How to stop using images that suck

image of people

Does this photo suck? Let me know what you think in the comments section.

How do you know when you’ve found a good image for Web marketing? Many of us probably use the same criteria that Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart used when trying to define obscenity: “I know it when I see it.”

An amusing but not exactly helpful benchmark.

I produce a handful of social media ads for one client, and images and image selection always seems difficult … because it is.

That’s why I was interested in a webinar recently hosted by on “Hero Shot” images that improve conversion. Presented by Angie Schottmuller of Three Deep Marketing, the webinar definitely helped me to identify and measure hero shots better.

I won’t give you chapter and verse on the webinar, but I will give you key takeaways on what I learned.

What makes a hero?

First, what do we mean by “Hero Shot” images? Well … it’s the dominant image used to demonstrate your product. It can be an image you use for a landing page, an offer page, in online ads or social media advertising, etc.

Schottmuller defined a hero image as:

“A credible photo or video of a solution that includes relevance, context and value and emotion to support, educate or persuade a customer.”

She then went on to define persuasion factors – but I’ll stick to the main takeaways that struck me as particularly helpful.

The first was a great analogy. Think of the words and keywords you use to attract attention to a hero image as a “scent trail.”

The keywords or text you use to draw interest are to initiate interest; you maintain interest on the page you direct visitors to – and you enhance interest via the hero shot.

[* Cool website for word association/ideation:]

This idea dovetails nicely with something other marketers have mentioned: the need for a relatively seamless continuity of images and styles when putting out a breadcrumb trail for your site visitor to follow.

The eyes have it

Another great imperative of hero shot images: pay attention to the eye path of the subject of the photo.

People naturally find pictures of people rather than objects more interesting. But trying to find or make the right images with people is very hard – specifically because of where the photo subjects are looking (or not looking).

People naturally follow the photo subject’s eye path. They will look where the photo subject is looking. So, is that to your offer, or a headline? Or is it off the page – to a blank space?

And another thing, according to Schottmuller: People making direct eye contact tend to disrupt the flow of what’s taking place on the page. That’s not necessarily a good thing or bad thin; the point is to use that tool properly. For instance, in a display or social media ad, you may want to use the full eye contact image.

On a page with a longer flow to it, full eye contact images may not be such a good idea.

Schottmuller also mentioned (of course!) authenticity – the age-old stock photo issue. But here I’ll add my own caveat, which kind of went unsaid by Schottmuller: a stock photo is perfectly fine, so long as it is relevant, conveys emotion and helps persuade the customer.

Emotional appeal

She also mentioned the importance of portraying desired emotions in hero shots. Don’t think of this as the correct emotion much as the emotion that leads to the logic and value of the offer.

This I found particularly helpful: don’t shy away from images that convey strong emotions. Key in on primary emotion such as: fear, pain, hunger, curiosity, love.

We may not want to admit it … but the right emotion can trump logic said Schottmuller. I think to people outside of marketing that may sound a bit cynical but … if you’re a marketer, you’ve probably seen this axiom play out in real life, in some way.

Remember what Flint McGlauglin of Marketing Experiments is fond of saying? “Clarity trumps persuasion” – and if you are able to portray that clarity with an image, so much the better, IMHO.

Another key point: Your customer is the hero … not you! This may seem self evident, but it has to be said. Because I really, really, really cannot stand to see generic images of “our employees” (you know the kind) on websites or in marketing.

These kinds of images just scream “It’s all about US!” or “We’ve all been taken over by pod people – for the love of God send help!”

Measure – and test!

And finally, what I found really helpful was Schottmuller’s recommendation to use a scoring system to help you decide on good photos. She recommended using a scale of negative one (-1) to plus 2 to rate images on 7 different criteria.

The scoring works like this:

  • -1: Negative potential
  • 0: Not quite conveys the point
  • 1: Somewhat
  • 2: Great

+1: for a successful direction cue

The criteria you can use to judge are:

  • Keyword relevance
  • Purpose clarity
  • Design support
  • Authenticity
  • Added Value
  • Desired emotion
  • Customer hero

This is a great system to use when you are weighing your image decisions. And although you may not necessarily find this makes every decision easier, it certainly helps you key in on what’s important.

And finally: test and measure your results. If you are using analytics of any sort, be sure to measure bounce rates on offer pages or pages using images. Of course, it’s all about conversion in the end!

Finally – the Bizarro lesson

Because I often think in terms of flip sides, here’s what I learned about hero images that don’t work. An image that is not helpful:

* Doesn’t have realistic emotions

* Doesn’t thematically or emotional match keywords in headlines, caption or teaser text.

* Doesn’t explain anything about the product’s value.

* Demonstrates zero concern/interest in the customers point of view,

Great job to Angie Schottmuller and

Hire a brand journalist to get the right tone

image of reportersA great post by Jeannette de Beauvoir on the MarketingProf’s website discussed two key roles in content marketing: marketing content director and brand journalist.

Her point was to underscore the importance of these two titles/positions — and also to offer a slight dig at those companies that think hiring a copywriter is enough for a content strategy. (As a long-time B2B marketing project manager, I can vouch for the fact that her point is spot on: hiring a writer is a good start to a content campaign — but only a start).

What I really loved about her post, though, was that she emphasized the role of a “brand journalist.” She gives credit to Larry Light, former interim CMO for McDonald’s, with inventing the term.

For those unfamiliar with the term, the idea is to hire someone who is well-versed in the art of reportage and who views “markety” language as pure poison. Usually this means a journalist — or someone with a healthy journalism background. The main point is to get someone who can weave a story together; who can weave a narrative together and make it sing.

I think the trends in content marketing — and all marketing in general — are paving the way for more -integrated storytelling across all types of marketing. I also think that setting the proper “tone” of corporate communications has never been more important. The right tone matters more than ever, and “traditional” business communications are in more danger of alienating readers than ever before.

Here’s why:

Social media has reset the expectations of the proper “tone” for marketing messaging. Impersonal and jargon filled communications simply don’t resonate well in the echo  chamber of modern content marketing. More people are acculturated (big fancy word there) to the personal, almost intimate tone of social media than ever before.

This means that when brands want to relate to consumers and customers, the impersonal tone of traditional communications will come off as … flat, or flatter than usual. It’s an uphill trend that marketing professionals will struggle with for a long time.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: How is someone who writes like a journalist (which implies an impersonal tone) supposed to solve this problem? The answer is this: a “brand journalist” is more akin to the “feature” writer of newspapers, or a magazine writer who brings the reader in to a more intimate-setting. It’s not hard to do if you have a good feature-writing background, as many journalists do.

The important thing is, tone matters, and a more informal/personal tone + storytelling is what will resonate in content marketing copy.

[Photo Credit: John Picken via Compfight cc]

A Web marketer’s dilemma: the head and the heart

image of decisionData, data everywhere — and not a thought to think.

Is that what it feels like sometimes when grappling with analytics? Does it really inform the creative side of the equation? Of course, you know it does, but there always seems to be tussle between a “hunch” and a good solid data-derived decision, isn’t there?

If you have anything to do with Web marketing, you know that it’s a world increasingly awash in the promise of data-derived decisions. And yet … experience tells me that sometimes just plain old hard word works too. And so does a brilliant off-the-cuff hunch.

It’s a classic fight of whether you are following the head or the heart when trying to drive a result. Of course you are using data … but we all know at some point creativity and the ability to reach the human element matters, too.

So a recent post on the HBR Blog Network caught my attention with this headline: “What Data-Obssessed Marketers Don’t Understand” (requires free registration to view). It’s an interesting post that offers up an interesting thinking tool called “The Intelligent Brand Framework.” The two Gartner Inc. coauthors argue that the obsession with “big data” can obscure something basic: That data-derived decision making may be disconnected from what really motivates buyers.

Fair enough (though I suspect they are conflating “big data” with “analytics” … but that’s another story). They include a nifty chart, however, that I’m beginning to toy with for my own work. I must say it is a nifty tool — and it has a great name that makes me feel smart just for using it, too.

Or manipulated — I’ll leave that to your judgement.

So: I heartily recommend the piece and the tool. And check out the discussions at the end too. Good comments on this post from David Bloch, in particular.

[Photo Credit: Victor1558 via Compfight cc]