Can you remember when you were a toddler learning your first few words, like “ball”, “cat”, and “shoe”? Most likely, you don’t even remember when you first developed a vocabulary. On the other hand, it is much more likely that you do have memories that include looking at picture books – maybe you still recall your favorite images from them.
From a marketing perspective, visual language is just as memorable, speaking volumes about your company. Choosing the right images can be the difference between brand advocacy and brand abandonment. Research suggests that images create very distinct emotional responses, and they can do so very quickly. One study showed that people can process and interpret an image in 13 milliseconds. Can you imagine a visitor to your website making a judgment about your company’s personality and values faster than the blink of an eye – more than 20 times faster, in fact?
That’s why good images are so important.
What Makes Good Images “Great”?
It is possible to find images for your website or blog that add tremendous value to your brand. But before we get into what makes an image great, let’s talk about some of the biggest mistakes you can make.
Don’t use an outdated image. This is 2016, but how many times have you gone to a web site that looked like it was from 2006? Not only does fashion change, but so do technology, hair styles, population diversity, and photographic trends. Unless you’re specifically looking for retro, images that make your products and services look old and outdated have no place in your digital marketing.
Don’t choose an overused image. Often, we mistake a familiar photo for the perfect photo. Choosing an image because we are comfortable with how it looks might just mean we’ve seen that picture – or one very close to it in style – somewhere before. There’s a good chance that the moment you see it on your web site, you’ll see that same image everywhere. Don’t worry. We all do it. There’s even a name for it: The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. But, when it comes to your business, you want to be different. So try to be open to new visual experiences.
Don’t be cheap. Representing your brand to the marketplace at bargain basement prices almost assures you that the images you find will be outdated and overused. Major stock houses have several pricing models: pricing based on usage (often called “rights managed” images), price per image (“royalty-free”), and subscription. The least expensive image sites may include images that are aging or not of the highest quality technical execution.
Okay, outdated, overused and cheap images aren’t usually the way to go. Then what makes a good image become great?
Simply, it shows off your brand perfectly.
Over time, your company is sure to develop a personality. For example, some companies are known as being friendly, some quirky, some sophisticated and others fun. As the Content Marketing Institute explains, great companies “understand what an important role their tone of voice plays in how their customers perceive them.” This includes your entire universe of written language and visual language. Remember, both represent the way you speak to the customer, from the time you begin marketing to the delivery of products and services.
A Quick Look at the Visual Language Pyramid
The visual language pyramid is a great way to show how every image you choose is part of a strategic marketing system. Identifying what your company is all about (its values and personality) is the basis of your design choices. These values and characteristics will help you to differentiate and position your brand through your products and services. It’s here that you begin to create the brand experience. You’re defining how you want your customers (and employees!) to engage with your company and how you want them to feel when they buy what you are selling.
Only then is it time to create designs and select specific visuals to translate those feelings into reality. Let’s say you want to be a company that is “insightful” and “community-oriented.” Every design element, from the way you decorate and floorplan a store to your sales collateral and digital channels should point to creating that insightful and community minded experience.
Every design element – including each image you choose to use, no matter where it appears in your marketing ecosystem.
Making Images Work for You
Now that you know what to look for, here are some practical tips for choosing and using good images.
Source quality stock images. Royalty-free stock images are an affordable way to find images for a wide variety of markets and industries. There are dozens of stock houses to choose from, ranging from large companies that offer images in many categories to boutiques specializing in a certain type of photography (such as landscape or food and drink). Since photographers’ styles vary greatly, search several sites to see if there is one that best connects with what your brand stands for.
Customize your stock images. Rule of thumb: if you’re buying royalty free images, the same photo is bound to be out there somewhere. The great thing about royalty-free images is that you can modify them within the terms of the licensing agreement. You can warm up or cool down an image with tints, use a creative crop, change a shirt color to match your brand palette, and more. Relatively small changes can make a big difference, giving your site greater visual impact and brand integrity.
Know your rights. Acquiring stock photography is based on the purchase of licensing rights. A good source of information to understand the ins-and-outs of copyright, licensing and commercial use for stock images is http://www.stockphotorights.com. In addition, do your homework when using the Internet to acquire images. If after reading this article you are still bent on getting free or cheap images, it’s important to understand copyright laws and the protection of images on the Web. Images are generally protected. There are open-source and free image sites that allow commercial use of images, but they may have terms and conditions, such as making sure photographs are attributed to the photographer or site.
Find alternatives to stock images. The right blog image may not be a photograph at all. Photographs do have strong emotional value, but sometimes it’s far better to visually communicate data. Infographics are a style of illustration offering a combination of visual impact and good, solid content. They’re perfect for providing complicated information in a simple, easy-to-read way. Infographics are also valuable to a complete content marketing program as they can be easily repurposed for social media and email campaigns.
Finding the right image isn’t supposed to be easy. It is a disciplined exercise in branding and a meaningful way to speak to your audience. A single image is worth more than a thousand words; it can be the difference between a lost customer and a customer for life.
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