Think about the number of images we see everyday—on our Facebook feeds and Twitter timelines, on websites we visit, in the games and apps we use on our phones. Though billboards and print advertising prove that brand imagery has always had a place in marketing, it’s undeniable that it now plays a much more important role, because of social media. If properly used, images can deepen a customer—or potential customer’s—attachment to your brand. Read on to learn more about crafting imagery to keep your content top-of-mind for customers scrolling by.
How is brand imagery different than a logo?
A logo is mark or a symbol and it’s the most essential first step to building a brand. It is a an emblem by which an organization can easily be recognized on letterhead, signage, online and even on the product you sell. It is custom designed and must be entirely unique for simple and immediate recognition.
Brand imagery, on the other hand, is how you build your brand’s aesthetic. These images can appear in a variety of forms, from billboards to Instagram, websites to print ads. Whether modern or traditional, simple or complex, clean or edgy, these images are more than simple visuals—they convey an emotion in the viewer (known as “brand feelings.”). This often occurs on an intangible level, building trust and confidence over time and repeated exposure.
Put more simply: view brand imagery as an opportunity to communicate with your potential customer. Show them who you are, why they should trust you and how—if they choose your product— you it will make their lives simpler or better.
How do you create the best imagery for your company?
Think of your perfect customer: what is important to her? What does her day look like? If you can visualize that person and what they want, you can source better visuals that your audience will respond to. Understand and acknowledge your competitors and work to set yourself apart from them.
For instance, while Mercedes and Dodge are both trying to sell the same product, they are attempting to sell to two different audiences. In Mercedes ads, the cars are most often silver and shown in urban environments, with clean serifed fonts. The color and setting evokes luxury, confidence, and technology. Dodge chooses to use red cars and often sets their cars on racetracks, with bold, heavy sans-serif fonts, to sell the idea that their cars are fast, powerful, and strong.
How are these companies able to make very similar products (cars) appeal to such different demographics?
Short answer: design.
It’s crucial to think carefully about color, composition, typography, content and style work together to create different moods. Learn the basics of color theory and typography to understand what message your images are sending. For example, dark colors and heavy fonts project seriousness; pale neutral palates can give a modern or even futuristic vibe.
Knowing your audience allows you to pick the design elements to focus on. Audiences are not one size fits all: your audience might react well to your logo on a clean background with a few supporting graphics, while another might only respond to on-trend animated GIFs that will make them smile. You may even want to run some tests to see what resonates. Try two or three different styles and post images to your Instagram account and see what gets the most engagement.
Once you figure out what works, stick to it. While you don’t want your images to be bland, they should resemble each other on some level—whether you choose color palette, typography or style. GoPro has built a very successful following by using images of happy, active people filming their wild adventures. The images and videos are different but are tied together by a greater unifier: the GoPro cameras capturing the footage. In that way they sell their brand (active, fun, adventurous) while also remaining consistent in their chosen style.
Always make use of interesting perspectives that will draw a busy customer’s eye as they scroll their feeds. Your product in an unexpected location; a bright mural that evokes an exciting environment; a unique person who reflects the look of your desired customer. Through these choices it’s possible to curate your feed into something that feels lively instead of purely promotional.
Does it have to be photography?
Though photographs are the most common brand images, many modern companies have developed their branding around illustration. Since loyalty comes only from authenticity, who wouldn’t rather see an unexpected pop of illustration instead of another boring stock photo?
The meditation app Headspace has launched a very successful blog called The Orange Dot where they have content about physical and mental health. The whole blog is tied together beautifully with whimsical illustration and pleasing color tones. Quick, think of something more difficult to market than meditation! ( And yet, Headspace makes you feel good. And so it makes you want to try the app.
Warby Parker uses illustration mixed with hip photography to create an aesthetic that reflects their in-the-know literary vibe. Since it’s impossible to separate the product (glasses) from a certain tinge of nerdiness, Warby Parker sees this as an opportunity to be playful.
What are some successful brand images?
Successful branding images build an internal narrative and external community. Mission-based companies like TOMS and Patagonia use social media to remind their followers that when you purchase their products you buy into more than just a brand. TOMS keeps the natural world close at hand by consistently featuring sunny backdrops filled with flowers and plants behind their ethically produced products. Patagonia features wilder, jaw-dropping locales to provide daily inspiration to their outdoorsy fans.
Everlane has recently blown up in the women’s clothing market for a new kind of radical transparency both in production and marketing. Their design is lovely and clean and their photographs are all bright and well lit. They routinely feature campaigns like 100% Human, for LGTBQ rights, and #factoryfridays, showing people who actually make their products in factories across the world. Their target consumer values quality, thoughtful design, and wants to know precisely where the products are coming from.
In the same market, Glossier has built a powerhouse makeup brand based on a style dubbed “un-marketing.” Their photos tend to be high-fashion mixed with DIY. They encouraged fans to share pictures of their makeup shelves (called “shelvies”). Customers clamor to create photos that perfectly fit the brand’s carefully cultivated aesthetic and snag that coveted repost from the company. Both Glossier and Everlane have built successful companies on foundations of strong brand imagery. Young people like the photos and then follow the brand because they see their aesthetic in the company’s design and values.
Brand imagery builds your reputation
Successful brand images can build consumer loyalty that goes beyond buying your product or service because it fits a price point or because they recognize your logo. They buy it but because of the values behind it. If you care about the environment you will be more likely to purchase a Patagonia jacket; if you are interested in a car that will last for many years, you might buy a Toyota. These are longheld, loudly espoused beliefs you will hear from people across age groups, markets, and demographics.
Build successful brand imagery and you will cultivate a loyal fan bases that sees themselves in the brand. Once that happens, they will transcend being simply customers and will become ambassadors, championing your product in the outside world.