Do you have an image strategy for your ethical brand?

Do you have an image strategy for your ethical brand?

We all know how important images are in marketing. With so many demands for people’s attention, sharing images can often put over a message much more quickly than text can. However, the images you choose are really important for conveying the right message to your audience.

I would suggest that as an ethical brand you should be using different styles of photography for different messages.

Right image, right message

It is really important to use the right type of image for different messages. As an ethical brand, you are not just focused on selling your product or service – you are inspired by doing business for good – for a positive outcome. Maybe for the environment or for people’s health or social justice. You are likely to be involved in or committed to certain campaigns or causes. You want to help your audience learn more about the reasons they should engage with you but also to educate them about wider issues.

You also want to take people on a journey with you, which means you want to gain their trust that you're the right brand for them and that you are doing more than just selling to them.

Three styles of imagery

So, as an ethical brand, it's important that you choose the right style of image to suit the message you are conveying to your audience. With my clients, I suggest that there are three different types of message and corresponding image:

  1. A straight forward sales message illustrated by a studio shot if you sell physical products or you sell services as an individual or team
  2. Showing how your brand can fit into your customer's life by using a lifestyle image set in the place where your product/service could be used or even in an unexpected
  3. A campaigning message which shows your customers the issues you are concerned about and the campaigns you are involved in.

Product images

So there are times when you just want to be direct and tell your audience about a specific product. You might have some changes or improvements to talk about, you have a special offer or a new product. This is the time when it's fine to use a studio image with the product itself as the hero. Like the image below for my client, Greenscents, taken by Richard Budd.

Greenscents marketing

So make sure that you have a bank of images of all your products available for use. You may also need to share these with third parties who sell your products themselves or with whom you are collaborating on a specific offer.

Lifestyle images

These type of images bring your product to life. People don't want to be sold to all the time and using product images continually on a social channel like Instagram can make your feed look very pushy and samey (is that a word?!). You can show your prospective customers how well you would fit into their lives and provide the answers they are looking for. It allows them to buy from the heart and makes them feel good about their decision - people always buy with emotion and then justify it with logic. You need to understand the feeling you are aiming to instill in your potential client/supporter and illustrate that in your image.

This image of the kitchen at the eco-holiday apartment I promote in Italy allows potential guests to picture themselves cooking delicious, Italian fresh produce with a bottle of local sparkling wine on ice!

villa in the vineyard marketing

If you sell a product, you could have it subtly on display in this type of arrangement or you could simply show a scene which is relevant to your product and inspires those feelings you are looking to convey. I would do a mixture of the two: some with product and some without.

If you sell your products through others, these sort of lifestyle shots are often popular for them to use on their own social channels and it helps them with their own image budget.

Campaigning images

This is a dimension where you can really engage as an ethical, purpose-driven brand. The campaigns you get involved in should fit perfectly with why you set up your business. With climate crisis and green issues in the media every day, mainstream companies are looking to highlight their CSR credentials and be seen to be involved in popular campaigns, such as reducing plastic or being more transparent. But consumers will quickly find out if these claims are genuine and whether they are truly a foundation of the company taking part.

fashion revolution nikki mattei

Obviously, you need to choose campaigns that have a real connection with your business and this is easy to do as an ethical brand. You don't need to try and shoehorn yourself to fit - like some larger mainstream companies might. Campaign assets are usually open source so you should be able to choose from a selection of images - like the quote above from Vivienne Westwood, which was created by Fashion Revolution, the global campaign I worked with for 4 years. Using quotes like this is a different way to get across your message and can often work even better than an image, standing out if you don't use them too often.

DIY or professional?

In these days of smartphones everyone has become a photographer but I have always been someone who endorses working with professionals. If you have a limited budget, I would recommend that you work with a professional photographer to do your product shots and maybe a selection of lifestyle ones, showing your product in a suitable setting. If you plan your marketing campaign in advance, say for 6 months, then you should be able to predict what shots you will need, to tie in with certain campaigns or themes for example. This will mean that the photographer can plan his/her time and get the most for your budget. You may decide to have a monthly contract to spread the cost.

You could also use a photo library for lifestyle shots which don't feature your products. I use 123rf as they are well-priced but there are lots out there and this can help your budget.

There will also be occasions where you can take photos yourself of course. When you want to show a real life situation which is not too 'polished'. You might be taking part in a local show or exhibition. You might be outside in nature.

Managing your images

I find one of the most challenging parts of an image strategy is managing all the images you end up with! Not-to-mention video as well. You need to come up with a way of storing your images, maybe Dropbox or Google Drive, and being able to find them quickly when you need them. Personally, I have folders for my clients for product shots and collections, for example, and then I have folders for each monthly theme as well as for blogs and newsletters. You need to find the best way that works for you otherwise you can get overloaded with images and spend hours trying to find the right one.

If you take regular images yourself on a phone, remember to review them maybe weekly nd save the ones you want to your folders.

The other thing to remember when briefing a photographer or taking shots yourself is that you will need different sizes/proportions for different channels. This will make sure that your image is always the best quality and is viewed in full when a link to it is shared online. With the importance of stories on social media, you will need to make sure that you have images which work in a portrait format and have enough space for text/gifs etc. Do check the recommended sizes for different media, such as blogs, the social channels you use etc as these can change.

It's worth spending the time

Visual impact is so important in marketing today that following some of my advice is time very well spent to ensure that you get the most out of your photography/image budget and achieve maximum impact across all your marketing channels.

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