6 Tips to Create Brand Value Using Visual Identity

Camp and corny, using stock photos on your website and in other content can be a surefire way to create an adverse first impression. The exponential proliferation of content created by brands and individuals alike means that companies need more imagery than ever before for websites, brochures, etc. The “content monster,” as social media guru Guy Kawasaki points out, must be fed if companies are to remain competitive in today’s content-centric world. And so, with few alternatives, stock photography has become a staple for many brand owners.

Brand owners and marketing leaders have three main tools that can be deployed in order to make the desired impression on their audiences: visual, verbal, and experiential. Addressing the visual piece is not only the easiest of the three elements to get a desired association across; it is also often the first one that consumers are exposed to.

Yet, it is surprising how many marketing leaders working for successful companies (especially in the B2B world!), with multi-national customers, struggle to acquire the proper resources and internal buy-in to invest in creating a differentiated look.

Using stock photography on your website might cut it when your company is just starting out, but if the business has matured then your brand should too. Put another way, if your kid is out of the toddler years and starting first grade, you wouldn’t dress him in an onesie, or in some cases, diapers would you?

It can be easy for companies that sell primarily to business customers to dismiss the importance of imagery, but business customers are humans too. And, it’s not just customers who matter. From a recruiting standpoint, you might be losing talent based solely on their initial impressions of your website. When a new hire calls home and tells Mom that she just landed a killer job at your firm, Mom will probably check out your website and share it on Facebook―now all of mom’s friends know how bad your stock-filled website looks.

In a marketplace where every brand is vying to be that beautiful and unique snowflake, it’s never been more important to get serious about photography―and to a greater extent, visual identity. Every touchpoint is an opportunity to tell your story. Visual identity can inform customers, prospects, and potential hires about your brand purpose and positioning, display personality, and, if done correctly, create lasting, meaningful connections.

If you believe in your brand, your company, and your people, there should be a deeper level of authenticity to everything that you do. With stock photography, people glance over it, but with a powerful image, people stop in their tracks―so it’s worth the investment, says Gunnar Jacobs, Senior Director of Strategy at Monigle.

As marketers, we strive to make that connection, to create that moment when your CEO asks you to stop the presentation so they can take in an image that brought them back to their childhood. That moment, when a patient’s daughter picks up your brochure for the first time and smiles, knowing that her mother is in the right hands.

Mercy Health, a large health system based in Chesterfield, Missouri was struggling to align its various organizations under one unifying system brand. In response, Mercy created a design framework that celebrated its heritage and the vibrancy of life, which is the heart of the brand and what guides its visual identity. Photography was a primary design element used to capture employees in their element. Composing photos in the right way put the focus directly on the person or individuals―emphasizing the humanity that is essential to the Mercy brand of health care. Thus, the background was given careful consideration as well, to find a backdrop that would serve as a vibrant and energetic framing, but enable the focus on the subject. To serve up a more authentic and more interesting portraiture, shooting a surgeon in his office surrounded by administrative filler, diplomas, bookcases, etc. was out of the question. Although it took slightly more effort to coordinate schedules, and despite having to wait a little longer due to surgery running long, Mercy was able to catch the doctor and his team as they were coming out of surgery. The difference it made was enormous, and Mercy was able to translate its vision of vibrancy and better health visually, in a manner that created enduring value for the brand.

Mercy Health Team Photo

Mercy Health Team Photo

Mercy capitalized on an opportunity to interact with its internal and external stakeholders by creating a visual identity that was genuine. The doctors in these photos don’t look standoffish, the setting doesn’t look staged, and the resulting design elements create a sense of authenticity and realness in Mercy’s entire visual identity.

A brand layman will use photography as little more than a space-filler―photography is a powerful visual tool that can express the brand identity when used correctly, says Mike Herburger, Senior Creative Director at Monigle.

Maybe you have tried to convince your executive team that your company’s photography isn’t cutting it anymore, and maybe they weren’t hearing it. But, as we’ve seen consistently across industries, categories, and organizations, owning your photography can be a crucial advantage to your brand.

Tips if you must use stock photography

Professional photography isn’t cheap and the reality is that not every organization will have the resources to invest in it, which can often include designing a visual framework that guides the entire process, setting up a shoot, and coordinating models or employees. So while you’re building the case for a cohesive visual identity system and custom photography, here are six best practices for using stock imagery that minimize risk to your brand:

  1. Don’t limit your search by sticking too closely to keywords―think conceptually and more broadly. For example, think about your brand attributes, and what you’re trying to communicate with an image. Look for elements that a powerful image represents given the situation; it can be under a completely different topic.
  2. Collaborate with your in-house designers or agency partners to create visual style guidelines to direct future image searches and collateral design.
  3. Edit your photos; cropping, adding tones, or layers, can make the image feel more on-brand.
  4. Stop viewing imagery as a regimented task when creating content. Slapping photos on every slide in your PowerPoint presentation is not necessary.
  5. Use premium stock photo websites like imagebrief.com, offset.com, lifeofpix.com, and deathtothestockphoto.com…Believe it or not “good stock photography” is not an oxymoron.
  6. Try and supplement your stock photos with a few well thought through professional shots to punctuate your overall visual expression.

For many design-minded folks, stock photos have long been a bane when forging an authentic visual identity. The Vince Vaughn stock photos buzzing around the internet serve to remind us of how ridiculous over-staged stock photography can make a brand look.

If your website and proposals look more like the examples shown by Vince and his esteemed colleagues, you may consider if it’s time that your visual identity grow up.

Vince Vaughn Stock Photo Hero

Vince Vaughn, Stock Photo Hero

James Parker is the marketing assistant at Monigle. Currently a branding Padawan, he hopes the force will be strong with the North Carolina Tar Heels this March.

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