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Brand Imagery: What it is and Your Guide for Success

By Chad Gordon | October 7, 2020

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How can you make your brand image stand out?

Imagery has played a major role in branding since the beginning of… well, branding. With the arrival of the digital age and social media, we are bombarded with brand images every day. For example, the average person is estimated to encounter between 6,000 to 10,000 ads a day in 2020. Add the fact that the average person spends over two hours a day consuming social media, which is largely image driven, and it has become even more challenging for anyone or anything to stand out.

So, let’s add a global pandemic. Our interpersonal interactions are now relegated to Zoom meetings, severely limited or gone entirely. The way we deliver our brand identity to the world is evolving because of it. Brands have to lean even more heavily (or solely) on digital interactions in order to survive. Without the ability to speak face to face, how else are we going to stay in front of our audience in a meaningful and impactful way? Everyone is scrambling to optimize their websites, create more content through blogs, eNewsletters, email campaigns, digital advertising, establish or boost social media presence, and so on. That is a ton of content creation. And remember, “content” should never be just copy. What role does brand imagery play now? All of these tactics need images to help tell these stories. But why? Why do we need images? Isn’t the copy enough? Doesn’t that carry the weight?

Consider this: “We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%.”

Maybe this all seems so obvious. But too often, once the copy is created, imagery is overlooked or under-thought and an opportunity to stand out is lost.

So, I’ve created this guide to help develop a strategy for your brand imagery to help your brand stand out. But first, let’s clear up some definitions because these terms can get confusing:

What is Brand Imagery?

The terms Brand Image, Brand Identity and Brand Imagery are often used interchangeably. So here are some basic definitions which will also help place context for where imagery fits within your brand messaging:

Brand Image is how customers think of your brand. It isn’t a singular picture. It is the overall perception of your brand in the minds of your target audience and it involves many different intangible aspects. Brand Image is not literal pictures.  

Brand Identity is all the tangible visual elements that make up your brand, such as your logo, color, design, typography, messaging, video and images. While your Brand Image is defined as how your audience perceives you, Brand Identity is generated internally to guide your audience’s perception and is therefore critical in defining your Brand Image.

 

Brand Imagery is one tool within your Brand Identity kit that defines the aesthetic appearance of your brand’s core messaging. It’s basically what it sounds like: pictures. Brand imagery is one visual story-telling component of your Brand Identity, and it’s often overlooked to the detriment of a brand’s integrity.

What are the Types of Brand Imagery?

Brand Imagery isn’t just photographs. There are other options to think about when deciding on which images to best tell your brand story. You aren’t limited to just using one approach, but there needs to be a comprehensive imagery strategy no matter which direction you choose (more on that later). Here are the basic types of imagery:

 

Brand Imagery: Photography

 

1,436,300,000,000 (1.4+ Trillion).
That’s how many photographs will be taken in 2020.

Photography is the most used visual tactic in marketing and advertising. Everyone knows what a photograph is. But there are many styles and subsets of photography to think about and a multitude of ways to create or source your photos if that is what you want to use to present your brand image, but with that many photos in the world, how are you going to stand out? I’ll get into that later.

 

Brand Imagery: Illustration

 

An illustration is a drawing, painting or printed work of art which explains, clarifies, illuminates, visually represents, or merely decorates a written text, which may be of a literary or commercial nature.”

Illustration is another widely used visual tactic. The beauty of utilizing illustration is that you are only limited by your imagination (and your budget). Any concept can be depicted, whether it be literal or abstract. Custom illustration can provide another level of differentiation for your brand. However, you also run the risk of brand confusion if you are using multiple illustration styles in your communications.

 

Brand Imagery: Photomontage

 

Photomontage is a combination of several shots joined together for artistic effect or to show more of the subject than can be shown in a single artwork. They are a great way to add depth to visual story-telling and when planned and used consistently can differentiate your brand.

 

Brand Imagery: Infographic

 

 

An infographic is a collection of imagery, charts, and minimal text that gives an easy-to-understand overview of a topic. An infographic tells a story within itself and can be very powerful at distilling and communicating complex ideas, products or processes.

Brand Imagery: Icons & Symbols

An icon is a simple image that represents a real thing (for example, a phone icon). Symbols are simple images that must be learned and represent ideas, places, or actions. Icons and symbols are a great way to tell a story with limited words. Typically, iconography is not used as a primary image source to tell the entire brand story, but rather a detailed aspect of a process or product within the brand that can complement the overall brand image strategy.

Brand Imagery: Charts and Graphs

 

 

Charts and Graphs  are visuals that show relationships between data and are intended to display the data in a way that is easy to understand and remember. People often use  charts and graphs  to demonstrate trends, patterns and relationships between sets of data. Your charts and graphs should fit into your brand image strategy by using the fonts and colors that are defined in your brand guidelines consistently.

Brand Imagery: Color

Above I showed that color is a core component to your Brand Identity, but it also works hand in hand with your Brand Imagery. Ideally, you should already have your brand colors defined. Research has reinforced that 60% of the time people will decide if they are attracted or not to a message based on color alone and color increases brand recognition by up to 80 percent. (Source: University of Loyola, Maryland study). So, it is important to always be thinking about color when creating or sourcing imagery. Charts and icons should utilize colors from your primary and secondary brand color palette. Color washes can be used over images to better associate with your brand. And when choosing photographs, pay attention to the colors that make up the image. If your brand has a bright and energetic personality, you will want to stay away from images that have a lot of moody browns, blacks and dark grays.

Brand Imagery: Video

I list video last, but it is certainly not least, as its consumption over the last few years has exploded. The stats are staggering. I’m not going to go into any detail about video here, as it deserves its own blog, but you should absolutely, positively be using video in your communications mix.

Why is Brand Imagery important?

“A picture is worth a thousand words” – Frederick R. Barnard

Ok, I get that this adage has become a cliché. But clichés become clichés for a reason; because most of them are true. We are visual creatures: “Pictures beat text as well, in part because reading is so inefficient for us. Our brain sees words as lots of tiny pictures, and we have to identify certain features in the letters to be able to read them. That takes time.” We naturally have immediate, visceral reactions to what we see, as our brains process images in milliseconds.

I am by no means advocating prioritizing images over words for your communications (our copywriters would kill me for that), but rather, images and words are most effective when they work together. For example, in social media visuals are no longer a luxury. They’re a critical, core component of a successful strategy because most social platforms are visual-centric. Posts that include images produce 650 percent higher engagement than text-only posts. This applies to some degree or another to any form of communication, not just social.

How to Choose My Brand Imagery?

We’ve established the importance of using imagery to tell your brand story. There are trillions of images out in the world and we know that content that contains imagery is more memorable and generates more interaction than that which contains none.

But just picking any image (because you now know you need them) and plopping it in content isn’t enough. It has to be the right image that effectively enhances or tells the story you are trying to tell, reflects your brand promise and hopefully stands out in the ocean of images floating around out there. The wrong brand imagery choices can not only confuse your audience, but they can erode the integrity of your brand over time.

Yeah, that’s a tall order and we are all strapped for time and have limited budgets to be gathering and paying for images. It’s a pain in the ass. I get it (and this is coming from a photographer). But there are some things you can do to set yourself up for success that can reduce time and cost while still being “on-brand”:

1. Create Brand Imagery Guidelines

If you don’t already have overall Brand Identity guidelines, you need to create those now. They are the rule book for your Brand. An organization without guidelines is like a ship without a rudder. The passengers have no idea where you are taking them.

Within those guidelines needs to be a section about imagery. Sometimes the section is called a brand image style guide or simply Brand Imagery Guidelines. This is where you define your brand’s imagery style, and a lot goes into creating these guidelines. Any image strategy needs to link to your brand’s unique value proposition, reflect your mission, vision and values as an organization, and fulfill your brand promise.

This is where you’ll determine the primary kinds of images you will use to represent your brand (photographs, illustration, combination, etc.). And this is where you will define the tone and personality that you want your images to portray as they relate to your Brand Identity as a whole. It should also define the style, quality specifications, plus cultural and diversity guidelines and any other unique specifications that you may have.

By establishing guidelines, you will give yourself a road map for when you are searching for, or creating, all of your images, thus reducing time and establishing the most important aspect: Consistency. Consistency is the rudder in all of this. If you are using playful illustrations alongside more serious photographs alongside infographics with 20 different colors that are off-brand, you are going to confuse your audience, and they are most likely not going to believe or trust you.

Pick a direction and style that makes sense for who you are and stick with it.

2. Establish a Brand Imagery Budget

As you probably know by now, images typically aren’t free. If your strategy is to have your nephew take all of your photos with his iPhone, it’s probably going to be even more costly to your brand than paying for professional images.

This is where organizations get skittish. They have no idea how much imagery costs, and didn’t plan for it, so when the time comes, they compromise. And their brand pays for it in the long run. Create a budget with the help of your marketing staff or an outside agency. It doesn’t have to break the bank, as there are a lot of different sources out there. But without any sort of budget, the imagery becomes a costly afterthought.

Lastly, don’t ever, ever, ever use someone else’s images without permission. That’s copyright infringement and it can be costly. Plus, it’s morally wrong (again, this coming from a photographer, who has had his images stolen).

3. Establish a Source

At this point, you will need to source your images. These can be custom created, purchased through stock, or a combination of the two.

Custom Created: Hire a photographer, illustrator or designer to create your images. This is the most ideal for your brand as it ensures that no one else in the world will be able to use your images. They will be uniquely yours. You can also tell your story more accurately since you are creating from scratch, instead of perpetually searching for stock images that most of the time end up being just “good enough.”

The cost for these services can vary, so we advise to shop around and pay close attention to the artist’s samples to make sure their style is in line with your Brand Identity. Typically, “you get what you pay for” applies here. If you are commissioning someone to portray your brand visually, you want it to be right. If you decide to go this route, you’ll want to provide the artist with a creative brief describing the objectives, shot list, process, timeline and any other pertinent details.

Stock imagery: Stock is the most popular source for images these days as there are millions of available stock images that can be purchased and downloaded in seconds. You can find pretty much anything (photographs, illustrations, icons, infographics, videos) for any subject matter. You can buy singular images or subscribe to plans of all levels. There are some truly beautiful images out there in the stock world.

However, there are drawbacks to using stock images to be aware of:

1. You have to find the image to fit your content as opposed to creating an image that fits your content perfectly.

2. Searching stock takes a LONG time to find the right image, and in the end it’s usually just “good enough” as the time it takes to search wears you down.

3. Anyone can use the same image. We’ve seen stock images we’ve used for our clients used for other organizations. There is nothing you can do about that unless you want to pay for exclusive rights to an image (which is an option on some stock sites). But it can be so cost-prohibitive that it makes more sense to custom create an image at that point.

4. It’s difficult to maintain consistency. If you need multiple images that are going to be used across multiple pieces of communications, it can be a real challenge to find images that look like they go together as a cohesive series.

5. It looks like stock. Stock agencies want to sell the same stock images as many times as they can. Their algorithms place the most popular images at the top of their search. Therefore, while you can get some very nice, technically perfect images, they all tend to be a little generic, because that is what sells.

Despite the drawbacks, it’s the best way to elevate your brand’s image with professional looking images quickly and cost-effectively. If you are aware of the drawbacks, it is easier to avoid them.

You’ll also want to be aware of licensing and image rights when you purchase stock images. They can vary per image.

Last note about stock: Always refer back to your guidelines when doing your search. If your guidelines say you need to portray “real” people, you’ll want to understand what that means, so you can stay away from the shiny happy people images that pervade stock sites. If your organization is located in Wisconsin, you most likely aren’t going to want to show of a beach on the home page of your website. It sounds like common sense, but stock images can be pretty shiny toys that can sway the searcher from thinking “on brand”… especially in a time crunch.

There are a ton of stock sites out there and some specialize in certain industries or certain styles of imagery. A google search can find what you are looking for but here are some links to some of the most popular sites:

Shutterstock
Getty
iStockphoto
Bigstock

There are actually some free image sites:
Pixabay
Pexels

4. Create Your Own Brand Imagery Library

There is nothing more frustrating than trying to find an image you know you have. You end up wasting so much time digging through servers and folders. When we ask customers if they have an imagery library, more often than not, they tell us no. That creates a lot of extra work for us and you.

Whether you custom create brand images, use stock or some combination of both, you are going to want to create an imagery library for your company that archives your images in a way that makes them easy to search for, and retrieve. This will save time and money in the long run. If you have a modest amount of images, you can get away with simply creating a singular folder on one server and organizing the images within properly named and dated subfolders. And have one person in charge of curating the library. Just doing that alone will alleviate headaches.

If you are a larger organization, that utilizes a lot of images, you may want to look into Brand Asset Management software that will allow you to not only intuitively archive your images, but also the other brand assets such as logos, ads, videos, brand guidelines, copy, etc., all in one location that can be accessed by anyone who is given permission. This is more of an enterprise-level approach that isn’t inexpensive, but it’s a worthwhile investment for larger organizations.

Brand Imagery In Summary: Now what?

Imagery is ubiquitous in our world today. Considering its importance, it’s shocking how it is treated as an annoying afterthought by so many organizations we see. It needs to be prioritized, as it plays such a major role in forming your Brand Image out there in the world. We covered a lot here, and if you made it this far, you are on your way. There are so many more nuances to creating a Brand Imagery Strategy than can’t be all covered in one long blog. The first step is knowing you have a problem. The next step is taking action. It doesn’t have to be a top priority, but it needs to be somewhere on the list. As with anything, take it one step at a time. And if you need more information or guidance, we are always here to help you stand out.

About designRoom

Whether creating a new behavioral healthcare brand or refreshing an old one, the magic is building a healthy relationship between the client and the branding firm. At designRoom, we believe in keeping things down to earth and down to business. We are designers, writers, and project leaders building healthy brands for healthcare organizations that help people. As an award-winning, national branding and design firm, you can feel confident that our team can work alongside you to tell your story and promote your brand. Let’s talk about your brand and how we can make it healthy! Call us directly at 216-241-2020

 

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Author

Chad Gordon

Chad is the Creative Director, overseeing the development of virtually every original design. Chad studied photography in Edinburgh, Scotland, and has a degree in photo illustration from Ohio University. In 1991 he worked with Reuben and Company as a photo assistant before joining designRoom as a designer the following year. Chad has received numerous national awards, has shared in his team’s many Addy Awards, and has had his work published in several international design publications.Chad is experienced in all phases of creative design, including concept development, art direction, photography, typography, print production, and website design. Chad’s specialties are photo illustration and identity development. His unique infrared photography has been shown in numerous galleries around northeast Ohio. He is an avid baseball man, a crafty pitcher with speed and movement on his fastball, and played on championship teams in the Roy Hobbs League.

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