How Social Media Has Changed Brand Management

Dr. Emily R. Coleman, the President of Competitive Advantage Marketing asked me to write a guest post about the impact of social media on Brand Management. You can read the full article here.

5 Excellent Stock Photography Websites

stock photography websites

As promised in my previous post, below are my top choices for finding the perfect image for a website, catalogues, presentation or blog. The list includes some of the most popular websites for image search and should provide enough options to satisfy even the most demanding marketer, graphic designer or advertising agency.

Getty Images

With a collection of over 80 million still pictures Getty Images is one of the largest stock photography website. As a result of an aggressive aquisiton strategy the company now owns two other big players in the category: Jupiter Images and iStock Photo. The site offering goes beyond stock and editorial images and provides marketers with a great collection of footage (50000 hours) and music files. Their Thinkstock subscription model not only allows you to download from the millions of images on the Getty website but also gives you access to the iStockphoto and Jupiter Images collections.

Corbis Images

The company was started by Bill gates in 1989 and currently offers over 100 million still pictures and illustrations. I was mostly impressed with the Documentary, Fine Art, Archival collections offered for editorial purposes, which include some amazing photography and illustration.


One of the popular choices for stock photography, this website offers a collection of over 13 million images, illustrations, vectors and HD videos. With a very flexible subscription plans and even free images available for download, Fotolia represents a very cost-effective option for getting the image you want for your marketing collateral.


When it comes to more unique and exclusive images Firstlight is my first choice. Although not as cost-effective as its biggest competitors listed above, what I like about this website is the amazing customer experience and the fact that they promote Canadian photographers.


Owned by Getty Images, this is a website that offers stock images at the most competitive price: free. I haven’t used them personally but they might be a good option for blogs and internal communication materials.

As I mentioned at the beginning these are my top five sources for stock photography. If you still haven’t found the perfect image for you Marketing materials free to get in touch with me. I can help you with a very comprehensive list of over 50 stock photography websites.

How to Use Stock Photography in Your Marketing Communication Materials

Stock Photography

I love photography, and I am a frequent user of stock photography.

I think a good photograph is the simplest and most elegant way to convey a message and generate emotions. When it comes to brand management, I find Marketing collateral that include big, well-chosen pictures and minimal copy more compelling and engaging.

Brand managers have a few options when it comes to photography, the ideal one being to hire a professional photographer for a personalized photo session. The advantages are obvious: unique and exclusive images that can be used without any restrictions. But in many cases, due to budget or time constrains, hiring a photographer is not an option. That’s when stock photography come in very handy. The good news is that today, with the explosion in the number of websites offering stock photography, the choices in terms of quantity, creativity and cost are basically unlimited.

What Is Stock Photography?

Stock photography refers to collections of photographs, illustrations, vector, video, audio and flash files organized in searchable libraries and available for commercial and personal use.

Licencing Options

Before placing an image in your Marketing materials you have to obtain the rights to use it. The most popular licence agreements fall into three categories:

Royalty-free (RF)-this simplest licencing option gives user the rights to use the image on unlimited number of projects as often as needed with no additional fees to be paid after the initial purchase. Images are offered in different sizes and resolutions, and priced accordingly. The main advantages of royalty-free images are affordability, the multitude of options, and simplicity of use, as there are no legal implications after the purchase.

Rights-managed (RM)-images in this category are priced based on where, how and when they will be used. The advantages of rights-managed images is that they are more creative, better quality photos, often available with exclusive rights.That being said these images are more expensive than royalty-free ones.

Free images– are available for commercial and personal use at no cost to the user (except maybe a donation to the website that offers them). These photographs are a good solution for small project and blogs, however the selection and creative value is often limited.

The licencing types listed above are the most common, however other options, such as “Editorial” and “Comping and Preview Use”, are available depending on the source. Make sure you check the “Licence Information” section of the website you plan to purchase the image from for full details on the types of licences offered.

Selecting The Best Option

The best licence option depends on your project requirements. Before making the purchase ask yourself a few questions that will help narrow the search: is the Marketing piece intended for an internal or external audience? What is the desired level of exclusivity? What is the available budget?

Rights-managed images offer the most exclusivity, quality and creativity. However all these come at a cost. Free images on the other hand are obviously very “budget friendly” but usually lack creativity. I personally find royalty-free images to be the best compromise between quality, exclusivity and cost.

Some Technical Aspects to Consider

The cost of an image is based on a few attributes, the most common being image size and resolution. Having a basic understanding of these concepts helps you avoid getting an image that is not suitable for your project. Below is a non-technical explanation of what these terms mean (I am not a Graphic Designer) and the correlation between them.

Image resolution (measured in dots per inch or “dpi”) gives the quality of an image. The higher the resolution, the crisper the image, the more flexibility in re-sizing it without loosing the quality. The right resolution depends on the medium in which it will be used: for the web a resolution of 72 dpi will be sufficient, since the goal is to have the pages load fast. If you are printing the image in large format then you will probably need a resolution of between 150 and 300 dpi, and even higer.

Image dimensions (usually measured in inches or centimeters) represent the size of the image when printed at a particular resolution.

What is the correlation between the two variables? Any change in resolution will affect the image dimensions. For example let’s say you have an image that is 48″ wide X 49″ tall at a resolution of 72 dpi. The same image at 300 dpi will be 11.7″ X 11.8″.

One Last Tip

In order to preserve the image quality the pixel dimensions should remain the same. In Adobe Photoshop, the graphic industry’s standard program, you can achieve this by unchecking the “Re-sample image” box in the “Image Size” menu.

In a future post I will list my favorite websites for sourcing stock photography.

Image Credit: Mike on Flickr

Brand Guidelines: A Practical Overview (Part 1)

Brand Guidelines

If brand management is part of your job description you know how difficult it can be to ensure the brand message is consistently reflected across internal departments, marketing agencies and, most importantly, the target audience.

Moreover, it takes time and effort to communicate what the brand is all about, how is it different from the competitors, what the brand values are, and how these values should be promoted to the target audience.

I believe that developing brand guidelines are a must for every company that is seriously committed to building a strong brand. Often overlooked, these documents help the brand manager maintain the consistency of the brand portfolio by ensuring that people who come in contact with the brand will not alter its essence.

What Are Brand Guidelines?

Also known as brand manuals or brand standards, brand guidelines summarize what the brand is all about from a strategic perspective and provide detailed instructions on how brand identity elements such as the logo, color scheme and fonts should be developed, used, and communicated.

Why Should Your Company Care?

Your company should create standards for all the brands in its portfolio in order to:

  • Ensure the brand message is reproduced correctly, consistently, and in line with the company objectives across different departments, communication channels and suppliers
  • Help graphic designers create a unified “look and feel” for all marketing communication materials
  • Allow the designers to focus on elements where he/she can add value and eliminates unnecessary changes made for the sake of being different
  • Provide company employees with focus and direction
  • Save marketers time and increases their productivity
  • Provide a one stop source of information about the brand to the new employees, marketing agencies and other service providers involved in representing the brand

Who Will Benefit?

The document will benefit every person who is involved in managing, interacting and representing the brand:

  • Company employees
  • Outside service providers: graphic designers, web designers, social media experts, industrial designers, product managers
  • Franchisees

Who Is Involved in Creating The Guidelines?

The Marketing department in collaboration with the agency of record is usually responsible for putting together the document.

However all departments should be involved in the process. Company employees should be trained to become brand ambassadors since their buy-in is needed to ensure consistency in communicating the brand message.

Final Considerations

Since the document is distributed to a wide audience with diverse backgrounds, the brand guidelines should be written in a language that is easy to understand. Effective brand guidelines include many examples and are“visual”, rather than a long and boring collection of meaningless sentences.

The guidelines should be accessible by all the parties involved in the brand’s strategy and communication. Don’t forget to distribute them to every new employee and service provider. Many companies choose to make the guidelines publicly available, which show professionalism and dedication to building a strong brand image.

Part 2 of this post will provide a detailed look at the contents of a comprehensive brand guidelines document.

A Marketing Campaign That Stands Out

Although most of my posts are focused on marketing strategy I sometimes feel the need to highlight some outstanding advertising work that I believe stand above the rest. The criteria I use to judge a marketing campaign are its originality, creativity (without going overboard) and its ability to accomplish its marketing objectives.

Kia Canada’s latest marketing campaign named “Drive Change”, developed and implemented by David & Goliath Toronto and Innocean Worldwide Canada, certainly hits the right note with (at least a part of) the target audience. The goals of the campaign are to highlight the newly designed product line-up and, more importantly, to reinforce the brand’s commitment to social responsibility.

Competition in the automotive industry is fierce and auto manufacturers rely heavily on advertising to promote their products. Unfortunately, like in most other categories, the advertising medium is dominated by campaigns that promote the same features across all brands: fuel economy, safety and towing capacity (trucks). As a result it is particularly refreshing to see that Kia’s new campaign takes a different approach that elevate the brand beyond the product features. Its core message educates, inspires and aims to make the world a better place to live.

As an avid cyclist the one closest to my heart is the Share the Road commercial, that addresses the biggest frustration that those who ride the bike have: the reluctance that motorists have to share the road (I am sure my Canadian readers are familiar with the TV spot).

Kia’s decision to promote their social involvement rather than creating a “me-too” campaign is simply smart marketing, which usually leads to better sales numbers. May was the best ever month for Kia in their 11-year presence in the Canadian market, with over 6000 sold and a 34% increase versus 2010. Although the “Drive Change” campaign is only one ingredient of their sales success (their cars also look great and are backed by an industry leading warranty), the Marketing team and the agencies involved in putting the campaign together deserve a big round of applause.

A Marketer’s Guide To Writing An Effective Graphic Design Brief

writing design brief

The design brief is one of the most important documents in the Brand Manager’s toolkit.

How many times have you received a graphic proof that looks totally different than what you were expecting?

Working with a designer on a new website, catalog, logo or promotional flyer can quickly become a very unpleasant task without proper communication and unrealistic expectations. A well-written graphic design brief simplifies the process and helps you get the results you want.

Design Brief Components

The design brief I use in my day job follows the structure below:

Project goals. This is the starting point of every design project. Be as specific as possible in what you are trying to achieve and narrow you list of goals to the most important one(s). If you have multiple goals rank them by importance.

Company overview. Explain in a paragraph what your company is all about, including the history, values, products/services, and distribution. This will help the designer understand your business philosophy and create concepts that reflect it.

Target audience. It is important that you provide the designer with a clear definition of your target audience: who they are, where they work, where they live, age group, likes and dislikes, etc. If you target multiple segments make sure to include them all in the order of importance, or select the groups that are relevant to the project.

Brand positioning. This should be one of the most important paragraphs of your design brief. Here you will be answering a simple question: how are you different from your competitors? The uniqueness of your brand image is directly influenced by how good you are at identifying the differentiation elements and explaining how they make your brand unique.

Brand identity guidelines. Consistency is key to building a distinctive brand identity. My suggestion for marketers is to put together a “Brand manual”. This reference guide comes very handy when working with marketing agencies and independent contractors since they will able to learn about your brand from a single source.

Project exclusions. An effective design brief clearly defines responsibilities and identifies exclusions. A detailed outline of the development work to be performed, including who is responsible for providing the copy, images, translations, and product information, helps the designer put together an accurate estimate and eliminates unrealistic expectations.

Competitor information. Your materials should have a unique look that reflects your distinctive brand positioning. Provide the designer with your competitors’ catalogs, brochures and websites. Stay up-to-date on your competitors’ moves and work on creating your own distinctive identity.

Examples of (what you consider) relevant work. We all have our favorite brands that inspire us. I keep a list of favorite websites and other marketing materials that reflect the design principles I value: simplicity, smart creativity, clean look, and use of white space. Look outside your industry for great ideas you can incorporate in your marketing piece.

Deadline– Provide a realistic completion date for your project. I usually start by asking the designer for a realistic time estimate for completing the project and work around that date. A very tight deadline might limit creativity. No deadline might put you out of the job.

Should You Provide a Budget?

I prefer to create a list of “must have” and “nice to have” elements and ask for an estimate based on my requirements. The reason I prefer not to include the budget  is that some designers tend to say “yes” to every project, no matter the budget, and allocate creative time based on the amount of money available.

I hope the above list simplifies your project management work and help you get things done faster. Feel free to add to it so we can all learn how to better communicate with our creative partners.

Photo credit: isolationism on Flickr