May 16, 2018 / in Comms Best Practices / by Maggie Latham

In the age of social media marketing, visuals are important because they quickly reach busy and distracted consumers. Although people say they love data, a recent study shows that images have a greater psychological impact than statistics, even when the amount of exposure is roughly equal.

Vision and the Human Brain

But why do visuals work so well instantly? It’s because humans have evolved to survive threat as well as find food and reproductive mates through our vision. When an advertisement or social media post includes an image with a lot of text or a long caption, the human brain has to process each word like a tiny picture and that takes awhile. In contrast, the images themselves provoke an immediate visceral response, creating less of a chance to be overlooked and a greater chance that the meaning will be quickly understood.  

To better understand this concept check out this Ted Talk video, "3 Ways the Brain Creates Meaning," by Tom Wujec:

Images also help with memory. When people hear information, they’re likely to remember only 10 percent of that information three days later. However, if a relevant image is paired with that same information, people retained 65 percent of the information three days later. This is why brand storytellers must make multimedia part of their strategic plans, and invest in a thoughtful visual strategy if they want to make a lasting impact with their work.

Photography is Powerful

Photography is a particularly useful visual medium. It plays a unique role in triggering the network of brain regions that underlie empathy. Our muscles actually imitate what we see someone doing in photography and then transmit the info to the brain so that we have an emotional reaction. This causes a strong sense of empathy and is why photography can be so useful to capture someone’s attention. The image below, for example, is compelling because it conveys a sense of intimacy and tension between the two women. These are feelings we can relate to by just looking at their facial expressions and body language.


Untitled, 1974 by William Eggleston, 1974 Wilson Centre for Photography, copyright Eggleston Artistic Trust

With this research in mind, photography is very powerful and therefore it needs to be used wisely. Working with experienced, creative photographers can help create effective images. Here are a few ways to significantly elevate your brand’s visual story:

Create Custom Quality Images

Quality visuals are becoming more important as consumption habits change. There are more brand choices as well as people that are becoming increasingly aware of the time they are spending on social media. This means that audiences are better at being able to spot high-quality, authentic images and will respond positively to that.

Stock images can be easily detected, especially these days when the trend is towards “lo-fi” Instagram photography. People can tell stock shots are staged and insincere, leading to a negative perception of your brand that may not be easy to reverse on the Internet. Check out our advice on Instagram best practices for more on this topic.

What makes a quality image? It takes a magical combination of skill and creativity. The key is to find a photographer who has both of these talents and whose work could translate well into your brand image. A seamless example of this is photographer Dean Chalkley and his work with Ray Ban’s Clubmaster Remastered line. When the brand recreated new vintage-style shades they also asked some of the best contemporary artists to re-master their favorite fifties and sixties musical tracks in their own individual way.

When Ray Bans also offered exclusive performances around the globe, Chalkey took photographs of the artists, some while they were performing. With an eye and interest in vintage rock n’ roll already, Chalkley’s photographs are crisp, lively, and perfect for the Ray Bans revamp campaign. Most importantly these photos have a sincere quality.

dean chalkley

Tell a Story Authentically

Consumers are progressively interested in candid everyday photographs. According to an infographic from the agency Bonfire Marketing, 91 percent of customers want brands they follow to be authentic in their social media posts. Visual storytelling has been used in advertising for a long time, but now consumers want to see real people living their story, not just posing and smiling.

For example, photographer Olivia Bee shoots images of an actual road-trip with her friends for the skateboard shoe and retail company Vans. Her world naturally matches the vibe of the brand, so the result is a series of unique yet authentic photos.

Depicted are early 20-somethings having fun on the road who seem to just happen to be wearing vans. The subtle style that comes along with realism is often more important than obvious branding.

Jane Sievert, the director of photography at Patagonia, succinctly states this point saying “to me, authentic storytelling is the best brand marketing, we’re far more interested in the spirit of the photo than if the person is wearing our latest style or the logo is apparent.

Olivia Bee


Connect With Your Target Audience

A photograph can be unique and authentic, but that doesn’t matter if consumers can’t relate to it. Making sure that the scenery and people in the photo are relevant to your target audience is also essential.

Peter Larson, a Cleveland-based photographer, did a shoot for Google photo’s campaign #easythrowback. It includes photos of millennials hanging out, bowling, and laughing together. The action is relatable and the locations feel like everyday places. With these pictures, Google photos was able to reach their younger target audience.

Peter Larson Photo;

Another example of connecting to a target audience is photographer Matt Alberts’ LIFERS Project. When asking for a vehicle to complete this project, he partnered with Cadillac to create “The Seasons Collection,” a multi-media photography collection of adventure sports-driven stories about people who push the limits in pursuit of their passion.

Alberts’ uses wet collodion photography, a 19th-century technique known for its sensitivity to ultraviolet light, long exposure times and enduring images. This vintage technique could grab the attention of the action-sports crowd as well as the creative scene.

For instance, some people may follow Matt Albert’s LIFERS series because it looks cool and depicts their favorite skateboarders while artists might be compelled by his overall technique. For Cadillac, this is a whole new range of an audience that they are able to connect with through Albert’s multi-faceted LIFERS project.  

It is equally important to realize the enduring psychological potency of photography as a marketing tactic as well as the trends that make it special today. With increasing accessibility to consumers through social media, the power of visual storytelling is at it’s highest potential. Consider collaborating with a photographer who can create customized, authentic and relatable images to improve your brand.

For tips on how to use your multimedia to enhance your brand’s image, read our whitepaper The Best Multimedia Content Guide for PR Success.

multimedia contetn guide cta

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About Maggie Latham

Maggie Latham is an artist/designer, writer and small business owner. She has written for Cision on the topics of brand design, social media marketing and conscious business.