Facebook Advertising: Get noticed by getting social

Facebook advertisingLike it or not, Facebook adver­tis­ing is an ever-increasing mar­ket­ing vehi­cle that should be con­sid­ered in any mar­ket­ing mix. For as lit­tle as a dol­lar a day, you can reach as many peo­ple on Facebook as you can with radio or TV — but only the peo­ple you want to reach, and for far less money.

How much less? Facebook ads have the low­est cost per 1,000 impres­sions in his­tory. The small right-column ads aver­age $0.25 per 1,000, which is only 1% of the typ­i­cal cost of TV adver­tis­ing. Larger news­feed ads aver­age $4.50 per 1,000 impres­sions, or 45 cents per click. (The Moz Blog, Why Every Business Should Spend at Least $1 per Day on Facebook Ads — by Brian Carter)

It helps to under­stand what you can achieve with Facebook, and what you can’t. Facebook ads can grow brand aware­ness eas­ily sim­ply with the high num­ber of impres­sions it can make. But get­ting web traf­fic to your site directly from Facebook is a pretty dif­fi­cult task. It requires care­ful plan­ning, the right mes­sage, and eye-popping imagery to get peo­ple to click on your ad. You’ll need to tar­get your audi­ence care­fully and under­stand the social mind­set they’re in while they’re using Facebook.

Target the peo­ple who may be most inter­ested in your prod­uct or ser­vice. Narrowing the scope of audi­ence demo­graph­ics allows you to tar­get the peo­ple you think will buy your prod­uct, and avoids wast­ing money on those who are prob­a­bly not inter­ested in the first place. You can tar­get loca­tion, age, and gen­der, as well as per­sonal inter­ests, edu­ca­tion level, and other tar­get cat­e­gories. With a smaller tar­get, you’ll still reach a large audi­ence of view­ers, and there’s a bet­ter chance of get­ting a return on your investment.

Understand if your mes­sage fits into the social scene. Facebook ads can be great for some busi­nesses, but not for all. Does your prod­uct or ser­vice have an ele­ment of fun or recre­ation? Does it promise social clout, or maybe a lit­tle retail ther­apy? If so, you should con­sider Facebook adver­tis­ing. The most effec­tive ads match the head­space of Facebook users, who are there for social pur­poses and enter­tain­ment — not for think­ing about work, or seri­ous things like insur­ance or world poverty. Facebook is an escape from that stuff, so your seri­ous mes­sage is likely to be ignored.

Develop great con­tent. Decide what mes­sage you want to send out about your brand. Headline mes­sag­ing really mat­ters for Facebook adver­tis­ing, since it may be the only text in your ad that users will notice. So make it pow­er­ful and to the point. But while head­lines are impor­tant, your image is the most crit­i­cal part of your ad, so make sure it’s as eye-catching as possible.

Try Newsfeed ads. Newsfeed ads go directly into the news feed of users. They give you more to work with, so it’s a great oppor­tu­nity to use your best imagery. A fun func­tion of Newsfeed ads is that pho­tos of your fans are seen along with the ad, which makes it eas­ier for users to see what their friends are inter­ested in and what brands they are con­nect­ing with. We’ve found that these ads have a higher click-through rate than right-column ads, so while you’re pay­ing a bit more, you’re also get­ting bet­ter results.

If you’re a new busi­ness, it makes sense to try Facebook for get­ting your name and brand out there, since this is a fast, inex­pen­sive way to get noticed. If you’re an estab­lished busi­ness, it can be a great way to stay on top of online mar­ket­ing by cre­at­ing con­tests and pro­mot­ing spe­cific prod­ucts and events. The more you do it, and the more impres­sions you make, the more fans you’ll acquire and the fur­ther your mes­sage will go. So go ahead, get social!

A few Facebook stats:

    • 47% of Americans say that Facebook has a greater impact on their pur­chas­ing behav­ior than any other social net­work. (State of Search)

    • 23% of Facebook users check their accounts five or more times every day. (WordPress Hosting SEO)

    • 93% of mar­keters use social media for busi­ness. (WordPress Hosting SEO)

    • In January, 2014 there were 178,000,000 Active Facebook Users (USA) with 56% Facebook penetration.

    • 52% of all mar­keters have found a cus­tomer via Facebook in 2013

    • Internet adver­tis­ing will make up nearly 25% of the entire ad mar­ket by 2015.

    • Half of all social media users under age 35 fol­low their online friends’ prod­uct and ser­vice rec­om­men­da­tions. (TECHi)

    • 92% of small busi­nesses say that social media is an effec­tive mar­ket­ing tech­nol­ogy tool.

    • They are evenly split on the effec­tive­ness of social media for attract­ing new cus­tomers vs. engag­ing exist­ing cus­tomers. (e-Strategy Trends)

    • 56% of Facebook users check in at least daily. 7% say they would check a mes­sage “dur­ing an inti­mate moment.” Awk-ward. (TECHi)

The ABCs of SEO

wordpress-seo1So, your busi­ness has invested a sig­nif­i­cant amount of time and money in its new web site. Are you sat­is­fied with the traf­fic it’s getting?

If the answer is no, think about this: it’s now com­mon­place for con­sumers to turn to search engines first before con­tact­ing local orga­ni­za­tions or mak­ing buy­ing deci­sions. According to a sur­vey from Pew Research, 92% of Internet users use search engines, with 59% doing so on a daily basis. Your web site’s vis­i­bil­ity on the web is more crit­i­cal than ever, and if it’s like most com­pa­nies, it’s got a lot of com­pe­ti­tion out there.

To increase your site’s per­for­mance, you need a search engine opti­miza­tion (SEO) plan. SEO is a series of ongo­ing tasks that help search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing find and index your site. This process helps to raise your site’s rank­ings on search engine results pages (SERPs), allow­ing more peo­ple to find your site. Organic SEO — what we focus on most — is a process that works to achieve a nat­u­rally high place­ment on SERPs, as opposed to SEO that relies on paid placement.

Need to under­stand the basics of SEO? Let’s break it down to the sim­plest concepts.

In gen­eral terms, search engines rank sites accord­ing to three basic attrib­utes.
They tend to reward sites that are:

1) RelevantHow aligned is it with the key­word search?
2) Popular How much traf­fic does it have?
3) Current How much recent con­tent does it have?

It’s com­mon sense, when you think about it. To effec­tively pro­vide answers to the mil­lions of queries they receive every day, search engines want to serve up what most peo­ple care about: the most rel­e­vant, pop­u­lar, and cur­rent infor­ma­tion out there.

There’s a lot of com­plex­ity that goes into opti­miz­ing a web site organ­i­cally so that search engines will rank it highly. But to boil it down to the basics, organic SEO involves just a few core concepts:

Keywords. The name of the game in SEO is key­words. These words, and strings of words, work like glue to con­nect search engines to your web site. A good SEO strat­egy iden­ti­fies key­word phrases that are actively searched for by indus­try and geo­graphic area.

Content. Content devel­op­ment and main­te­nance is one of the most impor­tant things you can do to increase your site’s per­for­mance. Fresh, high-quality con­tent attracts search engines and dri­ves traf­fic to your site, but watch out — the mis­use of key­word den­sity can result in penal­ties from search engines. So it’s impor­tant to fol­low best prac­tices when it comes to your web content.

Tags / Meta Data. Tags are another way in which your site talks to search engines. Much of this “meta data” is incon­spic­u­ous or invis­i­ble to users, but don’t let that fool you into think­ing it’s irrel­e­vant. It’s crit­i­cal not to ignore this SEO detail.

Links. One of the most impor­tant met­rics that search engines use to deter­mine the pop­u­lar­ity of a web site is the num­ber of cred­i­ble and pop­u­lar sites that link to it. These exter­nal links are the hard­est to obtain, so Google rewards them highly. Other types of links also help in site opti­miza­tion, so we work to include as many appro­pri­ate links as possible.

Off-Site Activity. To drive tar­geted web traf­fic to a par­tic­u­lar site, some SEO work is per­formed else­where on the web. Social media and online adver­tis­ing are exam­ples of this off-site activ­ity. Other mar­ket­ing efforts that are com­pletely off-line can help increase web traf­fic as well, such as the use of tra­di­tional mar­ket­ing media and incen­tives that encour­age web site visits.

Patience. Organic SEO takes time — often up to three to six months to see the full results of your opti­miza­tion efforts. Adding Pay-Per-Click (PPC) to your SEO strat­egy can boost your results and allow them to show up sooner, but it can be an expen­sive endeavor that requires addi­tional expertise.

If your site’s online per­for­mance is less than ideal, an SEO assess­ment may be in order. Just give us a shout — we can help with as much or as lit­tle as you need to help give your web site the vis­i­bil­ity it needs.

SEO: Winning the popularity contest


Think back to high school for just a minute. You may not want to, but give it a try. Remember the pop­u­lar kids? The ones who drew a con­stant crowd of friends around them? They tended to be good-looking, well dressed, artic­u­late, out­go­ing, and in shape. Am I right? The pop­u­lar kids had a col­lec­tion of qual­i­ties that made them stand out and attract oth­ers to them.

On the flip side of this were the “uncool” kids who strug­gled to get noticed. Some sim­ply didn’t make the effort to acquire the qual­i­ties that attract oth­ers. Others did, but they had a tough time attain­ing those qualities.

Fast for­ward to today. The rules that dic­tate high school pop­u­lar­ity are now what apply to your web site. It’s got to win the attrac­tion of search engines (and in turn, vis­i­tors), and it needs a cer­tain col­lec­tion of qual­i­ties to do that. It’s got to look good and be in great shape. It needs to be well con­nected and have an out­go­ing per­son­al­ity. And it’s got to have qual­ity con­tent that draws a crowd.

How can your site com­pete in this online pop­u­lar­ity con­test? It needs a strong search engine opti­miza­tion (SEO) strategy.

At Stride, we build in a basic level of organic SEO into every web­site we launch. But that’s just the begin­ning. To have a web site that ranks well on Google and other search engines, you can’t just “set it and for­get it” — you need a plan for reg­u­lar opti­miza­tion and main­te­nance. We col­lab­o­rate with many clients on strate­gies for SEO that improve and main­tain a high level of vis­i­bil­ity, and it works. For busi­nesses that rely on a con­stant stream of new vis­i­tors, espe­cially those using generic key­word searches, this ongo­ing work is absolutely critical.

So how does your site rank? If it’s strug­gling to get noticed, it might be time for an SEO strat­egy. I’ll explain more about this process, and the basics of search engine opti­miza­tion, in my next blog post. Stay tuned!

World-wide web of WordPress

wordpress-logo-680x400Here at Stride, we love design­ing and build­ing full-featured web sites for our clients. This year alone we’ve cre­ated nearly 20 web sites for clients from Vermont to Alaska. We cre­ated the major­ity of those sites using the WordPress plat­form, and we’re now start­ing to con­vert some of our clients’ older HTML sites over to WordPress. Wondering why the big change? Read on to find out!

What exactly is WordPress?
WordPress is a free and open source blog­ging and con­tent man­age­ment sys­tem (CMS) started in 2003. It’s a set of down­load­able files that is uploaded to your web host and forms the back­bone of your web­site. There is, how­ever, a lot more to WordPress than just files.

The open source nature of WordPress is key to its awe­some­ness. There are hun­dreds of peo­ple all over the world work­ing to make it bet­ter every day. What’s more, there is a com­mu­nity of mil­lions of web devel­op­ers, design­ers, busi­ness own­ers, and blog­gers using the tools, shar­ing their expe­ri­ences, and offer­ing ideas to the peo­ple who are actively devel­op­ing the plat­form. This results in a level of refine­ment and sophis­ti­ca­tion that was pre­vi­ously unob­tain­able within the bud­gets of small– and medium-sized businesses.

Amazing fea­tures
This same group of users and devel­op­ers has also con­tributed to WordPress by devel­op­ing apps — called ‘plu­g­ins’ — that run on the WordPress plat­form. There are many (cur­rently 27,791) free plu­g­ins avail­able on wordpress.org that can add all sorts of fea­tures to your web site, from sim­ple Facebook inte­gra­tion to a full-fledged eCom­merce shop­ping cart.

Easier main­te­nance
One of WordPress’s key fea­tures from a busi­ness owner’s per­spec­tive is how easy it is to cre­ate and edit the pages and posts of their site with­out need­ing to pay a web devel­oper to do it for them. For the most part, if you can use a word proces­sor, you can edit the pages of your site!

Better for SEO
WordPress sites in gen­eral have a very high level of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Here at Stride, we build all of our sites so that the code is clean and easy for search-engines to crawl, and we make sure that non-technical users can main­tain up-to-date SEO infor­ma­tion like keyword-rich title tags, head­lines, links, meta infor­ma­tion and more. We also inte­grate Google Analytics into every site, so you can tell what key­words and con­tent are dri­ving the most traf­fic to your site and fine-tune your SEO based on real traf­fic data!

In addi­tion, Google and other search engines pre­fer regularly-updated, “fresh” con­tent. WordPress makes it as easy as pie to add new arti­cles, com­pany news, links to rel­e­vant indus­try arti­cles, and other timely con­tent to your site. Gone are the days where a site sits stag­nant because it’s too dif­fi­cult or costly to add con­tent quickly and eas­ily. WordPress empow­ers you to be a pub­lish­ing powerhouse!

WordPress by the num­bers:
WordPress is now the most pop­u­lar plat­form for build­ing web sites. Here are just a few of the sta­tis­tics that demon­strate how dom­i­nant it is:

  • Today, WordPress pow­ers 1 of every 6 web sites on the Internet, nearly 70 mil­lion in all, with 100,000 more pop­ping up each day.
  • As of August 2013, WordPress was used by more than 18.9% of the top 10 mil­lion web sites in the world.
  • Approximately 22 of every 100 domains cre­ated in the U.S. are run­ning on WordPress.
  • Among con­tent man­age­ment sys­tems, WordPress has a mar­ket­share of nearly 60%; the next clos­est CMS holds less than 10% mar­ket­share! (http://w3techs.com)
  • Of the top 10,000 CMS sites indexed by BuiltWith.com, nearly 39% use WordPress.
  • According to Alexa, wordpress.com is the 16th most pop­u­lar web­site in the world, ahead of jug­ger­nauts like Bing and eBay!

The fol­low­ing is a chart of Google searches for WordPress and a num­ber of its pri­mary com­peti­tors. Note how WordPress has pulled away from the com­pe­ti­tion since 2008.

Prominent com­pa­nies using the WordPress platform:

Best Buy
General Electric
Tech Crunch
The National Football League
NBC Sports
CBS Radio
The Wall Street Journal


  • http://techcrunch.com/2011/08/19/wordpress-now-powers-22-percent-of-new-active-websites-in-the-us/
  • http://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/content_management/all
  • http://leaderswest.com/2013/05/28/infographic-wordpress-has-66-of-the-cms-market/
  • http://wp.smashingmagazine.com/2011/11/29/wordpress-cms-crown-drupal-joomla/

9 common copywriting mistakes:
Are they holding back your business?

Do you ever find your­self ask­ing why your ads aren’t bring­ing in more sales, or why your web con­ver­sions are so low? If you’re tar­get­ing the right audi­ence and the visual aspects of your brand are decent, it could be a prob­lem with your messaging.

I work with a lot of clients on mes­sag­ing strat­egy and copy­writ­ing. Over the years, I’ve seen the same mis­steps again and again across a wide spec­trum of indus­tries. Regardless of whom you’re writ­ing for, if you can avoid these com­mon copy­writ­ing mis­takes, you’ll get more peo­ple read­ing… and buying.

Mistake #1: You don’t have a roadmap. Start a jour­ney with­out a map, and what will hap­pen? You’ll soon get your­self lost. Don’t trip up on the first step toward great mar­ket­ing copy. Create a well-defined mes­sag­ing strat­egy that will guide all your copy­writ­ing. An effec­tive mes­sag­ing strat­egy pin­points your unique sell­ing propo­si­tion and helps you stay focused on your key mes­sages. Get off track and you’ll lose your way, and your reader’s interest.  

Mistake #2: You’ve lost your voice. Or worse yet, you never had one. I’m talk­ing about a brand per­son­al­ity. Who are you? What makes you dif­fer­ent? Your mes­sag­ing should reflect a dis­tinct per­son­al­ity that attracts your ideal tar­get cus­tomer. People are drawn to like-minded com­pa­nies for rea­sons that go beyond prod­uct fea­tures; they bond with brands that give them a feel­ing of trust and com­pat­i­bil­ity. Figure out who your tar­get cus­tomer is, then speak their language.

Mistake #3: You’re too focused on your­self. When peo­ple visit your web­site or come across your ad, they have one ques­tion in mind: “What’s in it for me?” If you don’t answer this ques­tion in a mat­ter of sec­onds, they’re gone. Don’t start out talk­ing about the fea­tures of your prod­ucts or the his­tory of your com­pany. Focus on the ben­e­fits to your cus­tomer. Can you make their life bet­ter? Tell them how, and tell them quickly.

Mistake #4: You for­got what you learned in English class. Be hon­est: are you a decent writer? Nothing makes a prospect bounce from a web­site faster than a poorly writ­ten page, so take a moment to assess your writ­ing before you go live with it. Bad gram­mar, mis­spellings, tense shift­ing, and overuse of acronyms (OMG!) are instant turnoffs and causes of con­fu­sion. Evaluate your writ­ing and use resources to fix your mis­takes. And if writing’s just not your thing, that’s OK. Better to use your time more effi­ciently by focus­ing on the things you are good at, and hire a copy­writer or edi­tor. The small invest­ment will be worth it.

Mistake #5: You think too much about what you learned in English class. Maybe you’re the type who got all A’s in English. Congratulations! You’re just as much at risk of writ­ing inef­fec­tive copy. Why? Because great mar­ket­ing copy doesn’t fol­low the strict rules you learned in school. Its goal is to evoke an emo­tion, often by draw­ing on brand atti­tude, so it’s most effec­tive when it sim­ply feels right. And that means some­times break­ing the rules. Like this. Copy that’s too for­mal can make your brand quite blah, so learn to loosen up from time to time, and you’ll go from ho-hum to red-hot.

Mistake #6: You try too hard to impress. Confucius said, “Life is really sim­ple, but we insist on mak­ing it com­pli­cated.” Many famous writ­ers echo this sen­ti­ment and preach sim­plic­ity. Ask your­self if you’re try­ing to show off your smarts when you write. Most peo­ple don’t use big words and fancy lingo when they speak, and nei­ther should your writ­ing. Write like you have a prospect in front of you, and let the words come naturally.

Mistake #7: You don’t give ‘em a break. Most peo­ple scan a page before decid­ing if they want to com­mit to read­ing it. Are you putting up a wall, or invit­ing them in? If your web pages are filled with end­less para­graphs, you may be turn­ing away prospects in a mat­ter of sec­onds. Too much copy sim­ply looks like too much work to read. Say less if you can, and break up your copy into smaller chunks with sub­heads and visuals.

Mistake #8: You’re too vague. Do you have a legit­i­mate claim to fame? Something that adds value to your customer’s life that you can express in real num­bers? Don’t hold back. Concrete specifics are more com­pelling to poten­tial buy­ers than vague claims and abstract words. Be spe­cific, and you’ll be remem­bered when it’s time to buy.

Mistake #9: You don’t tell them what to do. So you’ve writ­ten some great copy. Now what? Do your prospects know the next step they should take to do busi­ness with you? Don’t expect peo­ple to know what to do with your information—include a call to action. Tell them to click, ask them to call, give them an incen­tive. Whatever it takes to get them to make the next move should be your next move.

Good luck, and happy writ­ing! And, if you need help with your next copy­writ­ing project, feel free to give us a call.

Scrunchies and Mullets: How to tell if your website is out-of-date

With a lot of things in life, you can tell when it’s time to move on. When food goes bad, the smell – or a trip to the ER – will let you know it’s time to throw it out. When your shoes are worn out, you get a hole in them. But how can you tell if your organization’s web­site is out of date?

There’s no one sim­ple rule that will allow you to deter­mine if it’s time to upgrade your web­site, but you can ask your­self a few sim­ple ques­tions that might steer you in the direc­tion of the near­est web design firm… or put you at ease for another year or two.

Is your site easy for users to nav­i­gate?
Your site should be orga­nized in a man­ner that makes it sim­ple for a vis­i­tor to find the infor­ma­tion they’re look­ing for very quickly. Clear, user-friendly nav­i­ga­tion is an expec­ta­tion — not a bonus. Ideally, a user should be able to get to all your impor­tant pages within 1 to 2 clicks. If that’s not the case with your site, it’s prob­a­bly time to upgrade.

Are there a lot of images that con­tain text on your site, such as but­tons or head­lines?
Search engines like Google can’t read text con­tained within graph­ics, so key­words or impor­tant phrases appear­ing on top of pho­tos, or as fancy graph­ics, aren’t indexed by search engines. Even more prob­lem­atic, text con­verted to graph­ics requires spe­cial soft­ware and extra steps to mod­ify. With the recent devel­op­ment of web  fonts, it’s now pos­si­ble to achieve through search-engine friendly code what could only be done by sta­tic graph­ics a few years ago. Whenever pos­si­ble, your web pages should ren­der as much text as pos­si­ble in search­able, styl­ized html code. Time and effort spent now will pay off in eas­ier main­te­nance and bet­ter rank­ings later. 

Does your site dis­play nicely on mobile devices and desk­top com­put­ers?
A large and grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple will access your web­site on mobile devices. If your site doesn’t dis­play well for these vis­i­tors, they may move on to your com­peti­tor. Mobile-responsive web­sites have gone from a lux­ury to a require­ment in just the last few years. It may require a small invest­ment to make this upgrade, but it’s one that will really serve you well in the long run.

Is your site achiev­ing good search-engine place­ment?
Old sites tend to suf­fer when it comes to search engine rank­ings. Bad or out­dated code, lack of fre­quent con­tent updates, con­tent that’s invis­i­ble to search-engines, or secu­rity issues are just a few of the pos­si­ble prob­lems that cause sites to suf­fer with search engine place­ment. If your site isn’t achiev­ing, it’s prob­a­bly time to make some upgrades, or even rebuild your site.

Is your site easy for any­one to update?
Now more than ever on the web, con­tent is king. Your site will undoubt­edly ben­e­fit from reg­u­lar doses of fresh con­tent, which will not only engage your audi­ence, but pro­vide active search engine opti­miza­tion. You shouldn’t have to enlist a web devel­oper and pay hun­dreds of dol­lars to make your con­tent changes. These days, it’s com­mon­place for a non-technical per­son to update vir­tu­ally all con­tent on your site with­out the urge to put their foot through the mon­i­tor. Not pos­si­ble with your site? It’s time to give your site, or your web devel­oper, the boot.

Does your site allow vis­i­tors to sub­mit infor­ma­tion to you eas­ily?
One of the most valu­able fea­tures of a web­site is the abil­ity to col­lect infor­ma­tion from your vis­i­tors, such as their con­tact infor­ma­tion or ser­vices they’re inter­ested in. Depending on your indus­try, this could be a crit­i­cal way for you to com­pete for cus­tomers. If there is no way to eas­ily gather help­ful vis­i­tor infor­ma­tion from your site, per­haps it’s time to kick it to the curb.

Does your site match your company’s brand­ing?
Most suc­cess­ful orga­ni­za­tions spend a con­sid­er­able amount of time and effort devel­op­ing and main­tain­ing their brands. In a world clogged with com­pet­ing adver­tis­ing, brand con­sis­tency is extremely impor­tant — so your web­site should reflect your other mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als as much as pos­si­ble. If you’re unable to eas­ily apply your company’s brand to your web­site, it’s def­i­nitely time for a makeover.

Does your site look like it was designed in the 90’s?
Sure, the 90’s were great, but if your web­site looks like it was designed then, we’ve got prob­lems. Some tell­tale signs that your site design is out-of-date include ani­mated intro pages, glossy-effect but­tons, skinny 640-pixel-wide lay­outs, flash ani­ma­tions that make words move like Jumanji magic, or a “hit-counter” that dis­plays how many dozens of vis­i­tors you’ve had since leg-warmers were pop­u­lar. Like scrunchies and mullets…your 90’s web­site is bet­ter left in the past!

Do you have social media inte­gra­tion on your site?
As annoy­ing as Facebook can be at times, the nearly 1 bil­lion peo­ple who are using it sure would look great as your cus­tomers. So, if your orga­ni­za­tion has an active account on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest or the like, you should con­sider upgrad­ing your site onto a plat­form that inte­grates eas­ily with these social ser­vices. Otherwise, your site could end up in a lonely place.

Still not sure if your site is out-of-date?
Contact us. We’ll be happy to help you deter­mine if your site is ready for prime­time, in need of a lit­tle love, or des­tined for the trash bin.

Capturing your brand: Why professional photography matters

Chances are, you prob­a­bly own some kind of cam­era. Maybe you even have one that’s not also a phone and ten other things — you know, a real SLR cam­era. And chances are fairly good that you also have a friend or rel­a­tive who’s a bud­ding photographer-on-the-side who took a great one of your kid at last summer’s barbeque.

Photography is all around us. So, when it comes to the photo needs for your busi­ness, it’s easy to think of ways to cut this cost in your mar­ket­ing bud­get. I mean, it seems so easy. Why the heck should it cost so much?

As a designer, I can tell you first­hand how qual­ity pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phy brings your brand to life, and how mediocre pho­tog­ra­phy makes that effort incred­i­bly harder. It truly can be the crit­i­cal dif­fer­ence between suc­cess or fail­ure, the ele­ment that draws in your audi­ence, makes your mes­sage believ­able, and con­vinces cus­tomers to buy — or not.

We’ve all been moved by a great pho­to­graph, but most of us don’t under­stand the fun­da­men­tals behind it, the intan­gi­ble ele­ments that sep­a­rate it from an every­day shap­shot. We don’t think about the specifics of com­po­si­tion, color, sharp­ness, and light­ing, and the years of train­ing it took to per­fect those things, when we look at a photo. But we know a great one when we see it. A truly effec­tive photo can draw us in and pen­e­trate our mem­ory, allow­ing the mar­ket­ing mes­sage behind it to stick with us. When we’re moved by a photo, we tend to become believers.

Now, you prob­a­bly know that there’s a viable option to reduc­ing your pho­tog­ra­phy costs: stock pho­tog­ra­phy. There are mil­lions of pro­fes­sional pho­tos avail­able online at a frac­tion of the cost of hir­ing a pro­fes­sional, and often this is a solu­tion that works just fine in cer­tain cir­cum­stances. The upside of stock pho­tog­ra­phy is that it’s inex­pen­sive and instan­ta­neous. There are mines to dodge when using stock pho­tog­ra­phy, how­ever, so it’s impor­tant to tread wisely. First, stock often looks like stock. In Vermont this is espe­cially true. The stan­dard white-shirted ‘busi­ness­model’ in a white high-rise build­ing doesn’t look very believ­able in our casual, rural state. Stock pho­tos are also not pro­pri­etary, so the photo you choose for your home­page could also end up in some­one else’s ad, web­site, or brochure. So the trick to using stock pho­tog­ra­phy is not rely­ing on it too heav­ily, as it can eas­ily kill your authenticity.

My sug­ges­tion is to make the invest­ment in a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher when you can. If you can’t afford one for all your photo needs, at least con­sider the invest­ment for the pho­tos you rely on most — the ones you need to really sell your unique mes­sage. Your pho­tog­ra­pher should have exper­tise in the type of pho­tog­ra­phy you need, as the skills and equip­ment needed to cre­ate great food pho­tog­ra­phy is very dif­fer­ent from, say, sports pho­tog­ra­phy. We work with many tal­ented local pho­tog­ra­phers in a vari­ety of dis­ci­plines, some of which are listed below, and their work has helped our clients to ele­vate their brands and enjoy long-term success.

If your photo needs are exten­sive, don’t for­get about the impor­tance of photo shoot plan­ning and direc­tion. It’s a crit­i­cal com­po­nent that pro­tects your invest­ment in pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phy. At Stride, we work closely with our clients and pho­tog­ra­phers, and some­times styl­ists and mod­els, to plan each photo shoot, cre­ate detailed sched­ules and shot lists, and then direct the shoot to ensure that the pho­tos work flaw­lessly in the lay­outs we’ve designed. It’s a cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tion that pro­vides the best pos­si­ble results, and very happy clients.

Thankfully, there are many tal­ented pho­tog­ra­phers in our area. Here’s a sam­pling of some of the pho­tog­ra­phers we’ve worked with and highly recommend:

Andy Duback                       www.dubackphotography.com
Jim Westphalen                   www.jimwestphalen.com
Glenn Moody                        www.glennmoodyphotography.com
Rick Levinson                       www.rlphoto.com
Daria & Andy Bishop            www.dariabishop.com
Mike Riddell                         www.mikeriddellphotography.com
Natalie Stultz                        www.nataliestultz.com
Andrew Wellman                  www.andrewwellmanphotographer.com
Hilary Hess                           http://seenive.com/u/907762792885530624
Brian Mohr                            www.emberphoto.com
Alex & Kathy Pintair              www.ambientphotography.com

A (Half) Day in the Life of Zoe Ink

I recently attended a half-day let­ter­press work­shop – partly to keep the cre­ative juices flow­ing, but mainly because I’ve admired the work of Zoe Papas of Zoe Ink for years, and wanted to expe­ri­ence the process first-hand.

My friend Lisa and I arrived at Zoe Ink and started with an overview of the his­tory of print­ing and the evo­lu­tion of this age-old tech­nol­ogy. We picked up and exam­ined antique let­ter­press art­work and let­ters, and mar­veled at the thought of hand-setting in row and rows of type, one let­ter at a time. We learned about dif­fer­ent presses Zoe works with, and were awed by their power and pre­ci­sion. Soon we were geared up to dive into work on her large press!

Opening draw­ers and draw­ers of neatly orga­nized art­work, Lisa and I finally agreed on our first design – an array of dahlia flow­ers. We painstak­ingly set up the press with clips and guides, and mea­sured and cut paper for folded note­cards. We mixed up cheery orange ink by hand and applied the tini­est amount to the press. Finally, we set up the art­work place­ment and trans­ferred it to the block. A lot of work just to get to the start­ing line!

I went first. Holy smokes … it was quite intim­i­dat­ing at first. Zoe’s large press is an impres­sive and daunt­ing machine, with mov­ing wheels and rollers, a rotat­ing wheel of ink, and a big gear to pull when you’re ready to press the inked plate into your paper. The tim­ing is crit­i­cal … get the paper lined up on your clips and guides before the machine clamps down and poten­tially takes a hand with it. Zoe watched patiently while my heart raced. We fine-tuned the press so the depth of the impres­sion was just right – not too light so it appeared like tra­di­tional print­ing, and not so deep that it trans­ferred to the other side. By the end of my first batch of cards my heart had stopped rac­ing, and I was almost get­ting the hang of it.

Over the course of the next four hours, we made mon­u­men­tal progress – com­pleted a few dif­fer­ent sizes and styles of cards, cleaned the press, changed ink color, hand scored the soft­est folded cards, machine-scored the more for­giv­ing ones, hand trimmed the final folded cards so they were absolutely per­fect, selected match­ing envelopes, and pack­aged them all up in tidy cel­lo­phane wrap­pers. (Oh yeah, we did a fair amount of snack­ing over the course of the after­noon too!)

All in all, I have a new­found appre­ci­a­tion for crafts­peo­ple like Zoe who com­bine an artis­tic eye with a stan­dard of absolute per­fec­tion in their craft. I was stunned by the amount of hand­work she puts into every card — the type of work we take for granted when so many auto­mated processes exist today. It was a refresh­ing change of pace to step away from a com­puter, and cre­ate a piece of art, one step at a time, by hand.

I couldn’t rec­om­mend her work­shop enough. You can learn more about Zoe Ink and her let­ter­press genius at www.zoeink.com

2013: The Year of Responsive Web Design

“Day by day, the num­ber of devices, plat­forms, and browsers that need to work with your site grows. Responsive web design rep­re­sents a fun­da­men­tal shift in how we’ll build web­sites for the decade to come.”
– Jeffrey Veen

The term “respon­sive web design” – also known as RWD – is a rel­a­tively new term coined by for­mer Vermonter, and cur­rent Bostonian, Ethan Marcotte in a May 2010 arti­cle in the mag­a­zine, A List Apart. Responsive web design is a fun­da­men­tal change in the way web design­ers cre­ate web­sites. Instead of being designed and built for a set-width screen, a respon­sive web­site is designed to adapt to the width and capa­bil­i­ties of the device on which it’s viewed.

In the past, vir­tu­ally all web­sites were designed to work well on a typ­i­cal desk­top or lap­top PC, but were often dif­fi­cult to see and nav­i­gate on a mobile phone. The solu­tion was to develop a sep­a­rate web­site or appli­ca­tion designed to work on smaller screens. This was more expen­sive and harder to main­tain than hav­ing just one site for all vis­i­tors, but it worked well for many large retail­ers. In 2011, Amazon.com hit $2 bil­lion in sales through smart­phones and tablets world­wide; that was up 100% from $1 bil­lion in 2010.

Small-scale retail­ers found it less cost-effective to build a com­pletely dif­fer­ent web­site to accom­mo­date what was still a rel­a­tively small amount of mobile traf­fic. But, times are rapidly chang­ing, and now even the small­est com­pa­nies can ben­e­fit from jump­ing on the respon­sive bandwagon.

Web surfers shift­ing toward mobile devices
While sales of mobile devices were grow­ing expo­nen­tially, 2012 was the first year since 2001 that showed a decrease in the num­ber of PCs sold. Not coin­ci­den­tally, roughly 120 mil­lion tablets were sold in 2012 – com­pared to 66 mil­lion in 2011 – with world­wide sales esti­mated to reach nearly 370 mil­lion units by 2016!

Mobile web surfers: A whole new class of cus­tomers!
• 87% of American adults have a cell phone
• 45% of American adults have smart­phones (107 mil­lion peo­ple!)
• 26% of American adults own an e-reader
• 31% of American adults own a tablet com­puter
• 31% of mobile web-capable phone own­ers use them as their pri­mary means to access the Internet.
• 1+ bil­lion smart­phones in the world
• Mobile inter­net usage is pro­jected to over­take desk­top inter­net usage by 2014
• 46% of con­sumers are unlikely to return to a mobile site if it didn’t work prop­erly dur­ing their last visit.
• 66% of those ages 18–29 own smart­phones
• 68% of those liv­ing in house­holds earn­ing $75,000 also own them
• In the U.S. 25% of inter­net users are mobile only

Myths about respon­sive web design
• It’s a pared-down, bor­ing expe­ri­ence com­pared to a web­site viewed on a desk­top com­puter
• Mobile web devel­op­ment is too expen­sive for small and medium-sized businesses

Mobile web­sites can have most, if not all, of the bells and whis­tles of their desk­top coun­ter­parts. RWD prices are com­pa­ra­ble to tra­di­tional web­sites, but com­pare even more favor­ably when the addi­tional rev­enue from the improved reach into the mobile mar­ket is taken into account. They can be designed to be just as impres­sive as their desk­top coun­ter­parts, and often far more impres­sive on smaller screens.

Some exam­ples of excel­lent respon­sive web­sites
There are some amaz­ing respon­sive web­sites out there, and more being built every­day. Take a look at some of the best in the list below. Adjust the size of your browser win­dow to see how these web­sites adapt.

Responsive web­sites devel­oped by Stride
• Trek Store Alaska – www.trekstorealaska.com
• Barber & Waxman – www.barberwaxman.com
• Green Mountain IP blog – greenmountainip.com

Exciting respon­sive web­sites in the works at Stride – stay tuned!
• Sweetwaters American Bistro
• Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA)
• Vermont Community Garden Network
• Maine Integrative Healing
• Sheehey Furlong & Behm
• Vermont Oxford Network

Pew Internet

When creating your print materials, think like a softball player.

Pretend for a moment that you’ve agreed to play in a com­mu­nity soft­ball game. You’re not an excep­tion­ally good player, but you’re inter­ested in hav­ing some light­hearted fun. As you step up to the plate, the pitcher stares you down, and with­out warn­ing starts her windup. She deliv­ers a fast pitch over the plate, then another and another, and before you know it you’re back on the bench, plan­ning your polite but speedy exit from the game.

Now pic­ture your­self walk­ing up to the plate again. This time, there’s a pitcher on the mound who smiles, gives you a nod, and then starts a slow-pitch windup. The pitch comes in arc­ing up and then down right into your strike zone, giv­ing you time to find a con­nec­tion and hit the ball. As you run the bases, you’re fully engaged, never doubt­ing that you’ll stay in the game till the final out.

These two sce­nar­ios are like the dif­fer­ent ways in which com­pa­nies com­mu­ni­cate with their cus­tomers through their print col­lat­eral. Printed mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als, such as sales brochures, cat­a­logs, view­books, and some direct mail, are expe­ri­enced dif­fer­ently than other forms of media. They often demand what we call a pac­ing strat­egy. This method starts out like a slow pitch, allow­ing the reader to approach the infor­ma­tion slowly with low-density, com­pelling con­tent. The mes­sag­ing then builds to pages filled with high-density con­tent once the reader is con­nected and engaged.

If soft­ball isn’t your thing, you can also think of a pac­ing strat­egy as you would dat­ing: to be suc­cess­ful, you’ve got to entice your prospect and draw them in slowly. Only then can you unload your life story and the fifty rea­sons you’d make a good spouse.

Pummeling your read­ers with too-much-too-fast may be a bud­getary deci­sion to squeeze as much infor­ma­tion into as lit­tle paper as pos­si­ble, or it may be that you’ve got a mes­sag­ing pri­or­i­ti­za­tion prob­lem. Either way — inten­tional or not — an effi­cient, fast-pitch approach often leads to a dis­con­nect with your audi­ence, and the few bucks you’ve saved on paper or mes­sag­ing isn’t enough to cover those missed sales oppor­tu­ni­ties. New or ambiva­lent prospects aren’t ready for a bar­rage of infor­ma­tion from the first turn of the page. They often need an emo­tional con­nec­tion to your mes­sage before they’re ready to fully engage. That emo­tion doesn’t come from the details; it comes from things like a great photo, a cap­ti­vat­ing head­line, white space, and eye-catching color. Once engaged, your reader will hang on — and read more.

Next time you need to cre­ate a crit­i­cal mar­ket­ing piece, take a moment to con­sider how it will be paced for the best audi­ence engage­ment. Determine if a slow-pitch approach and a pac­ing strat­egy will make your mes­sage more per­sua­sive and effec­tive. Chances are, it will result in a home run.