Brand Strategy

How to Find & Use Great Photography to Build Your Brand

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I have a confession to make.

I'm a little bit of a digital photography hoarder.  I have terabytes of photos.  Some are my own.  Some are from stock subscriptions.  Many are from the growing number of sites where photographers give their photos away. 

Gorgeous amazing photos that are offered free of charge and free of restriction.  If you can't take your own relevant image, unrestricted photos are the way to go.

But there is a method to using these images well.  Every image is not equal.  Every image is not relevant.  Some are beautiful photography, but simply do not fit your brand vibe. 

1. Find Your Brand Aesthetic

Before you can find or create images that will fit your brand aesthetic, you have to know what that aesthetic is.  What is you signature "look"?  Are you moody or airy, minimal or feminine, dark or bright?

Clean + Bright

Vintage + Moody

A screen grab of  @TwinSparrowCo , who makes the most gorgeous leather key chains + illustrated notebooks

A screen grab of @TwinSparrowCo, who makes the most gorgeous leather key chains + illustrated notebooks

Light + Airy

A screen grab of  @LisaSilvaPhotography , an incredible fine art wedding photographer + sweet friend

A screen grab of @LisaSilvaPhotography, an incredible fine art wedding photographer + sweet friend

There is a reason why we can recognize Anthropologie or Calvin Klein or Target.  They have a look.  And it is consistent.  What is your look?  What sets you apart?  If you aren't sure or haven't nailed that bit down, pause and go surf Instagram.  Take note of the accounts with looks that light you up inside.  What about the look stands out to you?  Analyze it.  Why does it speak to you?  Find at least 3 accounts with looks you love, that feel like you'd fit into.  Make notes.  Then create some aesthetic guidelines for your own imagery.  Use these guidelines to determine whether an image is a good brand fit or not for your visuals.

I love Twin Sparrow Co's look.  I love it all the way to my toes and back.  But it is not my aesthetic.  Where as Lisa's look is much closer to my own.  (Go follow them on Instagram.  They are amazing.)

2. Understand What Types of Images There Are & How You Can Use Them

Gone is the time you can hop on Google Image search and just pull an image out of the internet stratosphere.  If you are going to be using images in your social media and in your blogging for your business, it is really important to know how you can use them legally.  This is not an exhaustive list, in no way meant to be legal advice or meant to cover every circumstance. That said here are a few of the most common photo usage scenarios.

  • PHOTOS YOU HAVE TAKEN:  They are yours!  You can use them however you like.
  • PHOTOS PHOTOGRAPHERS HAVE TAKEN: If paid, make sure you have permission to use them online and specify what they will be used for.  Get permission in writing. If done in collaboration, again specify what is and is not acceptable, preferably in writing.  In both cases, clearly credit the photographer and get permission to edit if you are going to need to do so.  Seriously.  Ask first. 
  • STOCK PHOTOS PURCHASED ONLINE: Make sure you read the license agreement and honor it.  Most stock photo sites require crediting, though some do not.
  • PHOTOS YOU FIND ON PINTEREST:  Just nabbing a photo from Pinterest without researching it first is bad form.  Find out where it came from and get permission before using it.  Make sure you credit it clearly as well.
  • PHOTOS YOU FIND THROUGH GOOGLE, FLICKR OR SEARCHES: Unless clearly marked otherwise, assume the image is copyright protected.  Some photos will have permissions to share with credit or other qualifications for usage.
  • PHOTOS THAT ARE CC0 OR COPYRIGHT FREE: Crediting is appreciate but not required.  You can edit these photos and use them however you like! This is where we are going to focus from here on out.

3. Where to Find Amazing CC0 Images for FREE

There is a whole counter stock photography movement where incredible photographers offer gorgeous images free of restriction.  They give them away.  Below are a few of my favorite CC0 image sites.  There is some overlap of certain content but all 3 are worth perusing.

  • UNSPLASH.COM: This is arguable my favorite.  The images are consistently high quality.  Sign up for an account to like photos and organize them into your own collections (like folders).  You can also surf other folks collections.  It is very easy to get lost in all the beauty.
  • PIXABAY.COM: This is largest collection of CC0 images that I am aware of online.  There are a greater selection to chose from but the quality varies a bit more.  But you can search and narrow results by color, file type and orientation which can be really helpful.
  • PEXELS.COM: A smaller collection but absolutely beautiful.

OTHER PLACES TO FIND CC0 IMAGES:  These sites have a wide range of quality and subject matter.  Always double check the image license if there is any doubt.

4. How to Make CC0 Images Work for Your Brand

Here are some tips to make the most out of the CC0 images you find.  Some of these also can be applied to purchased royalty-free stock photography, just always double check the usage agreement for any restrictions.

  • Edit the tonality, brightness and crop of the image.  My aesthetic is very bright and clean, with some pops of color.  I use SnapSeed on my phone to do the first round of edits and usually bump up the brightness and highlights of the image at a minimum.  The second round of phone edits usually happens in Instagram's native editor before posting.
  • Add words using Canva.com or an app on your phone like WordSwag.
  • Use the images to tell the visual part of a story and your caption written in your brand voice to tell the rest.
  • Create a consistent narrative both with your visuals and your voicing.  When in doubt, leave it out.
  • Intersperse CC0 or Royalty-Free stock photos with your original content to keep your feed fresh, unique and relevant.

5. Beautiful, Affordable Royalty-Free Stock Photography

These images are gorgeous and won't break the budget.  And there are no affilite links here, I'm just sharing what I love.

Branding Is More Than Your Logo

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What's the first thing that comes to mind when you heard the word "branding"?  A logo?  A color scheme?  If you said yes, you are not alone.  That's why so many people outsource their brand design to a graphic designer only to wind up frustrated with the results. Most graphic designers are not also brand and business strategists.

And we don't have time for you to be frustrated or for you to not get a great return on your investment, right?

 So here is a little post explaining the differences between branding, marketing and design and how they all play a winning game together.  {Yup, I'm using a sports analogy.  I promise it has nothing to do with watching my hometown Jacksonville Jaguars crush their NFL playoffs in the background.}

Let's break it down.

Branding is about who you are.  Marketing is about creating awareness & attracting attention based on and highlighting who you are & what you offer. Graphic design is the process, skills and tools used to create the visual elements of your brand identity and marketing campaigns.  

Branding is about identity. Marketing is about information. Branding is about big picture strategy. Marketing is about metrics and tactical goals to implement that strategy.
 

Branding shapes marketing, not the other way around.  You have to know who you are before you can boldly introduce who you are to the world.

Another way to look at it is that marketing is the vehicle used to deliver your brand message to your target audience. Marketing is ever changing and evolving as the channels for your message change over time.  Your brand however remains constant, clear, recognizable.

Branding is central and primary to every other marketing tactic.  It actually defines which tools and tactics your company should use.  Branding creates and cultivates customer experience and expectations. It is the base upon which customer loyalty is built and anchored.

For marketing to be truly successful it must be rooted in a strong brand identity.  {No matter how well you are pitched, please do not invest in expensive marketing tactics until you have a solid brand strategy to guide their use.}

While brand strategists and consultants can play invaluable roles helping you define and develop your brand, your brand itself cannot be outsourced. 

Find this helpful?  ↑Share the love on Pinterest.

Find this helpful?  ↑Share the love on Pinterest.

You can't outsource your brand because can’t outsource who you are.  Branding infuses everything you and your team members say and do. Every interaction, every decision is either strengthening or weakening your brand. 

Marketing, however, can and often should be outsourced to firms who specialize in handling practical tactics and detailed implementation, after a strategy congruent to your brand identity has been chosen.

Graphic designers that may not understand brand strategy can still design you beautiful visual elements.  But without the strategy to inform those designs, you might not be communicating the right message to the right people.

BRANDING

  • Identity
  • Big picture strategy
  • Shapes marketing
  • Central & primary
  • Cannot be fully outsourced, you can't outsource who you are
  • Driver of organizational culture

MARKETING

  • Information
  • Metrics & tactics to implement strategy & measure impact
  • Vehicle used to deliver brand message to target audience
  • Can and often should be outsourced

GRAPHIC DESIGN

  • Image creation & design implementation
  • Determined by brand strategy & marketing goals
  • Can and often should be outsourced

The truth is: you ARE a brand.  Whether you want one or not, you are a brand that is added to or detracted from with every decision, choice and action you take

Your graphics are not your brand, but they are an incredibly important part of your brand.  Your graphics are a visual execution of your brand identity that let's you communicate with you customer base.

The problem is in the mad rush to attract customers, do our thing and beat the bottom line, sometimes we rush right past what may be the most important part of all: clearly defining who we are.

Great branding is about authentic story-telling and clear, creative communication that reflects accurately your identity to your audience.  Great branding invites your customers to become an integral part of your story line. Because they are.  Integral.  To everything.  Your customer is always the hero of your story.

Branding is the soul of your company, your organization and your work.  It affects every area of your business.  From marketing to organizational culture, your brand story will drive both customer and employee experience.

That’s why you should never trust your brand development to a straight-up marketing firm unless they have a dedicated branding division with proven track record of helping their clients discover who they are at deeper levels and building congruent visual identities and brand strategies.

Many marketing firms say they have branding divisions.  But they don’t.  They have graphic design divisions.  If your “branding expert” isn’t asking you soul searching questions that unlock more of who you are, there is a good chance you might not be dealing with a true branding expert. 

Marketing pushes may bring new customers to come in your door but they will do little to keep customers coming back.  Your brand identity is what causes new customers to become loyal consumer advocates of who you are.

If your brand is not authentically defined and artfully designed, marketing efforts will become a cost center instead of an income generator. While some may debate the finer differences, branding is strategic while marketing is tactical and metric.  

Strategy defines tactics, not the other way around.  Who you are shapes what you do and everything else.