The photobombing squirrel was recently dubbed the happiest photo of all time. You know the one—don’t tell me it didn’t make you feel something.
Research shows that images can indeed make people happier. You smile, maybe you laugh, and your day is instantly brightened. In fact, images can make people feel a suite of emotions—they can even boost productivity.
Given the power of imagery, it’s no wonder that visual content plays a major role in marketing campaigns. And now that many brands oversee a level of content production that rivals that of traditional media sites, professional stock photography websites like Shutterstock have become an essential part of a marketer’s toolkit.
Choosing the perfect image for a marketing campaign isn’t an exact science, which makes it really, really hard. How can brands go about selecting stock photos that will make their campaigns shine—ones that their customers will love?
Here are four best practices for marketers.
Before you start thinking about imagery, decide what message you want to convey to your audience. Do you want them to feel a certain emotion? Take a certain action? Learn something new about your brand? Once this has been determined, you can pick an image accordingly. Next, look for imagery that matches the tone of your message.
Say you’re running a campaign with a limited time offer—the emotion that you want your customers to feel is a sense of urgency. Knowing this, you’ll want to pair your copy with an image that communicates timeliness (like, say, a ticking clock). On top of that, you can think strategically about colors that evoke a feeling of discomfort or panic (like fire engine red).
By identifying what you’re trying to say—and how you’re trying to say it—before selecting an accompanying photo or illustration, you’ll ensure that your customers are presented with a cohesive message.
The main color in an image is also important in setting the tone of your message. Colors like soft red, orange, and yellow connote warmth (think sunshine, heat) and are considered to be inviting, fun, and energetic.
So, if you have a message that needs to convey happiness or enthusiasm, try using warm-colored images to get your point across. Cool colors like blue and green, on the other hand, connote calmness and trust (it’s interesting that many banks and financial companies have blue logos), so try using cool colors for transactional messaging or reminders. Black and white imagery tends to connote a dramatic or poignant feel, so consider images without color when looking to elevate your brand or convey a more premium note to your messaging.
The right image should be visually engaging enough to draw attention, but it shouldn’t stand out so much that it overpowers or contradicts any associated text. It should strike the perfect balance—complementing both the headline and ad text to deliver a consistent message.
Text should be paired with a relevant image that tells a compelling story. This will give your brand a united front that’s easy to understand, and will allow customers to quickly infer what it is that you’re trying to say.
If your image muddles your main point, contradicts what you’re trying to say, or is the only thing that your customers notice, your message will be lost, and any action that you wanted them to take (click back to your site, download something, buy something) could be lost as well.
Putting time into identifying the tone of not only your stock imagery, but also your copy and how your stock imagery complements it (without overpowering or contradicting), will make your marketing messages clearer and more actionable.
Abstract images that represent universal ideas could be used anywhere in the world—but what if you’re trying to market to a certain country or demographic?
Your content should be tailored to specific markets—cultural appropriateness, aesthetic taste, and color preference all differ from country to country.
One way to ensure that your photos are regionally relevant would be to only use photos taken by artists who live in said place. Also, do your research on your target location beforehand. For example, instead of doing a broad search for “Brazil images”, which may result in some cliched images of Brazilian culture, search by specific cities, foods, clothing, or cultural references that would resonate with your target audience in Brazil.
After all, choosing a cliched image can lose you the respect of the audience with whom you were trying to connect (think: the displeasure you feel when another Manhattan chick flick comes out—what kinds of tourist attractions do they visit?).
In general if you’re marketing in a certain country, selecting a photo that captures the essence of the people who live there, and what they like to do and wear, is crucial. Localizing images will make you more familiar and relatable to your customers—they’ll be more likely to recognize a bit of themselves (and the “human” aspects) in your brand.
Your company is unique, and your campaigns are unique—so are the platforms where you promote them. Understanding the nuances of the marketing channel(s) your stock photography will appear on is as important as considering an audience.
Each channel behaves differently and has a different goal, and it should be treated as such when you’re selecting images.
An image that works on Twitter may not be good for Instagram or for a banner ad on Facebook, and resizing won’t always do the trick. When initially selecting an image, you should think about the image size as well as orientation (panoramic? vertical? square?) supported by the specific channel.
Also, for a channel that is more often viewed on mobile, like Twitter, you may want to choose simple images that focus on one subject so that they resonate at both larger and smaller display sizes.
By using platforms in the same way that your customers do, your brand will seem more native, and again, more familiar to the people with whom you’re trying to connect.
At first, searching for visual assets can seem daunting because a lot is at stake—people react subconsciously to imagery, and how they feel about your content could be the difference between them becoming a new customer or not.
But, choosing successful images doesn’t need to be overly complicated. It all comes down to thinking of your customers throughout the content creation process. Localizing visuals for your customers, matching the way they use images on various social channels, and not overpowering them with text will help your brand create visual experiences that your customers will love.
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