We’re constantly curating the soundtrack of our lives, handpicking melodies that speak to us on any number of levels, conscious or subconscious. Going through a break-up? Cue the heartbreak ballads. Working out? Turn-up the techno beats. We’re used to tuning into the songs that best correlate with what we’re feeling or doing, but did you know that the reverse is also true?

That is, that music can elicit a particular feeling when you’re in an otherwise neutral state. You’ve probably implicitly noticed this, even if you haven’t given it too much thought, but the power of music has swayed audiences for centuries. Take a movie, for example: the soundtrack or score supports what’s happening onscreen and guides spectators into feeling a certain way about situations and even specific characters.

Using the same logic, businesses can harness this tactic to build brand recognition and positive perception.

Take this study published in the Journal of Applied Business Research. A sample audience of 210 undergraduate students was asked to record all the thoughts that came to mind after watching a suite of ads. What the audience didn’t know was that prior to constructing these test ads, 16 melodies were pretested based on music that would elicit negative, neutral or positive emotions. Those findings were used to develop three music beds (one negative, one neutral and one positive) that were added to a single commercial. The results supported the hypothesis that negative, neutral and positive musical emotive cues exerted a progressively enhanced influence on brand attitudes, meaning the “negative music has a less favorable influence on brand attitude than neutral music, and neutral music has a less favorable influence on brand attitudes than positively valenced music.”

So how do you use this to your brand’s advantage? It certainly takes trial and error to get right, but finding the perfect music bed can take your audience on a journey that a voiceover or just an image simply can’t. Brands can use a song’s message to reinforce their own and in doing so, seamlessly strengthen a visual with an accompanying aural cue. But lyrics aren’t the only way to spread a message, as even an instrumental song can elicit happy or sad emotions, transcending language barriers and broadening audiences through music.

Most importantly, in an age where brands must stand out among all the clutter, music in advertising helps content break through by connecting with audiences on an emotional level.

In advertising, humanizing a product or service is the first step in gaining the trust that leads to conversions. Music tells the story of the human condition, and it can be a powerful tool in your next campaign.

This bee was busy working. See how we used music to set the tone:

Light speaks to us. Using a language of its own, it elicits emotions, creates atmospheres and affects the way we perceive the world. Having an understanding of how light mingles with form can significantly aid storytelling in most types of art. Artists like French Impressionist painter Claude Monet and legendary landscape photographer Ansel Adams understood the importance of light and used it to great effect.

Below, I describe three key components of lighting that photographers, cinematographers and artists utilize to help tell their stories and elicit emotion — much like Monet and Adams did.

1. Colors of Light
In addition to illuminating a space, light transforms the way we perceive the colors around us. Natural light, influenced by the weather, season and position of the sun (and moon), affect the intensity and hues of the subject. Artificial light also alters how we discern color. For instance, a standard incandescent bulb will make everything in its vicinity look “warm,” similar to a sunrise or sunset, while modern LED bulbs can emit a much cooler light, close to that of an afternoon outdoors.
Now, how do these differences help tell a story and manipulate our emotions? Many times, artists mimic nature to elicit emotion. For example, to create tension or emphasize the vibrancy of a scenario, artists tend to use warm lighting. Warm colors are typically associated with hot summer days, or fire, so subconsciously we often correlate this light with intense or lively situations. To evoke a sense of angst or depression, or to simply represent a cold atmosphere, artists intuitively use a cool color temperature.

lighting colors
Image 1: Cool light | Image 2: Warm light | Image 3: Colored light

 Quick Tip: Many photographers and cinematographers prefer to shoot during the “Golden Hour,” a short time after sunrise or before sunset. The light is warm, soft and often has a magical quality.


2. Positioning of Light
Moving a light source just a few feet in any direction can dramatically alter an image. For example, positioning a light from above, pointing down at the subject versus from below, pointing up at the subject will take a standard sitcom scene and turn it into the makings of a thriller film. The positioning of the light determines the shadow placement, which is the element that adds or reduces the drama in an image. Having an understanding of how the positioning of light casts shadows and interacts with form allows artists to control highlight and shadow placement, often setting the tone for the image.

Lighting positioning
Image 1: Light positioned above, pointing down | Image 2: Light positioned below, pointing up

 Quick Tip: Soft light from above, pointed down is most often used for portraits, as it is the most flattering to facial features.


3. Intensity of Light
Light exaggerates or softens the angles of a subject according to its intensity. Direct light often creates dark, crisp shadows, which artists can use to add power, mystery and drama to an image. To create a softer vibe, the light must often be diffused. Photographers can diffuse light by bouncing it off of a surface at the subject, or shining through a white, sheer fabric before the light hits the subject. In the natural world, clouds and a rising or setting sun create diffusion.

Lighting intensity
Three different light intensity levels

Quick Tip: Lighting one side of the face considerably more than the other side will add drama to most portraits.

No matter which art form you choose to express your creativity, you probably use light in some way — perhaps without even really thinking about it. The next time you pick up your camera or start drawing, consider how you can use light to create the perfect atmosphere to help tell your story. Or, leave it to us — obviously we love our light at A. Bright Idea!

I sat down at my desk in my ergonomically correct desk chair with my laptop perched on top of its stand to begin writing this post. My fingers positioned on the keys, I stared at my computer screen. The words just weren’t coming.

My setting felt too formal for this particular task. So, I picked up my laptop and ran over to our beanbag room, repositioning myself in a comfy Dalmatian-print blob. The ideas started circulating as my mind entered a more relaxed domain. After some time, I landed on “the one” and began feverishly hashing it out.

But instead of hashing, I decided I needed to dribble. I stepped into the hallway and picked up our purple basketball, my idea transitioning from concept to concrete with every shot I took at the net hanging on the wall.

Our offices include various spots where team members can temporarily relocate, including our chill area with leather couches and punctuation mark pillows, our outdoor bar stool picnic table and our purple Adirondack chairs on the porch. Our MacBooks, Wi-Fi and Tervis Tumblers of coffee create the basis of the magic “Bright Light” solution for success, allowing us to create anywhere.

Enjoying a beautiful spring day on the ABI front porch.

Flexibility in our physical settings offers creative workspaces, which translate to the work we produce at A. Bright Idea. When we can physically change scenery, we’re much more likely to mentally readjust.

As a full-service agency, we support many different types of clients and varying projects. Sometimes we develop technical content, like descriptions of how a piece of technology works to destroy chemical weapons. Other times, we emulate Stephen King and make up a horror story for a haunted trail hosted by a nonprofit organization.

Based on the vibe or mood of the project, we prepare our minds to generate the appropriate ideas. Adapting our work space to the task at hand supports this preparation and acts as a green flag waving at the front of our brains, as if indicating approval for the ideas at the gate to set off.

We’re fortunate to have access to several buildings in our creative campus at our home base in Bel Air, while a second location sits on the edge of the tranquil Sonoma Valley Regional Park in Glen Ellen, California. Our surroundings set us up for success with inspiration galore!
Now that we’ve shared some of our flexible secrets, let us in on yours! What kinds of spaces do you find inspiration for your work?

One of the top tools of the social media trade we implement for both clients and our internal usage is the content calendar. Perfect for staying on track and proactive planning, a content calendar keeps your content creation streamlined and efficient, yet flexible. Although content calendars may seem like one more thing to do, the planning conducted in advance makes strategy implementation a lot easier.

Content calendars are great for keeping track of all your communication tools, including blogs, PR pitches, press releases and social media. It’s a central place where every piece of content is developed and archived. For creative teams, it’s a collaborative exercise that keeps the whole team involved. For individual social media managers, it’s an organization tool to help with time and strategy management when working with integrated content.

Need more incentive for content calendar use? Here are more of our favorite benefits:

  • Organization – The content calendar’s main draw is in its organizational structure. There’s no set way a content calendar should be created and organized, it allows customization for a given need. Columns you may set, for example, are things like “platform” (where something is posted), “contributors” (who is helping develop the content) and “deadline” (completion date). The content calendar provides a clear path for what is happening, establishes goals as well as roles and responsibilities for the team.
  • Lessons learned– By finding common themes in different posts and looking at analytic data that tracks post engagement (most platforms offer this capability for free), you’ll be able to see what resonates with your audience. Understanding what your audience needs and likes helps you target those needs and likes in future posts.
  • A look ahead – A key factor in social media and content development, in general, is making sure you are consistently posting, staying top of mind with your audience while also expanding your reach to new audiences. Using a content calendar allows you to look a few weeks to a few months ahead for notable milestones such as company and client anniversaries, birthdays, local events, awards, relevant historical events and social media holidays, just to name a few. Additionally, proactive planning allows more time for development of videos, photos or events.
Sample content calendar

Once you start using a content calendar you will see a nice variety of diverse content. That’s great, but keep in mind, it’s ok to deviate from the plan. A content calendar keeps you organized; it’s not meant to shackle you to the content you’ve developed. Social media is inherently “in the moment” so when something interesting is happening around the office your audience would appreciate, post it.

Who doesn’t love cute puppy pics?

When Edison comes around, it’s cuteness overload.

Here’s an example: A co-worker brings in their new puppy. It’s bound to get your office talking and if that’s the case, your audience will probably enjoy a cute puppy face in their news feed as well. Who doesn’t love cute puppy pics? Social media is driven on situations where you can capture the “now” to show the human side of your brand.

Establishing your business’ brand through an essential and ongoing process of advertising distinguishes your services and products from competitors. Businesses both small and large go to great lengths to set themselves apart and break through the clutter of our dynamic marketplaces. A thoughtful advertising campaign uses a paid approach to getting your message in front of the appropriate audience. However, in a society growing increasingly immune to commercialization, you must also consider supplementing with a more organic tactic. That’s where social media, with diverse and engaged user-bases, comes into play.

Millions of people turn to social media platforms daily to communicate with friends, conduct business, explore interests and discover new ideas. While seemingly intangible, it’s frighteningly measurable and filled with opportunities to further connect with consumers.

Measurable Insights:

  • Follower growth
  • Reach and impressions
  • Engagement
  • Mentions
  • Website traffic
  • Leads
  • Customer sentiment or satisfaction

Instituting a strategic social media plan and sharing quality content regularly can reinforce existing relationships and help forge new ones. While there are exciting ways to reach target customers using sponsored messaging, social media can be effective without adding any additional dollars to your spending. Using your paid efforts that raise awareness and share key messaging, turn to social media to continue the conversation and engage your audience. Coupling the two strategies boosts your return on investment (ROI) and provides qualitative results in an arena that can sometimes be a bit nebulous.

Put a face (or faces) to a name

Social media allows you to humanize your brand. Consumers are growing increasingly more interested in corporate responsibility and what brands do outside of the services they provide or products they sell. There is a very tangible movement toward emotionally connecting with the brands one supports. Using social media to spread awareness of how your brand operates both internally and externally can serve as an additional, non-paid branding effort. When consumers can relate to a brand’s core values, they are more likely to become loyal return customers.

Accentuate campaigns

Use social media to extend your paid advertising campaign by integrating imagery and messages across all the platforms you manage. Brand’s like National Geographic use social media as a behind the scenes or breaking news medium. Messaging and imagery initially used across social media later develops into stories that appear in the glossy pages of the world famous magazine. Similarly, brands can use social media to give inside looks into the development of a particular advertising campaign or to simply augment a campaign
without spending additional dollars.

Hone in

In order to maximize budgets, small businesses often use advertising to cover a range of promotional services or products. Social media can help focus an advertising campaign and allows a business to feature products or services in a more detailed way. For example, a small business may want to use radio and print advertisements to promote a sale happening in stores. Social media platforms serve as a great way to spread the word even further and show off some specific items or services consumers can expect to get on sale.

Implementing a strategic social media plan that delves deeper into your business’ culture and offerings might be just what your advertising is missing. Find the social media platforms that best fit your needs and set aside some time each month to develop a few posts that highlight your work or products. Coupling your paid efforts with some authentic, organic social media content can greatly lift your overall investment at no added cost.

With another spectacular Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Best in Maryland event in the history books, we continue to bask in the glory of achieving top honors for two of our creative campaigns.

The PRSA Maryland Chapter awarded our agency “Best in Show” for our work with the U.S. Army National Guard’s Action Events Program – a national, integrated communications campaign developed to share the National Guard’s core values with high school students across the country and increase leads for local recruiters. To support the effort, we provided oversight and coordination for the Bring Your ‘A Game’ to School program, which included more than 350 BMX shows at high schools across the United States throughout the 2015-16 school year.IMG_0559

The program provided local recruiters with direct access and engagement with school leadership, as well as students with a potential interest in enlistment. The Bring Your ‘A Game’ to School BMX performances featured high-flying stunts from professional talent, custom designed materials and promotional items geared towards collecting student leads.

The highest honor presented by the PRSA Maryland Chapter, the “Best in Show” recognition acknowledges the campaign with the highest total number of points from the judges in all submission categories. Just to recap, that means, our campaign scored the most amount of points of any submission this year.

PRSA_Awards_Anita_Brightman_December_8_2016-1The elite award came just after a special recognition of our Brightest Light Anita A. Brightman, for her innumerable contributions to the Maryland PRSA chapter throughout her career. The presentation set the tone for a night of success for our lights.
In addition to “Best in Show,” the National Guard Bring Your ‘A Game’ to School campaign also received the Best in Maryland Award for the Integrated Communications category. We received the Award of Excellence for the development and execution of a television commercial for Stella Maris – a nonprofit, long-term care facility located in Timonium, Maryland. The 30-second video, developed by our talented in-house audio/visual production team for Stella Maris’ Simply Loving Life campaign, captures the spirit of life at the facility.
We couldn’t think of a better way to round out our 20th year of serving a unique client base on the local, regional and national level. These awards are a true reflection of our team’s diverse expertise, coupled with their unending passion, from the design of a logo to the execution of events nationwide, making our agency a valuable asset to our clients. The real honor for our team comes from helping our clients achieve their goals and realize their dreams.

As one chapter closes on A. Bright Idea’s first 20 years of service, we welcome with open arms the next two decades – full of opportunity, promise and challenges for our team to conquer, together.PRSA_Awards_December_8_2016-3

Can you believe that mainstream social media didn’t launch until the 2000s? Since the early days of MySpace and Friendster, social media experienced significant and rapid growth. Now, there are hundreds of social platforms worldwide. It’s impossible to have a strategic presence on every social network, even for the largest companies in the world. In fact, most businesses only manage 2-4 social channels truly effectively but for a good reason, audience participation.

It’s important for any business but nonprofits specifically, to strategically determine where audiences interested in your organization are on social. Nonprofit organizations can effectively manage social platforms even with smaller staffs, budgets and resources. We recommend using major platforms that engage with the most users: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and, if you’re on the trendsetting side of social media, Snapchat. With your social channels selected, your organization can focus on audience engagement.
Once upon a time, the number of followers/likes was the measurement of success on social platforms, but now success is measured by engagement. Why? Engagement translates to conversion rates – conversion to becoming a donor, attending events or joining your mailing list. Nonprofits want to see these actions as a result.

It is common knowledge that nonprofits struggle with resources of time, money and staff so we are recommending five tried and true strategies to increase engagement on your social media platforms.

1. Get visual
Add photos to your posts on Twitter and Facebook. Share behind-the-scenes images. Show your donors what your group does! Photographs garner more engagement than text-only posts. Remember, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Using video to host interviews and show behind-the-scenes content of your business or event allows audiences to feel included in something special.

2. Spark a conversation
Use social media as a way to dialogue with your audience. Social media has the power to serve as much more than a bulletin board. Engage your followers in conversation instead of just announcing information. Ask for their feedback. Find out what they want from the organization. Developing an online relationship will increase conversion rates.

Cat at shelter

Start a conversation and continue it. Pets Lifeline monitored their Facebook feed so when Renaissance Sonoma commented, they were ready with a response to further the conversation.

3. Get engaged
Just like you want engagement on your page, other pages want your engagement too! Get in the conversation. Follow like-minded groups and sponsors. React and reply to your followers’ posts. Share, with comments, what others are saying. Increasing your engagement with others will raise your social profile and expand your audience.
Picture3

Show your gratitude to other businesses on social channels, making sure to tag the business and others involved to lengthen the reach of the post, ultimately boosting engagement.  

4. Be different
Every social platform has a different style and audience. Don’t just link your accounts so the same posts hit multiple platforms. While that is the easy way , it is not the effective way. The photo you use on Instagram needs different content on Facebook. You may tag different groups on each platform. Hashtags are most effective on Twitter and Instagram. The more hashtags you use on Instagram, the larger your reach, but on Twitter your text is limited.

5. Pay to Play
We understand you might not have a social media budget. But don’t run away yet. Advertising and boosting posts on social media is one of the most cost-effective and targeted ways to increase engagement and grow your audience. Boost a post with a compelling image of why someone should donate, advertise your event or boost a post about how to join the newsletter. For as little as $25 a month, you can get great results.

We always recommend starting with the development of a strategic social media plan, especially when multiple people from one organization are responsible for social media efforts. Success can only happen when the same messaging is consistently shared with your audience. For additional information, visit www.abrightideaonline.com.

The light bulb. It’s synonymous with creativity, ideas and innovation. If you haven’t noticed, we are infatuated with these inspirational glass orbs of light. Each employee has an original, personalized light bulb icon. In fact, when a new “light” joins the team their first assignment is to determine what their light bulb will represent about them. It’s a process that demonstrates our approach at A. Bright Idea — a true, first collaboration with other members of the team.

When creating these icons, the challenge is figuring out how to communicate someone’s interest or expertise within the limitations of a light bulb.  As with any logo or icon project, the goal is to create a clear, simple and recognizable graphic reproducible at any size.

The process starts with concept sketching. Whether it is on a Wacom tablet or hand drawn in a notebook, sketching allows us to toss around a lot of ideas to see what sticks. Oftentimes eliminating what doesn’t work, ends up contributing to the discovery of a successful concept. After the team has discussed and decided on an option, it’s time to take the concept digital.
Sketch book
We begin by importing the sketched image into Adobe Illustrator; this serves as reference for the final icon. Next we roughly trace the hand drawn image with the pen tool, allowing us to have a rough editable form to refine. Once the rough form is captured, we refine the illustration by creating/manipulating editable line paths, followed by applying separate layers of color for shading and highlights. Keeping the lines editable and layers labeled, keeps us organized and makes changes efficient. Since all of A. Bright Idea’s icons are one color, we must rely on applying tints in order to create a sense of dimension.  After the working vector icons are reviewed and approved, it’s time to prep and export the files for use in print and multimedia applications.

We hope you enjoyed this spotlight on our team light bulb icons! Take a look at these lightbulbs and try to guess who’s is who’s.
ABIicons2016x
BEHIND THE SCENES: The Light Bulb Icon

Business owners are increasingly looking to the Internet for spreading brand awareness, boosting sales and optimizing performance. As a business owner, you’ve likely explored many different digital marketing approaches including social media, online advertising and email newsletters.

But what about SEO?
For many businesses, and especially small businesses with limited resources, the idea of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is often a completely foreign one, one requiring time that doesn’t exist. Ignoring this key component, however, could cost you a large percentage of web traffic and a lacking digital presence against competitors.

Traffic drives a website.

So, how do searches work?
Considering all the options available to us via the Internet, it’s no wonder most turn to a search engine to help find reliable information most applicable to the question at hand. And while it might seem like those instantaneous search engine results appear through some magical process, it’s really algorithms, or long mathematical formulas, that dictate what information displays. So when you press the “search” button in your search engine of choice, that engine then filters a mammoth amount of material and presents it to you based on quality and popularity of content.
SEO_BLOG_Graphic

So, how do you make your website relevant in filtered search results?
Basically – you have to make the search engines see your value and specifically what value you give to viewers. This relevancy and value depends largely on your website’s content and the effective use of keyword phrases. That means make sure your website’s functionality runs smoothly, using compelling content, and a backend with descriptive meta-tags, or content descriptors that accurately portray your products or services. And don’t forget to make sure your site considers “mobile first” – meaning, the design responds and adapts to the size of the viewers screen. Believe it or not, search engines give higher relevance to sites that integrate these elements into their site. See, it pays off!

Another tip – shared links will boost your popularity, and popularity is a key factor considered by search engines. Make sure your website has a clear message and that it’s geared towards helping visitors answer their questions. In turn, consumers will start sharing your website’s content. Establishing trust and consistency in your online business practices will lead to more shares and more website traction. As the site gains traction, it’ll begin to rank higher in a list of search results. Think of it as the digital equivalent of word-of-mouth advertising.

Put website visitors first.

A well polished website cognizant of its purpose is sure to get on a search engine’s radar. Why? Because, when you put website visitors first, you’re proving your value and to search engines that’s bound to naturally increase your SEO. If you think about it, SEO isn’t much different from any other effort to improve user/audience experience. Keep your website up-to-date, consistent with branding, and teeming with well-written linkable material, and SEO will become an organic digital way to enhance your business.

Marketing businesses using Facebook and Twitter has become a growing tactic in marketing plans across all industries. Social media platforms serve as an effective tool for circulating branded messaging, but Internet usage and trends continue to change every day.
In a recent article, Bulldog Reporter found that 90% of all Internet traffic and 50% of mobile traffic is now made up of photos and video. For growing visual media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, this means an opportunity for continued expansion. Instagram’s more than 200 million users make up an attractive market of young people for PR and marketers. Digital media reporting site Mashable has also found that 1 in 5 U.S. adults are now using Pinterest. These large groups of users of both platforms are at the ready to receive visual content that could ultimately lead to better connecting and capitalizing on consumer and brand relationships.
With the expanding use of visual media, it is more important than ever to control your brand’s messaging. People make decisions based on trust and brand promise. Using photos and visuals helps create another tangible connection to brands. As we can see from these recent statistics, it is becoming a greater means of communication – that old adage “a picture’s worth a thousand words.” Having a strategic presence in visual media can serve as a key tool to further brand development as part of an integrated marketing approach. Everything you do or say influences what people think about your brand, so providing them with a visual example of what your brand promises also helps demonstrate that your brand delivers on this promise.
No matter the medium, the ability to connect users with your brand is crucial to developing brand loyalty, and will ultimately lead to a better consumer experience. It’s important to assess your own brand strategy as it compares to trends, as not all trends serve brands equally. With the expanding use of visual media, now is an opportune time to analyze your own brand and consider the most strategic uses of visual media and how it can potentially become part of your integrated marketing approach.