Visual content is powerful. Every small business owner should understand just how powerful images are and, most importantly, how they can leverage this phenomenon to their benefit.
Prioritizing Visual Content
In 2015, the average company budgeted $1.8 million for content marketing, and 82% of companies are prioritizing visual content inside of that: curated photos, videos, and illustrations. This is a serious vote of confidence in the effectiveness of visual content! Furthermore, other studies have shown that including visuals in your online content can increase memory retention by 65% and user engagement by 150-230%.
It’s clear that a well-chosen image is arguably the best tool in your arsenal to easily and effectively inspire engagement with your customers.
When selecting visual content, it’s crucial to harmonize with your brand’s voice, style, and personality. There’s an endless range of image styles, but not all of the ones you find appealing necessarily fit your brand. Is your company fresh, energetic, edgy, gritty, sleek and modern, or professional and understated? With your brand personality guiding you, image selection will be easier, your content will be more cohesive, and your company will appear more professional. Not sure what your brand’s personality is? Fellow Evermore contributor, Lindsay Trinkle, has a great article which will help you establish what your brand is all about!
When you have a good handle on your brand’s personality, there are several tiers of visual content that you’ll need to source.
- Hero Image(s): Lead image or video content on your website, branding, etc. Strongly tied to your brand and very important.
- Division Hero(s): Lead images connected with a specific product line, service, or branch of your company.
- Secondary: Visual content accompanying hero images. These are supplemental or informational by nature.
- Social: Images or video included in social media channels or blog posts. This content will primarily be viewed at the time it’s posted and increasingly less afterwards making them somewhat less important, but needed in much higher quantity.
Aside from the “look” of an image, you should consider how a visual accomplishes your purpose. There are many ways to describe how images “operate”, but they can be roughly broken into these strata.
A conceptual image makes its point through visual analogy or an idea. This type of imagery is especially useful when attempting to convey something that would be difficult with a regular image of a person, place, or thing.
Emotional / Lifestyle Images
The purpose here is to impart a feeling to your audience by displaying emotions, an impactful moment, or aura in the image—usually including people. This is the primary visual tool used by high level marketers to sway consumers and gain market share. Lifestyle images are also the least used type by small business owners, so don’t forget this one when choosing your visual content.
These are literal images showing your products, or perhaps a portrait of your CEO.
Marketing that Doesn’t Feel Like Marketing
When choosing imagery to associate with your brand, one of the most important things to keep in mind is authenticity. Over the years, consumers have been so saturated with ads that anything feeling like a “pitch” is simply ignored. Marketing, by its nature, rarely feels authentic. So, how do you promote your message without viewers feeling like they’re being advertised to? The solution is to take a less corporate, more genuine tact when you share who you are and what you do.
“Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet — thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing — consistently. This builds trust, and followers love leaders they can trust.” — Lance Secretan, Former Fortune 100 CEO & Leadership Expert
- Often feel voyeuristic
- Rarely include people looking at the camera
- Show real moments and emotions, not staged, artificial or gimmacky
- Feature everyday or unique-looking people
- Have a more casual feeling
Authentic doesn’t necessarily mean all your imagery should be casual though. It may only be appropriate for select channels or venues like social media, or an article sharing your process. The most important thing is that your visuals fit; knowing your brand and customers will ensure this. If Montblanc writing instruments launched a website that didn’t include sleek and polished images, it would feel ill-fitting or contrived. Conversely, another premium brand like Lululemon is able to use casual-feeling visuals throughout their marketing (while still maintaining a high price point) because the authentic tone fits their brand and message.
A Few Parting Tips
- When searching for imagery to accomplish a specific task, ask yourself: re you trying to relate a concept, a feeling, or simply show a product / service? Which approach will most effectively move your viewers and accomplish your goal?
- Imagery is subjective and selecting them is not a science — get opinions from others. (Hint: Ask people to share their thoughts individually, not in groups. We are social animals by nature and are affected by the opinions of others.)
- Do your research. Explore how others have reinforced or defined their brands through image selection. Find inspiration and learn from companies who share a similar brand personality.
John Fulton is a photographer, director, and digital artist based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is primarily known for his conceptual imagery but works in a wide spectrum of subject matter for clients like AT&T, Honda, Delta, Harley-Davidson, Dupont, Novartis, United Airlines, Aflac, and Anheuser-Busch among others. John’s work has earned him a ranking in the “200 Best Ad Photographers Worldwide” 4 years running. He pens our newest content series: Website Photography Tips for Small Budgets.