Avoid Brand Disasters with a Visual Content Strategy

2016-01-September-Feet-on-Fire

It took a man with his sleeves rolled up to make me understand that we had a problem.

A Flawed Hero

At the time I has heading the marketing content delivery group at a major equipment manufacturer and we’d just posted a new ‘hero’ shot on our website. We were very proud of the image: a burly rugged looking guy on a job site stood in front of one our machines. A perfect illustration of our brand.

Or so we thought, until I logged in to my email the following morning to find my inbox stuffed with requests to take the image down.

Most of those emails came from one specific geographical market. What we hadn’t realized was that the burly man had his shirt sleeves rolled up, and in one of our biggest, most important, markets that was a safety violation. And safety violations were definitely not something we wanted to be seen promoting, or have associated with our brand.

The image was quickly taken down and metadata added that it wasn’t to be used in certain markets. On reflection, we should have already done this. But like many large companies we drew our content from all across the enterprise, as well as from outside suppliers and agencies.

Customers Don’t Care About Your Silos

The man in the shirt sleeves got us thinking: Did different parts of the company use different images to represent the same things based on their local and business knowledge? Did they assume an implied level of knowledge about the subject and its applicability? Did the images chosen just reflect the siloed make-up of the business’s organizational structure? How was metadata applied — if at all — to ensure correct usage and attribution?

Most importantly: how did all this affect the customer’s experience when interacting with our brand across different channels around the globe?

It doesn’t matter how your company is organized, or what separate lines of business you have. As far as your customer is concerned every interaction with you is a representation of your brand, and they expect a consistent experience. But it must also be a consistent experience that is relevant to them and their locale.

Pull Things Together With a Visual Content Strategy

So how do you deliver a consistent brand representation while still being aware of localization and cultural issues?

You need to develop a Visual Content Strategy:

  • What do you want your images to do? — Showcase your products? Showcase your customers? Show customers using your products?
  • What business need do you want your images to help achieve? — Engage prospects and lead to click-through and lead capture? Educate and help customers with self-service thereby reducing support costs?
  • What sort of images will you use to reflect your brand? — Photographic and realistic, inspirational and abstract?
  • Where will the images be used? — Global generic images? Regional and local application? If regional, how localized?

Next, look at the images that you are already delivering or have in development. Do they match the aims and business drivers outlined in your visual content strategy? If not, stop using them.

Content for the sake of content, no matter how pretty it looks, is a waste of resources and opportunity.

Take a detailed look at how your products are represented and localized. After the “shirt sleeves” incident one of the decisions we made was that for the equipment product pages on our website the main product shot would be just the machine against a plain white background.

Presenting the equipment in a consistent way made it stand out and avoided localization issues. The job-site shots were relegated to a gallery that could be customized based on the customer’s location.

The next step is developing a strong metadata model that is applied to the images to ensure that you use the same images to show the same ideas and concepts. Attach data that fits your workflow and that allows you to deliver the sort of customer experience that reinforces your brand. Balancing consistency with creativity should also be considered and trade-offs need to be made.

Delivering Consistent Experiences

With a strategy and metadata architecture in place you need a way to store and manage images so that they can be easily located and used in the correct manner.

A Digital Asset Management system is key to delivering a consistent visual user experience. I’d recommend starting with an achievable object, such as a DAM to drive your website and then grow it organically across the enterprise, to cover other delivery channels. Get people used to using it, prove that it provides value and it will lead to improved customer experience.

The man in the short sleeves helped my team develop and deliver a platform that quickly grew to an enterprise solution with over one million assets that could be tracked and reused to send the correct message in the correct market.

[NOTE: This post was first published on CMSWire September 2016)

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Sheldon Cooper and Brand Deflection

A couple of days ago we were having new carpet laid throughout the house, and at one point during the day I was walking out to my car for a coffee run when the head of the carpet crew looked up and asked me if I liked the TV show “The Big Bang Theory.

The question threw me for a second, not because I don’t like the show – I do. It’s a must watch for my family – but as to why he’d asked in the first place. I must have looked puzzled, because by way of explanation he pointed in my direction and said “Your shirt.”

At the office I may be all dressed up, but the days I’m working from home you are more likely to find me in jeans, sneakers and a superhero logo t-shirt. The thing is I don’t own any Big Bang Theory shirts. Not a single “Bazinga !” adorns my closet space.

I looked down and realized I was wearing a Green Lantern t-shirt. Just like this one.

sheldonshirtThe one that Sheldon Cooper often wears on The Big Bang Theory. – Mystery solved.

On my drive to grab my drink I started to think about what had just happened. In my Content Marketing role at Caterpillar a major consideration is how we build and develop messaging and content that supports the brand message and the brand story. Ideally every interaction with the brand (and that includes the logo – perhaps the most frequent brand encounter) should reinforce the brand’s promise.

Yet my carpet guy had seen the Green Lantern logo, a brand owned by DC Comics and by association, its parent company, Warner Bros., but associated it with a completely different property and message. In this case one owned by CBS.

The more I thought about DC Comics brand placement on The Big Bang Theory the more I realized that as much as it’s cool for me as a comics geek to play spot the reference, I’m not sure Warner Bros. is getting the business value it wants from that relationship.

comic_book_storeThe comic book store featured in the show seems to stock only DC Comics related titles and merchandise (Click on picture above to get a good look at the stock); but whenever comics, or comics characters are mentioned on the show in dialog it is usually a conversation about Marvel characters. Characters and brands owned by the directly competitive comics publisher, who are now owned by Disney.

In a recent episode the girls on the show ventured into the comic book store to see what it was that was so important to their boy-friends/husband; and then spent half the show discussing the physics of Thor’s hammer. Thor being yet another Marvel character.

So what are DC Comics and Warner Bros paying for with this brand and product placement? Is it brand awareness? To me it seems more like brand deflection.

How is your brand message being used and communicated. What channels are you using to spread your brand’s story.?

Is your value message getting through, or is it being deflected?

 

 

 

Beer is Content … and so is Bacon.

“Beer is Content”  – I saw that quote pop up on my Twitter stream a while back (apologies that I’ve forgotten who exactly posted it), and it made me smile. While it seemed like a cute saying, I couldn’t figure out any relevant context, except maybe as a t-shirt slogan.

Until yesterday morning at Dallas Fort-Worth airport. As I was walking from the nearest Starbucks back to my gate I passed the usual line up of airport eateries including representative samples from various chains. As it was mid-morning most were quiet and the various hosts and hostesses were leaning against the doors looking suitably bored.

All except the host from the branch of TGI Friday’s. He had stepped out into the flow of passengers walking by and was politely trying to engage a few in conversation. As I got closer I saw him zero in on a group of about five guys in their mid-twenties.

Hey are you guys hungry?” he asked, “Maybe in need of a cold beer?

They stopped. He had very quickly engaged his potential customers by offering them a solution to their immediate need. Once he had their attention he started to talk to them about various items on the menu.

menuHe was multichannel publishing the content he had to hand. Content that had been originally developed for print was now being used as audio. He was supplementing it by adding a few value statements and pointing out photos of particular items – adding a little graphical content to the mix.

Once he got to the Bacon Burger, he had his new customers hooked, and happily showed them into the restaurant and to a waiting table.

Watching all this it suddenly struck me that in this instance the food and drink, how they were presented, looked, and the promise of how they could solve an immediate need, were as much a part of the content marketing mix as the words on the menu.

Maybe in this case “Beer is content” … and the bacon too.

Do you consider the products you make, or the services you offer, as part of the content mix? How is product design integrated into your Content Strategy (if at all)?

If you’ll pardon the pun – it’s all food for thought.

 

Color me this…

The following are a few extracts from my latest feature cover article for INTERCOM magazine on Communicating with Color

 

My red shoes went viral on the Internet thanks to a photograph taken at the Intelligent Content Conference in Palm Springs back in February. Over the last couple of years I’ve developed a bit of an obsession with Converse sneakers, and as of today have nine pairs in different colors, usually worn to match whatever shirt or jacket I’m wearing. The red ones always seem to draw comments or, it seems, the occasional photograph.
However my interest in color goes beyond my choice of sartorial footwear, as I’ve long been interested in the use of color as a design element in communications and storytelling.
Color has always been around us, used by both man and nature as a means to communicate.  The bright plumage of a bird, or the striped fur of a Tiger are not an accident, they are an integral part of the way that the animals interact with each other and their surroundings. The same goes for the human species. We have long used color to communicate with each other and as a part of various cultural traditions. So why not use color as part of our technical communications toolbox as well?
….
Of course adding color to your technical communications deliverables isn’t as simple as just picking a few crayons from the box and coloring in between the lines. The use of color takes a lot of thought, and a new set of skills that need to be considered. In fact the color theory knowledge and experience of an individual can make a big impact.   
….
Think about the colors you see around you everyday and how they are used. Red for Stop or Danger. Green for Go etc. Your company probably already has some color standards overseen by the marketing group on how the company colors can be used. Think about how they can be incorporated in to your technical documentation. Even take a look at the colors used in the product you are writing about. How can they be used?

The full article is available in the print edition of the STC INTERCOM magazine, or on-line here.

What Do Stories Look Like?

Book design guru Chip Kidd discusses how designing books is all about using visual design to convey the story contained within. He also makes some great observations about eBooks.

“Much is to be gained by eBooks: ease, convenience, portability. But something is definitely lost: tradition, a sensual experience, the comfort of thingy-ness — a little bit of humanity.” (Chip Kidd)

The Global Language – A Preview

Perhaps the greatest advantage offered by the Internet and the World Wide Web today is the fact that it is truly “world wide,” and opens up an unprecedented international marketplace for the delivery of goods and services. Small companies can now sell into marketplaces never dreamed of before, while large multinational companies can streamline their internal communications; and cross-border and cross-cultural cooperation has become a reality.

However the global marketplace also raises a fundamental issue – that of global communications.

Global communication raises the idea of a common language that will easily be understood by all who use the information being delivered. It is still a common misconception that the dominant language on the web is English and is the de-facto language of business. This stems from the fact that the early days of internet growth was primarily from within the United States, but was quickly overtaken by other cultures, especially in Asia and the Pacific Rim.

While English is still the most popular language on the web[1] (only just – Chinese is close behind) it represents only 42% of all websites. On a global scale English is also in decline as a spoken language. The spoken language with the largest numbers of users is Chinese. As a written language it relies not on abstract symbols (letters), but on ideograms – pictorial representations of ideas. Perhaps this is where the answer to a global language lies. In pictures.

Scott McCloud, a leading theoretician on using graphics to communicate points out[2] that “pictures are received information (they) need no formal education to ‘get the message.’ – The message is instantaneous. Writing is perceived, it takes time and specialized knowledge to decode the abstract symbols of language.”


In the 21st Century it may be that visual iconography will finally help us realize a form of universal communication.

….. The above is the opening to an article on using graphics, symbols and icons in technical communications that I have just completed for the STC’s INTERCOM magazine. – Look out for the full article in the December issue.


[2] McCloud, Scott – “Understanding Comics” – Kitchen Sink (1993)