How a Landscape Impacts a Story

Earlier this month, I published my photography portfolio, and opened it with a gallery of my very best landscapes (five of which are featured in this story). I opened with landscapes just like I would most stories these days. Landscapes are one of the most popular photograph subjects you can see online. They also play a critical role in telling a remarkable written story for brands or individuals alike.

Creating hybrid stories that blend the literal word and the visual photo is not the easiest thing to do. When you consider articles and stories, they are often crafted by writers. Or they are published by photographers with few words serving as captions. The two together are rarely deployed well as a seamless rich media story.

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Together, in a hybrid pictorial, photos compliment the written story by illustrating and expanding on it. The written words expand on the pictures by providing details. For example, the caption for the above photo might read, “Another dawn on the Potomac, how I start at least two of my days every week.” We move from a pretty picture to personal story, one that may or may not be about business.

Landscapes are central to both groups of media assets. They set the scene for the story. They provide a sense of context for where events are happening, either from a business perspective or on a personal level. A landscape can allude to historical context, and words can expanded on that story.

Opening Stories with Scenes and Landscapes

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A lot of people introduce stories with pictures of people. If it’s a business story, we see people at work or an individual person, a protagonist. If it’s a personal vacation, we see people at the airport. Perhaps they start their album with a picture of them at the destination. I personally like to introduce stories with landscapes sans people because it provides a sense of place.

Consider movies that take place in far away lands or in future periods. The first Star Wars movie opened with spacescape. This year’s critically acclaimed Fury Road started with the below epic desolated wasteland. National Geographic stories start with an epic landscape photo. Plays open with the a set scene, and then the actors walk onto the stage.

Fury Road Opening Scene

Instead of another dry story about a woman or man in their office changing the world for their customers, open up the story with an epic sunrise or sunset pic at the office building. Or take a great architecture shot inside the building. If the building is lame, wait until late afternoon and the sun comes in the windows almost horizontally, take an office pic then with no people in it. Set the scene.

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If it is a vacation, set the scene with an opening shot of the place you are landing. Then put yourself in it. The above shot of Half Moon Bay was how I opened my Facebook sharing of our family vacation to Hawaii this year. We stopped first in California.

When I told the story of the Trans-Jordan Landfill for Audi, I opened it with a sunrise picture over the landfill. When I filed stories with the Huffington Post and with Triple Pundit on Africa (see header image) I suggested opening them with landscapes. In both cases the stories feature landscapes very early on to provide a sense of place.

The Pacific Ocean at Night

The same tool also provides a great way to close the story. By closing with the scene you are providing a cue, the visual fade to black. The above photo is from our last night in Hawaii this year. It’s the beach in Kona. I often think of it as the closing scene to our vacation.

It’s just my personal preferred method of storytelling. Every story works better with context. And a landscape or cityscape is one of the best ways to provide that context.

What do you think of the use of scenes in the narrative context?

5 Marketing Myths

Myths and misconceptions are abound in the marketing blogosphere. Sometimes I can’t help but think that we have a pseudo religion about the way the industry is.

In actuality, a small group of blogging voices laud these best practices and ideas based on their experiences or beliefs, which for all intents and purposes are valid. From a research perspective this data represents a small sampling, in turn creating myths about marketing that don’t apply to the whole profession. Here are five common marketing myths I hear about frequently.

1) Analytics Make Your Marketing Program Succeed

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We are in the midst of a data revolution with marketers racing to extrapolate reports into meaningful outcomes. Marketers promise that the use of analytics will deliver the ROI they are looking for. Let’s not get too excited here. Analytics will inform marketing toward the best way to encourage desired customer behaviors. They will not make a brand better at marketing (myth revealed).

In the words of Kevin Spacey (hat tip to to Jay Acunzo and his excellent Content Marketing World speech), “It’s the creative, stupid.”

Creative alone is wild and unpredictable. Data alone informs direction, but can’t stop crap communicators from producing, well, more crap. Together, informed creative is flat out dangerous.

2) Visual Media Is a Snack

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Write a great blog post and publish it with no visual media assets at all. Publish a great photo (which takes as much time to shoot and produce, by the way), video or infographic without words. Post both on your social networks and see which does better for engagement, shares and inbound traffic.

Look, you need words with visual assets for keywords and search ranking, but don’t kid yourself. One medium is the meal today, the other is the side dish. Snackable media is not just a marketing myth, it is also a misnomer.

3) Blogs Are the First Tactic of the Content Marketing Future

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Blogs are not the first go tactic in the content marketing future. They are the past and the present, but in reality text based media is not well consumed on small devices. And smartphones and other portable media are becoming the primary Internet access device for most Americans.

I wonder what its going to be like reading this blog post on an Apple Watch. Maybe Siri will read it to me. Or she’ll serve me a “snack” instead.

A study Tenacity5 managed on behalf of Vocus last June with Market Connections revealed as much. Of all the distribution channels noted by marketing survey respondents, blogging was considered the least effective. Only 35 percent rated it as a 4 or 5 (highest). One-quarter of respondents didn’t even use a blog.

It’s almost 2015 folks, this isn’t about a new technology becoming widely adopted anymore. Brands would rather invest elsewhere.

To be clear, blogs in their conventional form have a role on the web site for customers and stakeholders interested in a brand’s topics. This is especially useful if the blog posts help resolve the same problems the brand is addressing with its other offerings (hat tip #2 to Jay Acunzo). Every blog post has an opportunity to delight, brand and empower people to opt into your total customer experience. But you better have a bigger strategy.

4) Video Is Easy and Cheap

No, video is not easy and cheap, and if you shoot it on your iPhone or camera you will produce low-quality crap. Easy video is a huge marketing myth.

If you want quality videos, you invariably have to invest in a pro cameraperson/producer or not more. There is a reason why 71 percent of CMO Council survey respondents are predicting video spending will increase by 5 percent or more.

5) CMOs Trust Influencers

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Well, this one kind of hurts. I thought my online profile was everything. That was until I read a recent SiriusDecisions report that showed CMOs trust marketing bloggers and influencers the least of all sources when it comes to making purchase decisions.

Then I kind of thought about most of my conversations about influencers with CMOs and I got it. They just want influencers to feel important so they will say good things about them. Duh. The marketing myth is that CMOs actually believe in what influencers are saying (unless it is conveniently favorable to them). Instead they think bloggers are trying to sell them consulting services or something.

Disappointing. Perhaps I’ll become a reality TV star instead ;) Or a photographer.

What do you think? Have any marketing myths to add to the list?

People Need Content

My friend Mark Schaefer wrote a compelling post last week about Content Shock. The ensuing conversation revolved around whether or not the content marketing movement will collapse. The most important sentence in Mark’s post (IMO) was, “Content marketing is not over.” That’s because people need content.

No matter how you slice and dice it, people still want information about other people, places and things. One way of finding information becomes too noisy, they seek another.

Some of the economics in Mark’s post were fantastic, but the overall gist was great content wins. Bad and mediocre corporate content is losing, and it is losing faster due to a competitive arms race.

Frankly, many marketers are producing bad content, and they shouldn’t succeed. And prior to the content marketing boom, marketers produced other shoddy forms of communications. So if that’s the collapse, so be it.

More content creates a premium on well presented information. It also highlights the importance of a balanced strategy including but not defined by the trend. The best competitors stand out. The rest fail.

And when marketers fail, they will seek a different way to develop customer relationships. Social media isn’t scalable? No one likes our blog? OK! Let’s try sponsored content.

Change the Rules

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I agree with notion that in spite of big companies, niche and differentiated content will find ways to win. Yet, in last week’s conversations I saw assumptions that those brands with frequency, the most sizzle, the best personalities, and overall distribution strengths will win. While these are assets that big companies can purchase, it’s only to win a digital content arms race defined by bloggers.

What happens when someone changes the rules?

Let’s face it, someone (or Google)

      Always

changes the rules.

It’s not about shooting more. Instead, change the game. To use a Seth Godin saying, instead of trying to out-moo every other brown cow, become a purple one. Do something that completely differentiates your efforts.

As an event creator, I love it. Blog posts are easy. Quality events are hard.

The increasing glut of digital information makes quality events more important. Why? People rely on their peers and live real-time buzz more than ever. An event is a primary driver of large word of mouth moments, dynamic personal interaction, and yes, great content.

The need for live real-time entertainment and events is driving outlandish broadcast contracts for sports teams and leagues. Sporting events are one of the few live events that people pay attention to in the moment. Disagree? How many of your friends were glued to the TV or compulsively checked scores on their smartphones during the NFL Playoffs?

By the way, PriceWaterhouseCoopers predicted the media rights boom in 2011, when they said, “…sports viewing is proving virtually immune to time-shifting. In the key 18-49 demographic, live programmes dominate the ratings, and sports are well represented in the top-rated live programmes.”

When a tactic becomes overplayed, to win you must either excel or change the rules. If you play the same game, you will be held to the same dynamics and consequences as everyone else.

Cut against the grain. Create different methods and ways to give people the information they want. Or you could just keep publishing blogs (and possibly perish).

What do you think?

Featured Image by Visit Abu Dhabi. Brown cow by Mimadeo.