What’s the single biggest complaint you’ll hear from a six-year-old when you try and read them a ‘real book’?
That’s because humans are inherently visual creatures. We’re attracted to dynamic imagery and capable of extracting considerable meaning from a single picture.
Imagine you were strolling casually down your street. Suddenly a clown, belching rainbows, comes bounding out from behind a parked car, juggling chainsaws while perched atop a giant, iridescent swan. After diving for the grass to avoid being hacked to pieces by this glorious display of carnival insanity, would you choose to send your friend a detailed text message or a photo?
Well, if you managed to fish your phone out your pocket before the swan bleated a sound that fractured time and space and winked the whole spectacle out of existence, you’d surely prefer to snap a picture.
A description simply wouldn’t do the scene justice. People would have to see it to believe it. That’s the power of compelling imagery and interdimensional clown swans.
But how do you choose the right images? A picture that’s out of context, unfocused, or in conflict with its surroundings can do more harm than good. To be effective, imagery should be tuned to amplify the best of your brand. Here’s how to find what you need.
The Search for Meaning
A study out of UC Davis’s Center for Mind and Brain from a few years ago made a startling discovery about how humans perceive images.
The prevailing wisdom held that photographers should carefully compose their pictures to avoid distracting elements like bright spots and clutter that pull attention away from the subject. But the study found that people’s eyes gravitated to areas of dense meaning, regardless of distractions.
This insight aligns with what marketing experts already know. Images that are ripe with relevant meaning stand out far more quickly than less meaningful images that ‘pop’ better. Of course, vibrancy and ‘pop’ are important, but only if the image’s content and context is meaningful to your customer’s assessment of your brand.
To identify these images, you need to drill down into your brand identity. What makes your brand unique? What qualities are most important to your ideal customers? When they think of you, what likely comes to mind?
If you’re a home furnishings brand, customers might equate you with comfort, sophistication, fine craftsmanship, and the warmth of family. If you manufacture motorcycles, you might be interested in associating your brand with power, attitude, freedom, and speed.
The qualities that best describe your brand are the elements customers find most inspiring. This is the meaning you want people to see in the images you select. The more closely you can match the substance of your imagery with the meaning people pull from your brand, the more effective it will be.
How This Works in Practice
Let’s compare two motorcycle brands and see how they use imagery to differentiate themselves.
Yamaha brands their motorcycles, colloquially referred to as ‘crotch rockets’, as racing bikes. Brand enthusiasts are interested in sleek designs optimized for speed. On the other hand, Harley Davidson leverages associations of freedom, tradition, and the open road to sell their motorcycles.
Both use images of their bikes in action, but the details differ substantially. Yamaha uses gritty offroad imagery, with mud and rocks churned by ferocious tires, bikes vaulting off precipitous jumps. Or you see leather jumpsuit-clad riders leaning deeply into tight turns as their bikes race down the highway.
By contrast, Harley riders are shown cruising comfortably, with panoramic vistas scrolling behind them. You get the sense that the destination is less important than the journey. Compared to Yamaha’s tight, frenetic shots, Harley favors wide, easy angles that frame the road as a subject equal to the rider. In some cases, the shots are so wide you can barely see the bikes. But the sense of freedom and the vastness of the American landscape is palpable.
Color characteristics are also considered. Yamaha features high-contrast, colorful, arresting images intended to leave you breathless. Harley images are intentionally washed out, with a color space that favors style and image over visceral impact.
It’s the details that make the difference — those subtle pockets of meaning scattered throughout the image that change the message it conveys. Finding the right imagery for your brand means aligning them with your preferred identity. You can guide the way your audience sees you by crafting a tailored visual narrative.
Photography or Illustrations?
Photography is the most common sort of brand imagery, but that’s only because it’s the easiest to produce. There’s no reason why you should limit yourself to photos.
Because illustrations are pure invention, they can offer a unique perspective on your brand that isn’t possible with photographs. Anything you can imagine is possible. The art style conveys a significant amount of information as well, offering an extra layer of meaning.
However, the creative latitude afforded by illustrations comes at a price. Because the realm of possibilities is so much larger, it can be harder to find the perfect image. It’s wise to hire a skilled designer. They have the experience and talent required to distill your brand identity down to an evocative set of illustrations.
Whether photography or illustrations are right for your brand depends on your budget, your creative vision, and your brand’s personality. There’s no right or wrong answer. Both can be effective in the right context.
If this all still seems overwhelming to you, it’s understandable. Choosing the right imagery takes a trained eye, with a skilled brain connected. We have both eyes and brains, all finely-tuned for building brand identities. Give us a call if you’d like help defining yours. We can help find the perfect images.
And if turns out that a rainbow chainsaw clown sitting proudly astride a prismatic megaswan works for your brand, you may well end up being our favorite client of all time!