Payless Shoes recently used branding to underscore the value of their shoes. Their clever marketing ploy reminds small business owners that branding imparts value. What value perceptions is your branding giving customers?
Stock photos for business websites are boring. I don’t care which website you’re looking at; most feature one or more of the following
- People in gray or black business attire around a conference table
- Hands at a keyboard/calculator
- Office buildings
- Binary code to make you think of “high tech”
- Two people shaking hands
Did I leave anything out?
Looking at this list, I notice one thing: a lack. A lack of zest, of creativity, of energy, of daring!
Unless your business is super conservative – and there are few of those left in this world – these photos are boring, clichéd, and (shudder) safe. So safe they blend into the woodwork like beige-painted walls.
Let’s not play it safe, shall we? Let’s be daring. Let’s talk like pirates. Let’s be bold, free, and most importantly – ourselves when it comes to images for our business websites!
Branding Through Images
Branding is more than the logo and colors chosen for your business. Branding actually consists of the spaces in between the tangible, the feelings and emotions evoked by a business. Diving deeply into your business through the feedback from your customers is the surest way I know to find your true brand image. Often what you believe is your brand isn’t your brand, but someone else’s ideas about your brand.
We carry with us the images of all of the things we have encountered throughout our lives, and this colors our perception of “what a business should look like.” Most of us are numb to the images we see daily around us. The billboards, the websites, the signs. We are used to what others think a bakery should look like, or a pet grooming service, or a marketing agency.
My own business suffered from this for years. I had vowed a long time ago not to resort to the old-typewriter look on my website. Too many copywriters, marketing writers and freelance writers use the typewriter as a metaphor for writing. But truly, how many companies hiring us these days even remember what a typewriter was, never mind realize it’s a symbol of a writer? The only industry still clinging to its ancient symbolic roots like this is the caduceus in medicine or the draft horses on the teamsters union sign.
Computer keyboards are, alas, a typical stand-in to demonstrate our finesse as writers, but does this truly exemplify what we do? I am no more a typist than I am a red-pen artist; I write and I edit, I create and I craft, I define and I refine.
But how do you visually express create, craft, define, refine?
My customers tell me they love working with me for the solid, dependable experience I bring to the encounter, the warmth of our working relationships, the feeling that I “get” their business and am able to express what’s in their hearts and minds about their own work. How do you express that visually?
Storytelling Includes Metaphors. So Should Can Your Brand Images.
Storytellers often use metaphors to express feelings. When metaphors become clichéd, they are boring and detract from the writing.
Visual storytellers or web designers must reach for metaphors, too. It’s easy to fall back on boring and clichéd visual metaphors such as hands hovering over a keyboard or concerned people seated around a conference table. Visual and verbal metaphors remain part of the common consciousness because they work, at least on the superficial level.
To truly stand out, however, you must dig deeply for your next metaphor. Your visual images should convey your brand attributes in ways that feel right for your business. My own brand visual includes references to nature; I am at home in nature, whether walking the woodland trails near my home or tending to my garden. It is in nature that I am myself, and in nature that I am most creative, so in nature do I place my business.
The metaphors I’ve chosen echo what clients say and what our company name reflects: oak, a solid wood, one of the strongest, symbol of the great Norse gods and of strength, durability, and power.
As you choose images for your website, consider your brand attributes.
Creativity? Reach for the creative. Think big! Black and white with splashes of color, interesting angles, close-ups or panoramas. Give your audience the unexpected, the jarring, the unique.
Attention to detail is your brand attribute? Think tiny, intricate photos of the weave of cloth, of frost on a windowpane, or cells in a leaf. All of these are available as stock photos you can license.
Professional? Ditch the men in business suits, please. Consider abstract prints, artistic swirls, or something fun. Consider unusual images that reflect your bright shining personality, not the personality of Big Corporate Culture.
Choosing and defining your brand takes time. Once you’ve figured it out, however, you’re well on your way to avoiding the stock photos for business websites that make you sleep syndrome. Be the wake-up call for your industry. Be the leader.
© Jeanne Grunert/Seven Oaks Consulting. Jeanne Grunert, also known as ‘the marketing writer’, is a veteran writer, editor, and content marketer. She is the president of Seven Oaks Consulting and can be reached via her website, www.marketing-writer.com
The image accompanying this post is not boring stock photography. It’s boring nature photography taken by yours truly.
Deacon Blue is one lucky lobster. A fisherman snagged him off the cost of Prince Edward Island, thinking he had accidentally caught a beer can in his trap. Imagine his surprise when old Deacon Blue waved a claw at him. Blue lobsters are rare, and this pretty boy is heading for an aquarium instead of a restaurant near you.
Reading the story today, I couldn’t help but be struck by how people value the different, the unique, to the point that they wish to save it, preserve it and display it. Think about. This guy was a hefty, juicy lobster. I haven’t eaten lobster in ages, but I remember it as being quite expensive. Surely the fisherman could have used the money.
Instead, Deacon Blue’s life is spared because he is unique.
Here’s what Professor Deacon Blue has to teach us about marketing: make sure you stand out from the crowd. Be unique, be different. Don’t be afraid to be a blue lobster. Instead of ending up in the stew pot along with every other person trying to sell the same thing, hopefully you’ll get the positive attention you need to attract customers and turn them into buyers and loyal fans.