In the Know | Entrepreneur and Investor Jay Adelson

 

Widely recognized as an Internet visionary, entrepreneur and investor Jay Adelson is known for his work founding and running companies including Equinix, SimpleGeo, Opsmatic, Revision3, the first internet television network, and Digg, a news aggregator and arguably the world’s first social media company. He has been named among Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Most recently, Jay co-founded Center Electric, an early-stage venture capital firm focused on Internet infrastructure. In our latest “In the Know,” Jay joins Karbo Com CEO, Julie Karbo, in conversation about successful startup positioning, and shares his advice for building the game-changing press relationships that were crucial to his success.

 

Julie Karbo: You have a lot of experience working with PR teams; you’ve leveraged Karbo Com at several of the companies you’ve led. How can executives get the best from their PR agency?

Jay Adelson: Startups should think beyond just media coverage when working with a PR agency. The expectation should be the agency should function in a marketing communications and strategy capacity as well. And then it’ll be way more effective, because it’s all very tightly integrated. 

Press coverage is part of the story, but startups should work with PR on the company’s positioning, how that positioning impacts products, and how to get the company’s message out to customers. For every launch over the course of my entire career, a PR firm was helping me in that early stage and it was totally mission critical to my success. Without you I wouldn’t be as successful as I am today.

For more mature businesses, it’s a different story—there’s so much to do in the media relations arena. You’re trying to secure ongoing coverage and you want to constantly be pitching new ideas to keep your company top of mind, not just for your consumers, but for other audiences as well. And of course, it’s key to have PR at your side when your company goes into crisis mode. I don’t care how good you are, you always have to have crisis management.

Whether you’re a startup or a more established business, I’ve found that it’s important to meet with your PR agency very regularly. At Digg, Revision3, and Equinix, my CMO would appoint someone in house to serve as the internal liaison responsible for communicating with our PR firm on a daily basis.

 

Let’s talk a bit more about how early-stage startups should utilize PR as they begin to position themselves.

I’ve never seen in a startup pitch where the positioning was right on the first day.

 

And what was the problem? Too much of a tech focus?

About 80% of the time, yes. There’s often this obsession with the tech risk they’ve overcome, and founders can become so narrowly focused on that victory that they forget that the point is to sell their product to as many people as possible. 

Admittedly, communications is hard. I don’t think a lot of very qualified founders are good at communications. I certainly wasn’t. I had no idea how comms worked. I had to be taught by you, or I learned the hard way by failing at it. But really, as a founder, the second you start raising money you should start thinking about communications, engaging with a PR firm like Karbo Com.

I’m not talking about big marketing spends or event planning before the product is ready, were talking about positioning and start. During my early startup days before our product was ready for the market we would sit down and come up with what our product was going to be and how we wanted to position it. And that would shape product decisions—it was crucial.

As an investor, when I talk to a new entrepreneur who is pitching me, I want to see that they’re thinking about that. They don’t have to have all the answers, but they have to demonstrate that they are willing to go through that analysis. It is not as simple as “the product is awesome.“

 

I completely agree. And that kind of early positioning work plays a big role in a founder’s ability to lead effectively and to get their team excited.

That’s right, positioning doesn’t work if the founder doesn’t believe it. It has to connect to why they started the business; it has to come from a core place of meaning for that founder. And then it becomes easy to communicate. Because it’s true. You’re just saying what you believe. 

And all you need to do then is to go through some degree of training to ensure that you’re using the right diction. I remember going through those PR training exercises with you. I couldn’t believe how fast my speaking shifted as a founder.  I’d open my mouth and out would come a perfectly phrased sentence that someone on your team wrote. It was incredible. It really becomes part of your everyday lexicon.

 

I remember that process, yes! And good branding helps companies build closer relationships with customers too, of course.

I believe the point of much of branding and positioning work is to create something that has meaning to your audience.  In the end, you have to understand who your audience is and what you need to do to make your product or service easy to understand. When they understand where you’re coming from that’s a bridge, and that opens a conversation. 

One company that has been really successful at this is GoPro. Their branding was focused on doing cool extreme things, jumping off cliffs, flying in the air—it wasn’t just a camera. Their story creates a connection to the audience and customers. And that connection is two directional. It’s not you coming up with that branding and pushing an audience. It’s a two-way conversation with the community you’re building—that’s what makes for a successful branding exercise.

 

What advice do you have for founders who are looking to build a community around their brand?

When I’m advising a founder, I often say communities are adopted, not created. That might mean you have an influential person join your team, or that you join forces with someone who’s already plugged in to bigger, relevant communities. I would advise founders to leverage people who are already influencers in their communities, rather than putting resources towards building a community from scratch.

 

We’ve touched on relationships with customers and employees—let’s switch gears for a minute and talk about a founder’s relationship with reporters. How has your relationship with reporters evolved over the years?

My earliest relationships with reporters predate the explosion of the blogosphere and social media. The journalists I got to know back in 1999, I still know today and in many ways those relationships have remained the same. These traditional journalists had a high bar. They held a lot of power and were hugely revered. You would plant the seed and it would be months before an article was written, if at all. That was the relationship I was used to.

With the advent of blogging and social media, I’ve observed a shift. Many relationships are much more real-time, a lot more casual. Newer reporters or bloggers would just pick up the phone and call me, collect some little bit of data, and they would write a story about the smallest amount of news.

And now I think we’re seeing the pendulum swing back. The public discussion around fake news and the lack of trust in the media seems to be driving a real desire for vetted journalists. And so we’ll see. I’m hopeful.

 

What advice do you have for founders who haven’t established those relationships with journalists yet? 

Well there’s no question that it’s worth establishing these relationships as soon as you can.  And one way to do that is by establishing yourself as someone worth talking to about a topic that actually isn’t your business. You helped me start that process.

I met a number of journalists at events that they were covering, like TechCrunch Disrupt or launch events. If you can arrange to sit on a panel or ask a question or just approach them and talk to them then you’re off to a good start. Have a quick conversation and offer them a tidbit, or give them a sound bite because you know they love having something to quote, and then get out of there. Don’t talk their ear off. 

And after a while they’ll get to know you. It’s sometimes better to maintain a casual relationship that doesn’t have to do with your business, where you can continue to be a subject matter expert for them and let the pitch for your business come from your PR firm. It makes for a much more comfortable relationship. You can talk offline and build trust. 

I remember that at one point there was a story coming out about my business from a prominent journalist  and it wasn’t a completely flattering story. But because we had slowly built a relationship over time, I was able to call her  and she held the story. And that made all the difference.

And yes, the PR firm is mission critical here. Let’s look at it bluntly: a PR firm may have connections with journalists that they’ve had for decades. You’re the new guys on the block with no credibility whatsoever. And there’s a huge gap you can cover if you have a PR firm who’s gonna make that call. 

There were times that you connected me with a reporter at Bloomberg or the Wall Street Journal who would never have taken my call otherwise. That’s just reality, that’s how it is. Now, you don’t always need press, and you have to choose when that is important  to you, but if it is important to you then PR support is absolutely critical to building those relationships. 

 

 

Interested in building strategic relationships with the media and positioning your brand for success? Karbo Com can help. 

Contact us today to learn more.

When to Hire a PR Team (And When Not to)

 

Everyone knows that they need public relations and digital marketing support, but how do you know when it’s the right time to bring in outside counsel?

 

Karbo Com was recently contacted by a tech startup interested in hiring a PR team. On our initial call together, we discussed their needs, priorities and goals. The company was developing an intriguing, well differentiated product in a rapidly expanding industry, and the prospect of working with them to develop a foundational strategy was something we were all very excited about.

But as we learned more, it became clear that while the startup had enormous potential, the timing for PR involvement was off. As the call was coming to a close and the founders were discussing next steps, our CEO Julie Karbo spoke up. “While we’d love to work with you, we’ve got to be honest: it’s too early for you to bring on a PR team,” she said. There was a stunned silence on the other end of the line. We went on to explain why in detail.

Later that evening, a follow-up email arrived in our inbox with the subject line, Thank You. “Every other PR firm was ready to take our business,” it said. “We appreciate your honest advice. When we do move forward with PR, we’ll be moving forward with Karbo Com.”

It can be difficult to know when it’s the right time to bring on outside PR counsel, especially as a startup. Everyone knows PR is part of the equation and that it’s a must-have. But to truly leverage PR and ensure that it’s as effective as it can be, PR needs to be plugged into your startup’s larger business strategy. And the timing must be right.

If your startup is thinking about bringing on a PR team, here are a few things to consider. You know it’s the right time to bring on outside PR counsel when:

 

You’re launching your company and you need to get the attention of prospective customers, investors, potential employees and partners
  • Your company plans to launch from stealth.
    • If you’re unfamiliar with all the moving parts that go into launching a company, you can save yourself a lot of headaches by consulting with an experienced PR team.
    • While something can be done in two weeks, to ensure your PR team has sufficient time to execute a successful launch, you’re doing yourself a favor by allowing for between six to eight weeks prior to product GA to begin execution of your PR plan.
  • You’re closing Seed/Series A funding.
    • Bring on your PR team with sufficient lead time before you file docs with the SEC. Once the filing is complete, your funding is on the public record, and you no longer control how you announce your company to the world. Either an AI program or a sharp-eyed financial reporter scanning the SEC site will write from the public paperwork.
  • Your first product is in beta and you anticipate selling the product within the next three to six months.
    • Products that disrupt or introduce something not currently available in the market deserve a minimum six to eight weeks lead time before a public announcement.
  • You have a major release of an existing product or a new offering and it’s essential that the launch drive demand.
    • Your PR team can help you create positioning that clearly differentiates your product and secure coverage from the top press and other influencers to drive demand.
You’re facing increasing competition
  • You’re finding it harder to break through the noise and differentiate your solutions from those of competitors. Or you need ground cover to drive inbound sales leads or give your sales team cover so prospects and other important stakeholders know who you are when you contact them.  
You’re quietly succeeding, but your e-team and your CEO have little or no visibility and aren’t considered industry leaders or visionaries
  • PR can help to secure market leadership so that you’re driving trends and standing out from the competition.
You need to educate the market and lay the groundwork for something radical or disruptive
  • You’ve invented something that sounds incredible or too good to be true, so you need to conduct a credible, educational campaign to explain the need for your product and where it fits before the market is ready to embrace the product itself.

 

You’re not ready to bring on outside PR when:

  • You don’t have beta users willing to speak publicly about their experiences with your new product OR you don’t have outsiders (e.g., investors, industry analysts, customers, partners, etc.) who can vouch for the industry need for what you’re offering.
  • You’re not prepared to dedicate the budget or the time to ensure your outreach is successful and persistent.
  • You believe successful PR is writing a press release that announces your new company or new product, but that’s all you’re willing to invest in for the time being.
    • When done right, launching a company, new product or announcing a funding round pumps up market awareness that is sure to drive traffic to your website, sales leads to your door, and interest in your company’s next moves. But your PR team can’t use smoke and mirrors to create a successful launch. It takes your support.

Follow the guidelines above, and you can be confident that you’re laying the groundwork for an effective and fruitful PR relationship.

 

Is your startup checking all the right boxes? Think you’re ready to move forward with PR? Contact us. We’ll be honest with you and tell you if you’re ready or what you need to do to get there.

In The Know | New York Times Community Engagement Manager Sarah Bures

 

Sarah Bures is a Community Engagement Manager at The New York Times where she runs Times Open, a company blog and platform for Times employees to share stories about their work. With posts like, “Launching a Product in One Sprint” and “How We Designed Our Front-End Engineer Hiring Process,” Times Open has evolved from a small developer blog into acclaimed community resource, offering up valuable behind-the-scenes insights into the newspaper’s process.

Karbo Com joined Sarah to discuss Times Open’s switch over to Medium, her advice for brands self-publishing on the platform, and her tips for designing a purposeful blog content strategy.

 

Tell us about the community engagement work you do at The New York Times.

I run Times Open, a company blog where we share stories about how things are made at the Times, and I also lead our internal speaker series, the Open Speaker Series.

Times Open was started about 10 years ago by New York Times developers to document the work they were doing with open source technology. For years it lived in a far off corner on The Times website, and then around the time I took over, we moved from Times site to Medium.

And we decided to expand the scope of the blog to encompass stories about product development and innovation, and behind-the-scenes stories about what it’s like to work at The Times.

 

 

 

Tell us more about the Times’ decision to move Times Open to Medium.

Our CTO Nick Rockwell made the decision to move Times Open to Medium primarily because that’s where our audience is. It’s typical of big tech companies, media too—everyone in the space seems to have a presence on Medium. A lot of tech and media companies have internal behind-the-scenes blogs there.

I think it’s a useful platform and it allows you to connect with a variety of big companies, individuals writing about tech, digital product development and media. My complaint is that the analytics are not as good as I would like them to be. The views and claps metrics are pretty limited. Medium recently updated so that if the piece does exceptionally well they’ll show what topics your readers are interested in—but still, it’s fairly limited.

Still, I think Medium is the right venue for Times Open.

 

What advice do you have for brands publishing on Medium?

Medium is an interesting platform because it removes the middle person. Just like on social media, brands can make their own statements about the work they’re doing. That can be very empowering. But brands should still be just as thoughtful and strategic on Medium as they are on other platforms. Even though Times Open is on Medium, every piece is up to New York Times standards. I work with the newsroom and our PR team to ensure that every story meets those standards. It’s still a part of the larger Times brand, even if it is off-platform.

It’s easy for a company to write something up and throw it up on Medium, but if you want to build an audience and develop a brand and a voice, having a plan and thinking about who the audience is—maybe even before that what the story is—is the best approach. It takes quite a bit of planning.

It’s not enough to say we launched a thing! There needs to be more of a story there. What makes it interesting? Does it already exist somewhere on the internet? If it does, and you’re not saying anything new then you don’t need to write that piece. There should be an overarching strategy and a plan for how you source pieces. And careful thought should go into the purpose of sharing something publicly. It’s not valuable to scream into the void—companies must find their audience and peers, figure out their messaging and go from there to tell their best stories.

 

Why is it important for brands to tell these kinds of stories?

Company blogs like Times Open give important insight into the company. If you’re showing how things are made, the people behind the scenes, it gives insight into where company priorities lie, the types of projects you’re doing, the way your company is thinking about solving problems.

A company blog also gives companies the opportunity to contribute to their industry by speaking directly to their peers. There is this culture of reading each other’s blogs, talking to one another, going to each other’s conferences and learning from each other. Having a digital space where we can talk about our work is valuable because it allows people to learn from us.

Times Open has also proven to be a really useful recruiting tool. It gives people insight to who we are and what we do. From the outside, The Times just seems like a big, established company—it can be hard to get a feel for what the culture is like. The blog gives a sense of what it’s like to work here; it shows the story behind the story.

The blog also supports company morale by giving people who work behind the scenes an opportunity to share their part of the story. New York Times readers might be aware of the journalists, reporters, and maybe the editors or social media teams who work there. But there are so many others who are involved; there are the people who build the structure in which those stories are delivered. We have developers, designers, project managers. The blog gives those people the chance to get there voices heard in a really powerful way.

 

What can other brands learn from Times Open? What does Times Open do especially well that other brands can emulate?

I think we do a good job of representing the variety of voices that we have here at The Times. A lot of pitches come through to me, but I also try to go seek out people to write for the blog. I try to make sure we have a diverse mix of voices.

I recognize that I’m not working with professional writers all the time, so making the writing process not scary, and setting up a structure for people who might not be comfortable talking about their work is an important part of the process. Companies who are interested in starting a blog or expanding their existing blog should consider putting a framework in place that helps employees talk about their work in a productive way.

 

Looking for more In The Know? Check out:

In The Know | Ainsley Wagoner, Adobe Senior Experience Designer

In The Know | Pei Ketron, Photographer and Influencer

Meet the Team | Kim Lianthamani, Account Director

 

 

Account Director Kimberly Lianthamani, is unstoppable, determined—and always has been. Even as a kid, Kim meant business. A budding peanut butter aficionado with a taste for the finer things, she took the liberty of writing letters to Jif and Skippy, urging the peanut butter companies to adapt Reese’s recipe (her favorite) and citing data from a classroom poll to support her counsel.

That same determination saw the CA native through college at UC Davis where she earned a degree in Communication, and brought her early PR success transforming GoDaddy’s image in advance of the company’s IPO and pioneering marcomm for the nascent phone app industry back in 2011. An invaluable member of the Karbo Com team since joining the agency in 2016, Kim now expertly directs some of Karbo Com’s biggest accounts including TIBCO and TDK.

On rare, lucky occasions the office is graced with a visit from Butters, Kim’s 8-year-old, 90-lb lap dog. “He’s been with me since before the start of my PR career,” says Kim. “While he doesn’t share the same enthusiasm for media relations, he’s an especially skilled snacker and high-fiver. He knows how to close doors, and has great intuition for the most inconvenient times to start making a lot of noise.”

If prompted, Kim will tell you that the high school superlative she should have gotten is “Least Likely to Change.” Considering the former PB pen pal’s current dessert of choice—Marla Bakery’s Peanut Butter & Jelly Cake—we can’t help but to agree.

 

 

 

Five fast facts

Weirdest job – College Sports Mascot

Favorite movie of all time – Bad teacher

Biggest adventure – Diving the Rainbow Reef in Fiji

Essential ingredients for a happy life
A traveling cribbage board and waterproof deck of cards

What does it take to make great work happen? –  The ability to disagree and commit at the same time

 

 

Stay tuned for a new Meet The Team feature each month!

 

 

 

 

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Why Executive Positioning Matters

 

Who has time for the seemingly trivial and vanity-fueled pursuit of personal branding when you’ve got a business to run? Executive positioning, or the strategic art of defining, promoting, and leveraging an executive’s personal brand, rarely tops the C suite to-do list. The ROI on executive positioning is indirect; dollars and cents logic might dictate that it’s a luxury businesses just can’t afford.

Yet now more than ever, executive positioning is crucial.

Consider today’s sociopolitical climate. The ubiquity of social media has set new precedents for personal visibility and self expression; today it’s normal to actively and publicly share your point of view. And now more than ever it feels important to speak up. Polarizing politics and social issues amplify our differences, moving us to define and defend our beliefs in the public arena. This feeling is reinforced by the fact that many of the most profound, socially impactful, culturally altering moments in recent history have started with someone coming forward to speak up.

This new era belongs to the visibly purpose-driven.

This applies to brands just as it applies to individuals. In today’s world of brand activism, companies are expected to define their beliefs, to be vocal and transparent about those beliefs, and to act in accordance with them. Purpose-driven companies like Patagonia, Google, and Nike are setting the standard. Consumers now expect brands to be purpose-driven, and are less trusting of those who are not. The enlightened consumer doesn’t want to be sold to, they want to share a set of principles and beliefs. In the aftermath of recent, serious breaches of public trust, customers are rightfully skeptical. In order to trust brands, consumers must agree with the brand’s principals.

And companies are recognizing that brand purpose is more than a stunt, it’s a driver of business growth. Increasingly, consumers are making purchase decisions based on a brand’s political position and stance on social issues. Purpose-led brands report higher customer and employee acquisition and retention rates.

Now, in order for a company to be genuinely and successfully purpose-driven, that purpose must first be embraced by the company itself—its employees, starting with the company’s leadership. Successful purpose-driven companies are led by leaders who embody company principals. These leaders act as the primary brand evangelists both within the company and externally, effectively communicating and representing the brand’s position. They are visible and apparently aligned with and invested in the company’s core values.

In today’s cultural climate, executives who are not strategically aligned with the companies they lead, who are not visible, active proponents of company causes, and who are not outspoken risk compromising brand trust and, to that end, are a liability. Only when a company’s purpose is aligned with the purpose of its employees and the purpose of the consumers buying the company’s products can you have an authentic brand movement. And that alignment is contingent on successful executive positioning.

Executive positioning isn’t about inflating an executive’s sense of self importance; it isn’t an exercise in vanity, nor is it an exercise done in vain. If ever executive positioning was a nice-to-have, in today’s world it has certainly become a need-to-have.

A few tips for doing it well:

Craft your story

  • Determine where you stand on relevant subjects. The stronger and clearer your stance, the better. In order to gain public trust, it’s not enough just to stand as a company representative. You’ve got to be relatable, human. Your interests must include, but also extend beyond company values.
  • Build in time and establish an active channel of communication with your PR team for sharing your evolving thoughts and opinions. Often times, executives have great thoughts that never end up being leveraged. Share your ideas with your PR team in real-time so they can pick out the gems, decide which ideas to share, and determine where to dig deeper.

Master your storytelling

  • Work with your PR team to polish your presentation, prepare for interviews, and train for interactions with the media. With preparation and training comes confidence.

Tell your story

  • Many executives are advised to only speak to the media when you have good news to share and to stick to the script. We take a different approach. We help executives exercise transparency when things aren’t going as planned, fostering a better, more genuine relationship with the media that pays off in dividends in the long run. This kind of media relationship builds a shared sense of understanding between executives and members of the press; when things do  go wrong, the press is more willing to be understanding.
  • Work with your PR team to develop a strong social media presence. For executives who are too busy for active social media, consider letting your PR agency manage your accounts for you.

 

Interested in learning more about what executive positioning can do for you and your brand? Get in touch. Karbo Com specializes in executive positioning services including:

  • Executive storytelling
  • Executive media relations
  • Media training
  • Presentation/speaking opportunity prep
  • Executive social media management
  • Executive thought leadership campaigns
  • Executive byline articles

Contact courtney [at] karbocom [dot] com to learn more.

 

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

In The Know | Adobe Experience Designer Ainsley Wagoner

 

The sales funnel is dead, and by now we all know it. Outdated models charting a linear path from brand awareness to purchase have been replaced by complex, integrated models better suited for today’s digital world.

The Customer Decision Journey accounts for every touchpoint of the full customer experience, giving due consideration to the customer’s ongoing use of the product and the product’s ability to continue to sell itself and drive future sales. This new paradigm becomes increasingly relevant as more companies make the shift to subscription-based business models. The people we used to call customers, we now call users, and in a world where customer experience and sales have become so crucially intertwined, company’s experience design know-how can mean the difference between success and failure.

To gain greater insight into this critical subject, we consulted Ainsley Wagoner senior experience designer at Adobe, where she works on the company’s flagship user experience design tool, AdobeXD. After all, who better to talk about experience design with than someone designing the experience of one of the leading experience design products? (Try saying that five times fast).

We caught up with Ainsley at Adobe’s new campus in San Francisco’s design district to learn more about the global software leader’s approach, and how ethics are shaping the future of experience design.

 

Experience design is a broad concept that many people are still trying to wrap their heads around. How do you define experience design?

An experience designer, in the context of tech design, is somebody who thinks about the start-to-finish experience of somebody using a certain technology. This includes how someone discovers a product—how they even know it exists—what their experience is like downloading it, using it for the first time, how they learn about the product’s various features and so on.

Adobe likes to use the term experience designer as a catchall for almost all the designers that work here because we’re all responsible for thinking about the customer experience no matter what we’re designing. You can’t design any feature without thinking about how people find it and how they’re going to use it. Experience design is essential to all that we do here.

These days, brands are taking experience design really seriously. A customer’s initial purchase is just the beginning—brands are finding real value in optimizing the whole user experience. It’s not just about shepherding a person to make one purchase, it’s about building longer term relationships.

 

What pitfalls or missteps do you see companies making in their user experience (UX) design?

I think one huge one is when companies push their agenda on customers at the expense of the customer experience. An example of this is a pop-up on a website that says, “Sign up for our email list and get 30% off,” and the buttons to dismiss the pop-up are “Sign me up!” or “No thanks, I don’t want to save money.” That’s really unnecessary. That’s a company pushing their agenda on you. And it makes the customer feel bad, which is never good for business.

 

How might companies negotiate a balance between meeting the bottom line and ensuring that they’re offering customers a positive experience?

It’s really hard. I think that’s one of the hardest parts about being an experience designer: it’s our job to fight those fights. It’s our job to represent the customer, to see them not just as customers, but as fellow human beings. The best companies understand that if you make people feel bad not only is that ethically indefensible, it’s actually bad for business in the long term. Good user experience design is good business.

 

What are some of the challenges Adobe faces when it comes to experience design?

I can talk comfortably about my own product, XD. We struggle with this a lot because people really do care about keeping the experience simple. One of the big selling points of XD when it started was that it was really simple and using it made you feel calm and peaceful. We weren’t pushing anything in your face.

But as we developed in order to keep up with the competition we had to add new features and we sometimes struggle with finding the best way to tell customers about those features. We communicate updates through release notes and blog posts, but at the end of the day sometimes you need to educate people about these features in the app itself, through in-app hints. Maybe a customer is copying and pasting something over and over and so we’ll jump in and say, Hey! We have a tool for that! It’s called repeat grid, it’s right here.” So that’s one way to do it. But everyone here is worried about that becoming overwhelming and turning people off. The competition is stiff and we know that if we’re overwhelming people with messaging they’ll just use another product.

 

How can brands fully leverage the power of experience design?

Hire an experience designer, or bring in an outside agency with communications and design expertise like Karbo Com that can come in and do a user experience audit and offer a fresh perspective. It’s really important for brands to ensure that they have someone who is representing the customer’s perspective. Having someone on your team who is capable of putting themselves in the user’s shoes is crucial—that’s something worth investing in.

 

What is the future of brand experience design?

What I see happening is people are paying much more attention to the ethical implications of what we do. Making designs that are unpleasant for people to use or that eat away at their will power or trick them into buying something wasn’t really talked about as bad when I first started. It was even considered strategic. But now that kind of thing is being called out as ethically questionable.

How seriously will our society weigh the impact design has on people’s feelings, attention span, and willpower? There’s a discussion of ethics in design that’s been emerging in the past couple of years and that’s incredibly exciting. It’s hard in our capitalist, output-focused society to take seriously the way something is making another human feel because you can’t quantify that and that doesn’t make or cost money immediately.

But I think businesses are realizing that the way someone feels matters hugely. People want to feel heard, people want to feel special. People want to feel seen. This is something that experience designers know well, but the importance of that is more widely recognized now and I’m interested to see what implications that has.

 

 

Interested in upping your brand’s experience design game? Karbo Com can help. We specialize in creative PR services including:

 

  • User experience audits
  • Customer decision journey optimization
  • Website design
  • Brand messaging

Contact courtney [at] karbocom [dot] com to learn more.

 

Looking for more In The Know? Check out:

In The Know | Jay Adelson, Internet Visionary and Entrepreneur

In The Know | Hayley Sakae, Social Media and Content Coordinator at AdRoll

 

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

In The Know | Photographer and Influencer Pei Ketron

Photographer and influencer Pei Ketron knows a thing or two about visual storytelling. As one of Instagram’s earliest adopters, Pei helped pioneer the meteoric rise of photo-driven social media, amassing an audience of nearly one million followers. Her images have been used by companies like Apple, Google, American Express, and Mercedes, and she’s been named a top Instagram photographer by countless publications. When she’s not busy shooting photography, she’s often speaking about it at premiere events like SXSW, Adobe MAX, and Today at Apple. 

Karbo Com joined Pei in San Francisco’s Sunset District to get her advice for brands interested in leveraging the power of photography and digital storytelling.

 

 

Let’s hear a little bit about your background

I’ve been a full-time freelancer for seven years and a photographer 18 years. My style and interest is not in those super large scale shoots with the massive crew, huge productions. I like to just show up with my camera, get what the client needs, and call it a day.

In fact, I used to shoot a lot more with my iPhone. For the first six and a half years, my Instagram feed used to be iPhone-only, even though I had been shooting with a DSLR long before joining Instagram.

That’s how I began working with Apple. An inquiry came directly to me from someone at Apple who had been following me for a while. They were looking for photographers who were adept at using iPhones to capture photos for some shoots they were doing. Apple was looking for images to demonstrate the capabilities of their new phone camera.

We did a five day shoot in Tahoe and Yosemite with the Apple crew shooting on an iPhone that hadn’t even been announced yet. It wasn’t a huge production, but it really felt like the shoot was a big deal. There were lots of people around and, of course, the phone was totally on lockdown. They would hand it to me when it was time to photograph and take it back when I was done. It was the first time I captured photos on a device and then just handed over that device at the end of the shoot.

So that’s how I first started with them and now they’ve come to know me as a local photographer they can call on for certain things. And from there it’s evolved to me presenting at the community building creative sessions at Today at Apple.

 

 

 

 

Tell us more about Apple’s approach to community building. What do you think brands can learn from their approach?

What Apple’s trying to do, especially with the Today at Apple program, is to offer something of value to their community without it feeling like there’s a direct ask on the community to come buy a product. They have started thinking about the fact that retail marketing stores seem like they’re not long for this world given how powerful online commerce has become.

So I think they are trying to anticipate a time when people aren’t really going to want to go in to the stores and buy their products—but they have this whole infrastructure of stores around the world, so how is it that they can use these physical spaces to serve the people in another way? They’re now leveraging these spaces as community building tools. And this creates a way for Apple to encourage people to become advocates for their brand because Apple as a brand is doing these really cool things.

I think it’s a really innovative way of thinking about it. You know, companies do well when they can anticipate the needs that haven’t yet arisen and I think that this is one of those instances. Apple has positioned itself very smartly to anticipate the changes of the market in the future.

 

Pei has shot commercial photography for Apple, Michael Kors, and Mercedes. Images courtesy of Pei Ketron.

 

The community events you lead at Apple are photo-centric. Do you think imagery is an especially powerful community building tool for brands?

Absolutely.

I don’t think imagery is a requirement in building community, but it’s certainly a very helpful piece of it. I think it can be a great instigator for people coming together. The age old saying “a picture’s worth a thousand words” really does hold true here. It can take a lot to verbalize an idea and you can convey so much more in an image much more quickly than you can with text. I think that because it’s such a powerful communicator that it’s much more engaging and emotional in a way that words sometimes aren’t. Because images are so emotional, so raw, they can help brands tell their stories really well in a way that gets immediately people engaged. I’ve seen how it can be a really powerful motivator for people.

 

 

 

What advice do you have for brands that are interested in better leveraging the power of photography?

Some brands don’t recognize how powerful good imagery can be for them. Images are often the very first touchpoint people have with your brand and if you don’t have them or have them and they’re low quality then that reflects poorly on your brand. I’m seeing an interesting trend now within companies: I’ve been getting approached by companies—some small companies, and big companies too—who want to hire me to teach iPhone photography classes to their employees so that they can handle photo coverage of all the events they do.

Sometimes this solution works and sometimes it doesn’t.

I do a lot of photo documentary of art exhibits. A few weeks ago, I photographed a new exhibit at Fort Mason. I was talking to the woman running that show and she was telling me how she wished she had someone to help her document not only the finished show, but the setup process too—the building out of the space, people bringing in the art. She was saying, “It really all just falls on me. There’s no budget for it, and I’m the one who needs the images so I’m the one who needs to try to capture it, but at the same time I have so much other work to do.”

And she’s not a photographer so how do you make that work? Companies need to know when to bring in help from professionals like myself or the Karbo Com team. These employees can’t realistically be expected to do everything.

 

What trends do you see emerging? How are companies being smart about using photography to their advantage?

More and more these days brands are recognizing the real power of actual storytelling. So more than just paying a photographer to do a nice commercial shoot, there’s a tendency now for companies to build and share a more robust story behind their brand. Who are the people behind the company? How did they get where they are?

There’s a leather goods company based out of Nashville called Nisolo and they work with artisans down in South America to make their goods. It’s important for them to tell the story of those artisans; these are the people who create the products. The message it sends is that by buying Nisolo’s goods you’re supporting these people who are now able to afford housing and education. It tugs at the heartstrings a little bit more, so it serves as a really effective marketing tool that in the end drives sales, even though Nisolo is not directly saying, “Hey, buy our stuff.” The end result is that people are more motivated to make a purchase because they’re more invested in the people behind the brand and they know their full stories. That kind of brand storytelling is happening more and more. And strong imagery is essential to sharing those stories effectively.

 

What is the role of social media in this kind of brand storytelling?

You know, I get hired for massive photo shoots by people who have never met me before and never asked me to prove to them that I can execute on whatever shoot they’re wanting to do. Because these clients have watched my feed over time, sometimes for many, many years, they already know exactly what I can deliver, they know exactly what I’ve done for other clients. It all kind of speaks for itself because I’ve essentially built and maintained that relationship with them for years. And that’s why social media is so powerful these days. It’s so important for brands these days to have that really great social media presence, for them to have really good images.

There’s a lot of aspirational following on social media. Even if these followers aren’t in the market for whatever it is that a brand is selling right now or can’t afford it, people nurture the aspiration that one day they will buy that product—and then they do! I’ve seen it over and over again. I’ve even done it! I’ve followed you for three years and never bought anything, but when I do buy that one thing I know I’m going to buy it from you.

It’s playing the long game, right?

You can find Pei on Instagram here

 

 

Interested in upping your brand’s visual storytelling game? Karbo Com can help. We specialize in creative PR services including:

 

  • Digital brand storytelling
  • Social media strategy, content creation and management
  • Event coverage and photography
  • Strategic community building

Contact courtney [at] karbocom [dot] com to learn more.

 

Looking for more In The Know? Check out:

In The Know | Ainsley Wagoner, Adobe Senior Experience Designer

In The Know | Sara Bures, Community Engagement Manager at The New York Times

 

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.