3 Tips for Using Stock Photography Appropriately

As of late, the use (or misuse) of stock photography has been much talked about in the media. The Conservative Party of Canada has come under attack for what some feel as an inappropriate and/or ill-informed use of stock photography.

So, aside from the legal aspects involved in using stock photography (including: licensing agreements and assigning credit to photographers) what are some important things to consider before using stock photography?


Credit: ThinkStock / tanjavashchuk / 479767450

Stock Photography Tip #1: Consider Your Audience and the Context of the Message 

As with any marketing endeavour, in order to be effective, we must consider to whom we are speaking, what we are trying to get across, and how our market will interpret it. Visual storytelling works the same way, and you have to be particularly careful when using stock photography. As in the case above, you can end up offending your audience and casting yourself in a negative light.

In order to be successful, you must be sensitive to the needs, values, and beliefs of your audience. Take time to perform the research necessary on your audience and on the content you are planning on placing in your ad before allowing it to go live.

Lastly, if you have the resources, testing it against your market in a focus group or otherwise might be a wise final check.

Stock Photography Tip #2: Be Careful to Stay on Brand

It can be a challenge to stay on brand when using stock photography, as you are limited to the vision the photographer had at the time of taking the photograph. For example, you might find a photo that captures the right kind of person with the perfect expression, but the lighting in the background of the image is foreboding, while the message you’re trying to send about your brand is a cheery one.

Finding a piece of stock photography that fits in perfectly with your brand and message can be a challenge, but it is worth getting it right to maintain the integrity of your brand.

Stock Photography Tip #3: Strive to Maintain Authenticity

There is a lot of good stock photography out there. However, sometimes even the best stock photography can come off as less than authentic and genuine. People can appear too posed, with overly polished expressions, and are often found standing beneath unnatural, fluorescent lighting. If you want your current and potential customers to trust you, you need to establish and maintain a sense of authenticity.

People (young people, in particular) have become incredibly savvy and are able to detect and then distrust and even ridicule what they feel to be phony, posed photography. There are even contemporary celebrities who make fun of the truly terrible stock photography out there.

Also consider: is it even authentic for your brand to use stock photography at all? Many brands, depending on a variety of factors such as their target demographic may eschew stock photography altogether. The Instagram Generation in particular (i.e. Millenials and Gen Z) is one for which you should exercise caution when opting to use stock photography. This generation expects to see and responds positively to natural, organic-looking photography. Further, they can often tell when stock photography is being used and might not respond the way you would hope.

BONUS: Hire a Professional Photographer

When the budget allows, it is of course ideal to use a professional photographer. You have a much greater chance of successfully communicating the message you want to get across to your audience and getting the response you want. A professional photographer will work with you to help ensure you reach your goals, ensuring every detail works together to achieve the intended results.

Using Growth Driven Design to Make Existing Websites Perform

With consumers (B2C and B2B) using the Internet to research or validate purchase decisions, your website is a critical component to your marketing and sales process. Yet many companies are still treating it as a digital brochure — it is a passive information piece and not playing an active role in engaging with your market and converting leads. Just as you require ongoing reports and communication from your sales team, you should expect the same from your website. And just as you expect your sales team to adapt and respond accordingly to meet their goals, so too should your website.

Your Website is a Marketing Investment

Like every other business investment, you should have set goals and be measuring the ROI of your website. This process of ongoing stewardship and incremental changes in pursuit of realizing your goals is often referred to as Growth Driven Design. Like many buzz words or trends, it is simply common sense.

You don’t have to start with a whole new website (however, you aren’t going to get good results with a poor website, so consider starting from scratch). The first priority in putting your website to work is establishing what it can do for you. Determine how it fits into your marketing and sales process and what roles it can play to make that process more efficient and effective.

Then quantify those roles into achievable goals and determine what metrics you will track to monitor progress. You will, no doubt, have to upgrade parts of your website so it can do the job you expect of it. For example, if one of your goals is to gain 10 qualified leads per month, your website will need the tools to attract and engage your market. Such items would include strategically written content (for both engagement and SEO), relevant and compelling photos and videos, on-site call-to-actions, landing pages and forms, information and downloads with perceived value, etc.

Monitor activity on your website on a regular basis. (So if you haven’t already, set up Google analytics. Marketing automation software such as HubSpot and SharpSpring provide additional tracking information.) Plan on continuous (at least monthly) changes to add and fine-tune the items listed above to improve performance and build on your successes.

Growth Driven Design Structures Continuous Improvement

This ongoing process of attentive and responsive activity is the foundation of Growth Driven Design, and it works effectively on existing websites as well as new. Focusing on incremental change for steady gain is a strategic approach to increasing your website activity and developing sales.

Companies are typically slow to fully understand and effectively implement new technologies. The Internet has evolved at such a dramatic pace that playing catch-up every 3-5 years with a new website means you are perennially out-dated. That didn’t matter as much ten years ago, but now that your web presence is becoming one of your most valuable assets, you can’t afford not to pay continuous attention to your website.

What are your thoughts? How do you feel a website could profit from ongoing change?

It’s Time to Close the Marketing Industry Gender Gap

[Part 1 of a 3-part series on women in marketing]

Professional women are often told that if there’s a will, there’s a way. If we seek to climb the corporate ladder, all that’s required of us is to “lean in,” as Sheryl Sandberg says.

Assuredly, there are many women seizing high-powered positions in marketing across government and industry sectors – which is fantastic. But as an increasing amount of evidence indicates, there is still a serious gender imbalance holding us back from an equal division of leadership in the field.

Unfortunately, there are no signs of improvement on the horizon.

Women make up over 80% of all household purchasing decisions, thusly holding the vast majority of purchasing power in the Western world. As a result, we make up the largest primary target audience for the world’s largest marketing campaigns.

Ironically, 91% of women say that they feel misunderstood by marketers. Seems rather counterintuitive then, that the gender pay gap in this industry is still widening rather than narrowing, when women are the ones this industry aims to speak loudest to.

Gender pay gap persistence

Here in Canada, the gender pay gap is still more than twice the global average.

Canadian working women are making about $8,000 less a year than their male counterparts in identical industries. Reportedly, the marketing industry is no exception to this widening gap.

Earlier this summer, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released their second annual report on The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada 2015, which provides a snapshot of gender inequality in a range of areas throughout Canada’s twenty largest metropolitan areas – one area being economic security including gender gaps in employment and pay.

Interestingly, the worst ranked region in the country was Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo; an area that has seen a remarkable economic tech boom for start-ups since the advent of Blackberry Inc.

According to the CCPA report (mentioned and linked above), Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge has one of the biggest wage gaps in the country. On average, women in the region earn $14,400 less than men, and it has one of the worst records for promoting women to senior management positions – with just 26% of these positions held by women.

A brick wall or a glass house

It’s been suggested that women marketing managers may experience a phenomenon even worse than the illusive “glass ceiling” in this industry. They actually experience more of a “glasshouse,” meaning that their hindrance to progress within an organization is horizontal and all-encompassing. Not a pretty picture.

It doesn’t help that according to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report (2014), Canada ranks 19th out of 142 countries for gender equality.

Just this past week, an internal report emerged from Status of Women Canada indicating that when it comes to the salary gap between the sexes, women have “hit a brick wall.” Evidently, though we are entering the work force (including the marketing industry) better educated and in greater numbers, men are still paid 20 percent more.

All that said, despite what we can certainly agree to identify as a lost list of hurdles, there is no denying that women have made tremendous strides over time in marketing.

An encouraging study of women in marketing by Brandweek in 2009 found that women are experiencing more success in the field than ever before. According to Brand Innovators, even in some of the most traditionally male-dominated services franchise like automotive advertising, there are more women than ever working in brand marketing.

Surely, we can solve this

Moreover, there is a definite appetite for change. An increasing number of corporations are sponsoring annual events to celebrate women in marketing and encourage their participation. Many profiles are also being conducted of high-powered women in the industry to showcase their success story and learn what broke them to where they are today.

A growing number of activists are speaking out about the need to mentor young women, form groups and partnerships, and find more concrete real-world solutions to this gender disparity.

As half of the world’s population and 51% of the Canadian population, it is indisputable that women deserve a seat at the marketing table. As the holders of the majority of purchasing power in a competitive globalized economy, it only makes sense to ensure women have an equal say in corporate decision making — including major marketing campaigns and strategies.

Women are the most sought after target for marketing – they should be leading the conversation. Just consider what a more robust industry we could build if this sector were proportionally representative of the diverse population we market to.

For an industry that has been credited with such innovation over the years, surely, we can solve this. What are your thoughts?

Social Media is NOT a Numbers Game

Google Analytics, ROI, CTR, traffic to site and followership. We try by every means possible to measure our impact on social media but somehow forget that social media is a social interaction and not a measurable, predictable one. Simon Kemp, from We Are Social, recently said on stage that as marketers we too often focus on the ”media” in ”social media” and not enough on the ”social”.

Just as a friendship or any relationship we have, social media is a channel to create those kinds of interactions. As a business, you or your customer wants to know:

How much am I getting out of it?
How much does each post cost me?
How many customers or sales do I get out of this social media strategy?

Which as a business, don’t get me wrong, are fair questions to ask. But if I apply the social logic to them and compare them to a human interaction related question, would we ask ourselves the following in life?

How much money am I getting out of this friendship?
How much does each phone call or text or dinner with my friend cost me? Is it worth the investment?
How many new friends or gifts to I get out of this relationship? Do people like me more?

All of a sudden, doesn’t sound so right, does it? So then, the discussion continues, so what can we measure in social media and how do I know if my strategy or tactic is successful or not?

Followers do not mean Customers

Now, number of likes or followers or hearts are numbers that are often measured and used to see if your presence online is improving or not. Your followership can be an indicator of the level of interest your audience might have for what you are selling but their engagement is what will be the key to your success. Facebook offers an engagement rate in their analytics that can be of use but still has to be considered with other factors.

An example of that can be noted in a recent contract I had.

I was working with social media specialists in different countries. The company has a presence on Facebook and one of their community engagement specialist in France wanted to attract new customers with contests online. One of her first efforts brought in big with a Facebook contest that attracted over 1,000 participants. She thought that whatever she had done, worked, so tried to repeat the experience but following contests attracted an average of 300 participants. In that sense, were her efforts more successful the first time?

From a numbers perspective, the answer would be yes. Her first contest was more successful but from a social standpoint, my opinion is that she now knows that she has an average of 300 participants that will interact with her contests and online efforts which is a pretty good number. The ultimate goal is that an engaged community will eventually start using the company’s service on their own because of their engagement with the Facebook page.

So why so many participants the first time? Many factors can be accounted for. Maybe it was a good day, maybe she hit a peak time in France for shopping online, maybe the colours of her ad where enticing, maybe people had nothing to do and had time to participate, maybe exfoliating cream is a popular prize in France and maybe something else. It is important to remember that it is still a human being sitting in front of the screen and making a conscious decision of commenting or liking or sharing a post or not. We can influence that decision, but we cannot predict the outcome.

Quantity is not Quality

So what about content? There is a general belief that if we are able to put more content out there, we will eventually get someone to click on it. Right? Wrong!

Although content is important, you have to remember that quality remains a key factor. Scott Vetter of PROSAR, clearly explains the potential ”con” in not structuring your content properly. Check out his post: Is there too much ”con” in your content? And his take on this approach is dead on. I recently worked with a client that could not see past the number of keywords in the text or the number of content we were pushing out to their audience instead of focusing on the relevance of the keywords used and maximizing the content pieces to offer their customer a meaningful journey through their website.

Indeed, if we want to put that into numbers, even if you have more content out there, if it is not relevant, your bounce rate will still be high and your time on site will remain low as customers won’t find what they are looking for once they have clicked on this so-called ”content” that you published. Social media is a two-way street and no longer a one-way as traditional marketing used to be. It is all about having a conversation or creating a long-lasting relationship, which also require time and effort, just as a normal relationship with a real-life customer would.

And as for frequency, SocialBakers did a study about posting frequency that showed that posting more than 2 times per day would not necessarily help you increase your engagement rate on your Facebook page. And all articles indicate that your content has to be relevant to spark an interest. Keep that in mind.

Finally, remember that social media is about socializing. The great viral successes or popular companies online have often done their share of traditional marketing to build their brand recognition online and offline. Social media will remain an important channel for marketing in the future but has to be seen as a place to converse with your customers and new potential customers and create an interest for your company. No one knows what exactly makes a social success actually a success and each audience will have their own preferences which need to be tested, tried, retried, tweaked and changed again. Stay alert, listen in and see what your audience is telling you instead of trying to tell them what to do. And to understand all of that info, do not hesitate to ask your PROSAR agency about interpreting that feedback and having an expert help you answer all your questions!

Customer Service Is Social

Taking care of your customers is how you stay in business. Customer support lines, email accounts, and in-person offices give customers touch points to reach out and solve their problems. However, this has become increasingly insufficient to meet the demands of a socially connected world.

Twitter accounts and Facebook pages have become open forums for consumers to ask questions about your products— and complain about the service they receive. According to the Sprout Social Index, consumers keep turning to social media for customer support.

Unfortunately, most of their messages go unanswered. This lack of focus on social media based customer service costs US businesses an estimated $41 billion a year.

So what can you do to keep up?

1- Monitor Social Media

Tools such as Hootsweet or Tweetdeck allow you to set up custom-tailored streams that let you keep an eye on only tweets you want to see. Monitoring tools also have the advantage of sending emails when you receive a mention, meaning you don’t have to constantly check back your accounts and can spend more time working on your business.

At the very least, you should be checking your social media notifications. Most customers will directly message your property when they’re looking for answers. A daily check to see if you have any questions will ensure timely answers.

2- Dedicate Time to Reply

All the monitoring in the world won’t do anything if there’s nobody there to reply. Unless you have somebody manning the “phones”, so to speak, then your social presence remains a void. Depending on the size of your business, you might not need somebody full time. However, replying should be on somebody’s task list.

Preferably, you’ll want to implement a whole strategy that integrates social media into your pre-existing customer service processes.

 3- Remember It’s a Conversation

How many times have you solve a customer service issue with a single email? The answer is likely ‘never’. Once you reply to a customer’s question, you have to keep tabs on the string of messages to make sure your customer walks away satisfied. Once you receive a complaint, keep following up until the issue is solved, just like a normal customer service call.

For more information, check out the Sprout Social Index’ infographic on social customer care:

Sprout-Index-2015-Infographic1

Back to School: Content Generation 101

While some schools started last week, it is today that the majority of our kids are headed back to school. In honour of this occasion, today’s blog post is all about continuous learning on how to create great content and how to ensure that your best content keeps working for you. So, whether this is new to you or you are simply seeking a refresher, let’s head back to school for Content Generation 101.

tablet surrounded by broken pencils with "back to school" written on it like a chalkboard
Photo: Thinkstock iStock / nito100 / 506210469

What are Content Generation and Content Marketing?

Content Generation is an essential step in generating online traffic to your website, and in nurturing prospects into becoming customers and advocates of your business. Content Marketing is the practice of creating content that people actively seek will out to help them, amuse entertain them, or otherwise provide value to them. Useful content will be shared, which further benefits your business by increasing its reach and extending your influence.

 

Develop a solid content strategy

As with any marketing effort, the best way to be successful at content generation is to start by developing a strategy.

  • Set objectives: What are you hoping to achieve? What are your business goals?
  • Identify your audience: Who are you trying to reach? What interests them the most? Which of their pain points can your business address?
  • Pinpoint the fit: How do your products or services fit the needs of your audience? What content can you create that will resonate with them?

 

Create a plan and editorial calendar

An effective content generation plan will start with the objectives and strategy you’ve set (see above), and set out the tactics and steps required to make it happen.

  • Aspects of the plan: Some of the most effective tactics includes blogs, search engine optimization (SEO), and social media.
  • Types of content: Create a range of content of varying depth, including blog posts, infographics, website content, newsletters, and white papers.
  • Develop an editorial calendar: Building a list of topics and ideas well in advance will help to make content generation less daunting and make it easier to keep up with a steady flow of blog posts and other marketing assets.
    • Decide what your key messages are.
    • Identify topics that reflect this message and that are consistent with your overall company brand and objectives.
    • Monitor news and trends in your industry, and cover these topics in a way that is meaningful to your target market and pertinent to your business offering.
    • Set a calendar identifying these planned topics and the dates you will publish posts on these topics. This will keep you organized and on track.

 

Focus on Quality

Once you have the content generation machine in motion, it is easy to veer off track in the quest to churn out frequent content. Don’t lose sight of your primary business objectives, your key message, or your value proposition. High quality, useful, relevant content is critical to steer a steady stream of prospects to your website, and to convert them into qualified leads, then into happy customers and advocates. Consider the things that will interest your audience, educate them, or make their lives easier, and marry those up with the benefits and unique features of the products or services you offer. Connect the dots for your prospects, and provide them with useful information.

 

Attract and Nurture your Audience

For a content marketing strategy to be effective, your content has to reach your audience, draw them into your website, and nurture them through your sales process. If you’ve followed our advice on creating and implementing an editorial calendar with frequent generation of useful content, the hard part is done. Our last recommendations focus on propagation of your content:

  • Make sharing effortless: Now that you are regularly creating terrific content, you want people to share it far and wide. Make this as easy as possible by:
    • Publishing your content in accessible formats (for example, .pdf, .jpg, mobile-friendly web content, YouTube videos, etc.)
    • Including social media sharing buttons, so that sharing your content is a simple click away.
  • But keep some of your deeper or more focused content “guarded” to guide people through your sales nurturing process. In other words, keep some content accessibly only by filling out a form on your website. This lets you see who has downloaded specific content and gives you an opportunity to collect a bit of information about them and their interests – knowledge that will allow you to continue to nurture the relationship.

 

Content Generation is something all businesses need to do in order to stay relevant, to continually draw new prospects to their website, and to convert them into loyal repeat customers. We hope our Content Generation 101 post has given you a head start on creating meaningful, interesting content for your business. And now, school’s out for today!

Three Truths About Inbound Marketing (that they don’t want you to know)

PROSAR Inbound drives traffic to your website

With some of the claims being made by online marketers, you could be forgiven for thinking that you can ramp up your business quickly and easily. The truth is that marketing automation is not easy, success does not just happen, and unicorns don’t really exist. (Actually, I’m not totally sure about the last one, however, I have sufficient first-hand experience to attest to the first two.)

Can inbound marketing tactics gain new clients and grow your business? Absolutely. But, let’s take an honest look at the reality of inbound marketing.

 

Just because it’s online doesn’t make it cheap.

True, there is no print cost or physical distribution required. Definite cost savings. But there are hard costs involved in SEO, PPC, Google AdWords, etc. Keep in mind that a considerable amount of time is required to write strategic content and effectively implement a content marketing campaign (blogs, social media posts, white papers, infographics, video interviews, press releases, etc.). And, the knowledge and experience to develop and execute an inbound marketing strategic to attain your goals is most likely a skill set that you don’t have in-house.

So it may well be cheaper than traditional methods that you’ve used in the past, but it is still an investment that needs to be budgeted for.

 

It’s not a quick fix.

Remember how you used to be able to buy a bunch of radio airtime and some newspaper ads and you’d see an immediate increase in interest and lift in business? That was exciting, and the cause and effect relationship was easy to understand. Traditional methods aren’t as effective anymore because buyers and their methodology have changed. They do their own research prompted by their own desire to buy when they are so inclined. Buyers often seem impervious to broad-based advertising and companies are having a hard time understanding that. (There are of course exceptions, consult your marketing physician to see if it may have application for you.)

Buyers are better informed and looking for guidance, even a relationship, to warrant their purchase. You earn their trust and loyalty by understanding your market and providing value-ridden content, quality service and solutions relevant to their needs. The tables have turned and consumers are now in control of determining and satisfying their desires. So simply broadcasting about your product/service and how wonderful it is falls on deaf ears unless they are ready and willing to listen.

Strategic content generation weaves keywords into compelling stories and informative articles so that those looking for your solution will find it and desire it. Doing this well gets a little complicated and there are myriad tactics and techniques used along the process to nurture these potential customers and earn their purchase. Rather than being a quick fix, it is more of a sophisticated, long-term approach to building sustainable business.

Having just explained that inbound marketing is not a quick fix to drive new business, I must acknowledge that online paid advertising can certainly create results quite quickly. SEM (Search Engine Marketing) does form part of the online marketing mix; however, to be effective it needs to be part of a strategic campaign that requires planning, research, as well as consistent and concerted effort to deliver successfully. Just sayin’ that it will take more time and money to provide actual sales than many online marketing companies claim.

 

Not anybody who can use Facebook is an inbound marketer.

Spending time online and understanding social media is a plus when it comes to online marketing tactics. However, familiarity only goes so far. My neighbour is a surgeon, but I’m not going to let his 20 year old son who “watches surgery shows on the Discovery Channel all the time” operate on me. I’ll choose his dad who spent years at university learning his skill and has lots of experience, thanks very much. You may be less fussy about the health of your company than your own, but I think you’ll agree that trusting experts makes more sense.

Inbound marketing involves understanding your market and their psychological make-up, creating keyword lists and fine-tuning SEO and SEM, paid advertising campaigns, developing and modifying strategy, writing different types of content, gathering and interpreting data… it’s a long list of skills and expertise and no one person could possibly master. It takes a team to stay up-to-date on many of these tools and have the wherewithal to plan and implement a successful strategy. Point is, don’t trust just anybody, even if the price is low and they promise so much. (Like really, how many times will you make this mistake?)

So yes, I obviously believe in the power of inbound marketing and feel that it is a necessary marketing component to grow your business. My caveat is that it is not a magic solution that brings results without spending time and money. Like any investment you should be wise and implement your online marketing in a strategic manner that will truly benefit your company. Look beyond marketers’ claims and ensure you are working with a qualified resource that is truly concerned with your long-term growth.

Further Reading:
3 Ways to Spring Clean Your Blog by Alexa Oliver
How to Find Your Ideal Client by Donna Kind
7 Common Dangers of Social Media Illiteracy to Your Business by Claire Phillipowsky

Inbound Selling: Connecting With Your Prospect

Selling has changed. Selling has changed because buying has changed. Specifically, the buying process is now buyer “centric” where the buyer has the power. In inbound sales, connecting with your prospect takes on a whole new meaning.

 

Connecting with your prospect by phone

 

Sellers no longer control all the information around available products and services. Thanks to the Internet, buyers now have the power to research on their own terms and within their own timeline. Buyers now typically have made 60% of their purchase decision before talking to a sales rep.

With these changes in prospect’s buying habits, clearly, you must transform the way you sell. Connecting with your prospect is all about offering yourself as a trusted advisor to help facilitate their eventual purchase.

A phone call will ultimately be where the necessary relationship is struck, but there is some work to do before picking up the phone. Simply calling leads without any context is a waste of everyone’s time.

In inbound marketing results, not all leads are a good fit and not all leads will be ready to buy. This means that leads must be “filtered” to a degree before they are considered to be qualified leads.

Research Your Leads

The first step is to research the organization behind your lead. This will give the broader context needed to determine if their company is a good fit as a prospect. Websites are the best source for company info such as:

  • company location
  • company size
  • annual revenue
  • what they sell and who they sell to
  • recent company news

Now it’s time to research personal information about your lead. Social media is a good source for their:

  • position within the organization
  • posts and interactions on social media
  • problems and concerns within their position, organization, and industry

Wrap up your research by examining their engagement with your website – what have they downloaded and which web pages have they viewed?

All of this research and analysis should give you some context for a phone call. If everything points positively to an organization and person that could do business with you, it’s time to reach out.

What to do on the first phone call

HubSpot suggests there are four guidelines to follow for your first phone call:

 

1) Build Rapport

This doesn’t mean wasting time with needless small talk – stay focused on establishing trust by exhibiting interest in educating and helping.

 

2) Know Your Audience

Tailor your conversation to whom you are actually talking to (not likely not C-level at this point).

 

3) Speak the Prospect’s Language

Use industry terms and relatable company names in your conversation. Show that you have done your homework before the call.

 

4) Be helpful

Have something ready such as a tip, an offer, or some form of content to give.

 

What not to do on the first phone call

Here is where the old way of calling prospects has really changed. The first conversation with a prospect should NOT be viewed as an opportunity to:

  • interrupt with an agenda or script
  • pitch your products and services
  • close the prospect aggressively

 

Summary

Calling an online prospect is an exercise in restraint and a chance to connect with a buyer on a human level. People buy from people that they trust, not from robots, recited scripts or sales people pushing their own agenda. Try to educate and provide help to those who you call. Treat them as you would any good friend.