Stay on the right side of the law while promoting your agency
Let’s face it: producing content can get tiring. Whether it be written or visual, each project requires time and talent. When you’re running a business, every moment is precious. It can be tempting to grab assets wherever you can find them.
While we exist in a copy-and-paste digital environment, copyright and copyright infringement have not gone away. In fact, with technologies like search robots and web-crawling spiders, it is now easier than ever to track down inappropriate uses of copyrighted material across the internet. Numerous people have received angry correspondence from giant corporations like Getty Images demanding that copyrighted material be taken down and for offenders to pay damages.
While that can sound scary, you still need to promote and market your business. Start by brushing up on some of the basics of copyright in the digital age. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better positioned to help your business while staying on the right side of the law.
What is Copyright Anyway?
Copyright protects creators from unlicensed actors taking original works and claiming them as their own. It covers literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, architectural, and other intellectual works. Federal copyright begins as soon as a work is in “tangible form,”[i] which can include it being on “a hard drive, computer disc, film or tape.”[ii]
Copyright is also automatically applied when a work is created, and creators are not required to declare their copyright for it to be in effect. Websites are also the copyrighted property of their respective owners, including “overall design, all links, original text, graphics, audio, video and any additional original elements.”[iii]
Alternatives to Infringement
When it comes to copyright, the internet is a double-edged sword: it provides a glut of content, but creative works cannot be used without explicit permission. Providing a disclaimer like “No copyright intended” or merely giving credit to the original creator does not magically make it okay to use.
There are, however, other ways to utilize some of the excellent works that are floating around on the information superhighway. Those might look like:
- Ask permission: It may seem silly or overly simple, but often the best way to leverage online creative assets for your agency is to ask the original creator. It may not work, particularly if you are using the asset for financial or business purposes, but it also might. The fact is that exposure is everything these days. By reaching out directly to an artist or writer with a compelling offer, such as guaranteeing to credit them and provide their work with a platform, you might receive permission to use their copyrighted material for your business.
- Look for royalty-free work: While all creative works automatically carry copyright, there are specific materials that are designated as “royalty-free,” which makes them free for a third party to use. The trick is knowing where to look. The Associated Press, for instance, has a cache of royalty-free imagery, as does Getty Images. There are also lesser-known sources, such as Pexels.
- Fair use: Fair use is a legal doctrine that allows for limited use of copyrighted material under highly specific circumstances. The use of copyrighted material is determined to be “fair use” depending on how it is interpreted through a four-point test. The four points include:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether it is for a commercial nature or nonprofit, educational purpose;
- The nature of the copyrighted work;
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
To learn more about fair use, consult the U.S. Copyright Office.
- Public domain: Copyright infringement can, at times, feel onerous. Thankfully, copyright does not last forever. Currently, copyright lasts for the lifetime of the original author plus 70 additional years, while works made for hire enjoy copyright protection for 95 years following publication or 120 years following creation. You can find huge troves of public domain photos online, with this particular website being a great place to start.
- Creative Commons: One of the last ways that you access copyrighted works is through Creative Commons, which offers a variety of public licenses for creators to share their works. All licenses issued through Creative Commons stipulate that you credit the original creator, and some prohibit using their work for financial purposes. You can learn more about the specifics of Creative Commons by viewing its website.
Work Faster and Smarter
The internet made the world’s scholarly, scientific and artistic resources available to creators across the planet. But despite this accessibility, creative work remains protected by copyright, meaning that, as an agency owner, you still need to be mindful of the assets you’re leveraging for promotional content. The good news is that there are other methods for obtaining wonderful creative materials that can enhance your marketing work. From simply asking permission to utilizing the Creative Commons, it is still possible to use the internet and its inexhaustible content to work faster and smarter for both yourself and your agency.
*This blog post is issued for informational purposes only and is not intended to be construed or used as legal advice.
[i] Copyright Protection on the Internet: Everything to Know (upcounsel.com)
Many independent title professionals who run agencies are already overtaxed. From managing personnel to overseeing marketing, HR and billing, they have little time to take on new responsibilities.
Still, gaining an understanding of the basic principles of graphic design is a valuable use of any business owner’s time. In a world of unlimited content, your messaging, accompanied by vivid graphics, helps you stand out from the crowd. You can always find a talented designer, but understanding the basics and handling even small designing tasks can save you money and time.
More importantly, doing so has a net positive impact on your brand. Here are a few tips to help get you started.
Color is a cornerstone of graphic design, dramatically impacting how we think and feel about a brand. Think, “Coca-Cola.” Do you immediately see red and white in its logo? Establishing a compelling color palette, and then learning to pair your colors effectively, can go a long way toward creating visual messages that are memorable, emotional and impactful.
To start building your mix of brand colors, hop online. A cursory search produces tutorials and resources. Canva, for example, has put together a terrific primer on why color matters, how different hues convey different emotions, as well as what different colors mean and how to start putting together a comprehensive palette. A number of blogs take a deep dive into the matter. This particular post is especially helpful and explanatory.
The font family you select for your brand should be as intentional. Like color, your brand’s typeface communicates many things to your audience – although typically this works on a more subliminal level than a color palette. Think about the tone or purpose of your company’s brand when making your selection, ensuring that your font reflects that core identity.
For instance, perhaps you want to position your agency as a sleek, forward-thinking and, most of all, modern brand. You probably won’t want to pick a big cumbersome font like Impact or an antiquated text like Copperplate Gothic. Instead, you would want to consider something elegant-looking and clean, like Avenir Next LT Pro and Gill Sans Nova. Similarly, if you want to present a knowledgeable and professional image, you won’t want to use an ornate or playful font like Algerian or Modern Love. Instead, you should perhaps select Helvetica or Myriad Pro.
As with brand colors, there are innumerable online resources that can help you understand the theory behind the font family selection process. Do your reading and give careful consideration before moving forward.
When making these decisions about your company’s colors or fonts, keep in mind the critical nature of contrast. Your color palette should include complimentary hues but also colors that draw a sharp contrast with one another, allowing for designs to be more vivid and powerful.
The same principle holds for fonts. When designs only feature a single font, a piece of collateral can quickly become stale-looking or stodgy. Incorporating a secondary font that differs wildly from your primary font can overcome this challenge, providing you with greater flexibility when laying out information.
Images are everything when it comes to design. Without pictures, you often have little to work with so use them with gusto! Capitalize on images to break up walls of text. This tip is particularly useful for title insurance agency owners. While you may not be creating a lot of graphic design collateral on your own, you almost certainly will have a website you have to update. Data shows that pictures make web pages more inviting, less intimidating and raise the probability that visitors will take desired action.
When sourcing pictures, be sure you have the right to use the image. There are a variety of royalty-free websites you can use for graphics. Pexels ranks as one of the best. Using a picture you don’t have permission to use can subject you and your agency to financial penalties — even litigation.
Pictures represent an important design consideration, but ample whitespace is equally as important. Whitespace matters because every element you add to an image increases the risk that your collateral could look cluttered and disorganized. Whenever possible, aspire to keep designs clean and orderly – and whitespace can be an invaluable tool.
A New Tool in Your Toolbelt
We know title insurance professionals, particularly those who have a responsibility to an entire firm, hardly have an easy time managing everything on their plate. To learn a new skill or understand a newsubject is a tall order. But increasing your knowledge of graphic design is not just an intellectual exercise. It is a valuable endeavor that can save you real-time and money.
After you have internalized the above principles, put them into practice. Take advantage of the many online exercises, templates and frameworks, and start experimenting with some small design projects. You will be glad you did. This knowledge base can only benefit your business, ensuring that your brand stands out from the crowd and possibly even netting you new business as a result.
Your brand doesn’t begin and end with your logo.
What makes a strong brand? If you’re asking that question, rest assured, you are not alone. While many people are aware that a company’s “brand” includes its logos and colors, other aspects of the branding process may not be quite so familiar. Just the fact that you are thinking about branding at all deserves a pat on the back. Your brand is probably your agency’s most valuable intangible asset. It can help establish your competitive difference. On the other hand, a poorly thought-out brand can harm your reputation.
Building a strong brand, however, can quickly get complicated; it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to strengthen your brand that are relatively straightforward. Ready to learn more? Then let’s begin.
What is Branding?
Originally, branding was the practice of marking cattle or material goods. Later, in the middle ages, it evolved with the introduction of watermarks. During the Industrial Revolution, proprietors began placing distinguishing marks on generic, mass-produced goods to give them an appeal for consumers accustomed to locally produced products. By the late 19th century, branding had been developed enough as a field that legislation was passed to protect corporate investment. In the 20th century, the development of the field ramped up even further, with corporations introducing slogans and mascots, and taking advantage of new communication mediums such as radio and television.
Creating a memorable logo and visual palette can help your company leave a powerful first impression and separate it from the competition. All strong logos include several elements. A logo should reflect the nature of your business. It should use colors in an intentional manner that communicates aspects of your company’s personality. The fonts you select also need to work well with its other visual elements. Lastly, all logos should strike a careful balance between being distinctive and being simple enough for easy replication across a wide variety of marketing materials.
Of course, logo design is easier said than done. And if you are running an independent agency, funds may be too limited to pay for a graphic designer. Thankfully, there are now several sites online that can assist you in creating a professional DIY logo either for free or for a manageable price.
If you want a strong brand, then you must have a strong “brand promise,” a short, simple statement that outlines what consumers can expect from your company. A brand promise describes the products and services you provide, as well as the impact they will have on your customers’ lives. The purpose of a brand promise is two-fold. Once again, it helps your company create a positive and lasting impact on a consumer, concisely communicating what you can do for them. It also acts as a unifying force, clarifying a company’s scope and focuses, and helping lay the groundwork for other parts of the branding process.
Successful branding can’t happen in a vacuum. Instead, it must be infused into all aspects of an organization’s output. This brings us to brand voice – the tone in which a brand communicates. Establishing a memorable brand voice is a terrific way to give your company personality, but it also requires careful thought and consideration.
Not all tones are right for all brands. For instance, if you are cancer research company, it is probably not appropriate to communicate in a casual or jokey tone. Similarly, if you sell board games, you likely don’t want to project a stodgy air. Find the tone that works well for you and master communicating within its structures. Don’t forget that the strength of your brand voice hinges on it being adopted company-wide. All employees must be educated on the particulars of the company’s voice, and you could consider creating a style guide or full-scale brand book that they can use as a reference for any questions.
Your brand positioning statement describes your position in the marketplace. More importantly, this statement is your opportunity to describe further how you differ from your competitors and why consumers should choose to work with you over another provider. A well-written brand positioning statement involves a keen understanding of your target audience, knowledge of your core competitors, compelling use of your value proposition and evidence that you can deliver on your brand promise.
Let’s Start Branding!
Now that you have an understanding of some of the core aspects of branding, you should be ready to start putting it all together. While this list of steps is by no means comprehensive, by developing your brand aesthetics, promise, voice and positioning statement, you will have a great start on creating a distinctive identity for your business and a leg-up on your competitors.
Any marketing campaign must begin with setting goals. Here’s how to make them SMART.
Any successful marketing effort begins by setting goals. You should never put the cart before the horse, and neither should you begin a campaign without knowing what you want to accomplish. But simply discussing your goals ahead of time is not sufficient. You need to also make them SMART. What does that mean exactly? Let’s find out.
The SMART Goal Model
The SMART acronym is a model for creating effective goals. The different letters stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-sensitive. In the next sections, we will break these down in greater detail.
The “S” in SMART stands for Specific, perhaps the most important tenant of any marketing campaign. To communicate well, you need to avoid creating goals that are too broad or vague.
One way to avoid doing this is to understand that there are generally three types of goals for marketing campaigns: awareness, acceptance, and action; then determine the appropriate category for your goal. After that, though, you should still add additional detail.
For example, let’s say you decide that you want to raise awareness for your agency. This is a decent starting point, but a more effective approach would be to say that you want to raise awareness amongst real estate agents between the ages of 35 and 60 and who live in Texas or Oklahoma. Not only does this provide more direction for creating strategies and tactics, but it can also help create other parts of the SMART model.
All goals must have a measurement metric attached to them. There is no other way to determine if your campaign has been successful. And you will have little data to review or use in improving future campaigns.
For instance, if you have a goal to drive traffic to your website, you need to know first what your current traffic is and then by how much you want to increase it. Otherwise, when you look at your analytics at the end of your campaign, the numbers you see will be meaningless. They will remain decontextualized, and you will not have insight as to whether the traffic funnels you created to drive people to your website (including emails, social media, digital ads, etc.) were successful in helping you meet or exceed your goal.
There is no point in setting goals that you will never meet, which is why the “A” within SMART is so important, as it stands for “achievable.” Creating achievable goals requires you to take an honest assessment of your company’s strengths and weaknesses, resources, and roadblocks.
Let’s imagine for a moment that you are trying to build your agency’s presence on social media. Unless you have a seasoned social media expert on staff or a massive advertising budget, you should not create a goal of building a follower base of 10,000 Facebook users. Instead, a much more realistic goal would be to grow your followers by something like 10 percent – a far more modest and achievable endeavor.
It might seem like common sense, but any goal needs to be relevant to the purview of your organization. To put it another way: Your marketing goals should always be connected to specific business goals. And be sure you can see the connections. Otherwise, reconsider your approach and adjust as needed.
Finally, your goals need to be placed on a clearly defined timetable. A pre-established timeline is enormously beneficial in structuring a campaign and allocating resources and staff time. Of course, it’s important to set a timetable that is achievable. Establishing reasonable timelines can limit frustration down the road.
SMART Equals Success
Building out a marketing plan can be challenging but establishing SMART goals can help you avoid frustration by orienting your plan to create tangible results you can see and measure. SMART goals can take some getting used to, but by creating great goals, you will be positioned to build out a fantastic marketing plan and knock its execution out of the park.
Email campaigns are not dead. Here are some best practices to make the biggest impact.
Since email was invented in the 1970s, tremendous change has occurred in the marketing world. Despite this, the tried-but-true email campaign remains a rock-solid tool to get your message out, spark awareness for your services and grow your customers and prospects. Here are some best practices for putting together an email campaign that will “wow” your audience.
Before you start writing, you first need to dig into the quality and integrity of your list by asking yourself a simple question: Did you organically compile your contacts, or did you purchase a list?
Purchasing a list is rarely smart. For one thing, you cannot assess the validity of the contacts until you send your first campaign. Plus, the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 includes numerous rules for how companies can or cannot market via email. Violating the CAN-SPAM act can result in serious consequences, so you want to be sure you’re compliant.
Subject Lines are Crucial
In a previous blog post, we mentioned that email subject lines are incredibly important. Remember to keep them short, with concise language. Do not use excessive capitals or unnecessary punctuation.
There are a variety of other techniques to build a great subject line around, including urgency, timeliness or special offers. It also never hurts to personalize them by tucking the recipient’s name or other personal information into the text of the subject line.
Prime the Pump
The average person is now exposed to somewhere between 4,000-10,000 ads in any given 24-hour period.[i] Because of this, people are much less likely to respond to a cold email from a business that they do not know.
To overcome this challenge, make your email campaigns part of a larger strategy. Market only to people you know or, at the very least, people who have explicitly agreed to give you their contact information.
You should also use other marketing channels like social media to raise your prospects’ awareness of your brand. Even better, conduct personal outreach! If you have a list of contacts, reach out and connect with them on LinkedIn before sending an email. Do whatever you can to ensure that when your email shows up in their inbox, they are going to be intrigued and excited rather than annoyed and apathetic.
Remember the Buyer’s Journey
A best practice with any marketing campaign, email or not, is to meet people where they are. Not everyone is always in the buying mindset. Instead, prospects need to be guided through the “buyer’s journey,” a multi-step process where people move from being aware that they have a problem, to considering potential solutions, to finally making a purchasing decision.
On a practical level, that means that your initial email should be conversational and helpful, sharing thought leadership or helpful advice that is not related directly to your business. After that, you can gradually transition into discussing your offer, always reinforcing how it will help solve your prospects’ problems.
To prepare for this type of outreach, make sure you have collateral that you can attach to your emails. For example, if you are raising awareness for your agency, you could include a thought leadership piece about the benefits of title insurance, before transitioning to something like a brochure that lists your services in the second or third email. Keep trickling information out and always include a strong call to action encouraging people to get in touch and talk further.
As you might suspect, there are a variety of best practices you’ll want to implement when preparing your email marketing campaigns. In addition to what we’ve discussed here, there are a lot of additional tips that can help you also improve the visual design of your emails. Try to incorporate as many best practices as you can. After that, you’ll be in a great place to capitalize on the power of email marketing and start converting mere recipients into reliable customers.
[i] How Many Advertisements Is a Person Exposed to a Day? (gradschools.com)