Show and Demonstrate, Forget the Tell

Sometimes marketing reminds me of rap with brands bragging about themselves and their wares. As we move into the visual age of marketing, there will be little tolerance for those who posture and pontificate, telling people what to experience rather than showing them.

Marketers need to show people what a product or experience does for them. Increasingly customers only pay attention to stories told with visual media and through their actual product experience.

Consider last weekend’s holiday. I can’t tell people to remember deceased veterans on memorial day. I have to show them that the ultimate sacrifice was made by real people, the losses their families have suffered, the great freedom they have provided us, etc.

14088260880_58a77ec257_b

The above photographs from Memorial Day both received several thousand views via my personal networks. Why? They were dramatic and timely, showing the Korean and Vietname memorials late at night with flowers lining them. The flowers with their patriotic plastic wrap highlighted the very real pain and remembrance of loved ones. Tens of thousands of men and women who died in action in those wars were remembered decades later.

Want to go corporate? Here are a few Instagram examples of brands (I was inspired by Thomas Hawk to search here) that nail it:

Whether it was clothes, food, or industrial wind turbines, each of these Instagram photos captured an experience of the brands’ respective products. You could see what its like to wear these clothes, take that first bite, or feel the wind create energy.

Show me, don’t tell me is a basic storytelling maxim. Good fiction writers (and I am not saying I am one of them) focus on revealing a story. A reader sees how each experience and event evolves the narrative. Emotion is not told, it is felt.

During the initial wave of social media, marketers were able to get away with simply telling their story. While telling was brand centric, but it was new and different, even unfiltered. So it worked for a short while.

With visual storytelling entering the online media mix in force, revealing stories and experiences is essential. Head-to-head, text-based marketing doesn’t stand a chance, particularly when it is focused on pontificating. Usefulness, entertaining, and yes, perhaps simply turning the eyeglass around to present information from the customer’s perspective are necessary methods now.

And what about those who tell people what their company thinks customers should do through text based updates, instead of showing them?

I’m afraid it’s about to get much tougher. The issue isn’t simply a lack of visualization. It is also the storytelling method.

What do you think?

A Bigger Problem than Content Shock

There may be a bigger problem than content shock coming down the pike. First, it’s great that industry leaders are addressing the increasing proliferation of bad content populating the interwebs. More spammy content spoils the waters for the rest of us.

At the same time, I can’t help but think that a bigger problem faces the sector.

In the next twenty years our conceptions of literacy will become challenged and evolve. A media world is coming where visual and audio forms will dominate, and text will become a secondary form of communication.

Some conversations touch the tip of this massive iceberg with the current by focusing on visual media’s growing social network strength. But smaller mobile media devices and content glut continue to force a permanent focus on rich visual and audio.

I imagine many writers will writhe as they read this. Let us agree that long form blogs, eBooks and content will continue to engage stakeholders.

But in 20 years will these textual forms will become increasingly marginalized as mass consumption moves to video and imagery? I think so.

In essence, blogs, white papers and eBooks will become niche tools for specific purposes and persons who prefer reading. Further, Generation X and millennials will be the last generations that read content online first. Instead, children and adults will watch, listen, see, and then read.

I know that last paragraph will inspire debate. People are afraid of what the visual era means. When people are fearful they have negative reactions.

We cannot ignore the trends. To run from change is to be passed over by it.

Consider this: People are as likely to seek an answer today on YouTube as they would via Google. They will learn more about a research report from an infographic than a four page executive summary. Some people prefer listening to a podcast during their commute or at the gym rather than reading late at night or during their lunch break. They prefer to have business intelligence delivered via slideshare than a long blog post. The list of trends signalling the movement away from text grows with each passing season.

By the way, I would have made a deck about this trend, but when wrestling with complicated topics, I still think textually and have to write my ideas out. That is a problem for me. It’s a problem that every communicator faces right now. How do I learn how to communicate visually?

The Visual Imperative

1795188_645328002209052_514848116617124544_o

Last week, my company Tenacity5 had the great honor of serving as the social media counsel for Give Local America, an incredible day of giving from Kimbia that raised more than $53 million from more than 300,000 donors for well over 7000 nonprofits. To wrap things up, we created a pinboard of the best stories from the many nonprofits across the country.

The pinboard highlights many passionate stories from nonprofits, stories of beneficiaries who need the programs created by passionate causes.

I am sure there were many, many other stories that are not included in the board.

Because they were not visual and didn’t use the Give Local America social media hashtags and keywords, we did not find them. By my estimate, there were hundreds of thousands of social updates, including pieces of visual content created for the day. The visual tagged pieces of content stood out, and will be memorialized.

This is the problem. We must communicate visually within the Internet context now if we hope to be found.

It’s why AirBnb is going beyond creating unique story paths for SEO. They also contract 3000 freelance photographers to help them communicate these stories visually.

The visual imperative is one of the primary reasons I decided to focus on improving my photography skills this year. Since that time in March, my photography blog on Flickr has increased its traffic by another 50% and is now outpacing this blog 8 to 1 on traffic this month.

Learning to speak through pictures is becoming easier.

Whatever or however communicators decide to evolve their visual skills, evolve they must. Communicators can learn to storyboard, or write video scripts and screenplays, or podcast, or use InDesign, or critique visual arts, or build outlines through visual wireframes, or… There are many options to learn visual thinking well beyond photography.

Stop Making Excuses

14176721403_a796094143_b

Many people tell me I have a natural eye for photography, that it is a gift or an art. They say that communicators can’t do the same thing.

This is an excuse.

It rankles me when people say they can’t learn or won’t be able to do so. Let me be clear: Six years ago I took crappy photos like everyone else. I learned to think visually through a camera.

Deciding you can’t take photos is an excuse for not wanting or being afraid to learn photography. This is true for any visual discipline. No one wants to find out they really cannot see the world visually. Lack of desire and fear can thwart an effort right out of the gate. Let’s be honest about these very real internal barriers.

It’s also important to be consider the market dynamics. Communicators will see this trend evolve, and they must decide whether or not to embrace visual media. If not, are they prepared for competition from other companies and members of the workforce?

I’ve heard some other interesting excuses since last March, too. Some people think that iPhones make authentic images, and that real cameras don’t.

A camera is a tool. If you want to use dull knife to cut your meat, go for it. Me, I like a sharpened knife. I’ll opt for real cameras every chance I can. They do a better job, and people want good pics. I only need to look at the performance my Nikon captured social photos versus the iPhone shots. This is why every communicator needs a camera, in my opinion.

I hear the same thing about filters and Photoshop, that these editing tools make inauthentic photos.

Look, I don’t like crazy enhanced images that are so over the top they look like something from a science fiction novel. But I do think people should use Lightroom and Photoshop to take the dust specs off your pictures, make them less grainy, and fix the lighting.

We are talking about creating and telling stories through visual means. If you think that’s not a photo, then call it a graphically enhanced image. Who the hell cares?

In my opinion, the filter touch up argument is another excuse for not learning visual media. By the way I learned how to use Lightroom in a two hour Kelby One training session. That’s it.

Sharing How-To Experiences

13790700585_4486646a0c_b

It’s one thing to tell people that dynamic change is coming. Most don’t want to deal with it.

But I really believe this trend is happening, and I am doing everything I can to meet the market. If you are of the same mind, expect more blog content about the lessons I am learning, including how-tos.

I cannot compete with the many expert photography blogs out there. But I can share my experiences evolving from a single dimension communicator to a multifaceted one that weaves the visual into larger strategies.

Perhaps this will be helpful. I hope so.

What do you think?

Every Communicator Needs a Real Camera

A ton of data out shows the incredible impact visual media makes on engagement rates. There are many types of visual media marketers are using, from illustrations and graphics to video and photos.

Perhaps the easiest visual medium to grasp and use is photography. Unfortunately, there is a growing school of thought that with an iPhone or Nexus smartphone, a communicator is well equiped to meet the needs of the visual thirsty stakeholder.

Don’t kid yourself.

Every communicator needs a real camera.

Or a good photo site to research and license images from.

In spite of protests by media and pundits, marketers, entrepreneurs and artists alike would benefit from having access to a real camera and photographs. I would tell you use both a camera and a creative commons licensing site. It takes practice to learn how to take and edit photos. Having a resource to access others’ high quality photos is helpful.

The Chicago Experiment

7195317812_12242bec1e_b

Have doubts? Still think you can get away with pics on a smartphone?

The Chicago Sun-Times tried this experiment for you already when it fired its photography corps and armed them with iPhones. Fast forward a year, and the Sun-Times hired back four of the photojournalists, even after taining its staff on iPhone phtography and editing. Quality dropped dramatically.

While we are growing accustomed to user-generated photos, quality stands out. Personally, I can tell you that my Instagram photos taken with a DSLR and uploaded via smartphone fair about two to three times better on engagement than my regular old iPhone/Nexus shots (yes, I have both phones).

The value and engagement we see in Tenacity5’s projects like xPotomac and with clients like Vocus has convinced me. First of all, most people attending events don’t take quality photographs. We can better report on them, and provide attendees with a memory of their time.

13811324105_5a4dd5f78f_b

Secondly, garnering equity from other events like SxSW and Social Media Marketing World requires reporting, networking and social sharing. There is no better way to do that than with photos taken live from an event. In doing so we provide extended access to the events through our communities.

If you are intimidated by a camera, there are plenty of free lessons available on these websites. Or take a class at your local art school. The most important aspects are to learn how to tell a story with a photograph and basic editing tips.

From there, the world is your oyster.

What do you think? Is quality photography a part of modern communications?

Originally posted on the Vocus blog.

7 Daunting Challenges Facing Marketers

8640301378_327b8be96c

Marketing today remains a great challenge, in large part because of the consistently changing technology and media landscape. Informational sources (conferences, blogs, etc.) consistently address these challenges yet the issues persist.

It may be time to take a step back on a macro level and look at how education and information sources are meeting these challenges.

Here are the seven daunting difficulties for today’s communicators, each followed by an idea or three on how to address them. Please add your own thoughts.

Continue reading “7 Daunting Challenges Facing Marketers”

9 Videos on the Digital Future

Happy April Fool’s Day! We now resume our regular programming…

8508304999_e9d2e942b5

Five weeks ago at xPotomac, nine speakers and one emcee delivered speeches and conversation starters that sparked 25-30 minutes of questions and answers each. The following nine videos are listed in the order of presentation.

Special thanks to my client Vocus for providing videography services. Vocus is hosting the Demand Success 2013 conference in Washington, DC this June 20-21. The event focuses on marketing best practices for converging media, and includes speakers like Arianna Huffington, Content Marketing Institute Founder Joe Pulizzi, digital journalism expert Jay Rosen, and many more. Check it out.

Please feel free to leave comments and feedback about the conference here. We’re listening!

xPotomac Introduced: BlogPotomac Legacy and Future Vision

DC’s very own Shana Glickfield (Beekeeper Group) provides the introduction to very first xPotomac. xPotomac is where the digital media future meets businesses. This groundbreaking conference features seven media technologies most likely to impact businesses and marketers in the immediate future.

This smaller intimate conference features limited attendance to ensure maximum learning and networking. Speakers will present in a tight setting with the stage centered in the round or in a horseshoe formation. Each session features a gladiator like format with 15 minutes dedicated to speaking and 30 minutes of question and answer from the audience.

Opening Keynote: Voice Search Changes the Game

The opening keynote at xPotomac was provided by Vanessa Fox. Given how much of the current web — social and content marketing included — revolves around search, voice search represents a game changer, especially given mobile use with Siri and Google Voice Search.
Continue reading “9 Videos on the Digital Future”

Marketing Writers Face Dramatic Shift

Bon Jovi at the Verizon Center

Current content conversations focus on the written word as conveyed via interactive or print. That’s about to shift toward more immersive media experiences, forcing marketers to write and design for live environments. Immersive media creates a new demand for dramatic writing skills, usually the domain of more artistic forms such as plays, films and broadcast.

The crossroads is here.

While most content marketers focus on blogs, newsletters, white papers and guides, the need to develop visual and audio centric media increases.

In discussing the Google Glass Project/augmented reality session for next week’s xPotomac conference with Patrick Ashamalla, we focused on these challenges. In many ways, interactive designers and writers know this shift is caused by the untethered internet.

Today, most companies create a flat experience filled with text on a digital canvas, e.g. a website, document, infographic, or the like. These forms of content require a stakeholder to invest time reading, in essence a distraction from their real personal or business life.

Continue reading “Marketing Writers Face Dramatic Shift”