Guest Blogger Pat Soberanis: Visual Media 012: More than Worth the Trip

Unveiled

UNVEILE April 26, 2012

I was glad I took the Amtrak train to the Visual Media 012conference, because a full-day pass made for an exhilarating if exhausting day.

Just like last year, the best feature of this conference is its intimate scale. Not only is there time and space for real conversations with exhibitors (as opposed to shouting matches at the huge conferences), you can ask plenty of questions of each presenter – and get to know your seatmates.

Visual Media Alliance (formerly Printing Industries of Northern California) took full advantage of this intimacy. Even the box-lunch hour was not wasted, with a seminar expert presiding over each table. You would have to be a VIP to have this kind of access at the large shows.

Although I was tempted to switch, with so many great topics to choose from, I stuck with the seminars I registered for, and they did not disappoint. The first, “Taking Photoshop to the Next Level,” by photographer Mark Lindsay, gave us one beefy tip after another, along with a peek at Photoshop 6, which Mark called a “strong upgrade.” Mark’s focus was productivity, so his first recommendations were to make more use of existing and custom keyboard shortcuts, and of actions, which he demonstrated. He also explained the mysteries of blending modes – Normal, Dissolve, Darken, Multiply, etc. – and showed easy ways to use the most powerful ones. I was so impressed I sat at his table during the Roundtable lunch, where I learned even more  productivity tips about Photoshop.

At the next session, cleverly titled “Decline of Creative Civilization as We Know It,” creative director Paul Bradshaw explained how we independent graphic designers can counter the trend toward “crowdsourcing” – that phenomenon where design buyers post a project proposal, and designers around the world submit their designs for consideration. The problem: only the “winning” designer gets paid – and not much – and everyone else has basically worked for free. Bradshaw’s response is to “do great work” – and to get your clients to do the selling for you through old-fashioned word of mouth. The room was small enough that Bradshaw had us introduce ourselves, and the very young guy sitting next to me worked at Apple in HR. He took notes on his iPad using a tablet pen, and told me later that the app he liked was Paper by Studio 53. It has a beautiful interface and lets you paint and draw too. Another bonus.

The after-lunch keynote speaker, venture capitalist/angel investor Gil Penchina, provided an interesting glimpse into his world, where for every Instagram – which Facebook just bought for $1 billion – there are hundreds if not thousands of startups scraping by even after a round or two of very modest funding. Still, he encouraged us to “start something” and contact him with ideas.

Gil was introduced by new-gen magicians Leeman Parker and David Blatter, whose expert patter and amazing sleight of hand were reminiscent of Penn and Teller. Keep an eye on these two; their next big show is at the Hollywood Fringe Fest in June.

My afternoon session, “Social Signals in Search,” with online marketer John Thyfault, was a thorough walk-through of the ways search engines are using social media activity in its ranking algorithms. As good as it was, for this writer, it was also a little depressing to learn how much content you have to give away for free to build a following – and how much social media has become a popularity contest.

I was late to the small but packed room for Steve Decker’s entertaining “Marketing Case Study,” where he described how his Zooka Creative recruited 2,000 “mommy bloggers” to try out and talk about a new Purex fabric softener – just one innovative piece of a print-multimedia-social media product launch Zooka created and produced. It was so wildly successful and well done that it won an Effie Award this year, alongside giant ad agencies (find out more and download the case study). Steve gave us a big bonus by explaining Facebook’s new EdgeRank algorithm (do a Google search to find out more), which determines which friends and page posts show up in users’ news feeds – and why some never show up at all.

I was late to Steve’s session because I made a quick round of the Expo’s exhibitors’ tables. Adobe wasn’t there at all this year – in fact, a number of last year’s exhibitors weren’t at this year’s event – but I visited each booth with a new purpose, as a soon-to-be designer and print buyer myself. Each of these exhibitors are potential vendors, so it was helpful to learn their specialties.

The beautifully designed and produced Sappi Standard books and marketing booklets went fast, but I got a full collection to show my classmates next week. At one of the morning sessions, Sappi executive Daniel Dejan explained how the incredible Standard #5 was produced. I couldn’t attend, but I can find out more on Sappi’s website, where you can also download most issues of the Standard.

I also ran into a colleague from my freelance days, Rita Amladi, now with Rods and Cones, a color management and digital-asset specialist for large companies. Rita was the awesome Photoshop Product Specialist for Photoshop 3 at Adobe when I revised and copyedited Adobe Press Production Essentials. I could always count on her deep knowledge and articulate responsiveness whenever I had questions.

What impressed me most – besides the amazing paper samples and Sappi booklet designs – was the quality of the latest digital printing technologies. I picked up some samples that are every bit as detailed as offset prints. As with the business cards that TC Printing made for me, only a very experienced eye could tell the difference.

What also impressed me Visual Media Alliance itself, and how robust its network is, how current it is, how reasonable the $75 annual dues are, and how many resources it offers its members – which soon will include me. Then I’ll get a print copy of its Resource Guide, access to group health insurance, discounts on webinars and online classes, and news that will connect me with other members, even here in Sacramento. I hope more designers learn about VMA and its annual conference so it can thrive once again.

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Today is my Birthday and I’m Still Wondering!

My SmartPhone and I recharge each night, together in my bedroom. She sits strategically placed on my night table, soothing me to sleep with a few rounds of Words with Friends, or a good book, or even a few Facebook updates. She’s available to wake me on time, inform me on the latest breaking news tragedies, help me know how to dress for the upcoming weather, even take a quick phone call along with what seems like infinite other mission critical functions I can’t handle without her.

This morning she woke me before the alarm, with buzz, buzz-buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz. It must have started around 3 or 4 in the morning, undoubtedly when many of my east coast friends and family were rising and being reminded that it’s my day today via Facebook.

I love being remembered, even if they had to be reminded. I love that they took time to send me good wishes. I’m not quite so good at it myself. Later today I’ll count how many birthday wishes I received and be able to quantitatively measure my friendship worth.

But this blog is about marketing. As I lay in bed this morning, finally realizing what all the buzz was about, I began to wonder where this would lead. I wondered if my favorite products will be buzzing me at any hour of the day or night as the robo-calls do today. Will they send me birthday presents instead of birthday wishes or just their own wishes for me to shop at their store on my special day? Will I feel loved and remembered as I do when my friends check in? I assume I can opt-out of certain communications but will it work as well as the DoNot-Call list?

I love my personal, hand-held, walking, talking, informing, personal assistant. And I am a marketer. Just wondering!

Happy Birthday in advance and belated to all of you whom I’ve missed or will miss in the coming year!

What Matters in Marketing: an interview with Rick Mathieson, author of THE ON-DEMAND BRAND

We recently interviewed Rick Mathieson, author of THE  ON-DEMAND BRAND and speaker at the upcoming VisualMedia012 conference. His insights are provocative.  I’m looking forward to his session discussing Top Trends to Capitalize on Now.

Rick Mathieson

Rick Mathieson

VMA  What are some digital marketing trends discussed in the book?
RM The list you mention are among many trends explored in the book – as well as trends within trends, some that have been evolving over the last few years, and some that are just now gaining traction. From those trends, the book explores strategies for using them most effectively. In fact, a major element of the book is the contention that trends in and of themselves don’t matter. In advertising agencies and marketing operations throughout the land, if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: “We need to do X (insert your own trend or marketing buzzword here).” Or, “We need a social media/mobile marketing/branded entertainment strategy.” Not because it has any bearing on the business at hand, but rather, because X is the cool thing to do. Never mind that these trends are about specific channels of communication. It’s like saying, “We need a brochure strategy.” Or “We need a TV commercial strategy.” And sometimes we as marketers get too focused on what’s hot and hip, instead of what can make a major impact on our clients’ businesses. The book is focused on 10 key rules or principles for taking a strategic approach to sparking innovation in the ways we marketing and sell our products to consumers. These principles are applicable for social media, mobile marketing and any number of digital marketing channels and platforms we know and use today – as well as those five years from now that haven’t even been dreamed up yet. And all of these principles are predicated on the first: Insight Comes Before Inspiration. True innovation rarely comes from some really cool idea or a me-too approach to digital. Only by truly understanding our customers – who they are, how they use digital technology and what kind of experiences they want and demand from the brands they know and trust – can we then create blockbuster brand experiences that move our businesses forward.

VMA Do you think that a “digital” marketing campaign must embrace more than one channel?

RM It depends, but in general, I’d say that consumers don’t just engage with one form of experience, channel or platform. The best digital work is integrated with everything else a brand is doing, in what we call “traditional” and “digital” marketing. In fact, I like to say that there is no “old media” or “new media” anymore. There’s just “media.” And it’s our jobs as marketers to figure out the right mix of elements that are best going to reach our target consumers where they live.

VMA  Please explain advergames and cite an example.

RM Advergames can mean a few different things – popular games that have been re-skinned to promote a brand, and games built from the ground up to promote the brand and drive home its value proposition. I prefer the latter – and am amazed just how powerful they can be in clutter busting. According to ABI Research, consumers are likely to spend an average of 12 minutes with a branded game. We have a hard time getting consumers to sit still for a 30-second TV spot. But they will engage with games to a startling degree. In my opinion, games can’t just exist for the fun of it. They need to communicate a brand’s value proposition in a very clear way. Axe deodorant and body wash created a fun game called “Let’s Get Dirty,” whereby you control a couple as they embrace and they start to roll. They roll across the lawn. They roll across the flowerbeds. They roll across ice cream cones. They even roll across other people. The whole idea of the game is to get the couple as dirty as possible – so they end up showering together with Axe shower gel. I know, not right for every sentiment, but perfect for this irreverent brand’s target demographic. One of my favorite examples comes from my own work. One of our clients, a network security company called SonicWALL came to us asking for ideas for fun ways to promote the brand. We came up with a game that used a TSA-style conveyer belt to represent the enterprise network. You had to scan things going through the network – letting the right stuff pass, and zapping the wrong stuff. At each new level, the convey belt goes faster and faster, and then there are multiple conveyor belts to significate the extend enterprise. Eventually, everything goes so fast that you fail. And that’s the idea – we say that in the real world, network security is just fun and games. And the only way to do it right is through this new set of solutions from SonicWALL. We made it where you could challenge others to see who does better, and share wins on Facebook and elsewhere. In its first six months, the game was played tens of thousands of times and resulted in 1,200 highly- qualified, very valuable leads. It’s also an example that shows that these kinds of consumer activities can make a major difference for B2B brands. We sometimes forget that business people are indeed people. And the same strategies and tactics that work for B2C can be especially powerful in B2B.

VMA Do these newer digital platforms like mobile marketing fit with older marketing media like TV, radio, print and direct mail?

RM Absolutely. For far too long we’ve equated mobile with “check ins” or mobile advertising. But the most powerful way to capitalize on mobile is to recognize that with mobile, everything becomes interactive. Our TV commercials become interactive. Our radio spots become interactive. Our print ads become interactive. Our direct mail becomes interactive. Our outdoor signage becomes interactive. Our storefronts become interactive. Our point-of-sale becomes interactive. Our product packaging becomes interactive. Even our products themselves become an interactive channel for engaging our customers in amazing new ways. And some of today’s most innovative marketers are capitalizing on this trend. They’re thinking bigger, bolder and far more bodaciously about their traditional campaigns enabled and empowered by mobile. Along the way they are super-charging the effectiveness and measurability of their traditional marketing channels. Along the way, they’re creating a level of consumer engagement that was previously simply unimaginable.