Thursday, April 24, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words [6 Image Resources]

With such a focus on social media and content marketing in today's marketing portfolio, commercially licensed images, infographics and other visual aides have become a high-demand necessity. 

The Giants 
There are many stock photograph sites out there like iStock Photo, Dreamstime, Fotolia, and Shutterstock. These stock photo giants have great search engines and amazing quality photographs. But purchasing photographs from these companies that are licensed for commercial use can get expensive when you are constantly generating content. 
As a side note, when using any photographs for a business use, you should always use images that are commercially royalty-free licensed, and have read/understood the license. Just because an image is available in a Google search does not mean it is yours for the taking! Please don't forget the attribution. These photographers put their images out there for you to use for free on the sites below. Return the generosity - even when it is not required.
The Grass is Always Greener... 
Like many small businesses, if you don't have the budget to pay hundreds of dollars each month for stock photography, there are other options. There is a balance and trade off between paid and unpaid images. If you want cheaper [or free] images, you are going to have to work harder and search more for quality content. The age old debate between time and money rings very true in stock photos. 

Top Resources 
If your budget, or natural inclination is towards the less expensive options, here is a run down of my top six resources, cultivated through years of trying every site designer bloggers mentioned.  
  1. Canva.com - This is a new tool that launched last year and is starting to get a lot of attention. It is an online "lite" creative software - with numerous templates.
    For those that think Photoshop and Illustrator are too daunting to learn [or too expensive], Canva is a simple, intuitive cloud application. Most content is free and the paid options usually only cost $1.00 [USD] each. This site is great for quick promotional flyers, creating infographics, and generating blog and social media images. You can also upload your own photographs to use within the templates. I have found it very useful, fun, and easy. 
  2. FreeImages.com - Formerly known as the Stock Exchange (sxc.hu), Free Images has one of the best category searches I have found. You can search by your key words or browse categories and drill down from there. The site does require you to create a free account to download high resolution photographs. All photographs are commercially licensed and hi-resolution. Some require attribution, others do not. Word of caution: the site does partner with iStock, so you will see paid iStock photographs above the free ones, and they blend in well. But as long as you are aware, it's easy to skip over these and get to the good content. This is my #1 site to visit for stock images. 
  3. MorgueFile.com - No, we are not talking about where dead bodies are kept. A morgue file is a name for where archived news clippings were kept.
    That being said, this site is intriguing. The licensing is slightly different on many images, in that they cannot be used stand alone. The site tends not to have great model photographs, but for everything else [even the unique/ weird/ uncommon requests], you can usually find it here. Morgue File also has tabs at the top of your search, so you can flip between Morgue File photographs and a handful of the paid sites - great for a quick comparison! This has been one of the longest running free stock sites, and old habits die hard. 
  4. StockFreeImages.com - Stock Free Images has almost one million free photographs and illustrations. The site started in 2012 and is run by Dreamstime. For those staged, have-to-be-perfect, marketing photographs, this is the site to use. The quality of photographs here is outstanding. They are sometimes a little too perfect of photographs for some items I design, but on a whole, a wonderful site. Again, a free account is required. 
  5. PhotoPin.com - This tool I just recently came across. It searches Creative Commons licensed photographs within Flickr. The search functionality seems to be fairly spot-on, and you can filter easily to commercial use photos. Of course, you are searching Flickr, so you get the professional with the unprofessional. When other sources fail me, I can usually find something here. 
  6. Free Sections - If you are simply try to build your library of stock photographs, most of the paid giants have free photographs, illustrations, etc. of the week. This varies site to site, but is worth perusing weekly to pick up items for your library. Here are the links to the free sections of the paid sites I use: iStock Free Images (highlighted just above the fold on the right side of the page), Fotolia Free Images, and Dreamstime Free Image Library

There are my "top picks" for graphic content and my constant go-to's. 

What are your favorite resources for generating image-based content? 


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 photo credits: Green Meadow by Zuen on Free Images 
 Brook by FidlerJan on MorgueFile

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Going on a Date [What is Branding]

Someone wise [it is disputed who] once said, “There are no second chances for first impressions.” 

I was recently asked, "What is branding, really?" It got me thinking about those first impressions and what branding really means. 

For many, this is simply understood. But sometimes as marketers and designers, we forget that not all business owners sat through traditional marketing classes, nor comes from the marketing realm. To them, branding is often a logo and company name. It has little value, and less appeal for the marketing budget. It is a lofty idea with little concrete data to back it up.

"What? You want to spend how much on a campaign just to put our name out there??? There is no call to action. There is no measurable ROI." 

Branding is like dating. And when someone questions the merits of branding, I usually explain it as such. 

I ask him [or her] to think of one of his probably awkward and uncomfortable first dates. It was awkward and uncomfortable because he was nervous. He wanted to make a good first impression. He wanted his date to like him, to be impressed by him, to be attracted to him and to be interested in learning more about him. Add to that pressure, he wanted to like his date as well. 

So how did he present himself? How did he introduce himself? What did he wear? What did he talk about? What body language did he use? Did he remind himself to smile a lot? How did he plan on paying for the date? What impression did he want to give off? How did the night end? Was there a second date? 

Most people do think of branding as a logo. And yes, a company’s logo is part of branding, but brand is so much more. It’s a company's entire identity. A brand is how the phone is answered, how a customer is greeted, the persona on social media channels, what employees dress like - every “touch” a customer has with the company. 

Each time a potential new customer is introduced to a business, the business is going on a first date with that potential customer. So how do you want your business to look? To act? 

If you have a clear branding strategy, if you have defined ideas of what you want to portray, and your employees understand this brand, you are going to be putting your best foot forward every time a potential customer sees you. 

The ultimate goal of your brand is to impress that customer enough for a second date, a third, and eventually a “marriage” - a relationship between your brand and that customer which is exclusive. 

Start thinking of your brand as the entire company identity. And brush up on your dating skills. 

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 photo credit: Instant Vantage on flickr

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cooking Up Good Ideas [The Creative Process]

Being an art student, I took for granted what the creative process was and how it work. I still take for granted that it isn't taught in many subjects besides the fine arts. In a world that wants everything yesterday, sometimes it is hard to fight for the time to allow your brain to work things out. 

But as I have been relied on recently to come up with some big changes, ideas and designs for various projects I work on, I have fallen back on my training from college. I have started to trust the creative process again. 

If you took many creative writing or art classes in college, you too are probably familiar with the five step creative process. But it is always good to refresh and to remember that the Creative Process doesn't happen in a single hour meeting! 

The Creative Process for creating, well, anything, can be broken down into five steps: 
  1. Preparation 
  2. Incubation 
  3. Illumination 
  4. Evaluation 
  5. Implementation 

Preparation is the first logical step to solving any problem, and whatever huge project you are trying to tackle is a problem. This step includes the researching, brainstorming ideas, and starting to organizing the data you might need to solve the problem. 

If you were making marinara from scratch, this is gathering all the ingredients and dumping them into a pot over low heat. 

Next up is Incubation, and incubation is the hardest step. This is when you have to walk away from your marinara and just let it simmer. Go clean the house, set the table for guests or start organizing your bills for the month. 

Simply walk away

In the creative process, incubation allows your problem to move from your conscious mind to your subconscious. The ideas cook there for a few days. Sure, you may go back to your notes and add a few thoughts, but ideally you don’t spend much time consciously working on your problem for a while. 

Let your subconscious genius rein. 

If your subconscious does its job, the next step comes naturally. In text, such as Graham Wallas' The Art of Thought (1926), it is called “Illumination”, but I like the “Ah-ha!” moment better. This is that exact point when your marinara has fully cooked, and all those herbs and spices blend into an epiphany sauce you are proud to show off. The idea all of a sudden "clicks" in your conscious brain. The parts fall in place and the idea is ready to clean up, prep and be served. 

Evaluation is your chance to decide how to present your sauce, and Implementation is diving off the high board and actually serving your sauce [with the rest of the meal that compliments it]. These steps take a ton of work, but usually come naturally after that brilliant “Ah-ha” moment. 

That’s it. That’s the creative process in it’s most simple form. 


Use it, trust it, and believe in it. 


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 photo credit: citymama on flickr