Behind the Book: Anita Campbell Talks About Visual Marketing

Visual MarketingHave you ever been in this situation:  you want to start a direct mail campaign, or plan your next tradeshow presence, or overhaul your website.  But as soon as you sit down to work on it, creative ideas flee your mind.  You just can’t seem to come up with ideas for anything fresh and different to get started.

That’s the kind of situation that the new book Visual Marketing is designed to remedy.

Visual Marketing is an idea starter.  It gives you examples of how other small businesses today are using visual elements in their marketing to be creative on small budgets.

Visual Marketing: 99 Proven Ways for Small Businesses to Market With Images and Design is written by Anita Campbell and David Langton.  Anita is the CEO here at Small Business Trends.  She also operates a number of other online communities, such as BizSugar and Tweak Your Biz, that reach millions of small businesses every year.  David Langton is an award-winning visual communications designer with the firm Langton Cherubino Group in New York City.

Rather than do a standard book review, we thought it might be fun to take you behind the scenes of Visual Marketing with this two-part interview with the authors.  In part 1 below, Anita Campbell gives you a glimpse behind the curtain into the process of writing the book.  In part 2 the authors explain some  key learnings for small businesses about how to use visuals in your marketing.

Interview With Anita Campbell

You’ve wanted to write a book for a long time – what was it that led you to the topic of visual marketing?

Anita Campbell

Anita: I’ve thought about writing a book for years. But for a long time I actively resisted it. Many consultants and independent professionals see a book as a way to develop credentials, attract speaking engagements and lead to consulting gigs. That’s a great strategy — for them.

But that doesn’t align with my business expectations. Mine is a different path. I run a specialized publishing business.  My primary business goals are to grow my online publishing properties, and to expand the types of content we provide.  That goal has taken all my energy, and I was concerned I wouldn’t have time to write.

Over the years, though, I had developed an email correspondence with an editor from Wiley. He’d email me. I would think about a book, decide I didn’t have the time, then go work on more-pressing priorities. Rinse and repeat.

A couple of years go by. One day he said, “I want you to meet somebody.”  I happened to be in New York for a British Airways contest that I was judging, and agreed to meet the Wiley editor and David Langton, my co-author. We got together in a Starbucks (where else?) in Grand Central Terminal. David, who owns a New York Web and graphics design firm, had an idea for a book about the visual elements of marketing.  I was immediately excited.  We hit it off, and several weeks later we had a book contract.  It was that fast.

How did you approach a writing partnership for the book?

Anita: The goal in putting us together was to meld two types of expertise.  David’s is professional design.  Mine is an understanding the realities of marketing your small business — where money, time and staff are limited.

David and I had a “divide and conquer” strategy.  We divided up the work according to our strengths.  David focused on assessing the design case studies with a professional eye.  I focused on writing about them in a way relevant to small businesses.  That’s how we conquered it!

With David in New York and me 500 miles away in Ohio, this was a true long-distance collaboration.  We relied greatly on collaboration tools, email and conference calls:

  • Wufoo helped organize the process of reaching out to the public for case studies we featured in the book.  We created a form and allowed people to upload design examples.  Wufoo allows users to upload images (unlike Google Forms), so it was the best choice.
  • Google Docs and email helped us share drafts.
  • Skype was great for our weekly Tuesday afternoon conference calls.

We also got great help.  Susan Payton from Egg Marketing and Communications served as technical editor for the book, and Norman Cherubino (David’s business partner) assisted in reviewing design projects.  Without them, we might still be writing the book!

What was the most difficult part of the writing process?

Anita: Writing!

Seriously, it’s tough to find time for a book.  Think about the hundreds of hours involved. Once you get into a creative flow, you face another problem.  It’s challenging to stick with it when you get bored — and you will have moments of boredom.  In fact, there will be times when you will work on the stupidest, most trivial things just to keep from facing your book that day.

There are a ton of details involved with writing a book.   That’s multiplied several times over when you have 99 case studies, two images for each, and multiple people or firms involved with each design project.  There’s a lot of followup, a lot of images to sift through, a lot of people to interview, a lot of signed permissions, a lot of drafts — just a lot!  If you don’t stay focused on how great it’s going to feel once you’re done (to keep you motivated), that mountain of details can crush your zest.

Another challenge: resolving differences of opinion. David was a joy to work with. But two people who are creating something are bound to see things differently now and then.  If you want to complete that book and remain friends, you have to seek out common ground.  It’s a key skill for co-authors.

What’s been the most rewarding aspect of writing the book?

Anita: I’m blown away by the good wishes of friends, colleagues and even social media contacts who I’ve never met.

Authors have no choice but to promote their own books today.  Unless you are a famous public figure like Hilary Clinton or J.K.Rowling, the publisher can only do a limited amount of promotion. And there are more books than ever competing for reader eyeballs. That means as the author, you have to get comfortable talking about your book regularly.  And that’s hard to do, because you don’t want to come off like a walking sales pitch.

So whenever I mention the book publicly, it’s always with trepidation.  The heartfelt and sincere good wishes are doubly welcome.

You’ve written on a variety of topics, from customer service to economic trends. Did the examples submitted bring a new outlook to your ideas and views on business?

Anita: The book’s examples gave me even more respect for the creativity of small businesses and the service providers (marketing firms, designers, printers) that support them.

The book’s design examples contain some that Fortune 1000 companies would be proud of.  But some of the ones that touched me the most deeply are those done on low, low budgets.  Those often were the most memorable.

More on Visual Marketing

Visual Marketing is a terrific book for creative designers, marketers and business owners who are looking for new and effective ways to bring life to their product or service.  It’s not a design book, i.e., it won’t show you how to design your new postcard mailers.  But it will show you well-thought out examples to help you trigger new ideas.  Read more in part 2.

Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."