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What is it they say? A picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Selecting the images and visuals for your marketing strategy is about finding the ones that not only support your brand story but also resonate with customers and prospects. It’s a challenge, though, because images are personal and evoke emotion. That’s what they are supposed to do. But there’s a fine line between an image that appeals to your target demographic and one that turns them off.

That’s one role imagery plays in your marketing strategy. They also are used to differentiate your business, keep it top-of-mind, and get your consumers to take the actions you want them to take. This article will explain how to select images and visual elements that can help make your marketing and branding efforts soar.

Imagery: The basics

First, selecting the right image or visual isn’t about you. It’s about your customers and prospects. And while you might love a certain photo, illustration, or web page design, but your market research tells you your target audience hates it, listen to the research.

In any case, the visuals should convey the history, mission, goals, and personality of your business. The trick is making all that synch up with what appeals to your market—no words needed. And that takes some digging and a lot of thinking.

Brand imagery is a tool in your brand identity toolbox. It represents the visual representation of your company’s reputation, promise, and vision. It’s what you want people to think, feel, and do when they see your logo, photos, and illustrations on your marketing materials, even the way the elements on your web page work together.

The best brand imagery is multi-sensory. Consider:

  • Does an icy, wet image of a bottle of Coca-Cola make you taste it?
  • Can a clear and colorful picture of a steaming Domino’s pizza make you smell it?
  • Might an image of a North Face puffer jacket allow you to feel its warmth on a winter day?

Types of brand imagery

Anything that people don’t have to read falls into the category of brand imagery, including:

  • Animation
  • Backgrounds
  • Color palettes
  • Composition rules
  • Emojis
  • Filters
  • Icons
  • Illustrations
  • Infographics
  • Logos
  • Memes
  • Photos
  • Slide presentations
  • Typography
  • UI components

Some imagery falls within companies’ brand standards: the color palette, logo, and photos. Others depend on a brand’s personality needs, such as memes and videos.

How brand images build brand image

Think about McDonald’s for a minute. Some of these images probably come to mind:

  • Golden arches
  • Photos of luscious burgers, fries, and other menu items
  • The shade of golden yellow on its “order now” button on its website and app
  • The reds and golds used in its restaurant décor
  • The colors and images used on its food packaging
  • Happy, smiling people, all dressed in clothing that matches the color palette.

Even if you’ve never been inside a McDonald’s, you’ve driven past thousands of them and have probably seen a million commercials. So, you don’t need to see anything but its brand imagery to know whose story its telling.

The importance of brand imagery

Everyone in the McDonald’s empire—from the counter people to the marketing team, designers, architects, and executives are involved in maintaining that imagery. It is fundamental to the brand identity. From the first trip to every one after that, every customer knows what to expect—consistency. A McDonald’s anywhere looks the same as a McDonald’s everywhere else, and the food tastes the same. The investment in consistent brand imagery has allowed McDonald’s to create a unique language.

And what’s good for McDonald’s is good for your small business.

What does effective brand imagery accomplish?

When you scale the McDonald’s brand imagery strategy to fit your business and market, you can expect to achieve the same benefits as the burger empire. Your brand imagery strategy is fundamental to:

  • Creating a coherent visual identity that engages your customer in the brand
  • Differentiating your brand from the competition
  • Presenting the market with a clear and memorable impression that inspires brand loyalty
  • Telling your brand story at a glance
  • Evoking positive emotions (Customers buy on emotion; they justify the decision with logic.)
  • Connecting your brand with your market

When thinking about your brand imagery, keep in mind the marketing maxim, “People buy on emotion; they justify the buy with logic.” Imagery evokes emotion.

Develop brand imagery guidelines for your business

Establishing your brand’s visual identity is part of the overall branding exercise. There are any number of ways to approach it. Here are a few things to think about while working through it.

How do you describe your business?

What’s your elevator speech? How do you describe your company’s market, how it serves that market, what makes it unique, and why you do it. Now boil it down to 30 seconds. It can also help point the way to a visual look and feel that will work for your company.

What three words describe the personality of your business?

Imagery isn’t about words. It’s about how colors, photos and illustrations, and typefaces convey words. Try this exercise: Pay attention to how TV advertisers use color to support their brand personality. For instance:

  • A smart company may use shades of serious dark blue, charts and infographics, and a formal serif font.
  • An earth-friendly business could express its brand virtues through the color green, pictures of trees and the sky, and a modern, clean typeface.
  • A folksy brand could use pastel tones, pictures of people, and a handwritten font.

What are your company’s values?

Your business values are what’s most important to it. If you can express your essential business values, you’ll find the essence of your visual brand and what it must convey.

What brands do you like, and why do you like them?

You never want to copy another company’s brand. It will seem inauthentic. However, studying other brands can help you identify elements you like that you could incorporate into yours.

What do you want people to feel when they experience your brand?

Understanding the emotions you want to bring out in your target customers when they engage with your brand will help you develop your visual guidelines.

  • A soothing brand will feature cozy images and shades of calming blue.
  • A dynamic one will be based on exciting pictures and pops of hot colors.
  • A patriotic brand will present flag images and represent itself with red, white, and blue.

Is your business associated with a time or place?

Time and place can play an essential role in visual branding for businesses connected to a location, era, or both (think Philly cheesesteaks and Colonial Williamsburg). If this is the case with your business, consider:

  • Using images that represent a period in history or location.
  • Choosing historical or modern typefaces.
  • Selecting brand colors that evoke a moment in time (parchment beige) or a place (pacific blue).

In many cases, history or locale can bring out powerful feelings in consumers.

Develop a visual style guide

Once you’ve established your visuals guidelines, document them in a style guide section of your brand standards. Do not disregard its importance, even if you don’t have the time or expertise to do it all. Work with brand experts or graphic designers like the ones available through Sales Maven. Just share the answers to the questions in the previous section with us, along with any other insights about how you want to represent your brand. A graphic design professional or brand expert can organize them into a visual brand guide.

Once it’s done, share it with everyone who does design work for you and educate them on critical points and ensure compliance across website, social media posts, newsletters, and anywhere else you will project your brand. It’s also important to get your team on board; remember, McDonald’s expects everybody in its organization to maintain its brand imagery standards.