between $90 and $149. They inevitably set the category’s tone in many ways.

The premium customer is one of two people. They either walk in knowing they want a specific headset regardless of price (for form or function reasons), or they are seduced up the price scale by the museum-quality packaging and Design Award-worthy hardware that defines this tier. Those manufacturers who have made the choice to focus on this tier understand that their target is looking for the next big thing and they are often not concerned with price. Their formula is simple as well, but much more refined, create a solid performing product with exceptional aesthetic appeal, then package it in a way that makes it look the part of a $129 headset. This means stripping away big bold feature statements and bullet points that would make their product seem defensive, as if it had to give the buyer a laundry list of reasons to buy it. Instead, a primary feature or two are whispered in small, graphically pleasing text on the front, and the rest are relegated to 10 pt text on the rear.

Then there is the “everything in between” tier. This is the space where many of the major brands like Motorola, Samsung, Jabra, and Plantronics live and compete. It represents the vast majority of the available products and a wide variety of tactical approaches to package development and design. It also represents the most complicated, difficult and opportunity laden tier in the category.

A few of these manufacturers don’t venture into the premium tier, but they are all amply represented in the low. As for form and function, there are many quality performers in this group, some of which are on equal footing with much higher priced products (I’ve seen the data), but for some reason their creators insist on throwing them into this middle mix.

Following Apple’s macro example on a micro level, the high tier products have it right. They all manage to display their hardware in a way that increases its presence, they don’t crowd their boxes with bullet points and lifestyle image, and above all, what verbiage they do include on their packages assumes that their consumer is at least as intelligent as they are. By doing this, they are transcending simple retail presentation and selling the customer an image; a perception; the idea of status and quality. Because of this, when put to the spreadsheet, they don’t necessarily have to outperform their lower priced competitors to outsell them – and they always attract more attention. Ask any mobile electronics connoisseur if they know Jawbone. Whether they own one or not, they’ll gush and say how cool they are.

My point is this – if these middle tier “nobody’s” hope to compete and truly demonstrate their selling capabilities against their “diamond studded” upper tier competitors, they should stop trying to gain the lead within their tier and follow by example. Next time they revamp their look, they should take a look up the pricing scale and also rethink their approach. Whether this means truly stepping up to the plate with higher quality materials and passing that expense on to the consumer, or simply taking a step back and looking at how they can streamline and simplify their existing form factors to better convey a sense of intelligence and quality, I’m not sure – that’s for the individual manufacturer to decide. Until they do this, they will continue to swim unnoticed in the sea of mid-tier headsets that are their competitors.


Next time your browsing your local strip center, stop into an AT&T outlet. They have recently redesigned their internal branding scheme to include repackaging those Bluetooth headsets they offer (from various manufacturers). Oh, the $90 plus big boys still retain their original manufacturer packaging (and all of the consumer awe that accompanies it), but everyone else has received a facelift ala the latest AT&T brand direction. These simple orange, white and transparent packages are elegant, intelligent, and when compared to the upper tier headset packages, offer a very cost effective and competitive presence. Way to go AT&T.

If a manufacturer would introduce this level of thought, sophistication, and innovation to their Best Buy or Walmart skews, a front-runner in the mid-tier Bluetooth retail channel might just emerge.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Selecting the Right Agency Partner

Selecting an advertising agency or freelance resource means finding not only the best product for your money but a resource that listens to your specific situation and applies solutions specific to your business. When you set out to find that creative match, there are many things to consider.

Results >
Peruse the client list. Examine their work samples. Ask about the results generated by the work and if you feel it's necessary ask for proof. Make sure you understand their billing and rate structure. It's your money on the table – and any reputable resource will gladly provide this information.

Accountability >
As a career Creative Director, I pride myself in NOT specializing. Working with and experiencing clients from many industries helps me stay fresh and constantly re-examine the specific methods I use to identify the right solutions. My client experience spans a broad range, from large accounts to comparatively small ones, including sole proprietorships.

If your project requires a full-scale, nationwide, multi-media advertising campaign, you’ll need a realistic budget and an ad agency that possesses the experience and resources to manage an account on that scale. On the other hand, not all projects require the use of a full-fledged agency. If we meet and I feel that your needs are beyond my capabilities or you require a service that I'm unable to readily provide - I'll be the first to let you know. I have a wide range of outsourcing relationships that help me to service all but the largest clients, but I realize there are times when a prospect would be best served elsewhere. This realistic look at my capabilities and bandwidth keeps me from getting in over my head and keeps my clients and prospects on the road that will best serve them. I also give all of my clients the flexibility to manage their own process at the level they prefer. What does that mean? If you, as a client prefer to use your own printer or coordinate in order to allow you to produce portions of your campaign in-house, I'll work with you. Too many agency's take an all-or-nothing approach to their work which tends to limit the clients input and flexibility throughout the process.

Quality Creative >
Over time, agencies often begin to develop a certain "look" or "tone" in their work, reflecting the aesthetics and subjective preferences of in-house creative folks. When reviewing a portfolio, you should feel enthusiastic about the work you see, and at least a portion of the creative work should be in a style appropriate to your needs, expectations and personal taste. Also, keep in mind that creative work is successful only in so far as it produces results for your business.

I strongly believe that, while creative delivery plays a role in every marketing effort, it should always take a back seat to strategic thinking. The development of a company's collateral or their advertising should not be approached like an artist's canvas. There is almost never room for creativity-for-creativity's-sake. Every typeface, every image, every headline should speak to the target and be a part of the overall delivery and goal of the specific project.

Though I pride myself in the skill-set I've developed over my career, I'm not too proud to seek quality outside resources when necessary. Depending on the needs of the project, I may draw on the expertise of a wide range of outside talent. I work cooperatively with many gifted art directors, copywriters, designers, photographers, web designers, printers, illustrators, and PR writers.

Testimonials & References >
If you're on the fence about who you want to work with, ask for a few client references. Barring any sort of non-compete agreements, an agency should provide you with at least a couple of folks you can contact as references. Call them and ask some pointed questions: Is the client satisfied with the work produced? Does the client think the work was a good value and investment? Were there any particular problems encountered when working with the agency? The more knowledge you have, the better equipped you will be to make the right choice.

Personality Counts >
Determine who your contact will be and if you’ll be working directly with other members of the staff. Meet these people to get a sense for whether your personalities mesh, if your contacts communicate effectively and if you will be able to reach them in a timely manner.

I hope this short tutorial helps to give you a better perspective on selecting the best agency or creative resource for your needs.

Happy Marketing - j

Friday, August 21, 2009

"I can't afford to advertise during a recession!"

So-called business guru Peter Drucker once said, "Only two things make business money - marketing and innovation. Everything else is an expense."

Having a great and innovative product or service and not marketing it is like owning a sports car and never putting gas in it. You need to fill the tank on a regular basic or you won't get very far.

During down times, marketing is often the first budget slashed. This can actually cause more harm than the recession alone. If your marketing efforts were bringing in a certain level of sales, and those numbers began to drop as the economy slowed, killing your advertising will certainly take them unnecessarily lower. The customers are still out there - and unless you have a truly boutique product, they are still buying – just at a reduced rate.

My advice to clients during a slump is that we sit down and evaluate what we're doing and what we've done in the past. We identify the initiatives that produced the most bang for the buck, and adjust the budget and strategy to focus on repeating those results. If targeted direct mail was a great, inexpensive way of reaching a specific target segment – we repeat it. If banner ads or print placement in a specific publication did the job, then we shift in that direction.

Studies show that companies that don't succumb to the knee-jerk slashing of their advertising budgets during these times actually tend to see growth – which only makes sense to me. Think about it. If the norm is to reduce or eliminate advertising expenses during a recession, the playing field is empty. There are fewer voices competing for the customer's eyes and ears, and new customers can likely be had without having to work quite so hard to beat out your competition.

Don't get me wrong, the problems inherent with a financial slow down can't be ignored, and I'm not suggesting that you proceed, business-as-usual through these tough times. I'm simply saying that with a bit of thought, and some focused planning and execution, your marketing could turn a bust into a boom.

Happy marketing - j

Friday, July 31, 2009

Looking ForWords

My blog in progress...