A Tale of Two Gingerbread Houses (The dynamics of digital marketing)

people around dinner table

salt dough ornaments

Our 1st anniversary is in January of 2020 so this month we hosted our very first Dogwood Christmas party. There was food (of course), a game of Dirty Santa with lots of laughs, salt dough ornament painting, and a gingerbread house decorating competition. It was during the course of this competition that I noticed some “sweet” insights within our teams that displayed our strengths in digital marketing. I hope you enjoy “A Tale of Two Gingerbread Houses” and maybe learn a thing or two. 

kids in front of Christmas tree

We divided up into teams which just so happened to be “men vs women” but also happened to fall into our marketing “departments.” There is some overlap in job titles but for the most part, the men who are primarily our website builders and technical geniuses were competing against our women who handle social media marketing and communications. I loved how the dynamics played out…

tall gingerbread houseI present to you “Dogwood Towers” courtesy of our men. Remember these are the builders in our business. I loved the attention to detail, the balance and the strong lines. Form and function were also strengths of this design. They even incorporated a light function on the top. I know, I know…it’s a gingerbread house for goodness sakes! Stay with me. These guys apply the same attention to the sites we design. They design strength with balance, ensure function and battle through technical details that are requested to give that extra “wow” to our designs.


tiny gingerbread houseThe ladies created “The GingerDead House” as a play off the popular series “Fixer Upper.” One side presents a broken down home complete with a failing roof and dirt yard. The other side shows a new paint job and roof, with impressive curb appeal. It was presented complete with a storyline that would make Chip Gaines proud. “We present to you the GingerDEAD House. Purchase price of $15,000.00 with a renovation budget totaling $1.2 Billion. The happy couple is able to afford this because she has an avid pencil-sharpening business from home and he tunes kazoos part-time. Check out how this GingerDEAD house turned into the GingerBEST house!”  It was as fun to make as it was to present. In the same manner, our social media and communications department take your story and bring it to life. We share the information you need your viewers to know, but in a manner your readers can connect to and you are proud of.

“A tale of two gingerbread houses” is really just the story of a digital marketing agency in real life. I know this may be a stretch to make these connections but as someone who is still learning the “Dogwood ways” and everything I can about the digital marketing world, it stuck out to me. Whether it is a gingerbread house, an amazing new website, a social media or email campaign, everything we do is done with HEART by Dogwood. 

While we aren’t going into the gingerbread house making business, we do stand ready to help with all your marketing needs! Give us a call or shoot us an email to get the conversation started for how we can help you!

Product Photography using your iPhone

woman taking photo of scarf

In digital marketing, visuals are essential. Photographs, videos, and animations all grab attention and impact consumer’s purchasing decisions. Since we are all so visually driven, it makes sense to be able to take quality photographs of the products we sell or things that illustrate our mission. With that in mind, I am sharing today about product photography using your iPhone. Don’t sell a product? Stay with me because many of these tips apply to more than just product photography. 

Choose the Style You Want to Capture

There are two main ways to approach product photography:

1)Simple, white background; product only images; Shows the product at different angles; lighting is from a lightbox or studio lights.

2) Lifestyle photos- photos that show your product in its environment with people or complementing products; These can be styled white background shots or even “in action” images using models or in a setting where your product is used.

Study your Lighting

Learn to look at how the light falls on your subject. Is it harsh overhead spotlights? Is it mid-day sun blaring through the windows. I discussed the golden hour of outdoor portrait photography previously. Indoor lighting is a little tougher to navigate. If you want to photograph multiple products quickly with a simple white background, I highly suggest purchasing a light tent. A light tent is basically a cube, white in color, with one side open to photographing your product through. A  light tent evenly distributes light all around your product by bouncing it around the walls. My friend Stephanie owns a company called To a T Embroidery and uses a light tent to showcase her embroidery products. She shared some images with me.

light tent and pillow

Light tents can be ordered as just the tent or have lights included. Stephanie prefers to use natural light from the morning sun even with her light tent, but the day she took this it was cloudy. Light tents can be used with your iPhone also. I would not recommend Portrait mode for any of these style product shots. There is not enough difference in the background to allow the twin camera system of portrait mode to be able to do its job of blurring the background. Just stick with photo mode.

If you do not want to purchase a light tent, you can create the same effect with household objects usually. Buy a roll of white butcher paper and hang it over the back of a chair onto the seat. This is known as a “sweep” because it creates a seamless background. Place your chair near a window on a sunny day but NOT in the direct harsh rays of the sun. The paper gives a white background and the natural light should look great on your product. In some cases, you can find a clean white wall in your home. Here are some I took next to my bathroom window.

jewelry next to a window

LifeStyle Photos

These require a little more thought on composing and lighting than the straightforward product shots described above. Lifestyle product photography is telling more of a story. Take for example this Dogwood T-shirt below. There are a few deliberate decisions I made in taking this photograph.

  1. Solid background or something not too busy. In this case, I was standing on the table taking it straight down. No strange angles.
  2. The windows were open using morning light. No shadows nor solid harsh light.
  3. Although I am selling the shirt, I shared a complete ensemble so you could envision yourself wearing it (or someone else wearing it you might purchase for)
  4. I placed the main focus of my entire shot to where it falls within the rule of thirds in composition. More on that in an upcoming post.

photographer showing how image was taken

The best way to become skilled at product photography is to practice. The more you learn to read the light and compose your photographs the easier it becomes. I will be sharing another blog post soon on setting the focus area and adjusting exposure using your iPhone. These tips apply to all kinds of photography but can specifically help with product photography too so keep an eye out!

Oh and if you want to own that super cute Dogwood shirt you have been studying in these photos, you can get it here!

Google Ads: No they are not those “Pop-Ups”

I will admit when I first heard talk here at Dogwood about “google ads” I kind of cringed. I imagined those awful pop-ups that interrupt you when reading a website. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to pay for those things and why we would promote them. Well, I was right and I was wrong. I was right in that we don’t do those annoying pop-up ads (thank goodness!) but I was wrong in what a google ad actually is. No, they are not those “pop-ups” at all. In fact, it is a form of advertising that I can really respect and promote. Chances are you have clicked on an ad yourself today. Read on…

What really is a Google Ad?

Google Ads, once called Adwords, are a very helpful and classy form of advertising. Think of the last time you googled something. A list pops up of search results based on what words you put in the search bar.  If you look very closely at the top search results, you will usually see at least one listing with the tiny green square with the word Ad next to it. 

pic of google ad listing

That, my friends, is a paid google ad. Do you realize how you found it? It certainly was not popping up on your screen as you tried to read a new recipe. You found it because you searched for something it was connected to. To me, Google Ads are very helpful because they are connected to specific words that the user is already searching for. They help you find answers and give you options. I find joy in digital advertising when I am helping to educate a person on a business’s products and services or the mission and events of organizations and that joy is multiplied when their customers find what they are looking for. Creating social media content, writing blogs, or running a google ads campaign for clients is not just advertising but providing valuable insightful information that our client’s customers are actually looking for.

How does Google connect my ad to future customers or followers?

Google Ads are linked to something called “keywords.” A keyword is the actual search term that you put in when searching for something in google. A keyword can be very general like “Social Media” or it can be a custom keyword such as “Facebook”. Social Media includes all the platforms but Facebook is specific. Another example could be “Christmas Tree” vs “Christmas Tree Farm.” You can link the general keyword or the custom keyword to narrow down the search for whoever is looking for you. When someone types in the keywords we have linked to your google ads, your ad is shown higher in the search results page.

People are searching for your business. Keywords through Google Ads help them find it faster.  Your website may show up organically without paid google ads, but a lot of things have to be right on your site to make that happen (my blog on SEO expounds on this) and that often takes time. We can help with that too!

Targeting Your Audience

Sometimes showing your ads to anyone and everyone who searches your keywords is a good thing but more often than not, the best results come from choosing to show ads to a specific audience. Google Ads also allows you to target by demographics, geography, affinity, topics, and keywords. 

This combination of keywords that connect you to people who are already looking for you and targeting that helps the right people see your ads is a beautiful thing!

The Cost

One of the most beautiful things about Google Ads is that you control your budget all of the time. You set your monthly budget and you only pay when people take action by clicking on your ad (called Pay Per Click). You can adjust your monthly budget anytime and completely pause ads if you need to. As little as $5 gets you started. We recommend starting with at least a $50 monthly budget and adjusting from there. 

If you’d like to talk more about how Google Ads could help your business or organization, contact us today. We promise we will never recommend those terrible “pop-ups!”


“We’re Thankful for…” Signs

"We're Grateful For..." sign

As November begins and Thanksgiving approaches, the crew at Dogwood takes to heart that “Giving thanks is profoundly life-giving.” In this spirit, we would like to offer you a new way to express your gratitude this season. We hope that you will choose to place a “We’re Thankful for…” sign in your yard and connect personally to your neighbors. Read on for the why and how with this fun project.

How it Began

November 2016 was an election year and as I am sure you remember, tensions were high in our nation. While scrolling social media and seeing the mix of angry political posts, I was stopped mid scroll by this sign. I can’t recall who shared it first but it struck a chord with me and I was inspired to act. 

sign that says Turn off the News & love your neighbor

I went to my local Home Depot and purchased several blank yard sale signs – enough for my house and all the houses in my cul-de-sac. With a permanent marker, on one side I wrote this same message above and on the other side we listed the things we were thankful for in our home. I placed it in my front yard and then carried the others to my neighbors asking them to do the same. 

I still remember the simplicity and goodness that we all felt as we walked our street reading signs and chatting together. No arguing over politics. No worry. Just genuine gratitude and fellowship among neighbors. We were not looking at screens and reading posts but looking into each other’s faces and having real conversations. Giving thanks really is life-giving. Soon there were other signs popping up on other streets from neighbors I had not met!

Yes, Dogwood is a digital media company. We connect digital content to your business or organization but the heart of that is really connecting people together. We would like to offer you the challenge to create your own “We’re Thankful for…” sign for your yard. It is more than just putting a handwritten sign in your yard. It is getting outside and connecting with people. Sharing your blessings and encouraging them in theirs. 

Here is How:

We have many of our pre-printed signs available for a $10 suggested donation. Proceeds will go to a local Pike Road charity (doing this for profit defeats the purpose!) or you can pick up a blank yard sale sign at your local hardware store. Depending on the size, these can run $3-5 with the yard stake included. Maybe your HOA would like to do a bulk purchase for your neighborhood. Our signs can be picked up at the Dogwood office M-F from 8-5:30 at 9427 Vaughn Road in the suites above Pike Road Family Eyecare. We may be able to deliver also!

Together as a family discuss some things you are thankful for this season and write them in permanent marker on the boards. Let the kids write their own. Our signs are two-sided so you could add a second special message if you want. Place the sign in your yard together. If you are a family of faith, have a prayer time thanking God for your blessings. Every time you enter or leave your home let it be a reminder to tell your family one thing you are thankful for or a reason you are thankful for them.

Finally, encourage your neighbors to do the same. Pick them up a sign and share the challenge! This is a great reason to finally introduce yourself to that family that moved in 6 months ago but you’ve never met or to visit neighbors you have not seen in a while. Then take a walk and enjoy the life-giving signs of gratitude all around you. (If you share your sign on social media or take pics of others signs on social media, use the hashtag #signsofgratitude so we can all find them! Be sure to search it also!)

"We're Grateful For..." sign

P.S. If you happen to drive through The Orchards neighborhood, you will see an abundance of these signs. 4 of our 6 employees live there or are building there so we recruited the whole neighborhood to share their thankful signs. Later in the month, we will have a neighborhood social to walk the streets and then meet for refreshments. We challenge you all to do the same!


The “Why” Behind Closed Captioning your Video Content

phone showing closed captions

Brian recently shared how to add closed captioning to the video content you share. As someone who has dealt with hearing loss in some form or fashion my entire life, I want to share the “why” behind closed captioning your video content today. Captioning your content may be the missing step in your marketing you have never even heard of (yes terrible pun intended!)

For the deaf and hard of hearing community

Growing up in my house the closed captions were always on the tv. My father has had hearing loss from otosclerosis since he was a small child, is an amazing lip reader, and has worn hearing aids for 20 years now. While pregnant with my first child, I noticed a decrease in hearing in one ear and later found out that I also had the same condition that was triggered by my pregnancy. I now wear a hearing aid also and am getting better and better at lip-reading. All of that to say that when scrolling social media or any website with video content, if the closed captioning is not available, I very rarely watch the content. I skim right over it. With no captions, I have to turn the volume up much higher (disturbing those around me or waking up sleeping children) and even then if faces are not shown or the speaker mumbles or there is background music it can be hard to understand.

By not captioning your video marketing you are leaving out an entire population who will most likely scroll on by your content. It is estimated by 2050 over 900 million people (that’s 1 out of every 10 people) will have disabling hearing loss. A 10% loss of market may not sound like much but when you consider the scope of digital advertising, you are talking about quite a large number. Read on to realize how much more of your market you are losing by choosing not to caption.

Audio Off Viewership

Raise your hand if you keep your mobile device primarily set to silent or vibrate? I know that I do. In fact, a LOT of people do. Up to 85% of Facebook video is watched with the sound totally off. Look at your content and watch without the sound on. Is your message easily and quickly understandable without captions?  We know that 65% of people who watch the first three seconds of a video will watch for at least ten seconds and 45% continue watching for thirty seconds according to a facebook company blogpost. Graphics and interesting subjects can garner attention but captioning helps tremendously. 

Facebook along with a Nielsen study found that 47% of the value in video content was delivered in the first 3 seconds and up to 74% of the value was delivered in the first 10 seconds. You have a small window of time to engage with your clients through video and captioning is key to reaching them. Results from the same Nielsen study cited above show that the moment video ads are viewed (even before one second), ad recall, brand awareness, and purchase consideration have all increased. Video ads are powerful but must be done right.

From a digital marketing standpoint, captioning is a no-brainer absolute yes. Data shows that viewers engage longer and remember more when captions are present. Don’t invest time, money and effort into creating amazing video content, only to have it fall on deaf ears. (another terrible pun intended)

P.S. If you have read this far and have NOT set your phone or mobile device to automatically play captions if they are available, check out the graphic below showing how to do it on your iPhone, android, and on youtube. Moms-captions help your kids in reading and if English is your second language, captions help your fluency.

instructions on turning on captions

Headshots and Portraits using iPhone Portrait Mode

woman holding phone to take a photo

As a former wedding and portrait photographer of 10+ years, I know the quality and professionalism that hiring a photographer can bring to your business. Sometimes though, time and/or budget may not allow that. Today, we are sharing with you tips on taking beautiful headshots and portraits using the iPhone portrait mode.

There are three components to remember when taking portraits- lighting, setting, and posing. These are all connected and will help you take some pretty amazing photos!

Oh, and If you are wondering who the adorable 6-year-old model is – she’s my daughter!

Portrait Mode? What are you talking about?

When you open your camera app on your iPhone, you will see several options “Photo,” “Video,” “Slo-Mo,” and a few others. “Portrait” is the amazing new feature we will be discussing in depth today. Now, if you have an older iPhone you may not have this feature. It first arrived with iPhone 7 Plus and is currently supported by 8Plus, X, XS, XR, XS Max, 11, and 11 Pro.

The Portrait feature is dependent on this incredible twin lens camera set-up. If you don’t have portrait mode and you really want it, you will have to upgrade your phone. Don’t quit reading though – many of these tips will help you take better pictures whether you have the Portrait Mode setting or not.

photo of phone showing iphone portrait mode

Let’s talk about Lighting

Today we will focus on taking your headshots outside. Inside portraits and product shot tutorials will be coming soon.

Just because the sun is out and the sky is clear does not mean that the lighting is right for your picture. Standard business hours usually do not include what photographers deem “the golden hour” except for certain parts of the year. The Golden Hour is the last hours before sunset (or the first hours after sunrise)

So, what do we do? Find a spot where the sun is shining behind your subject (subject is the person you are taking a picture of) but it’s not shining right down on them. No one wants to squint in their pictures because the sun is so bright. The dark shadows on eyes from direct overhead sun are not flattering to anyone either. You want to find a solid shady spot with the sun behind them. When I say solid shade, I mean no bits of sun that are peeking through leaves and making a weird single bright spot on faces, necks or shoulders. Trust me, it will just look weird. So solid shade with the sun behind them. If it is a partly cloudy day you are in luck because you can take the picture just about anywhere.

In the series of pictures below, the left shows my first set up in solid shade with the sun behind her, the right is the same image on portrait mode, and the middle was taken at the beginning of the golden hour of sunlight (notice it is not TOO harsh on her eyes. Any earlier and it would have been.) Experiment and these directions will make better sense.

best lighting examples using iphone portrait mode


Let’s talk about the Setting

    Portrait mode works best when you have a little room between the person you are photographing and what is behind them. If you put them right up against a brick wall, then Portrait mode is not going to be able to put much depth between them and the wall so your image will not turn out the best it could.

Portrait mode creates a beautiful “bokeh” blur of the background. This creates dimension, removes distractions and covers any possible mishaps.

Check out the examples below.

composing a picture with iphone portrait mode

Even though Portrait mode does blur the background, you still have to think about what is going on behind your subject. In the example above of Portrait A vs Portrait B, Portrait A at first glance looks as if she is wearing a tiny green pointy hat (an umbrella) and also has many distracting shadow lines competing for attention. Portrait B taken in iPhone Portrait mode has blurred the tiny green hat umbrella but also blurred the giant black tube the kids play on to where it looks like a black mass growing from her head. Even though the background is softened, take into account what is happening around your focal point.

Look how the background just fades away and the subject pops in iPhone Portrait mode. (This is my husband!)

comparison of blurred background on iphone portrait mode images

Let’s talk about Posing

Think back to high school football team pictures. The team is sitting or standing square to the camera and lined up shoulder to shoulder. These guys want to look as big and wide and strong as possible. Well, the average person does NOT want to look as big and wide as possible…they want to look the opposite. Now there is no magic setting to make you look skinny, but there here a few tips to give the most flattering angles when posing for headshots and portraits.

  • Always stand slightly angled at the camera and never straight on.
  • Put most of your weight on the leg farthest from the camera and bend your front knee slightly. (Yes, even if it is a head and shoulders only shot) Ladies the weight should be about 80% back leg and 20% front and men should be about 60/40.
  • Slightly bend your elbows.
  • Bring your nose to the camera even with shoulders angled a bit.

My daughter is cute no matter what but look at how posing the right way just softens and relaxes her in the images below.

posing examples

Final Bonus Tip

Portrait Mode takes gorgeous dog pictures! The best pictures are made when they are relatively still. These are a couple of our Dogwood Dogs – Piper and Caspian.

dog photos taken on iphone portrait mode

While iPhone photography is becoming more and more commonplace on websites and social media, there are still times when you need a professional camera and photographer to run it. For those times, myself and Thomas are available for photography needs. We also have a videographer available for any video needs too!

A Xennial and SEO

I was born in 1981 which makes me a very old millennial, a very young Generation X’er or the merger of both sometimes called a Xennial. During my first few weeks at Dogwood, I would listen to technical discussions wanting to learn and understand the details of what we do. To me, it sounded as if Charlie Brown’s teacher was speaking. I heard a plethora of abbreviations shoved together in strings of confusing sentences. “SEO, CPC, SEM, Redirects, Local SEO, bounce backs, title tags, headers.”

Thankfully, things have begun to clear up a bit and those abbreviations make more sense to me now. If you want to know a very simplistic explanation of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), read on. You may find the digital world not so different from the real world.

Google wants you to look nice.

Think of your website as your brick and mortar store. You want things displayed nicely. Easy to see and easy to understand. Google wants your website to be the same way. Just as you would periodically redecorate or rearrange the things in your brick and mortar store, Google looks to see that your website is properly taken care of also.

Google wants you to be connected to your community.

Just as neighbors support neighbors, Google wants to see that you communicate and connect with your “internet neighbors.” You do this by linking to other websites. It also helps you appear connected when other sites link back to you. Having your social media connections accessible is important also.

Google wants you to be welcoming.

When people visit, do they stick around, or do they walk right in and then back out? Google wants to see that people come in (click into your site), look around and visit a while (take an action) before moving on. Is your website easy for others to use or do they click on it then immediately move on to another website?

Google wants you to go the extra mile for those with impaired vision.

All of the beautiful images and logos that you have on your site need to have “alt text,” which is a description of what is in the picture or logo. You do this in case a person with impaired vision is using a screen reader to navigate your site. That way if they click an image an accurate description is read to them. Make sure you show them hospitality.

Google wants to make sure you meet basic needs.

Just as you would make sure the air temperature is comfortable and the lights and plumbing work in your store, Google wants to know that your site provides those basic needs.  Does your page load quickly so users don’t sit and wait? Is your security up to date on your site or do they get the dreaded “This site is not secure!” message when they arrive? Are your links and pages working like they are supposed to?

In summary, Google wants us to be connected but they want us connected in the right way. When you make the effort to take care of people that visit your site, welcome them, give them worthwhile information, and connect to your community, Google is more likely to help direct people to your site through organic searches. Sounds like what everyone wants right? If you have questions about SEO and are wondering if you would benefit from being an SEO client, contact us!