Your Brand Through the Lens: The Value of Great Photography Online
We're all familiar with the old adage ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ It speaks to the power of the visual medium and, whether a photo on the news, a film we’ve watched, or a graphic cover of a magazine, how people experience the impact of strong imagery.
Making that kind of impact through your website is key to creating a compelling user experience. It’s no secret—using relevant visuals to reinforce textual content will help deliver your message, increase engagement and drive online conversions, be they sales, bookings, or even simple inquiries. Yet many miss the opportunity altogether.
Planning starts with the budget
Oftentimes, companies budgeting for a new website or online marketing campaign won’t assign the appropriate funds to photography, claiming they’ve already got some decent shots on file, or insisting they can ‘fill the space’ with pictures they’ll take themselves. But knowing what we do about the importance of compelling imagery, this is one line item that should never be overlooked. With every new message, every new campaign, new imagery should be planned. Not re-used, not just sourced, but planned—from the budget stage, to defining the context of the required image, to the wireframing of the key pages of the website—and before commissioning the shot itself.
Defining the purpose
Focus on the purpose of the images as you plan. Think, “what ‘thousand words’ is this picture trying to convey?” An effective website is going to pique the interest of the user from their landing page, and continue to intrigue them as they explore further into the site. The combination of website architecture and design, paired with engaging content and imagery, dictates the online experience of the user and their interpretation of your message and brand positioning. This can be described as ‘visual storytelling’ and shines the focus back on the importance of powerful imagery.
Original vs. stock
Budget will generally dictate whether original photography is an option versus stock photos, but ideally that decision isn’t made until the required shots are defined. In some cases, stock photography will fit the bill and provide a more affordable option, but benefits of original photography include:
- No compromise—get the shot you want and don’t settle for some thing that’ll merely work;
- Exclusivity—nobody else can use the same image, especially not your competitors;
- Unlimited use—you can re-use it in multiple mediums at your discretion;
- Branded look—matching the image with your brand’s attributes;
- Context & authenticity; and, most importantly,
- Communicating your message simply.
Influence of imagery
Tourism-based businesses provide a great opportunity to demonstrate these benefits using imagery to engage the user and support experiential messaging. No two individual travelers are alike and each has differences in attitudes, perceptions, images and motivations, all important influencers on travel decisions. The concept of self-actualization—seeing oneself engaged in the experience—is key, and using pictures is a more universal means to appeal to a broader range of travelers.
A strong, experiential image supports the decision making process in tourism through a series of steps:
1. Generating interest even before looking for it;
2. Turning an interest into a ‘need’ to travel;
3. Helping evaluate against alternate options; and,
4. Selling the specific destination and ‘converting’ the traveler.
And in this era of widely used peer review sites and online reputation management, it’s equally important to remember that, post-travel, photography can do either of two things: continue to support the traveler’s opinion that the destination is a good one; or, support the opposite! Either way, they will share their photos and whatever opinion they have of the destination. Controlling photography that represents your brand is important, but so is keeping and eye on images representing your brand outside of your control. Continue to engage with those travelers’ by posting back comments on their reviews (glowing or otherwise!).
In fact, because pictures lend themselves so perfectly to social media, planning photography to support your social media content schedule (e.g. blogs, Facebook posts, etc) will continue to reinforce your online messaging beyond your website.
Video is another way to visually engage your audience of course, yet in a much different way than still photography. We’re seeing a lot more of it online as handhelds and tablets take advantage of technological advances in bandwidth while the staggering success of video-on-demand services like YouTube continues to grow. We’ll take a look at how to most effectively add video to your branding mix in an upcoming blog.
The take away from all of this? Don’t underestimate the role of strong photography in your online branding… and your next website development or marketing budget.