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Videos, Photos, UX and Your Website

From Twin Creek Media's YouTube Channel:

Welcome to Episode 2 of “Between Two Creeks” - where we continue exploring “Website Design Trends in 2023”. 

In this episode, we take a deep dive into the importance of User Experience - especially in the form of video, photo, graphics and navigation - to drive the brand message across a website and onto social media. 

Let’s get started! 


All Things Video

James: Video is everywhere on the internet these days, right? Marketing and advertising (activities) are using video more and more!

Noah: We're using video right now! *laughs*

James: Yeah, exactly! Even for educational pieces like this or for promotional videos, it’s easier and easier to do. We're using a digital camera in front of us - a Canon R7 with a couple of mics set up into a little board and into the camera - but you can just use your phone, like people doing selfies with their iPhones, you know. Half the time those videos are also pretty good. 

With low production value or low cost of production and easy-to-use production software, getting video content out there is more accessible than it used to be. People are using them more on their websites, for business websites and consumer goods websites, and then taking that video piece and putting them out on social media - because social media platforms love video content - and captions, like our voices and transcripts, are going to be auto-generated using the social media AI, so even if people don't have the sound on, they're just reading the captions, reading the text that has been generated which is often quite accurate and that's even a better piece.

Then, you can use that to further your brand message and your advertising. Also, everyone has high-speed internet these days, so it's not like it's in the old days; if it were just too slow, it wouldn't stream properly, and now everyone can play it even from their phones, too. 

Noah: Which is really cool, and I think the interesting part about capturing content these days is that everybody has a camera with them on their phone and that we're seeing larger brands also adopt some of that ad hoc content production, making their high production video look like it was shot on an iPhone - it looked like it was shot on somebody's handheld (device) because it lends an air of credibility and it lends a little bit of authenticity to the content that's being shared.

Seeing how it came from the consumer side - creating content and videos, tons and tons of content videos, and all of a sudden, now it's coming down from the brand side as well. They're creating content that looks similar to what consumers have been creating for years because it lends credibility and it lends authenticity to the brand, and it's fun! It doesn't always have to be a great R7 camera with high production value or a red camera or any of these really expensive high production pieces - it can be handheld, it can be shot ad hoc and still resonate and still reach massive audiences. Everybody has the ability these days to create great content, and it just comes down to that Halo piece of great content, and that's what works more than anything else. 

James: And for people watching that are business owners or marketing managers - this is the concept of pillar content; what are the key pieces of content that you're producing that can be distributed across many different channels? And then cut up into short-form pieces like little sound bites or a quick quote or something funny, something of 10 seconds that loops, these little reels or these sort of things that can you produce out of the main piece of content and then distribute it can get so much life out of that? Like the shelf life of a piece.

When you've put thousands of dollars into producing something, you really want it to get seen by tens of thousands of people, and not everyone likes writing stuff, even if they have chat GPT. Sometimes talking is easier than writing, and if you can produce the video and then also get a written piece out of it and then get some social media pieces out of it, which goes into your email newsletter, gets published on your website, you can turn it into a press release depending on the content. There's just so many different pieces you can get out of one effort; one kind of subject matter. 

Channel Optimization

Noah: And I think that's very interesting to explore, the idea of the 1990s when it'd be very easy to put up a static website, radio and television piece and maybe a piece of print media, and those were your mediums. And that was back in the day when the medium was the message, and now you can splice it up in a hundred different ways, and you likely need to, in order to cover all of the channels that your audience is on. So you're splicing a piece into like you said, Tik Tok videos, Instagram reels and you're also looking at YouTube shorts… I'm sure we can put up a little piece here afterwards (about the list of content), but the idea of splicing content to suit your audience across all the different channels is very interesting. 

James: On that note of channels, because we get asked this a lot by business owners, and I'll put you on the spot here, how many channels should a company be on?

Noah: 36. Exactly thirty-six different channels. 

James: Should have been 42. 

Noah: 42 would have been a better answer, yeah!

James: (On a serious note) I always turn it back to the clients - I say, where are your customers? And they go, “Oh right, well, they're middle-aged people, White Collar jobs, higher income level, major city centers and these industries…” And in that case, they may not be all over TikTok; their kids might be, but they aren't, so do you need to put so much (money and effort) into that? Of course not! Even Instagram, if it's a B2B service like a professional service, do you have to be all over Instagram? Without knowing the particulars, I'm not going to answer that, but probably not. LinkedIn, which is like Facebook for business (I always use that example), is a much better choice than the popular generic social media channels in which people aren't in a business mindset. When they're on there (Facebook), they're looking at pictures of cats!

Noah: Totally, and it always comes back to “the right person, right place, right time,” and that's marketing 101. Where are you going to reach that right person in the right place when they're ready to purchase at the right time? These are the essentials of any good marketing plan.

James: Yeah, what are your business goals? Who are your customers? Let's identify them and then, what pain are they trying to solve? How does your product or service fit that? So, (understand the) pain (offer the) solution and then choose the tactics. People (business owners) often jump right to the “Oh, I need to be on Facebook; my Facebook page is terrible,” but are your customers even on Facebook? Or even on social media?

There are a number of strategic questions that should be asked, and we're getting off-topic, but this is the most critical part of marketing: starting at the right spot. Don't start halfway through the process and then try to figure it all out; you need to start with strategies for sure.

Noah: I often look at one of my favourite case studies that I like to bring out throughout my marketing career - I had one client buy a lot of digital media, but they did not have a website and so they had spent (which was a lot to them) fifty thousand dollars on just banner ads and homepage takeovers and a bunch of different digital assets and the brief to me was we need to create all these digital assets and here are the dimensions and it needs to relate to this message 

James: And they literally had no website?

Noah: They didn't have a Canadian website, and it was apparent that they didn't know what the purpose of the digital ads were, but just that their audience was there, and that was true. Their audience, which was males aged 18 to 24, was online - of course, anybody knows that but then what were we doing? Where were we driving them? And that brings me to a really important point of any marketing campaign - has to be (understanding) what are your drivers? Which is obvious, the banner ads, but what are your hubs? Where are you driving them to? What happens when they click that banner ad? And then, what are the outcomes you're looking for? So they knew the outcomes, and they knew the drivers; they just didn't have a hub.

James: And without that, you can't measure the results of something exactly, which is the third piece. With technology, make sure you are measuring everything because in the digital space, it's really easy to do so, but people often treat it like old school media like TV, radio where you put your message out there, you cross your fingers, you're like "yeah, I hope people see it or hear it" and we hope and wish for the best. And there's my ten thousand dollars or my fifty thousand dollar ad spend; then you kind of cross your fingers. With the digital space, everything's measurable. You should know your full funnel from impressions to website visits to engagement and actions and then to lead generation or sales - if it's e-commerce all the way down, so you know that you put one dollar in up here, you have ten dollars exit at the bottom of the funnel. If you don't know that, talk to somebody, and we can figure it out, but someone in your company needs to be crunching the numbers and measuring performance, and it's easy to do in the digital space to figure that out. 

Noah: That gets us to an important point here: if you do crunch the numbers and something is missing, for example, you know you have a lot of traffic to your website, but they're not converting, that sort of brings us to the topic of…

User Experience (UX)

James: And Conversion Optimization, which is figuring out the User Experience. And when you're doing user experience, you can kind of A/B test things - where you have a group of people click on one ad and go to this page, but you can have another ad that’s similar, but you've changed something important like the headline or the image, and you see which one is getting more activity and then which page of your website is getting more conversions as well. So that's user experience, or UX as it's known in the industry - it's really a whole bundle of things, but it needs to be looked at.

A couple of things that we've noted in terms of website trends for 2023 include the topic of “navigation" (menus, etc.) It needs to be simple. People have the attention span of (snaps finger), so don't make things harder than they need to be. If you have a lot of pages on your site, you need to have either a mega menu where they're nice and ordered, or a hamburger menu where it's a wider main navigation that's just very simple with some main categories, and they don't have a drop-down that goes infinitely with a flyout menu with another flyout menu, and you have three levels of stuff where people get lost.

So the mega menu organizes things if you have that much information, which is a big expandable navigation with lists of things underneath it, or you can use a simple top-level nav, and once they click on that main page, the page they land on is almost like a secondary home page that features those particular relevant items. Key point: just make the navigation simple. 

Also, nice photos and videos - that’s a pretty obvious bullet point (for website trends), but how would you expand on that in terms of 2023? What does a nice photo or a nice video mean?

Noah: That's an interesting question. I really feel that nice photos and nice videos mean it's clear, clean, easy to understand, and well-lit. It’s very important as it's communicating your brand, as we touched on earlier - it's very important to have the content on your site resonate with your audience, but through the lens of your brand, so it's not completely disconnected (unless your brand is like super edgy and grainy - then you can have grainy dark footage you know kind of make it on brand) but I think it's important to sync with the website, to sync with the vibe of your brand as opposed to just having beautiful images - what’s your brand vibe?

James: Let's say I'm a business owner talking about hiring a photographer... “It’s really expensive, Noah. Can't I just use stock photos and grab them off the internet?!”

Noah: You can absolutely use stock photos and grab them off the internet. But often, if it's done in a way that doesn't connect with the brand, it will look cheesy. Editor's Note: don't forget the risk of copyright infringement! We're only talking about properly-licensed stock photography, not "ripped-off Google" photos.

James: Yeah, and sometimes you've done yourself a disservice by using subpar images that are so bad that you shouldn't even have them there because it again comes down to “is your website visitor going to trust you more or less after seeing that?”

Noah: Absolutely, especially today's consumers; they will trust you less if they know for sure that it’s stock photography and poorly Photoshopped. You can take stock photography and Photoshop it and then create something new from the basic asset that looks creative, that looks on brand, and that fits with the rest of the site, but nothing's worse than taking raw disconnected stock photography and just imposing that on your website. I think it really does a disservice to the brand and your audience.

James: The feel or the emotional connection is really off on some of them like some of it's like a really glossy hero shot of some product or some scene with really nice focus and lighting, and then right beside it is like a little bit of a weird clip art, a vector image of something - but it's a completely different art style so you have photo, photo and then kind of cartoon all of a sudden or you know photo in a weird little sci-fi graphic that you got off some stock website so just be careful that it’s on brand - that you're not going all over the place, visually, colour palettes, the same kind of the same thing. That goes into one of our points about "less is more". For a design slogan, what does that mean?

Noah: Yeah, I mean, I'd like to go back just for one second about the stock piece only because I think it's important to highlight that some of the clients we work with are in the early stage, and they don't have an actual photograph of their working prototype, or maybe they don't have a photo of their facility that they want to showcase; in which case you're rendering something, or you're creating something, or you're mocking something up, and that can be powerful as well - if it's done in the right style and you can use stock photography or stock people in order to augment that and give the vibe or the essence of what you're trying to achieve. As long as they're well selected and a great art director or a great creative designer will be able to select the right photos and support you.

James: To be honest, we almost always blend custom photography with stock photography, but the objective is, does it look like stock? Is it screaming stock photography? That I didn't take this picture myself? If it is screaming that, then beware. But if you can mix and match your custom photography that you've done a shoot with on-site, in your own city with your own scenery and background. Or, if it's an office setting, shots that look like what your typical customer would expect, using your own people or your own products - that's so good. But if you're in a pinch and there's a deadline coming up and you need a particular photo, then yeah, just grab something but make sure it matches the brand. 

Noah: I actually used an illustrator once for one of my clients. They were still early in their concept; it was a restaurant - sort of indoor play structure, and it was really fun, so we used an illustrator who had a fun illustration style. He also did children's books, and I had him illustrate the instructions and a lot of the interior with cool visuals because we couldn't photograph within the facility. So, we helped people understand how the gameplay worked and how to navigate the interior space using illustrations! There are a lot of ways around not using stock photography, which can also be very cost-effective - I mean, that whole project was well under the budget of what a photo shoot would have been, so you know, very powerful ways to work around not using stock photography. 

James: Yeah, and that's a good point because, on the illustration side of things, sometimes hand drawing or making an explainer video helps. Our client was a high-tech company, a software company, so doing a proper video shoot would have been a little bit boring but also very expensive because you're trying to show all this stuff. So we did an explainer video where it was more like black-and-white drawing, like a chalkboard drawing, in the style of animation and again way lower budget because it was a voice-over, it kept the pace going, the explainer video was drawing stuff on the screen, it was still showing some screenshots but in a stylized version.

Our graphic designer kind of drew out some screenshots, but they weren't photorealistic; they were just outlines of what it would be, but it was getting the message across about this software for this industry -  here are the results and here's why you need it - It had a clear path (message) of what it was in under three minutes; it got the whole concept across of a piece of software that was actually really complicated. The illustration in that art style can definitely be used versus real photos - real video, which sometimes isn't in the budget, or it's just hard to do.


Check out our previous episode: Part 1 of Website Design Trends in 2023. 

Join us next week for part 3 of Website Design Trends in 2023.

“Between Two Creeks” is Twin Creek Media’s weekly podcast series. You can find us on YouTube, FacebookInstagram, and Spotify. If you enjoy listening to the latest and wonkiest in marketing every week, don’t forget to hit that subscribe button! If you want us to amp up your marketing, click here to contact us and let’s chat!