Never has choosing images for your marketing, branding and advertising materials been more important. Whether you’re looking for images that play into the current mask-wearing and social distancing mandates or ones that play nice with the political, social or economic environment, the right choice can draw people in or completely turn them off. What makes it even tougher is that people might have different views, beliefs and tolerance levels. So how do you please everyone? The simple answer is, you never will. All you can do is try your best to stay true to your brand, your beliefs and your audience. When deciding whether an image is right for a specific tactic, there are many things to consider. Here are some of the most important things to ask yourself:
Does it convey the proper message?
The number one goal of your image is to enhance your story by providing information that can’t be conveyed by copy alone. An image can be beautiful but if it doesn’t make sense for what you’re trying to say, it won’t contribute to your target’s understanding of your message or help you reach your goal.
Does it adhere to your brand guidelines?
If every image you use is black and white or illustrative and suddenly you put a full-color image in one of your ads or digital posts, you could get a citation from the brand police—or more importantly, you could be hurting the image you built and your brand’s recognition.
Will it grab their attention?
Whether riding down the highway or flipping through a magazine (yes, they still exist), people are typically doing or thinking about a million things at once. In order to break through their mind’s clutter, your image needs to stand out and make someone want to learn more. It should be engaging, relatable and relevant.
Is it politically agnostic?
As people are flocking to the left or the right, it’s important that your imagery stay right smack in the middle. With the upcoming election and all the political sensitivities surrounding it, the further your images can stay away from overtly suggesting or seemingly endorsing a political party, the better. People will naturally see affiliations that aren’t there, but you don’t have to help the cause. Unless, of course, you’re doing political advertising or want to take a stance on a specific cause/topic.
Is it inclusive?
Do your images speak to your entire target audience? For instance, if your target audience is women over 50, make sure you represent women of all races, religions, shapes and sizes who are over 50. If you’re looking for business images, avoid sticking with the first images that come up in your search, which had traditionally been middle-aged, caucasian men in suits and ties. Make sure to represent all races, ages and genders that fall within your target audience.
Could it be offensive?
Evaluate any images you are thinking of using under the microscope of looking to see if there is anything in the image that could offend someone—clothing, settings, gestures, actions. Remember, sensitivities are more heightened than ever, so an image that may not have seemed controversial before, may be now.
Is it ownable?
Is the image you want to use being used by a competitor? If you’re using stock photography and you put in the same search parameters as a rival, chances are it will be. If you can’t use original photography, do a thorough search to make sure no one else in your industry—or at least your region, is using it. It also helps to use rights-managed images, which may be used exclusively for a set period of time, as opposed to royalty-free images, which grant non-exclusive, unlimited use for a low fee, for this reason, they are more commonly used.
Is it usable?
Can the image be cropped properly for the space it will fit into? If the image is horizontal in orientation and you need something vertical, it may cause you to cut off an important part of the image. Many times, one stock image has several options, choose the one that works best for your messaging and your format.
Is it too literal?
While having the image make sense with your messaging and your brand is important, sometimes it’s nice to tease the viewer into reading your piece by using a more abstract concept to draw them in. If doing so, just make sure it meets the other standards we discussed.
The bottom line
Aside from your logo, the images you use in your advertising and marketing materials are often the first things most people notice about your brand. And while you can’t please everyone all of the time, by following the simple guidelines outlined above, you can create a more positive overall image for your brand.