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Essential (but often Ignored) Steps that can Make or Break your Digital Marketing Campaigns. Episode II Choose the Right Images for your Business

Before sketching your strategy for a digital campaign, you need to make sure that your online image looks professional. For all your social media posts, online ads or landing pages, you need illustrations that catch attention, fuel desire and spark interest for what you have to offer. If they look unappealing for your target market or, worse, unprofessional, your money spend in online advertising will go down the drain, so choosing the right pictures is crucial. This article is about how to choose imagery that serves your (business) goals, not defeat them.

Decide how “professional” your images need to be

If you thinking “what is this nonsense, all images used for business should be professional!“ just hear me out. Yes, images you use for business purposes should all have a minimum viable level or quality to work for your sales. They should have a good resolution, they need to be clean and sharp, and depict your product or your services in a clear, nice and pleasant way. While you still need to evaluate all your images from this point of view, beyond this, there are many levels of “professional” pictures that come with different level of costs (time, money or both). The smart marketing trick for a functional budget is to decide what level of those is really necessary for your business.

This is a vital decision you need to make early in the business and definitely before investing money in digital marketing. There are some type of businesses where the minimum viable level is enough. If you sell for example metal components to other companies, then having clear, sharp pictures from all angles of said components will be enough. You may even pull that off with an employee with a passion for photography and a very good smartphone, maybe with a few good stock photos if you want to go a little fancy. Your business will depend little of having made-by-a-professional-agency images as long as they are accurate. Your website and ads can look very professional without commissioning a photographer, with just the help of a good marketer or designer.

On the other side of the spectrum, if you have for instance, an expensive jewelry store with no physical showroom, highly professional pictures will make or break your sales. And here, by professional I mean not only product photos (that are in itself already hard to make for jewelry), but styled ones, maybe even using real life models. If your customers don’t get to see your product in real life, your pictures will be the most important thing between making online sales or not.

Tip – Costs and challenges are very different depending on the level of the images you need, so you should decide early how image dependent is your business. As a rule of thumb, the more expensive your product or service is, the less you should rely on stock photos and free imagery and go for custom photos instead.

What’s the minimum viable level then?

Before uploading any photo on the website, check the resolution and if it still looks nice even after optimizing its size for web. What can look good on the small screen of your smartphone can end up looking fuzzy or pixelated when used in a header or ad. Be even more careful if you intend to use it for multiple purposes. Check if the original resolution is enough for all your needs before making it the recurring image of your campaign. If resolution is ok, the picture should still be clear, sharp and, in general, pleasant to the eye.

Both halves were resized to fit this column. Left side: resizing with disregard of resolution. Right side: good optimization.

Tip – Either you are a marketer or a DIY business owner, invest a bit of time to learn how to use a photo editor. With free editors like Gimp or Paint.net, you can do all the basics and more: crop, check resolution, apply text layers, enhance colors etc. If, after a while, you decide you need more, you can invest in a more advanced software. A good, inexpensive and very easy to use is ACDSee, which offers some time saving features (like batch editing tools) that will make your life easier if you have lots of images to process.

Be consistent

Once you decided what the optimal specs are, respect them all the time. For example, if you decide to make a gallery with your team (or products) on the website, make sure that all their photos are taken in the same style. If that’s not possible, then at least keep them similar by cropping the ones you receive, applying the same filter on all of them etc. Consistency in good resolution, lighting and style is often the key to achieve a professional look, not only for your team gallery photos, but for all your business images.

These photos are inconsistent in style, but also, some are blurry and others distorted. The result doesn’t inspire much confidence or reliability in the company.

Tip – If you cannot round up the team in the same place to have their photos taken against the same backdrop and lighting, ask them to give you hi-res profile photos of them in a (preferably) neutral setting, where their faces are perfectly visible. Then crop them in the same way, striving to keep their heads at the same size. Apply a filter on all of them that goes with the theme of your website. For example, going black and white is a very common way to level the differences in style of a gallery of photos.

Do justice to your product

Often, your online images are the first contact with you or your product for a potential customer. This is why your images need to be not only appealing, but also accurate. Your photos should paint a good image in the head of your audience about your product qualities. Food should look appealing and ready to eat, colors as close as possible to the real think and in general, leave little room for assumptions.

This image is so blurry that you cannot even see how the bead is online, let alone in real life. Source: etsy.com

Style your photos

There is nothing wrong with shooting your product (or your people) on a plain background, but your customers will still need to know how your product will fit into their life. Adding props around the object that you shoot to create a mood is called styling and it can instantly elevate the perceived value of your product. Photos with your product in a nice (but real) setting will be more powerful than a simple product shot. If done well, they will help not only sell more, but also avoid after-purchase disappointment.

This photo was taken from the website of an actual online bakery store. The colors are making me think it’s under baked and the whole image is unappealing and do not inspire a great taste. Furthermore, I cannot tell anything regarding its size.
This styled photo of homemade healthy cookies is inviting, warm and mouth-watering. The presence of honey and the cinnamon is making me think they are tasty too. My super-talented friend, Catalina made this photo in her home. Which one do you think will sell more, this picture or the previous one?

Tip – If you haven’t done styling before, think of the mood that you want to create and go to Pinterest for inspiration. Make a selection of a few pictures that look like what you need and study them. Read about styling and other photography tips to understand how it’s done. This will give you an idea about how to do your own.

Match your images with your target market

Hopefully, by now you know what your ideal customer likes and what kind of ideas capture their interest. The better you know them, the easier will be for you to decide what kind of images go right by them.  When you do the audience research, make a goal from observing their likes in imagery as well, instead of making assumptions. Don’t use pictures that your main audience will not like, even if they are the most striking, award-winning, beautiful ones. The deeper you go into a niche, the more complex the description of your imagery will be, so be sure you have that set of rules before starting looking for pictures. Before buying or selecting or commissioning photos, ask yourself: will my ideal client like it? Use it only if the answer is yes.

Stick with a style

Once you decide what is the best imagery is for you, keep it that way. If you decided to go with black and white minimalistic photos, then all of your images should be like that. If your choice is bold colors on bare backgrounds, make sure all your photos respect that rule. The style of your photos will become familiar to your customers and the feeling will transfer to your product. In time, they will recognize your posts without even reading the text and if you’re content is interesting for them, your post will be favored in their attention.

Tip – If you want to DIY all the product photos, start with finding the right formula for one good photo.  Take or read a photography course, invest in a lightbox and a tripod, maybe some backdrops too. Make a fixed corner in your office where you will take all the photos for the new products and change only the backdrop and styling for every new photo. Having the lightings and camera already set on the tripod ready, will save you a lot of time.

Convey a message with your images

David Ogilvy, “The Father of Advertising”, conducted a research to find out that an image with no correlation to the content can reduce readership and, in consequence, have negative effects on sales. Assess your image selection with this questions in mind: does the image convey the right idea? Is it complementary to my text message? Ideally your image should attract attention and invoke a positive emotion, but if you have to choose between a spectacular image that says a different thing and a less striking one that conveys the message that you want to tell, go with the second.

There is little connection between the image and the headline in this Facebook ads and the result is confusing to say the least. Since the image is the first one the eye see, then the text, it’s safe to assume that not many people stopped in their scrolling to see what it’s all about Source: https://adespresso.com/blog/top-flop-facebook-ads/

Don’t settle, be creative instead

If taking pictures is not your forte and you don’t have the budget to hire a photographer, all is not lost. Stock or free photos are still a good option if you use them wisely. The downside of using free photos is that everyone is using them so your landing page may end up looking very similar with dozens of others (including sometimes even your competition’s). The solution is to modify these pictures and make them your own.

This is a stock photo. Probably a lot of other business used it before, but that’s ok, you can still do something with it. Source: canva.com
The same image was edited (with minimal knowledge and software) and transformed in a unique banner or ad. Source: https://www.canva.com/learn/4-ways-use-images-background-design/

Tip – Edit, combine, use filters, change their intended purpose, crop or modify the stock images in a way that makes them different than the originals and true to your goals. For example, the illustration for this article is a combination between two stock photos and one of mine (taken with my smartphone). I simply edited out the inside of the two Polaroid photos, added behind the other two pics and combine them all in one single photo.

Stay authentic

Stock photo websites are full of generic, fake, stiff and cliché photos that people are abusing for ages. Classics like girl with a head set used in “Call us” pages or happy business people having a handshake are used to the point of becoming unappealing to most people. Avoid this kind of overused photos as much as possible, they will do more harm than good to your business.  Sure, you need to populate your landing page and your ads somehow if you don’t have your own pictures, I get that. There are other ways to do it though, without being a cliché or breaking the bank in the process. If you’re in services business, take pictures of your own team, even if they are mot as beautiful as professional models. People respond better to pictures of real people and they are quick to spot fake and staged ones.

Tip – Hire a photography student for a day and ask him to make a photo reportage of your company and your team. It will be cheaper than hiring an established business and you’ll have a bunch of photos to choose from, maybe use them for multiple purposes. Or: choose carefully stock photos and edit them creatively. Use a combination of all the above.

Be realistic

Your budget, your business needs, the level of skills in your team, the resources you have and the availability of good stock options are all factors in deciding what the best solution is for you. If budget is low and your sales depend on good images, a less expensive solution is to invest (money or time) in some courses and or software. A photography course for you or someone in your team to become the designated photographer and/or an image editor could be your way out. Either way, assess your options realistically and make a decision early about whether you need to learn a new skill or you find the money to hire a professional. They say one image is worth 1000 words, so make sure those are words that work for you and your business.

Make take-aways:

  • Go for quality
  • Stay authentic, on-brand and consistent even if you use stock photos
  • Convey clear messaging that is appealing to your ideal customer

Not sure which way to go? Drop me a line, I might be able to shed some light for you on this matter.

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