Christian Adams is a digital marketing technologist with a background in business development and marketing management. I’ve known Christian for a few years and have found him incredibly creative and perceptive, especially when it comes to understanding how businesses can leverage digital channels to grow their business. He recently took a new job this year as the digital marketing manager at the DAV Organization, the most long-lasting veterans advocacy and assistance group in the US.
Christian is also a professional photographer and wrote the book InstaBrand: The Ultimate Guide To Visual Storytelling Through Instagram.
I asked if he would share some of his insights on branding and how small businesses can improve their branding for 2014. He was gracious enough to answer my questions. Enjoy!
What branding trends do you see for 2014?
Storytelling becomes a priority. A lot of the trends I see for 2014 involve contextual storytelling across multiple platforms that support mobile. We’ve seen numerous examples of brands like WestJet creating viral videos through storytelling rather than Flash Mobs and other gimmicks because it has context that the end viewer can relate with.
A hot topic at the beginning of 2013 and will continue to grow in 2014 will be brands investing more marketing dollars in social mobile commerce through platforms like Pinterest, Instagram and Vine. Wearable technology will also continue to be a talked about subject that brands will be looking at to create impressions. I also think many brands will be caught off guard by the threat of a new entrant in 3D printing and pop-up entrepreneurs.
In general visual brands will continue to grow as the differentiator in a noisy world where a platform like Facebook is making organic results for brand pages to reach their intended audiences. We are experiencing what the big four news networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX) experienced when Ted Turner introduced CNN as the first 24 hour news network with other channels to follow like MTV. Bandwidth has allowed us to return to that error of sorts where telling the story from the consumer perspective is so crucial. Most brands were burned early on by this when experimenting with user-generated content, but have since comeback to understanding what works and what doesn’t.
The key will be for brands to figure out how to integrate their marketing efforts through online and offline platforms so that their messaging is always in front of the viewer no matter where they are. They will also need to realize that the theory and implementation of the ideas the real-time or the perception that real-time marketing is here. Planning and content marketing is good, but brands will realize that this is not campaigned based, but an ongoing movement that is constantly doing A/B testing for what it publishes. Marketing and technology departments in big organizations will have to become more agile in response to this growing trend and in some ways, merge.
What are some of the biggest mistakes small businesses make with their brand?
The biggest mistake I see any business make is trying to do it all and not truly investing in the right resources. You often have a business owner who is starting to see success for all their hard work but has trouble trusting others to help grow the business. We call it the entrepreneur’s dilemma and I’ve experienced it myself. However, it was more along the lines of finding the right business partner to take things to the next level. A person I admire once said, “Work on the business, don’t focus on making work.”
While this is a nice thought, it is easier said than done. You should go with your gut to know when to go from wearing multiple hats (business developer, project manager, business owner), and ultimately come back full circle and focus on the part that made you want to go into business for yourself in the first place.
How can a small business improve their brand?
You hear this a lot, but it is true. There is no magic bullet. Quality products and services that you create take time to build. So why shouldn’t your marketing, sales, and customer service be given the same amount of time? Most small businesses don’t give their brand time to germinate because they are focused on the immediate future (because money helps things grow, right?) rather than thinking two steps ahead and looking down the road in terms of a sustainable future. Where do I need to be next year and what efficiencies can I improve on and save money at the same time? Technology typically is the path to leveling the playing field.
The easiest way to do that is always stay up on marketing and technology trends through experimenting on how to make them applicable rather than trying to emulate their competitors or who they want to be.
These are great for case studies, but there isn’t a one size fits all solution. The best thing a small business can do is be consistent in their messaging and content over time. The social media world we live in used to take six months to see traction. That, depending on budget, now takes a year. Then a business owner has to start thinking about diminishing returns at which time they need to start revising the original plan. Always adapt to the environment around you and find the path of least resistance.
Stock photos… what are some alternatives?
Most business owner’s don’t go to school for photography, but then there are the ones that do. If you have the money, hire a pro. You are paying for expensive equipment and years of skills honed. If you have some money, hire a photography student looking to build their portfolio. Depending on the scenario, avoid stock photos whenever possible. If it is an issue related to a small budget, search a social account like Flickr where some photographers use Creative Commons licenses.
Lastly, chances are you own a smart-phone. You would be surprised by the quality that can come out of a phone if done right. Keep in mind when taking photographs for your brand you have to consider the medium (print or web) that it will be seen on. Size matters. Never rip copyrighted photos. It never ends well and Getty Images sees all. Cutting corners will wind up costing you more. As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for.
What are some good ways to improve brand storytelling with visuals?
Visuals are the greeting card. Greeting cards that are done well through a combination of writing and visuals are bought and create an emotional attachment – just like a really good fictional book that allows the viewer to create their own visuals. In a world where there is so much noise, the visual has become the disruptor and must initially grab a viewer’s attention.
Great visuals that give context are relate-able and can tell a story better than any written word. As marketers, we cringe at businesses or other marketers that provide viral content where there is a formulated method. The only method for creating great visuals is using a quality subject matter and make it about it or the audience rather than what the business does. Get away from “me, me, me” narcissistic mindset of “This is what we’ve done.” Focus more on your brand advocates and less on you.
I give some tips about different ways to improve visual storytelling in my book but the best thing a business owner can do is experiment. But while experimenting, always keep in mind who is the customer you are creating content for. It helps with creative direction and perspective. Then do the A/B testing and figure out what kind of visuals your audience responds to the most.
Tell me about your book, “InstaBrand.”
I started writing InstaBrand as a blog post rant about how brands were not being consistent between their online marketing and offline marketing tactics and how there was and in a lot of cases still is a lack of consistency in content creation. How marketers were being lazy and essentially “phoning it in.” I soon realized there was a multi-faceted problem that brand strategists and content marketers faced.
The role of the traditional CMO archetype was being challenged due to an evolution in online technology like mobile and social. For a long time when social was still a buzzword it caught traditional publishers off guard and the PR industry (mostly writers) were the quickest to adapt and therefore held it hostage to some regard on Twitter before platforms like Google and Facebook realized the direction mobile was going and quickly adapted over existing models like Flickr.
After I talk about mind-blowing statistics, I present case studies of brands doing it right and tips and tricks that small business with small budgets can take away and start using immediately. I also reviewed some popular mobile apps that help edit your photos on the fly, but there are new apps every day. My book is a good starting point for business owners and beginners who know they need to understand visual storytelling to differentiate themselves from their competition, but don’t know where to start.