Why Stock Photography is Bad for Brands

Consumers crave more involvement with brands and how they are marketed. In addition, they want you to keep it real with authentic communication. Stock photography won’t get you there.

Stock photography is like buying a Walmart photo frame that already has the picture of an attractive family or the ideal girlfriend inserted. You place this memento on your desk at work, and pass the family off as your own. Fat chance. They’re all brunettes. And guessing by how young they look, you started college at age six.

Maybe it seems innocuous that you’ve deprived your coworkers from learning something about the real you, or from recognizing your parents when they drop by the office. Not to worry, the photo will fade into the woodwork and only a handful of people will notice it.

Of all the “brand glue” a company should own, photography and other imagery should top the list. It’s the single fastest way to communicate, and its quality and consistent point of view can immediately identify your brand.

Real Photography is Too Expensive. Balderdash!

Day rates for photographers vary greatly depending on experience, the level of specialization required, and the market. Yes, you will pay at least $2,000 for an original image. But, unlike stock, it will pay off. For instance:

You can often negotiate for full rights to use the image. This means you aren’t paying again every quarter to extend usage, or to secure use for additional applications, e.g. print, web and email. This can add thousands to your budget.

The reason you use a professional photographer is to create an impactful image that you own legally and that’s unique to your brand.

Great images improve advertising recall. A great photo in an ad or website grabs the attention and engages more people than a vanilla image from stock. Even if you only earn a modest increase of 5% in recall, your original photo will more than pay for itself.

A Strategy For Using Less Stock Photography

Crazy turnaround times and tight budgets ensure that the future of stock photography is secure. But that doesn’t mean we have to like it. Here are strategies we’re exploring.

  • Concept ideas that can be executed within a given photo budget. We don’t need to fly to Miami; we can have a local photographer take a brilliant shot of a shell.
  • Leave time in production schedules for photography even if it’s only a day or two.
  • Create fewer executions and hoard budget for photography.
  • When there’s not a large enough budget for original photography, make all-copy ads, use spot illustration, or create your own artwork.
  • Any good campaign has extensions into other media. Anticipate that cost and add it to the photo budget.
  • Don’t try to fake out the stock houses on usage. Most use steganography (embedded codes) to track their images. You’ll get caught, and it will cost you dearly.

There’s a Time For Everything: Even Stock

There are legitimate uses of stock photography, and I admit that we’ve bought more than our share.

  • The subject, e.g. Elvis, is dead.
  • The cost of the shoot exceeds the return you expect on the investment, e.g. flying to the North Pole to snap a few Emperor Penguins.
  • The image only there for support, like a cheese grater in an ad about high cholesterol.
  • The stock photo is used in a composite of other images, e.g. sky, ocean, trees.
    And the harshest pressure of all, the clock running out toward your deadline. An emergency (or business as usual) crushes a production schedule.

How much do you rely on stock photography, and what’s your main reason for doing so? Signup for our e-newsletter, Kloud9, to receive more marketing news from Ideopia.

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Pull Your Marketing Strategy Out of the Muck

The mode of most marketing programs now is mainly reactive — keeping up with shareholder demands, justifying budgets with analytics, and trying to keep up with an ocean of tactical options. Nuts and bolts thinking and perfect execution are critical. But they’re also a trap robbing you of the time you need to think strategically.

Wondering where to start? Consider these key strategies to put your business in motion.

Earning Mindshare

The position of your company in the mind of the consumer is the most important strategy of all. Most consumers only retain 3 to 5 products max in any given category. If you’re not among the leaders yet, you have several choices:

  • Improve or reposition the product so it’s competitive
  • Narrow your niche, so you can lead your category
  • Conserve your resources, retreat, and try again
  • Change the marketing if you think messaging is the problem
  • Sell your company to a competitor

Marketing is the tool you use to advance your brand in the consumer’s mind. But unless your product is in place, and you have the potential to become a leader in your category, it’s just an expensive diversion.

Instead of chipping away at territory firmly held by much larger and entrenched competitors, use smart strategies to own a market you define.

Location: Find the Sweet Spot for Your Business

As generals from Sun Tzu to Eisenhower to Sam Walton can attest, location is everything. For businesses, though, location isn’t just geographical space a store occupies; it’s the place your brand occupies in the mind of the consumer, your employees and competition.

Step one. Find your place in the market and occupy it. You’ll need a branding proposition, an opportunistic location, and a market niche you can dominate. Wal-Mart’s strategy, for instance, was to become the single source supplier for every small town in America. It wasn’t considered a lucrative market for other chain stores, but Wal-Mart drove down costs in its stores and throughout its distribution chain. As a result, Wal-Mart is not only hugely successful as a business; it’s also very difficult to attack strategically.

All Roads Should Point to Your Website

Your web space, including your website, social media, blogs, and web advertising, is the most important hub of your brand. Delivering and coordinating the messages through these channels is also a challenge. So consider how easy or difficult it is to access your site via search, backlinks, social media, or referrals? Just like a hot retail location, better access and more traffic convert to sales.

Relationships with Competitors

We tend to become preoccupied with our own business and ignore what’s happening in the minds of our competitors. Our stance is often hostile, while we would benefit more from quietly pursuing our objectives and maintaining friendly relationships with the bad guys.

Until you’re ready to make a swift move in the market, don’t allow your business to be perceived as a threat to your competitors. Instead of ceding ground to you, your larger competitor will react by throwing up obstacles, or deciding to enter the fray themselves. Secrecy is underrated.

Marketing Strategy Tips

  • Don’t expend valuable resources fighting larger competitors, go around them.
  • Make sure your product has a unique benefit or experience that consumers need and want.
  • Seek accessibility through search engine marketing and numerous backlinks in the same way you would demand access and parking for a retail store.
  • Create a strategy that will earn a leadership position in the prospect’s mind.
  • As they tell horse handlers, “move slow and keep your hands low.” Don’t act overtly aggressive toward competitors, or they might decide to squash you.
  • Innovate continuously otherwise your customers will become bored with you.

Please leave your thoughts on strategy in the comments below.

For information about creating a strategy for your business, call Susan Abramovitz, president and branding director at 513-947-1444, ext. 10

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2013 Trends: Content Hunger, Hyper Tasking, Transparency

B2B and B2C marketers will face the gauntlet in 2013. Blame the pesky consumers for using their cell phones and tablets, forsaking network TV and cable, chattering away on social media, and demanding special products customized just for them. Welcome to the present and future of the brand experience.

1. The economy. The good news is the pent-up demand by consumers and businesses, but confidence in the domestic and global economy will teeter based on developments in the worldwide debt crisis. Domestic economic growth predictions, in the 3% range, are healthy.

2. Emerging markets, like Indonesia, Turkey and India are hot. They’ll purchase our goods, and infuse our culture with nationalistic styles and fashions. Thinking of opening an office in L.A.? You might want to scope out opportunities in Bombay first.

3. Content Hunger. Feed your customers tasty content, or they’ll go elsewhere. We’re not talking about endless pages designed solely to boost SEO, either. We’re talking the good stuff: content that informs, educates, entertains and cements a brand relationship with prospects.

4. Content marketing is destined to become the successor of cold calling; and a power tool for consumer and business-to-business advertising. You’ll need social media, a blog and landing pages and a plan for stitching them together.

5. The new brand experience. Consumers not only demand customized and personalized products, they want a voice in designing them. Soon, main stream consumers will invest in startups, micro invest in their favorite brands, and participate in the design and creative process of new products.

6. Transparency. Whether it’s ingredients, social action, safety or marketing, consumers want the real thing from their brands. S.C. Johnson, for example, lists all their ingredients on their cleaning products. See-through marketing is another way to allow customers to be close to their brands.

7. The New Media Mix gives a much bigger piece of the pie to social platforms, blogging and video content. About 86% of B2C and 91% of all B2B brands claim some involvement in content marketing. They use an average of 12 social media tactics (84%), website articles (83%) and enewsletters (50%).

8. Hyper Tasking. Consumers are tethered to their mobile devices, from the bathroom to the boardroom, which help them make the most of every minute. The dominant web function is search, so sites optimized for mobile will be the winners. Also, look for a predicted uptick in mobile ad spending.

9. Public Relations, according to Burrells Luce, will pick up the personalization theme through hyper-local placements that target niches, and target mobile users.

10. The Rise of the Editor. With the ever expanding universe of information that pelts us on desktops, smart phones, TVs, radios and tablets, consumers desperately need to separate the wheat from the shaf. Some programs will rely on marketing automation, e.g. super segmented email, and search. But we’re looking for the rise of the curmudgeon human editor to review information streams and decide what’s newsworthy, well written, and entertaining. Curating content will become almost as valuable as creating it.

11. Anxiety. Given the plethora of new tactics, technology and analytics, the ambivalence felt by marketers is not surprising. When asked about the effectiveness of a dozen new tactics, none scored more than 62% favorable and most responses were in the 38 to 49% favorable range.
So, you’re not alone.

It’s an exciting time to reinvent brands and marketing. We look forward to sharing what we learn in 2013.

Sources for this article include:

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The New Copywriting: Be Honest, or Else.

Don’t let up on your disgust with ads just because the election is over. Smoke and mirrors, misdirection and just plain lies abound in our day-to-day marketing.

The inability of advertisers to make coherent arguments to sell their product have made social media and authenticity buzzwords. At least on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn there’s a dab of accountability. Refer the wrong plumber to your pals, and you might get kicked out of the Thursday night poker.

Like political ads, most consumer advertising either says nothing, contorts the truth, or smacks of hyperbole. In a recent commercial, a luxury car deemed itself “The World Standard.” The world standard for what? Does this include the 47 countries in the world that have no knowledge of the brand? And we’re not singling out cars, you can find the same level of pap in ads for everything from hotdogs and laundry detergents to investment bankers and hospitals. Hot air like this is exactly what gets brands in trouble on social media. Like reading on Facebook that your pal’s “World Standard” is leaking transmission fluid like a flop house toilet.

Keeping it Clean and Honest in Print and Social Media

It’s not surprising then that some brands, steeped in conventional ad pap for decades, have problems embracing the newfangled authenticity. In reality, you can easily skip over this minefield if you remember two things: 1) Tell the truth. 2) Remember what you were taught about writing in the fifth grade. If you need a refresher course, pick up a copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style.

The truth and not telling it, or partially telling it will dog your brand forever on the Internet. When you believe something, you have a reason for believing even if it’s just pure faith. Make sure that your company’s marketing claims are backed by reasons and facts. Maybe you can’t squeeze it all in a Tweet, but you can expand on it on the web and in other media.

In web writing, avoid empty hyperbole like the plague. Don’t claim that you’re the world’s best, finest, or only unless you can prove it. If you’re touting “Drive = Love,” like Chrysler, you better have a Viagra dispenser under the dash.

Weasel words are the second cousins of hyperbole. They give the brand wiggle room, usually for legal reasons, and dilute the claim, e.g. arguably the safest car in America. Anytime you see an adjective or an adverb with an “ly” construction, you’ve got a stinker. Words like about, sometimes, most are also good signs a brand is hedging its bets.

So instead of sounding like an ad from a political action committee, stay true to your brand. Stick to declamatory sentences. Start with a topic sentence. Make it believable. And back your claims up with tangible reasons to buy, or to prefer your product or service to a competitor.

Would you like to hear more about marketing from Ideopia? Signup for our monthly enewsletter, K9.

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Stop Faking It. Get Real with Your Brand.

Slick tricks and smooth talking shuts customers down permanently.

Remember the good old days when advertisers could lie to consumers and get away with it? It sure was a great time for the cigarette industry. Advertisers still lie, but you’ll need bigger cojones and better lawyers. So what’s a brand to do?

Tell the Truth, and Prove It

Does your advertising even sniff of a line like this: Z-Star feature unparalleled service, superior performance, and we’re the sales for (exaggerated number of year). Uh, who cares? Consumers don’t. Brands must be positioned with meaningful benefits. Saying it isn’t enough, you must have a real reason why your brand is better, e.g. “NASA trusts us with its orange juice, and so should you.” Drink Tang. Boom.

Otherwise you risk annihilation on social media and review sites, which spread messages about your brand much more efficiently than any advertising campaign.

Luxury Brands at Risk

A special heads up to luxury brands. An aura of mystique, privilege and exclusivity may not carry the day. Consumers may buy your brand’s cachet, but they’ll also demand pragmatic reasons to make a purchase. A 2011 study at the Edinborough Science Festival found that 460 of its participants could not discern between cheap and expensive wines.

How to Speak with Authenticity

Don’t pander. Don’t “wassup? homey,” with African Americans; “Oy vey,”  with Jews; or “hola,” with Latinos. They’ll spot you as a faker and shut you down  in a second.

Use real people in your brand imagery. We live in a time when our over 13% of population is 65+ and nearly 40% of Americans are obese. I’m not suggesting that we are required to put fat people and old people in every ad. But there needs to be an evolution away from the prototypical emaciated model, too. We’re all imperfect, and our imperfections can actually help us bond with other people. The days of a paid actor endorsement, which just screams fake, are drawing to a close. No wonder so many millennials distrust marketing.

Embrace Criticism

The blowback from honesty is that someone will always disagree. The brilliant cellist Pablo Casals has a hit video on YouTube with more than a million views. Yet 29 people gave it a thumbs down. In the “Mad Men” days advertising this was shrugged off by saying “they weren’t the target audience.” Not today. Your dirty laundry is in the town square for everyone to see. Use complaints as an opportunity to engage online, and show other customers you’re a mensch.

Live the Brand

Listen to consumers on social media. Read review sites. Go on sales calls. Meet distributors. Spy. Until the little voice in your brand is real.

Are you taking steps to get more authentic with your marketing? Tell us in comments below.

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How Not to Design Hospital Logos

With urgent care, ambulatory surgical centers, physician group offices, and pharmacy based Little Clinics sprouting up in the burbs, the heat is on hospitals to become more aggressive marketers. So what is the typical first act of marketing aggression? You guessed it, a new logo. After all, what else do we have throw a pile o’ cash at, a new CT Scanner?

So it was surprising to find five different healthcare institutions with the same basic icon. It’s a square cross, where each extension is the same length. This mark was probably very clever — the first time. It bleeds off equity from the Red Cross logo, and gets the religion bit in. But, as emblems of brands, they lack utility, and imagination. Imagine this scenario. You pass out at a mall. The paramedic asks for your hospital choice. And all you can muster through the fog is “the one with the cross.” Playing safe is expensive.

So how do you avoid a similar snafu?

  1. Study the competition.
  2. Study design trends in your category.
  3. Make sure the underlying business and marketing strategies are competitive and clear.
  4. Commit yourself to creating a smart, distinct mark.
  5. Hire a really great branding agency. If you can find one.


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Top 10 Signs You Need A Marketing Plan

  1. Your company isn’t among the top three-to-five names that prospective customers name in your category
  2. You don’t have adequate analytics to determine which part of your marketing budget is driving results
  3. Your leads don’t actually lead anywhere
  4. You don’t have reliable information about how your customers regard your company and products, and what’s driving their buying decisions
  5. You’re unclear, or there is no consensus in your organization, about your company’s top vulnerabilities and strengths
  6. You’re forced to be reactive, balancing demands from different departments and brands
  7. Your company is stuck on the same tactics you used five years ago, and hasn’t embraced social media, mobile, blogs or email marketing
  8. Your budget was cut, but you’re still supporting the same number of programs
  9. The only thing standing between you and your sales goal is another brochure
  10. You are the one person invested in the totality of marketing effectiveness

Don’t worry, we can help. Call Susan Abramovitz, president, directly or learn more about brand strategy on our site. For in-depth  information about making your own plan, see The American Marketing Association’s newsletter.

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Winning Market Share With Made In America


Waving the flag might not be your thing, but there’s a growing trend, according to Perception Research Services, that “Made in America” is a deciding factor in 60 percent of purchases.

This consumer sentiment is the result of several factors: Resentment at the off-shoring of jobs and the resulting high unemployment rate; the belief that American products are safer and of higher quality, especially in the toy category; the increased focus on U.S. economic problems; and the sense that we all need to pull together.

In some categories, made in America could actually be the major differentiation between you and your competition. Your company can take advantage of this trend by labeling products made in America, retooling the corporate paragraph in your press releases and incorporating the language discretely on your website.

Want to be more aggressive? Design an advertising campaign or promotion built around made in America, like the ads we created for Reliance Medical Products. Keep in mind, though:

Nationalism isn’t magic fairy dust. First and foremost, your product needs to be the best.


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Chicken Sexing and Your Brand

It’s possible that determining the sex of a baby chick is more difficult than branding your company. Oddly enough, they both work in similar ways.

At one day old, the male and female chicks look exactly alike. While scientists can explain the minutiae of wing color, and where to find the BB-sized ovaries of the female chick, these observations don’t fly down on the farm.

The Zen Nippon School of Chicken Sexing in Nippon, Japan is known for training the most successful chicken sexers. The curriculum is simple. The student stares at the rear end of the chick and announces whether it’s male or female. The master standing nearby says “yes” or “no” and the chick is tossed in the appropriate bin.

Over a period of weeks the student gradually becomes an expert. This isn’t garden-variety deductive logic at work. It’s our unconscious mind learning through pattern recognition, colors, shapes, textures and associations. Sound familiar? It’s the same way we’re reminded by a glimpse of a shape, color or font. While you may remember the plot or the headline of an ad, great branding communicates a powerful message that the unconscious brain deciphers. There you go, chicken sexing and branding, now we all have a backup plan.

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Party on Twitter. No Hangovers.

Any term with the word party in it has to be good. And, indeed, Twitter parties are emerging as a tool for brands to engage their customers. Companies throwing Twitter parties include the high-altitude set, like the Harvard Business Review, IBM and Gevalia, and baser needs like Huggies Diapers, Crest toothpaste, barbeque sauce, and even some ad agency grumble fests.

So what exactly is a Twitter Party? It’s an online free-for-all that draws information hungry, brand evangelist types – like your customers. They share interests as diverse as camping, computing, barbeque or interior design. To join the discussion, Tweeters follow the event’s with hashtags, which you have heavily promoted. The leader or host of the party introduces subjects and guides the discussion.

The opportunity for a brand is to field experts, a guest host, or a celebrity. Just like guests at a real party expect their hosts to cough up some clean paper cups and peanuts, your Twitter guests will expect contests and brand swag. No, not iPads! Whip up giveaways that relate to your brand, even if it’s just a cool T-shirt.

A Twitter party is also an event you can weave through all of your other marketing: blog posts, Facebook, Print ads, and a landing page to capture social information and leads on your website.

The potential ROI from these online events is enormous. Companies report from 1,500 to more than 1,000,000 mentions. And remember, these count as interactions with potential customers, not just ad impressions. Compared to most other tactical options, a Twitter party is downright cheap.

Next steps? Follow some Twitter parties on your own to see how they work, and learn more about Ideopia’s social media capabilities.

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