They Do That, Too?

They Do That, Too?

Our group of companies has long enjoyed a great relationship with the Schaumburg Business Association (SBA). From being a regular contributor for event photography, to partnering with other members on some great projects, we’re thrilled to continue this wonderful alliance.

Recently, the SBA featured our brands in a “Spotlight” to their membership, and we’re happy to share a synopsis:

Curtis Newborn Photographic serves more markets than you think!

• A longtime staple of the SBA, Curtis Newborn Photographic (CNP) provides a broad array of marketing & creative services

• With a convenient, full-service Schaumburg location, we service clients throughout Chicagoland & the Midwest

• The brands under the CNP umbrella provide turnkey solutions to a wide variety of marketing challenges

Click below to visit the SBA’s website where you can learn more:


Five Reasons for Choosing a Pro to Shoot Your Headshots

Five Reasons for Choosing a Pro to Shoot Your Headshots

Okay, sometimes you need to explain to the boss why you've spent the money on an experienced photographer, rather than spending the money buying his son/daughter a new camera. This seems to particularly apply when it comes to the Corporate Headshot – seemingly such a straightforward and innocent task, yet so easy for it to go completely wrong, too.

Your photos will look professional

Somewhat indefinable, until you see an amateur image, then it becomes immediately obvious. You will look at least as great as your competitors, and with the right photographer, a whole lot better.

They won't look cheesy

An experienced photographer knows how to relate to a people, how to position them and crucially how to interact with them to not get that “cheesy grin” look, but instead something unaffected, poised and friendly.

The camera simply captures what it sees

And your professional photographer will make sure that what is seen is properly lit, properly positioned, properly composed. As well as using many and varied bits of equipment for lighting and lighting control, only their experience in handling equipment will create a vast difference. Depending on what you need they can bring a portable studio, maximizing the quality and your time. A simple portable studio can be used to capture photographs of all staff very quickly and efficiently.

Herding cats

Part of the job is making sure that all the pictures are captured within the opportunity obtainable and with smallest job interruption. An experienced photographer knows how to sequence and manage the workflow – to make the most of their time, and yours!

It will pay for itself

Your professional will sit down with you and your team, and talk over what kinds of photographs you need. Lawyers, bankers and financial folk need to look confident – but definitely not smug! Doctors, client reps, sales staff need to be approachable, friendly and experienced. Company directors need to be assured, but not distant.

In closing

Remember you get what you pay for and what you ask for, so be clear with your photographer about how the images will be used – for web, for press, for magazines, for publications, for PowerPoint. The photographer will capture and prepare the images in diverse ways depending on how they will be used. You can come to us to use our studio, or we have a full traveling studio so we can come to you. Let’s talk soon about your biggest photographic challenges!

Our Latest Food Photography Tips

Our Latest Food Photography Tips

Ready to improve your food photography? Here are some tips that cover the gamut from lighting, photography hacks, propping & styling, to the overall creative mindset.

HERE WE GO (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER):

Experiment With Different Heights

Experiment with height and creating different levels. Use a cutting board to raise up some of your scene. Place something on a cake stand or use glasses in different heights. You don’t even have to go higher, placing things on a wrinkled kitchen towel create texture and breaks things up by creating visual differences or layers. Adding height can create a natural frame that you can work off, especially if shooting straight on or at different angles.

Absorb Beautiful Imagery

Continually look at good food photography. 10-15 minutes a day spent absorbing beautiful images from blogs and searching on Pinterest really refreshes my creativity and inspires me to create through my own lens. My goal is to saturate my subconscious with images that make me sigh so that when I start shooting I know what will move me emotionally.

Capture Your Overall Vision on Paper

Plan out your ideas for your photo shoots by using sketches. Don’t worry about details, just create quick sketches to capture your overall vision on paper. When sketching, focus on the story you want to tell, think about the props to use, choose the color palette and make notes about the lighting direction and all aspects related to the composition. This will help you to bring to life the mental image you had when first planning the photo shoot and photograph it, instead of shooting away and hoping to get a good image in the process.

Use Negative Space

Give the viewer some room to breathe, i.e. don’t zoom in all the way, let there be some negative space in the picture. It’s soothing on the eyes and mind.

Find Your Dishes Biggest Strength

To help me when I am going to shoot it’s crucial to ask myself what is the biggest strength of that dish or food? Is it the freshness, the texture, the color, the shape? And, very important too, what kind of feeling does that food bring, can be comfort, freshness, coziness… This combination is what will move all of the work to the final picture, through light, angle and composition.

Decide On Your Angle Before You Begin Styling

Use a dummy and decide on an angle BEFORE you start styling. Too many times, we have started setting up the food and styled it – just to find out that the angle is not right – and we have to change it – and then do all the styling over again.

Make The Photo Yours In Some Way

Make sure you make the photo your own in some unique way. Give it a look and style that is reflective of oneself, and/or your brand, philosophies and attitude towards everyday life.

Draw Your Set-ups

A tip given by some of the top food photographers through the years is to draw your setups. Most professional food photographers have their preferred setup and they only adjust it to their subject. So drawing your setup gives you a “base” that you can build your studio session from, making sure that you and the photographer are on the same page from the outset.

Artificial Light Can Be Your Best Friend

We hear it all the time; “I only use natural light”, “natural light is the only light to use,” etc. I absolutely do not agree. We have seen other posts and articles online comparing natural light to speed lights, and the differences are almost not noticeable when done right. Using artificial light can make beautiful food photography possible at any time of day and in any conditions. It is consistent, predictable and always there for you even if it is pitch black outside.

In Closing

Think about what you are shooting, who your target audience is, what the goals of your marketing or advertising campaign will be, and then make sure you fully communicate those goals across the entire team BEFORE you shoot. The results will be tremendous!

9 Questions Interesting People Ask People They Meet

9 Questions Interesting People Ask People They Meet

It all starts with having a genuine interest in the other person.

I remember early in my career, one of my biggest fears walking into a networking event to schmooze or meeting someone for a business lunch was boring the other person to tears in conversation.

I didn't want to be the windbag who dragged on forever, so I learned to be brief, to the point, and actually listen to the other person with all my being. I eventually avoided the mistake of talking about polarizing topics like politics or race, and learned to stay neutral, positive, and upbeat.

I began to tune in to my body language and voice tone to avoid sounding monotone, or looking like a bump on a log. I trained my brain to show emotions, laugh at people's jokes, smile when they smile, and make light of awkward situations.

The biggest lesson I learned in conversations with others.

But the biggest lesson for ensuring that I was being an interesting person who drew others in came down to asking the right questions. I found that this is what triggered authentic responses in the other person.

By showing curiosity about someone's story, accomplishments, passions, or interests, the law of reciprocity usually kicked in, and I had my turn to shine. There was a bonus attached to this strategy: Persuasion increased, which helped me steer the conversation in the direction I wanted it to go.

But here's the key: If you're in a conversation at a work-related function, or meeting someone to talk business for the first time, your best move is not to ask business-related questions; it's to discover common ties with that person that will steer the conversation back to the "work stuff" later in the conversation, but with a deeper connection.

In other words, get to know that person! To really exercise persuasiveness and make a quick connection that may have mutual benefits (and possibly make a new friend), I'll leave you with these questions. Granted, some may not be your ideal, icebreaking conversational starters, so use your best judgment when and where to use them to deepen the conversation.

9 questions for having great conversations

David Burkus, best-selling author of three books and an award-winning podcaster, has contributed the first four questions on this list from an interesting article he wrote for Harvard Business Review. The others come from our research, along with what other entrepreneurs and great conversationalists recommend:

1. What excites you right now?

As Burkus explains it, this question can go in many directions (work life, personal life, etc.) with a wide range of possible answers that may overlap into your life or work, which will open up the conversation further. And asking it allows for the other person to share something that he or she is passionate about.

2. What are you looking forward to?

Similar to the last one, but this is more forward-looking, which, says Burkus, allows for the other person "to choose from a bigger set of possible answers."

3. What's the best thing that's happened to you this year?

Same technique as the previous two, but this one goes back in time for the other person to reflect on something pivotal that may have changed the course of his or her life. It also opens up a wealth of answers to choose from, which may overlap into some of your own areas of interest or expertise for further discussion.

4. What's the most important thing I should know about you?

Because it can come across as a little direct, this is certainly not your first question, and it may not even be your third or fourth, but it "gives the broadest possible range from which they can choose," says Burkus. Use it in context, listen for clues, and wait for the right timing.

5. What's your story?

One of my personal favorites, this is open-ended enough to trigger an intriguing story--a journey to a foreign country, meeting a famous person, getting funded for the startup of your dreams, a special talent used for making the world a better place, etc. It's a question that immediately draws in the other person and lets him or her speak from the heart.

6. What is one of your defining moments?

This is another great question that invites the speaker to share on a deeper level, which builds momentum and rapport quicker. Obviously, a few casual questions before it helps set the mood for hearing about a profound moment or transition in that person's life.

7. Why did you choose your profession?

This assumes that, at some point, you dropped the mandatory "What do you do?" question. As a follow-up, it's a question that will reveal multiple layers of someone's journey. It speaks to people's values, what motivates them, and whether their work is their calling. It may also trigger a different, more thought-provoking response: Some people aren't happy in their jobs. By asking, you may be in the position to assist or mentor a person through a career or job transition.

8. What are you currently reading?

You may have the same authors and subjects in common, which will deepen your conversation. Also use this question to ask for book recommendations. You may find the conversation going down the path of exploring mutual book ideas to solve a workplace issue or implement a new business strategy.

9. How can I be most helpful to you right now?

To really add the most value to a conversation, once a level of comfort has been established, ask the other person how you can be most helpful to him or her, whether personally or professionally. You'll be amazed how pleasantly surprised people get by that thoughtful gesture, and how responsive they are in their answer. Your genuine willingness, no strings attached, to make yourself useful to others leads to more interesting, engaging, and real conversations that may lead to future opportunities.

In closing.

Remember, when you approach another person in conversation, the skill you want to use right off the bat is to immediately show sincere interest in that person. This will pave the way for a smooth conversation that can go places.

Whatever questions you decide to use, the important thing is to always ask open-ended questions and to avoid work-related questions or business questions until much, much later in the conversation. You'll be surprised by how seamless the transition is to discussing business, conducting a sales pitch, or exploring partnerships once both parties are into each other. Try it, and let me know what you think.

How To Effectively Rebrand

How To Effectively Rebrand

Considering a rebrand? Rebranding your company, product or service can be one of the most important decisions you make as a strategic marketer or entrepreneur. A successful rebrand can allow you to access new markets, win new mindshare, increase your top and bottom lines and build powerful brand equity.

Rebranding requires a tremendous amount of work. Before we dive into the step-by-step rebranding process, let’s take a look at some examples of successful, and unsuccessful rebrands.

Successful Rebranding Without Changing the Brand Name

Target

Twenty years ago, Target was a commodity discount retailer that was undifferentiated from the likes of K-Mart, Sears and JC Penny. To separate from the cutthroat world of competing on the basis of price, Target began creating partnerships with designers like Missoni and Alexander McQueen, becoming affectionately known as “Tar-zhay” for the chic discount offerings and growing to be second only to Walmart in its market share.

Apple

Nearing bankruptcy in the 1990s, having become a niche computer manufacturer for designers and schools, Apple rehired founder Steve Jobs and refocused on style, introducing the iMac and killing their PC-like beige box computers. While not a typical rebrand handled by an agency, Job rebranded the entire company by focusing on innovation and creating completely new products and services, turning Apple into one of the world’s most valuable companies.

Ciroc

Vodka is practically a commodity; taste tests show that most consumers can’t differentiate their product in blind taste tastes. Thus, many vodka brands differentiate via their brand positioning. Ciroc was initially launched for
the North American market in 2003 and marketed to nightclubs and entertainment venues in the U.S., with a heavy focus in Atlanta and Miami. Sales struggled. Brand owner Diageo, owner of brands such as Johnnie Walker, Guinness and Sterling Vineyards wines, partnered with Sean Combs in 2007, giving him the lead on all brand management decisions for Ciroc and sharing the future profits of the brand growth with him. Combs’ personal style and creativity propelled Ciroc sales from 40,000 cases per year in 2007 to 2,100,000 cases per year in 2012.

Successful Rebranding with a New Brand Name

SUBWAY – from Pete’s Super Submarines

In 1965, Pete’s Super Submarines opened in Bridgeport, Connecticut. A year later, it changed the name to Doctor’s Associates Inc., after co-founder Dr. Peter Buck, a nuclear physicist. After little success under the two previous names, Buck and co-founder Fred DeLuca gave it a third try using the name Subway. Today it’s the world’s largest submarine sandwich brand with over 40,000 locations around the world.

PayPal – from Confinity

Before it was called PayPal, the company was called Confinity – a name representing the merged words of “confidence and infinity.” While the company’s initial focus was on Palm Pilot payment and cryptography, the company chose the brand name PayPal after a Confinity engineer developed an online demo that allowed people to email payments. The company was later acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion in July 2002.

Accenture – from Andersen Consulting

Accenture was the new name applied to the spinout of the consulting division of Andersen Consulting in 2001. It’s a controversial rebrand that was criticized initially for the made-up word. However, after Arthur Andersen was convicted of obstructing justice in 2002, the entirely new branding allowed it to escape the negativity associated with the Andersen name.

Rebranding is expensive, even for a small to midsize company. If your

rebrand includes a name change, you’re likely to incur costs from $100,000s to millions for your new logo, visual brand identity and marketing materials, identity and assets.

Unsuccessful Rebranding

But even spending millions of dollars on a rebrand doesn’t ensure success. If done poorly, it can potentially destroy a product or company. Here are a few examples of companies who missed the mark with their rebranding.

Netflix Launches Qwikster

Most people are familiar with Netflix, the first disrupter in the video rental business. Their DVD-by-mail business contributed to the demise of Blockbuster, and in 2018, their streaming business is the largest in the world with over 118 million subscribers. However, the launch of the service was bumpy. In 2011, Netflix spun out their DVD-by-mail service under the new brand Qwikster to separate the mail order service from the streaming service. It was more than a name change; it was designed to be a completely separate businesses. Existing customers were required to re-register for their mail services and have two separate accounts, one on Netflix and one on Qwikster. Netflix lost hundreds of thousands of customers and their share price dropped by 37%, so they quickly reversed this decision and restored the singular Netflix brand.

Coke

If you’re over 40, you probably remember the New Coke debacle in the mid- 1980s. Although blind taste tests showed consumers preferred the new taste in small doses over the original formula, there was a tremendous backlash and Coke reverted to the original formula later that year, which shows that even the biggest and best brands can get it wrong.

Step-by-Step Process for Rebranding

If you’re considering rebranding your product, service or company, here’s a 10-step process for rebranding a company, product or service.

1. Quantify the reasons for the rebrand and conduct a brand audit

What are the reasons for your rebrand? Are you launching a new product or service?

Expanding into a new market? Changing the vision or mission for your company? Focusing on differentiating and gaining a competitive advantage? Or moving on from a negative event?

The reasons for your rebranding will affect the creative decisions you make for your brand positioning, brand creative and brand visual identity. Conduct a brand audit to understand the current perception of your existing brand and quantify the work required for your rebranding project.

2. Assess the risks/ROI

Always conduct a marketing ROI analysis before starting your project. Do you have the resources and budget? Have you quantified all of the costs associated with your rebranding? What type of return do you think it will produce?

Here is a list of common items you’ll have to create/recreate: logo, website, corporate identity, signage, print materials, ad creative, marketing materials.

3. Naming – Are you selecting a new brand name?

If you’re changing your brand name, don’t start by choosing your name first. Start by creating your brand strategy so you know exactly what your name should represent. THEN complete the process for selecting a new brand name. While this is the opposite approach from the way many businesses proceed, having a clearly defined brand strategy can help give you clarity and daring when selecting a great brand name.

4. Determine your new brand positioning

If your brand positioning is changing, map your competitive positioning to understand where you hope to fit in the future marketplace. This can help you to avoid entrenched competitors and give your team a clear roadmap of the mindshare you wish to own for your brand.

5. Define your brand architecture

The essence of your brand strategy is your positioning and what you want your brand to stand for. Sometimes that’s clear, and other times it takes some work. If you’re unsure, this brand architecture exercise can help you to define your brand architecture – the three things your brand should mean to your market and, eventually, the mindshare you wish to own.

6. Summarize your brand strategy and write your creative brief

Now, pull it all together in a summary report and add your brand inspiration, brand differentiation and brand personality traits. Create a compelling brand story and outline your ideas for your brand visual identity.

This document should include all of the key elements of your brand strategy. Your creative team will rely on it for direction and you can use it to judge the effectiveness of their results.

7. Select your creative team

Do you have the resources to handle in-house? Even if you’re small, it’s wise to include a professional agency. If you complete steps 1-6 of this process before selecting your agency or creative resources, they’ll have a much clearer understanding of what to create and you’ll save a lot of time and budget on the strategy design.

8. Evaluate, test and protect

Evaluating creative and brand messaging is an iterative process, best completed by a team that solicits real-time market feedback. Continue to gain feedback throughout the process, but beware of over-relying on focus groups! Over-reliance on focus groups gave us New Coke. Balance market feedback with your reasons for rebranding and the strategy that your team develops. Try tools like Usertesting or Usabilla to capture feedback. Protect your name by filing for federal trademark or service mark protection.

9. Create your launch plan

About three to six months before your brand is ready to go-live, create your launch plan. How will you unveil your brand to the market? What promotional activities will you use? Think about your website launch, digital and social media promotion, events – live and online, customer notices, media/press/bloggers/social influencers. Build excitement by letting your audience know that something new and exciting is coming.

10. Go-live and execute!

The culmination of all of the hard work of your rebranding project is your launch – perhaps the most exciting (and nerve-wracking) event for any marketer. Execution is all about the details, so carefully plan your activities on the calendar, give clear instructions to your team, measure all feedback and metrics and adjust and refine when required. Not everything will always go according to plan, so stay flexible and adjust when needed!

A Striking Analysis of Facebook Posts

A Striking Analysis of Facebook Posts

What a year for Business Pages on Facebook!

It sure feels like every time we as marketers and business owners think we have our Facebook marketing strategy figured out, a major algorithm change is announced or a new tactic becomes the latest trend.

Thanks to BuzzSumo, who spent time analyzing over 43 million Facebook posts, they’ve offered up the following research notes:

  • Top Pages are posting a lot more

  • It’s long been debated whether or not posting more results in more engagement and reach for your Facebook Business Page. Many brands report a positive increase in results when they post more, while others experience the opposite.

  • Either way, as we can see from the chart below there has been a 24% increase in the number of posts per quarter from 6.5m posts to 8.1m posts over the past year.

  • That’s an increase from 72,000 posts per day in Q1 2017 to 90,032 posts per day in Q2 2018. In other words, nearly 20,000 additional pieces of content are being posted by the world’s top brands... every day.

  • Overall Page engagement is declining (again)

  • Naturally, if the world’s top Facebook Pages are posting an additional 20,000 pieces of content per day to the platform, there’s going to be an increase amount of competition in the News Feed and a decrease of engagement across the board.

  • As businesses, however, I don’t think we truly understood how dramatic this decline in engagement (shares, likes, reactions, and comments) has been overall.

  • Facebook engagement down for video, images, and links

  • As with most social networks, the data shows that there is difference in performance between the various types of content that are posted (links, videos, images).

  • Interestingly enough, we found that images (not video) regularly receive the most engagement. However, consistent with the data above, average engagement per image dropped from 9,370 per post in Q1 2017 to just 3,454 per post in Q2 2018. Respectively, average engagement per video fell from 5,486 to 2,867.

  • Posting 5 times per day resulted in highest overall engagement

  • those that posted less than once per day had the lowest overall levels of engagement. As you increase frequency of posting overall levels of engagement rise, but only to a point.

  • Pages posting 5 times per day received an average of 2,466 engagements per post (a total of 12,330). Pages posting 10 or more times per day received an average of 1,202 engagements per post (a total of 12,020 engagements). In other words, posting 5 times per day appears to be the optimal Facebook posting frequency.

Now onto more insights!

5 reasons why Facebook Business Page engagement is declining

Although the data above paints a fairly bleak picture for businesses, there is still hope for your Facebook marketing strategy moving forward. In fact, we believe that the future is very bright for Pages willing to experiment and make a change.

But first, we must understand why we’re seeing a decrease in engagement so that we can know where to start to improve.

Increased competition

Today there are more than 80 million Business Pages on Facebook with a staggering 41% of all small businesses across the globe having a presence on the platform.

The challenge for these businesses is that as the volume of Page content increases, the space available in the News Feed for content remains the same. In other words, there is simply too much content being posted.

Higher quality content

Businesses are becoming more and more savvy at creating high-quality content across all social media channels. Video marketing no longer remains a mystery for many brands, ad content is better and more targeted than ever, and marketers are improving tremendously at their jobs everyday.

For audiences, this is actually a major positive. As brands, much of our success on Facebook depends on our ability to be able to create and deliver quality content on a consistent basis. But that also means the content quality bar is higher than ever before.

The Facebook algorithm continues to evolve

There has long been a slow and steady decline in organic reach as Facebook has changed the News Feed algorithm over the years to favor family and friends over Pages.

How to improve your Facebook marketing strategy today

As mentioned before, I believe that there is truly an exciting opportunity for businesses and brands on Facebook – as long as they are willing to make a change and experiment with their Facebook marketing strategy.

Here are the 3 biggest tips that will help your Page improve engagement and reach starting today.

1. Consider the return on investment (ROI) of each Facebook post

One thing that doesn’t get talked about enough when it comes to your Facebook marketing strategy is the ROI of each Facebook post. In looking at the data above, it’s clear that the success of each post dramatically decreases after posting 5 (or more) times per week.

In this regard, there seems to be two schools of thought when it comes to Facebook posting frequency: quality vs. quantity.

Quality: Focused on posting fewer, quality Facebook posts that reach a higher number of people per post
Quantity: Focused on posting more Facebook posts that reach a higher number of people overall

In the past, the quantity approach worked for hundreds of Business Pages – the more they posted the more engagement they saw on a daily, weekly, etc. basis. However, the data above shows that this approach no longer works, and in fact, might be decreasing the effectiveness of all of your Facebook content (i.e., the ROI of each post).

Facebook Pages such as HubSpot have shifted their Facebook marketing strategy to focus on tactics that work such as producing more viral videos and images and stopped spending time on things that don’t work such as posting links to their website.

Facebook and other social media channels are no longer a means to an end. They are now the platforms in which people can consume content, be entertained, shop, share, and so much more without ever having to leave the comfort of their app.

A large part of your new and improved Facebook marketing strategy should be focused on engagement, interacting with your audience, and increasing the ROI of each post, instead of simply broadcasting your message.

2. Tap into your audience’s top reasons for sharing online

In 2011, the New York Times published an intriguing article on the science behind why people share online. More than seven years later, the lessons learned in that research are still as relevant as ever for your Facebook marketing strategy.

They found that the top 5 reasons why people share online is to:

1. Delight others with valuable & entertaining content

2. Identify and present ourselves to others

3. Foster relationships

4. Self-fulfillment

5. Spreading the word about issues, products, and brands

It’s no coincidence that some of the most viral content on Facebook is related to food, animals, fashion, humor and beauty!

I encourage your business to go through your last 50 Facebook posts and examine them from a consumer perspective. Ask yourself: if I were to see this in the Facebook News Feed, would I actually interact with the content?

Brands such as Brain Pickings are creating content centered around people’s desire to connect and share interesting things with their friends and family. Even if that something is as simple as a friendly “hello” or reminder about the special place their relationship holds in their heart. This is a great example of the simplicity of viral content:

If you’re interested in reading more about why people share online, Brian Carter made some interesting observations about what makes Facebook content viral, including 7 things that content must do in order to be shared.

3. Optimize your content for mobile consumption

The rise of mobile usage and consumption is a big deal for businesses, particularly on Facebook.

More than 95% of Facebook users access the social network from their mobile device, meaning that it’s time for us to start consider the implications of mobile and how we might evolve our Facebook marketing strategies moving forward.

One of the biggest factors driving this change is vertical video viewing, a format which reflects natural user behavior (many of us hold our phones in an upright position). Facebook studies have shown that 79% of vertical video consumers agreed that the format is more engaging, and said they would choose the vertical format in most cases. They also found that 65% of respondents said that brands using vertical video for their advertising are “more innovative.”

The State of Food Content Marketing

The State of Food Content Marketing

Developing a content marketing strategy is kind of like creating an appealing menu. It’s an important start, but the execution is what matters. You have to be able to cook the dishes correctly, plate them attractively, serve eager customers, and then make sure they actually enjoy your food, come back for more, and tell all their friends about their fantastic experience.

Food content marketers have, in many cases, fallen short. The NewsCred Top 50 Content Marketing Brands includes just a few standout examples from the food space. Although most food brands are producing creative content, many lack a content hub. Some that do try to get away with reheating stale content that isn’t so fresh. Or, they fail to maximize that content by promoting it consistently on social media and other marketing distribution channels. Still other food companies opt for one-off promotions instead of creating an ongoing, consistent content strategy.

Yet, consumers are hungry for food content. Consider this:

  • BuzzFeed’s Tasty has more than 94 million Facebook fans

  • “How To Cook That” is now a top 10 search phrase on YouTube

  • And let’s face it, your social feeds probably consist of lots of food photos – are we right?

So how can you figure out which types of food-related content will resonate in a very crowded space? One strategy is to focus on food and restaurant trends, especially among the biggest digital content consumers: the millennials. CBD Marketing’s analysis of 12.5 million social media posts by U.S. millennials (ages 18 to 35) revealed that they:

  • Gravitate to healthy, natural foods and cultural flavors

  • Like to cook and prep meals

  • Support alternative food distribution via meal delivery and meal services

Furthermore, a Nielsen study found:

  • Millennials want to know more about how their food is produced and want to “see the story behind the scenes” (81 percent and 80 percent, respectively)

  • 73 percent are willing to pay more for sustainable brands

  • 58 percent of millennials eat out at least once a week

Like chefs, good content marketers with a keen understanding of their customers’ tastes can develop a focused menu of content offerings (across platforms), sprinkle in the key ingredients (video, dynamic apps, cause marketing), and experiment with new digital flavors (chatbots, IoT technology) as they become trendy.

Here’s a sampling of effective, customer-satisfying food content marketing strategy tactics, straight from today’s top brands:

Building communities through aspirational and inspirational user-generated content (UGC)

Remember all those social media food posts we alluded to above? It goes to show that people love to share their culinary masterpieces – whether home- cooked, eaten out, or ordered in – and get tips and commentary from others with similar tastes. That’s why food brands win when they leverage user-

generated content (UGC) that engages and celebrates their customers while driving brand goals.

Plated, a NewsCred Top 50 winner that sends aspiring home cooks ingredients and step-by-step recipes to create simple but impressive-looking meals, has grown in large part thanks to UGC.

Plated uses UGC to build a community. On Instagram and Twitter, Plated asks fans to share their meals with the hashtag #platedpics. The company often reposts the #platedpics people share on those networks, and features them in an ongoing blog series. The UGC not only celebrates Plated fans; it also shows other people how easy it is to create Plated meals (and how delicious they look), which may persuade them to try the service.

How to get started: To encourage a steady stream of UGC, invite customers to share their experiences with your brand on their social networks. Develop and promote a special hashtag, and then reward customers for contributing; random drawings and discounts, or simply just featuring their posts on your social channels and content hub, can go a long way to incentivize participation.

Leveraging recipe content across channels

This might seem like a no-brainer for food brands, but not every company is fully using recipe content to its full advantage. Whole Foods is a brand that does. The Amazon-owned grocery giant features more recipes than promotions on its website homepage. It has a dedicated recipe newsletter and often promotes recipes on Twitter and Instagram.

The healthy grocery store chain also deploys recipe content via the Whole Foods Facebook chatbot, in which users can browse products or search recipes using keywords or even emojis.

“Whole Foods Market customers are always looking for inspiration, no matter whether they are at home, on the run, or walking down our aisles,” said Jeff Jenkins, then Global Executive of Digital Strategy and Marketing at Whole Foods Market, in an interview with VentureBeat.

And knowing that inspiration is so very often found via mobile devices and creating content in that vein is what helps a food brand stand out.

How to get started: While you might expect Betty Crocker or Kraft Foods to serve up recipes, even single product lines and niche brands have found success with recipes. Chobani almost single-handedly made baking with Greek yogurt a thing, promoting yogurt recipes across its distribution channels. Think about some unique ways that your products might be used – even reach out to your customers to ask – and see if you have enough ideas to warrant regular recipe content.

Sharing a consistent message across social channels

When it comes to social media marketing among the fast food giants, no other brand has more appeal with Gen Z and younger millennials than Taco Bell. With more than 1.1 million Instagram followers, 1.91 million Twitter fans, and 66,000 YouTube followers, Taco Bell’s investment in creating unique content is clearly paying off.

If social media channels are snacks, Taco Bell’s content hub is the main course. The hub features blog posts about interesting creators/Taco Bell enthusiasts, employees (like a dietician and a brand marketer), and even fans who take their love of the brand to the extreme, like a couple who got married at a Taco Bell!

In all it does, Taco Bell makes fans the center of each content decision – the YouTube series “For Here or To Go” is a great example. And no marketer could forget the incredible success that Taco Bell had on Snapchat with its 2016 Cinco de Mayo filter that turned users’ faces into giant tacos, viewed more than 224 million times!

How to get started: Few brands find tremendous success on every social platform at once, so start with the one or two that your audience spends the most time on. Whichever you choose, try to stay on top of the latest social media trends, whether it’s using influencers or creating Instagram stories. (Taco Bell is killing it with those, too!)

Showcasing your values

There are so many great examples of marketers using content to bring their brand’s ethos to life. In the food industry, few do it better than Ben & Jerry’s. The ice cream company is as much known for its delicious variety of decadent flavors as it is for its stance on pressing political and social justice issues. Its content hub features posts about ice cream recipes and new flavors, as well as stories that align with its values, like “We Stand with the Student Leaders of March for Our Lives”.

Jay Curley, now Ben & Jerry’s Global Head of Integrated Marketing, told New York Magazine: “We’re trying to create a new model for how businesses can use their voice to have an impact on important social movements, and show that you can do that and it doesn’t hurt your business. As a matter of fact, it may help.”

Proof that it does? Ben & Jerry’s business has tripled in the last 15 years.

Another example of brand values being good for business is Clif Bar. Its content hub showcases the company’s most important attributes: health, wellness, adventure, nature, sustainability, and an active, passion-fueled lifestyle. Recent stories include a profile of two Clif Bar-sponsored athletes who set out to raise $100,000 for Bears Ears National Monument, and a big rock piece of content about The Great Trail, a 15,000-mile network of trails across Canada.

What you won’t find is a hard sell. And it’s not necessary. Equating Clif Bar consumption with the brand’s lifestyle has garnered legions of fans. Clif Bar’s Instagram account – which has more than 147,000 followers – further follows that strategy by featuring fans’ nature photography tagged with #FeedYourAdventure over product shots.

How to get started: If you know what your brand values are, don’t be afraid to share them. You don’t necessarily have to get political or controversial – just be authentic.

Telling the stories behind the food

As people become more conscious consumers, they want to know the stories behind what they eat. In other words, how is the food produced? Where do the ingredients come from? Who are the people involved?

Kashi’s “Stories” align well with the brand’s wholesome, healthy products. The stories share insights into healthy eating and food inspiration, and change the boundaries of food norms. The “Certified Transitional” video series and related blog posts, for example, highlight Kashi’s investment in farmers who are in the process of becoming USDA certified organic.

How to get started: Whether your brand is focused on all-natural foods or you’re a restaurant that uses locally-sourced ingredients, it will benefit you to share that information or other sustainability initiatives with your customers.

Experimenting with new technologies

Getting in on the next big technology trend can pay off, as it has for a few food brands that have created Alexa skills. Stubb’s BBQ sauce launched its skill, Ask Stubb, to assist grill cooks. The skill features recipe ideas and tips like: “Don’t ever put ribs on top of each other. You have to allow space for the heat to penetrate.” The best part is you won’t hear Alexa’s robotic voice – you’ll hear Stubbs himself, making it a more user-friendly experience.

How to get started: Listen closely to your customers’ needs and check out some other top brand experiences on Alexa. Then, create audio content to enhance how your users experience and interact with your product.

In closing

Content marketing strategies for food brands work best when brands highlight their values and know their audience’s tastes. But more importantly, brands need to work harder so that their customers aren’t left feeling hungry for more – otherwise, they’ll take their content appetites elsewhere.

Email Split Testing Ideas

Email Split Testing Ideas

Marketing campaigns benefit from email split testing, as good tests provide insight to improve future campaigns. When it comes to split tests for email marketing, we have a few tips that will help you get the most out of it:

Decide What Type of Result You Are Testing For

Open rates, click rates, and end results are all stats that you can gather and learn about with split testing. End result refers to the action that you’re looking for on your site: it could be a purchase, a survey response, an event registration, or something else. Trying to test more than one of the stats will muddy the findings, so choose only one and measure the results.

Testing Open Rates

This type of test evaluates what leads more people on your list to open an email. Nothing in the email body factors into this test, as your contact sees the body of the email only after they’ve already opened it and are counted in the test results. Factors you can modify in an open rate test include: subject line, preview text, time of day that the email is sent, day of the week that the email is sent, and who the email is from.

Testing Click Rates

Click through tests look at the contacts who opened your email, how many of them clicked on content, and what they clicked on. None of the factors or variables used for an open rate should be split tested when you evaluate click rates, so keep everything consistent up to the open. Variables to test for click rates may include: email template design, the tone of voice (is it humorous or serious?), animation, button styles, graphics, images, products, content, or copy length.

Testing End Response

This test is looking at the action taken as a result of the email. If I send a sales promotion to List A and List B, I want to know which list produced more sales. The variable you test here could be a split test of the page you link to from the email. For example, you may want to test the difference between linking your call to action buttons to a product page or a category page. Alternatively, you may link both parts of the split test to a registration form, but change the format of the form.

There are times when a test for end response involves changing one of the variables normally used for open rate or click rate tests. Why would you change one of those variables and measure end response instead of open or click rates? In this case, you’re looking for the continuity of the experience leading from the inbox to the action you want your contact to take.

An intriguing subject line that generates more opens would win an open rate split test. However, it may resonate with people for a reason unrelated to your end result. For example, the subject line “Open this email for a surprise” could generate more opens than “We’re running a special sale on dishwashers.” The dishwasher subject line may generate less opens, but those who do open will be more relevant and interested buyers for dishwashers, thus leading to more results.

What to test depends on what you want to learn about your email program and your contacts. Test often, test wisely, and test with a strategy in mind.

The Broccoli Tree and the dangers of sharing photos of the places you love online

The Broccoli Tree and the dangers of sharing photos of the places you love online

Landscape, wildlife, and adventure photographers (among others) will often keep their most treasured locations and subjects secret. And while this might seem rude or selfish or mean, the tale of The Broccoli Tree in Sweden—told beautifully in a recent vlogbrothers video by best-selling author John Green—explains exactly why this practice might also be necessary.

The Broccoli Tree, for those who aren't familiar, is (or was) a tree in Huskvarna, Sweden that somehow became social media famous.

Photographing this tree became a passion project of photographer Patrik Svedberg, and over the course of 4+ years, the tree gained quite a following on Instagram. In fact, it kind of became Insta-famous so-to-speak, accruing over 31,000 followers to date.

But Insta-fame comes with consequences in this day and age. No matter how beautiful or inspiring, no matter how much joy something brings to the general populace, there will always be those people who get some deluded self-satisfaction out of destroying it.

This is what happened to The Broccoli Tree.

One day in September of 2017, Svedberg went to photograph his favorite tree, only to find that someone had sawed one of the tree's branches almost all the way through. It wasn't long before the whole tree had to be cut down.

You may be surprised to find that Green's takeaway isn't that people should keep these locations a secret, or not share photos of them at all. In fact, he comes to a totally different, if somewhat melancholy, conclusion:

The truth is, if we hoard and hide what we love, we can still lose it. Only then, we're alone in the loss. You can't un-saw a tree, but you can't un-see one either. The Broccoli Tree is gone... but its beauty survives.

Why you're not as good a photographer as you think

Why you're not as good a photographer as you think

Have you ever noticed that as you learn more about the world of photography, you tend to realize just how little you actually know? This phenomenon is what's referred to as the Dunning-Kruger effect. The name of the phenomenon came from two social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. During a study, the two recognized that the less competent someone was at a given task, the better they thought they were. Put more simply, if you think you're a great photographer, there's a good chance you're not nearly as amazing as you think you are.

Almost everyone falls victim to the Dunning Kruger effect at some point in their career. But the more self-aware you can become, the less likely you are to fall into the trap of being a bad photographer who thinks they're good. To help combat this downward spiral, Below are tips shared by experts about how you can combat this phenomenon:

  • Beware of feeling comfortable- If you start feeling comfortable in your abilities, try something new and expand your horizons. Don't get complacent.

  • Learn to let go of old work- Always try to one-up yourself and make your next shot your best shot. If you still think that shot from four years ago is your best, you probably haven't improved much.

  • Ask for feedback and constructive critique- It's not always easy to hear, but an outside perspective can help you get a broader and more realistic view of your skills and ability.

  • Always keep learning- You have never learned everything. Never think you've finished learning something—everything is a rabbit hole of knowledge.

  • Feeling bad about your old work is a sign of progress- Thinking your old work isn't great means you've learned where you've fallen short and know how to improve your work.

In the end, no matter what you think of your work or how far you've come, it's ultimately about enjoying the ride. Our parting piece of advice is to 'learn why you're doing things, not just how to do them'.

On Set: How a Photographer and a Food Stylist Stretch Their Creative Muscles with Test Shoots

On Set: How a Photographer and a Food Stylist Stretch Their Creative Muscles with Test Shoots

We often talk about the importance of self-assigned projects. Photographers need to constantly stretch their creative muscles by shooting what they love– whether or not it’s something they are currently being hired to shoot. Personally-driven work also helps show clients what kind of work a

photographer produces without a script, and how well they might collaborate with a creative director of an art department in the future.

One facet of self-assigned work is the art of the test shoot. For photographers who shoot reportage, travel, or similar types of work, self-assigned work requires a camera, two legs, and a lot of research. But for photographers who normally shoot in a studio, or work on sets that require a large crew, test shoots can be a vital part of maintaining relationships with food stylists, makeup artists, and even other photographers.

If everyone is on board and willing to collaborate, test shoots can be fun, creative spaces that lead you to unexpected places. Sometimes, if you want to work with a certain stylist or model, you’ll need to hire them the same way you would for a client-based project. But other times, test shoots are mutually beneficial, and everyone will donate their time to end up with a final project each of you can add to your portfolio.

There are different levels to test shoots, from a full studio filled with assistants, stylists, and models to a quiet kitchen with a few strategically placed lights and a close friend or two looking to collaborate.

It’s always a lot of fun but a little strange going from a commercial shoot to a test shoot. Suddenly there’s no product to sell, no parameters, and no art director to please - you are free to create. The flip side is it can be so open that you have to give yourself some direction or you can be aimless. Have fun with the exercise, and immerse your team in the fun!

Permission-Based Marketing in the US

Permission-Based Marketing in the US

You probably have several customer contact points where you collect customer and prospect data.

But do you have your contact data fields set up properly and your systems sharing data frequently enough to comply with permission-based marketing rules?

We've compiled a list of a few points you should consider, whether you have separate databases for your CRM and ESP or one.

Whether you are collecting permission to market via email, text or phone, you'll want to make sure your database architecture can accommodate these data points.

Below is our list of database considerations for permission-based marketing:

1) Have different permission checks to opt-in and -out of email marketing, phone calls and text messaging. Contacts may be interested in receiving an email, but not a text. If you only have one checkbox in your data to opt out, you will be opting them out of all communications unnecessarily.

2) If you are collecting permissions for a current or future text messaging campaign, be sure your database has a field specifically for the mobile number you are texting. If you collect an opt-in for a text campaign, and your system sends the text to the office landline phone, you won’t be reaching your contact.

3) Create a process to sync opt-outs across systems. Email opt-outs must be honored within 10 days of the request, according to the CANSPAM act. If your customer service team is taking an opt-out request over the phone, or your Salesforce system logs an opt- out request and your email goes out of another system, make sure you update your email system opt-out list within 10 days of sending an email. This can be done by updating your list before a send or creating an API call to sync continuously.

4) Transactional emails are different than marketing emails. You can send emails to unsubscribed addresses if your message is regarding a specific transaction, like a purchase or account update. Be sure you send transactional emails through an automation process, not a broadcast process, for delivery to all contact records.

5) Preferences centers are a great way to segment your list based on contact interests. If you set them up, be sure to use them. Make sure you’re emailing lists that match the preferences your contacts provided. Examples: you may have different product lines and allow contacts to receive emails based on only a specific product line. Or, you may allow contacts to choose to receive only news updates versus sales notices.

6) Keep a master opt-out list. Maintain a master list that shows who opted-out and when.

As always, take the time to follow industry best practices and you’ll avoid headaches with angry customers or consumers.

How Videographers Can Avoid Data Catastrophes

How Videographers Can Avoid Data Catastrophes

There are inherent risks in working with digital media just like there are inherent risks in working with tape or film. However, there are steps you can take to mitigate that risk and to ensure that, if a problem arises, you’re prepared to work around it.

Before Your Shoot

The first thing to do is start with reliable media in the first place by only purchasing cards from established companies like Sandisk or Lexar. They might be a little more expensive, but they’re absolutely worth the investment. The few bucks you save by settling on that Discount House Brand SD card is going to seem a lot less significant when it crashes on you during a job.

Next, you’ll want to format all of your cards in-camera, ideally well before your shoot begins. Do this every time, whether the camera prompts you to or not, whether the cards are used or not, and whether you think you already did it or not. If the camera gives you the option to do a complete or secure format, take that option. Take the time to make sure that the cards are prepped for the camera they’re going to be working in so you don’t have to take that time during your shoot. On shoot days, the less you have to think about the better. Take note, too, about whether you need to unmount or “eject” the media from the camera before physically removing it. If so, make sure anyone handling the media knows to wait until it’s ejected before taking it out or turning the camera off. In our experience, most preventable card corruption happens because someone turned off the camera before the media was unmounted.

Finally, if you can, make sure you have enough media on hand to get you through at least a full shooting day without re-formatting any used cards. Sure, it’s hypothetically possible to dump footage off a card, format it, and use it again the same day, but that way lies madness. You’re asking for an accident if you’re juggling used and un-used cards in a hurry like that. Better to play it safe and spend the money to make sure you don’t have to clear any data until your shoot is over and you have time to double-check everything.

During Your Shoot

If your camera is capable of dual-recording the same data to two different card slots, I cannot more highly recommend taking advantage of that feature. You should also do everything you can to stay as organized as possible. Keep spent cards separate from empty cards, stick to a consistent file structure and naming convention on your backup drives, keep careful shot notes, etc.

Ingest Software

If there’s one piece of information I want video customers to take away from this article, it’s this: offloading software is totally worth the investment and should be used every time you shoot anything. For those of you unfamiliar with offload software, it’s any application designed to make it easier for you to back up footage from one location or source to another. In case of accidents or corruption, it’s always best to keep all of your media on at least two different devices. At its simplest, this means dumping every filled card to two hard drives. Ideally (budget depending), you’d also be keeping the footage on your cards at least until the end of your shooting day. Maybe you want to take extra steps to ensure your footage is backed up safely, such as backing up to RAID arrays instead of single hard drives or even duplicating your backup drives to cloud storage. Offloading software helps simplify, automate, and verify all of these processes.

The most important thing all of these apps have in common, and a feature you’ll want to look for if you shop around for any other options is called “checksum verification.” The precise definition is a little too technical to get into here, but, put very simply, checksum verification is a process by which software uses one or more algorithms to determine that the file or files you’re duplicating are identical, down to the byte, to the original file or files. It’s by far the best way to ensure that entire volumes are copied without corruption, and, depending on your operating system and drive format, it may not be happening if you’re just copying using the finder or file navigator. Whatever application or method you choose, make sure checksum verification is a part of your workflow any time you’re moving or duplicating files.

Post-Production

After your shoot is over and you’ve safely transferred all of your files to external drives, it’s time to consider how you’ll store your media in the long

term. Different individuals and businesses will all approach storage in different ways because of their varying needs, workflows, and resources. There’s no one correct answer for everyone. However, there are a few rules of thumb.

First, just like during shooting, you’ll want to make sure all of your media is stored on multiple volumes. That way, if one of your drives goes down, you have a backup ready to go. Second, and somewhat unique to long-term storage, you should consider having those multiple volumes in different physical locations. If there’s, say, a fire in your office, it won’t matter how many drives you’ve backed up to if they’re all in the same place. These days this usually means backing up in the cloud, but I’ve worked at multiple production companies in the past that had drive backups stored at banks in safe deposit boxes. Finally, especially if you’re working with large amounts of data, I’d recommend a “working” drive separate from your archive. This is mainly a budgetary issue. Archive drives don’t need to be nearly as fast or durable as ones that you’re working on day-to-day.

The important point here is that these sorts of strategies are things you should be thinking about at every step of your production. How does your camera or codec choice affect your media needs? How are you going to ensure safe data backup in the field? How are you going to work with all of this footage in post in a way that’s both secure and efficient? Answering all of these questions ahead of time will keep your media safe and your clients happy.

The surprising psychology of dieting and plate design

The surprising psychology of dieting and plate design

New research is challenging long-held assumptions about how our eyes influence our stomachs.

You’ve probably heard the idea that using smaller plates and bowls can affect your perception of how much you’re eating, thereby helping you eat less. But how well does it work? A new study sheds light on that popular theory, finding that if you’re really hungry, it doesn’t work. The reason why is a glimpse into the fascinating psychology of how we see and judge the world around us.

Tzvi Ganel, head of the Laboratory for Visual Perception and Action at
the Ben Gurion University’s Department of Psychology, headed up the research. Ganel explains that while your plate size has a definitive effect on how you perceive the food contained in it, how it affects your perception all depends on how ravenous you are. The hungrier you are, the less your perception will be altered.

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Published in the journal Appetite, the research conducted two experiments, the first with 32 women and another with41 females and 40 males. Together with PhD student Noa Zitron-Emanuel, Ganel exposed the subjects to food in plates of different sizes to measure the effect of food deprivation on the subjects’ susceptibility to something called the Delboeuf illusion.

The Delboeuf illusion is a psychological phenomenon that affects how we perceive two circles of identical size relative to the size of the circle that contains it. The inner circle will always appear smaller to us if it is contained in a larger circle. In food terms, this means that if you put a pizza on a plate, your brain will think it’s bigger than the same pizza on a larger plate. The theory goes that if your brain sees food on a very large plate, you won’t be satisfied when you eat it. Put the same amount of food on a small plate, and you will.

Ganel and Zitron-Emanuel found out that if subjects were hungry, the illusion simply didn’t hold up. Ganel says over email that the data clearly shows “that it is more difficult to trick the brain via illusions when food is in need.” In comparison, the researchers also exposed participants to neutral representations that didn’t involve food–just circles of the same size inside other circles of different dimensions. In that test, the experiment subjects were affected by the Delboeuf illusion, regardless of their hunger level.

Their conclusion? If you’re hungry, your brain throttles down the Delboeuf illusion to save your life. “[This adaptive phenomenon] allows humans to effectively evaluate objects of interest when such objects can be vital for survival,” Ganel writes.

But dieters, not all is lost! A 2012 study by the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University found out that lighting and other environmental factors can have a big impact on your appetite. The test divided a real world fast food restaurant in Champaign, Illinois, into two dining areas: one was your usual burger environment with bright lights, colors, and loud music while the other one was decorated like a nice restaurant with indirect lighting, white

tablecloths, and jazz music. Then they took 62 random customers and measured their calorie intake. The results were fascinating: “Although customers in the fine dining atmosphere ate for 4.7% longer, they ate less than their fast-food counterparts.” They also found out that the fine dining customers weren’t more likely to order more food than the fast food customers, yet if they did, their orders contained 14% fewer calories. They rated the food better, too.

In other words, the way you eat is important–even if the old “use a smaller plate” theory doesn’t always work.

How Catalog Marketing is Going Niche

How Catalog Marketing is Going Niche

It is expected that the industry will see a rise in niche publications and a focus on more developed catalogs that “tell a story.”

For those in the magazine and catalog printing and publishing segments, the past year has been nothing short of dynamic. Although there has been considerable consolidation and downsizing, these trends have opened up doors to other possibilities that are being embraced by printers and publishers alike: niche publications are on the rise and catalogs have evolved to tell their own story.

Niche Is the New Mass Market

Traditionally, magazines were driven by mass-market titles that could appeal to a wide audience, David Pilcher, VP of sales and marketing at Freeport, Ohio-based Freeport Press, explains. The industry has recently seen a shift in the types of titles that are seeing the biggest growth, he says, and it's niche titles that are leading the march.

These types of niche publications may provide the perfect opportunity for printers to work with publishers to launch new titles.

Part of the reason publications, in particular, are flourishing in the niche space is because the audience has chosen to engage with the brand rather than because of data analytics or targeting.

The changing landscape and consolidation in the publication and catalog segments on the paper supply side have also affected the cost of production. Gary Sierzchulski, director of customer engagement strategies at Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Arandell, says that there have been increases in paper costs due to this consolidation. In addition to paper costs trending upwards, postal rates will continue to rise in 2018, with previous technology incentives eliminated.

Connecting the brand with people in an experiential way is more effective than showing stacks of merchandise with prices next to them.

Although some brands may consider a digital catalog to be on equal footing with a printed version, there is an essential difference between print and digital catalogs that drives the print component. When it comes to digital, there is no control over the outcome of the digital rendering. Merchandisers and art directors have no control over what the merchandise will look like on screen, he explains. But, when it is printed, color can be controlled.

Overall, the marketing industry remains very bullish on print. It is still the most effective channel for driving sales, maintaining brand loyalty and growing a customer base. The results of print versus all other channels back that up.

Keys to Great Packaging Design

Keys to Great Packaging Design

The difference between a successful product and an unsuccessful product can be as simple as effective packaging design. Packaging is often the first introduction potential customers have to your product. Attractive, effective packaging design is the key to product engagement and sales, while unattractive packaging is the key to having your product skipped over in favor of the competition.

Packaging is equal parts art and science, psychology and gentle persuasion. For your product to be successful, your product packaging must be successful.

Unfortunately, far too many companies overlook the importance of packaging. Many great products – and companies – have faltered and died on the altar of bad packaging. Here are a few key points to keep in mind to guarantee that your product packaging will have the impact it needs to make your product successful.

Make Your Product Stand Out

Your average supermarket carries approximately 40,000 different products. Your typical Walmart Supercenter carries upwards of 142,000 different products depending on store size. Every one of these products fight for the attention of shoppers, creating an enormous "signal-to-noise" problem for your product. Let’s try a little experiment to help you understand this better. The next time you go shopping, pick a random product category, be it anything from cereal to TVs – and count the number of products on display within that category that have confusingly similar packaging. The results may surprise you. If you want your product to be noticed, it has to stand out. Be willing to think outside the box, so to speak, and be an innovator rather than an emulator.

Color is Critical

The color(s) you choose are a critical element to any successful packaging design, and picking the right colors to help your packaging stand out from the competition is crucial to your success. However, one important tip to keep in mind in choosing packaging colors is the need to stay consistent with your brand standards. For instance, red and white have become established parts of the Coca-Cola brand, while red, white, and blue are part of the established branding identity for competitor Pepsi-Cola. Packaging that incorporates your signature brand colors helps reinforce your brand to consumers. Additional color choices should be guided by current marketing standards and consumer preferences. For instance, black was once considered a major faux pas for food packaging, but in recent years has become a prominent choice for many food product packages. Simple, bold colors, or interesting color combinations will get your packaging noticed. This is particularly important if the packaging used by your competitors is overly loud or garish – remember, one way to stand out is to provide contrast with your competitors. Being different will always get you noticed.

Clarity & Simplicity

What do consumers value above all else when shopping? Convenience and value. Unfortunately, consumers who are unable to determine your value proposition due to hard-to-decipher or confusing packaging will pass your product by. Part of the convenience proposition for consumers is the ability to quickly evaluate a product. If consumers are unable to quickly find the information they need to make an informed buying decision from your packaging, your packaging has in essence failed – and your product may soon follow.

Typography Anchors Your Design

A key element of clean, successful packaging design is choosing the right typography. Cluttered, small, or hard-to-read fonts can frustrate consumers and sabotage an otherwise promising packaging design. Your consumers want and need to know more information about your product before making an informed buying decision, but this information is wasted if they are unable to decipher poorly designed typographic elements.

Know Your Target Audience

Your packaging needs to speak to your audience. An important part of effective packaging is to know your audience, and to speak to them in ways that will help them build a connection with your brand. Research your target audience and model your packaging to fit their needs and interests. For instance, if you are marketing a non-GMO food product, and your target audience is very GMO conscious, you will want to prominently include this in your package design.

Maintain a Consistent Brand

Branding is the heart and soul of your business. Consistency of tone, of voice, of values across your branding efforts is critical in building brand credibility among consumers. Packaging is a critical part of your brand. Your brand identity must be represented in your packaging and starts with using a consistent color palette, a consistent voice, and consistent design elements such as logos and typography across all branded materials. Remember, for many consumers, your packaging will be the most common – and, quite often, only — branding element they will come in contact with. Consumers value brand honesty and trustworthiness, and brand consistency is a key to persuading consumers that your brand is trustworthy by being true to your internal values and your brand message.

To Wrap it Up

In summary, product success starts with effective packaging design. And the first step in that process is picking the right team to help you design product packaging that sells. Our marketing and design staff understands what it takes to create product packaging that makes your product stand out in a crowded field of competitors. 

If you’d like a free copy of our “Packaging Design Process” white paper, contact us today and learn how the many creative services we offer can help take your company to the next level.

Creating High Quality Imagery with Today’s Smartphones

Creating High Quality Imagery with Today’s Smartphones

Close your eyes and imagine this scene... The sun is sinking below the horizon, and it's going to be a stunner of a sunset — one for the books (or at the very least, for Facebook). You scramble for your phone to capture it all, but the image simply doesn't translate on your screen as beautifully as it is in real life.

 I captured this in San Francisco last Fall.

I captured this in San Francisco last Fall.

In the early period of mobile phone photography, this was a very common occurrence. But the smartphone cameras we're seeing in 2018 are capable of capturing professional quality images, even when experiencing difficult lighting conditions. The best part? These cameras that are an integral part of today's smartphones fit right in your pocket, allowing you to capture those special moments in amazing clarity and detail, without the need to carry an expensive (and heavy) DSLR.

Smartphones - Let's Take A Look At Their History

Those old enough to remember mall kiosks stocked with interchangeable, plastic phone covers know just how far mobile camera technology has come over the course of the past two decades. Phones at the beginning of this millennium gave us barely discernible images — and any thought about capturing pictures in low light was impossible... but now many of today's current crop of smartphones can shoot video in 4K and capture still images at resolutions suitable for larger frames.

To put all of this into perspective: The first camera phones released in the year 2000 had only enough memory to store around 20 photos, and each image was capable of resolution anywhere from 0.11 to 0.35 megapixels. 

A few years later, mobile photo technology had progressed to include basic flash features, self-timers, primitive zoom functionality, and the first iterations of "filters" (such as black & white, sepia, etc.) that would come to dominate social image-sharing platforms like Instagram. These devices were still limited to around 1.3 megapixels — but at least they were capable of wirelessly sending images, and in some cases, even printing them.

But by the beginning of this decade, we were beginning to see glimpses of the technologies that have largely shaped modern mobile camera technology — video capabilities, touchscreen, panoramic photos, and the emergence of built-in software features for image editing, filtering, and retouching. 

Today, we've come light years from those early, grainy photos snapped on our flip phones. The most advanced smartphone cameras of 2018 now boast dual-camera setups, the ability to shoot in formats like wide-angle or telephoto, and 12-megapixels (but it's important to note that, despite common perception, megapixels are not always the most critical metric of a camera's quality).

And many of the current smartphone cameras even include features like low-light functionality, super-fast autofocus, and optical image stabilization for steady capture. Portrait modes blur the background of a scene, and manual exposure modes allow a photographer to manipulate everything from shutter speed to white balance, focus, and ISO.

These functionalities were once reserved strictly for bulky, expensive DSLRs — but today, they're available in the palm of your hand. The next question is... do you know how to make the most of this incredible tool?

Taking Your Smartphone Photography to the Next Level

Below are 5 tips that will help you capture amazing imagery using the features that are common on today's smartphones:

  1. Invest time in learning the full range of your smartphone camera's features and functionality. A surprising number of amateur smartphone photographers never fully explore all the features their device has to offer, such as depth-effect, portrait mode, or manually adjusting the ISO of a shot. Taking five minutes to watch a YouTube tutorial or read through your device manufacturer's online user guide can help you discover features you never knew existed.

  2. Opt for a device with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) technology to take crystal clear pictures of fast-paced scenes. OIS is a technology that helps keep the subject you're shooting clean and crisp, even in low-light situations or, say, in a moving vehicle. Several devices on the market today feature this technology and, if you plan to shoot moving subjects frequently, this is defintley worth looking at when considering a new smartphone.

  3. Play around with the composition of your shot before taking it. Try capturing multiple angles of the same scene. (Tip: getting down to the same level as your subject often provides an interesting point of view.) Your smartphone's built-in "grid" can also help you master common photography guidelines such as the "rule of thirds", and can also help you create interesting compositions along the lines of a trained professional.

    4. Keep your smartphone camera lens clean. Using a microfiber cloth or specific lens cleaning kit, periodically clean your smartphone's camera. This lets your lens work with the ultimate clarity, unimpeded by unsightly fingerprint smudges or pants pocket dust.

    5. Experiment with translucent and transparent surfaces. Reflections, refractions, windows, mirrors, and even shooting underwater (made possible with an external, waterproof casing) provide new takes on common snapshot subjects like portraits or pet photos. Get creative with your smartphone's features for adjusting lighting, and play around with some cool, new perspectives.

That's A Wrap

In summary, today's fast-evolving smartphone camera technology is making it possible to capture practically any scene — from selfies to sunsets — with the simple swipe of a finger. Play with your camera often, because the more you practice and take chances with your imagery, the greater the chance you'll capture something truly special.

The Importance of Giving Back & Growing Our Photographic Community

The Importance of Giving Back & Growing Our Photographic Community

Being an excellent photographer requires more than taking beautiful photos.  As you grow in your photography career you will realize that using your camera during that big shoot becomes less of a focus until one day the operation of your camera, lenses and lighting is nearly automatic and takes minimal if any active thought.  During this transition, focus shifts from the camera to the complete attention to the client and their products.  This moment marks the transition from photographer to professional.  When this happens we become an integral part of our client's experience.  

Watching and helping you grow to become the most powerful artist you were designed to be is the reason that we’ve establishes an Apprentice Program at our creative studio. The apprentice program is specifically designed for photographers who are progressing at their craft, who have good technical camera knowledge, and who want to further their photography career. A sense of passion about offering the finest art to clients is something we care about deeply.

Apprenticeships bring together individuals, who are motivated and working hard to develop themselves, and employers, investing in their own success but supporting a wider program of social, environmental and economic value.

An Apprenticeship is a job with an accompanying skills development program. It allows the apprentice to gain technical knowledge and real practical experience, along with functional and personal skills, required for their immediate and long-term career path. These are acquired through a mix of learning in the workplace and the opportunity to practice and embed new skills in a real work context. This broader mix differentiates the Apprenticeship experience from training delivered to meet narrowly focused job needs.

The photo imaging workforce can be broadly divided into the following categories:

  • Image producers at retail
  • Picture libraries and agencies
  • Manufacturers

Across the photography industry as a whole, 91% of companies employ five people or fewer. The photo sector increasingly requires a workforce with a wide ranging skill set, combining technical proficiency with creativity, visual awareness and business acumen. Practitioners need to be motivated and self-sufficient, committed and enthusiastic. Career success typically requires a strong passion for the subject and a high level of entrepreneurial ability. Competition is vigorous, especially for photographers, and the financial rewards vary greatly depending on the skills and specialties of the individual photographer. That said, the work is usually interesting and seldom routine.

Across the sector as a whole, the most significant specialist skills gaps continue to be around the use of digital technology, knowledge of digital workflow and management of digital assets. The rapid pace of technological change means that businesses and individuals must develop strong market awareness and demonstrate flexibility to adapt rapidly to new business opportunities. In addition, widespread internet access and the opportunity for image sharing across a number of platforms, makes an understanding of intellectual property rights and how to protect them increasingly important. Our Apprenticeship has been designed to tackle these skills gaps.
The framework is targeted at photography and non-photography roles. 

The role will focus on:

  • Commercial photography
  • Event photography
  • Studio photography specializing in advertising, food or catalog/web

The aim of this Apprenticeship is to attract new entrants into the photo business, through a structured and employer-led framework. The main objectives of this Apprenticeship are:

  • to provide a non-traditional route into the industry;
  • to provide an entry route for under-represented groups;
  • to allow our company to supplement our organizations with new expertise, techniques and technologies;
  • to provide the photography sector with a stream of motivated recruits equipped with the technical, creative and business skills required for the future;
  • to offer sufficient flexibility within the framework to ensure that it can be used to support entry into a wide variety of roles within the industry.

The Obscura Companies will carry out ongoing monitoring and evaluation to assess the extent to which this Apprenticeship meets the above objectives. When required, we will update the content of this framework to respond to the fast-moving changes within the creative industry.

Career success typically requires a strong passion for the subject, so candidates should show a high level of interest and enthusiasm for the subject and the photography sector in general. This could be demonstrated by providing a portfolio of personal photographic work or through evidence of work experience. For many jobs roles good color vision is essential, although this is not a prerequisite for entry to the framework. 

Qualifications and other prior achievements, which may provide a useful basis for entry include:

  • a portfolio from personal and/or work experience, non-accredited courses, volunteering; OR
  • previously worked or are working in the sector; OR
  • Awards, Certificates or Diplomas in the field from an accredited school

The apprentice program is very limited and an application is required to be submitted in its entirety in order to be considered. If you’d like to learn more, click here to submit an initial contact form.

Spring Break Photo Tips

Spring Break Photo Tips

Spring Break is right around the corner for most kids from pre-school to college co-eds. This is a rite of passage for most high school and college students. They may be off to the beach or possibly get in a little skiing. Or, they may be stuck on Mom and Dad's couch for the week. No matter where you go (or don't go) for Spring Break you will be creating lasting memories and see amazing things...So don't forget your camera or at least take your iPhone or smartphone with you.

If the beach is your destination for Spring Break here are a few photo tips to keep in mind while you are there.

Candid Photos

When you are taking candid photos (photos where people aren't posing or looking at the camera) be sure you aren't taking photos of the back of people's heads. Try to get in close and time your pic carefully (laughing is always a great candid)

Posed Photos

Taking photos of your family or group of friends on the beach is definitely necessary, but can be a challenge because you are usually there in the middle of the day when the sun is directly overhead. What's the solution...well, you are at the beach so sunglasses always work for the younger crowd. Try to find a spot that had any type of shade. An umbrella, a lifeguard stand, or even a passing cloud. As the day goes on try to face your group pics away from the sun for the most flattering light. Having the sun at their backs will prevent squinting and harsh shadows under their eyes.

Other Photo Opportunities

Sunrise / Sunset on the beach. If you are on the East Coast or on the Gulf of Mexico that means getting up pretty early. But it is definitely worth doing at least one of the days you are at the beach. If you are at a West Coast beach you get to watch the sunset over the Pacific ocean. Be ready but patient with your camera...sunrises and sunsets can change dramatically in just a minute or two...then all of a sudden they are gone. The sand and ocean water itself can be fun to photograph...be sure to pay attention to small details.

If you and your friends or your family are hitting the slopes for Spring Break then...well #1 is be careful. Here are a few more bits of wisdom:

  • Taking a compact point and shoot or even using your iPhone on the slopes is going to be way easier to carry than a full DSLR and lens. Keep your camera in a zipped pocket (preferably on the inside of your pocket so it doesn't get wet.
  • Take advantage of the view. When you are at the top of the mountain take a breath, pull out your camera and try to photograph both wide landscapes and zoom in a little on nearby mountain tops. These can make for some breathtaking canvas prints once you get home.
  • Ski ahead of your friends or family, pick a SAFE spot to take photos of them as they come cruising by. Probably not the best idea to do on a double black diamond slope with moguls (especially if you are my Mom). Take close ups of all your gear: snowboards and skis have a great shape to them. All the gear in the snow or leaning up against a fence makes for a pretty cool shot...now insert the whole gang into that shot and presto instant classic!
  • End of the run photos: After a long day on the slope make sure to get the weary group together for a group shot. If everyone is still wearing their skis and snowboards be sure to get full length of the whole group.

And, if you are stuck at home this Spring Break, take advantage of everyone being gone. It's like you have the whole place to yourself...and the rest of us who have to work during Spring Break. If you have a car or know a friend who has a car go out and explore your city or town. Have your own little mini adventure. Even if it is for a day. Taking silly and fun photos along the way will be something you can remember after that day is long gone.

Now, what to do with all these amazing photos once you are back. Here are just a few ideas for you:

  • A collection of some small square canvas prints can make that beach trip come alive. Pick 3 or 4 of your favorite shots and crop them square (if you took them with Instagram then you are already set) and get them printed as 8x8's. 
  • Make a photo album. You likely took close to 300 photos on your trip…or if you are like me…1,500. That is way to many to a photo canvas out of each one. These days there are several great options to make a personalized photo album. Shutterfly is just one of many online options. You can always do the old school route and buy an album to slide the photos in as well.
  • If canvas photo prints aren't your style you can always have us print your best shots on our Fine Art Photo Paper. I am still a little partial to framed photo prints. And hey, there is no rule out there saying you can't do both a photo print and a canvas print.

Enjoy whatever you do during Spring Break... feel free to tweet us your photos @WeAreObscura

5 Tips for Better Food Photography

5 Tips for Better Food Photography

We all know food tastes good, but it’s not always the easiest subject to photograph. Taking good photos doesn’t just happen by pointing and shooting. There’s a lot that goes into it.
A great photograph doesn’t just happen. You need to think about the details like composition, lighting, styling, etc. A good food photo makes your drool just looking at it because it displays the best traits of the food (aka, the subject).

Below are five tips that detail some of the key aspects to getting great food shots:

Don’t Ignore Composition

Tell a story by using your backdrop or setting and props. Make sure that everything looks beautiful and well-rounded. Composition basically means the arrangement of stuff in your photo. A good composition sets the scene for your audience, whether it’s a plate or a single piece of parsley on your dish.

One useful tool to keep in mind is the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is a nine-part grid that you need to imagine over your photo or subject. Your main subject should be either along the lines or at the intersections of your grid. Our eyes are naturally drawn to these points, so it’s good to keep in mind when taking your photos. You use this method to really highlight your dish and tell a story.

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Props Are Essential

Props can really set the storyline for your photo and give it more depth. However, you don’t want to overdo it. You want your photos to be full of detail, but you don’t want the props to take over the shot or upstage your main subject (the food).

For example:

  • Choose the plate you use wisely

  • Use accessories like napkins or utensils

  • Garnish the dish

  • Get creative with your backgrounds

  • If the food is busy, make sure your props aren’t, and if your setting/food isn’t so busy then add some flare and character using your plates, bowls, etc.

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Angles Are Critical

Choosing the right angles makes all the difference. Some dishes are better with the side view and others are better from a birds eye view. When you establish which is best for your subject, you’ll really see an increase in response because you’ll have made the food look incredible!

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Don’t Get Too Close

Try to take a shot far enough away from the ideal sizing you’ll want. This way you’ll have wiggle room when you are editing and you can play with different compositions in the editing process. Sometimes playing with the cropping when editing can take a photo that you didn’t love from the start to one that’s fantastic.

A good rule of thumb is being far enough away that you know you won’t end up cropping half the bowl out or even someone’s head. Think of the subject and how you want it to look in its "end use".

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Interact With The Food

Interaction is a great way to liven up your photos. For example, cutting into the item, using a hand with a fork, etc., will create a story and make it more real versus just looking like fake, pretty food. It also adds character and creates a style to the client's photography.

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