Product brands have been superstars forever. From Apple to Tiiffany’s to Eddie Bauer, distinctive retail brands link word and image beautifully. Their success and power moves well beyond brand guidelines and logos—the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Naturally instant brand recognition provokes an emotional response. Words and images are spokes on a wheel. Working together seamlessly to create meaningful impressions and shape buying behaviors. You can probably think of lots of other retail brands whose presentations you trust. But what about the professional-services space? Or institutional firms? What are their challenges?
You can’t control how someone “reads” your brand. Some like the pictures. Some like the words and get the information there. Time and care has to be invested in both. A brand’s essence may in fact be supported by words on the page. But with weak images there can be a disconnect. Both the words and pictures must be telling the story.
For smaller firms, common mistakes can occur in templated web sites. The writing may be terrific. But if random photos are used, if words and images are not linked, the message is rarely cohesive and lacks clarity. Often, taking these short cuts makes the brand seem less professional and not differentiated.
Today’s stock-photo libraries are treasure chests of gorgeous images. The trick becomes taking the time to investigate these libraries in two ways. One, find powerful photos that support your messaging. Two, make sure the images have a relationship to each other. Original photography gets expensive and is not always needed. If you rely on stock, make sure your images are unified and connected.
Here’s a simple test that can help keep you on track. For a recent web reinvention, we developed three design concepts and pulled 20 images for each. We then spread those photos side by side, to see how connected they were to each other. Ask yourself: why am I using a photo here? Does it support the core story?
Using a particular image without a strong visual strategy is like putting the picture of a stranger in your family album. If you don’t have the time or resources to hire someone, and you’re not sure how to proceed, avoid using images without a good rationale. Or use a single strong image throughout a templated site to keep it simple. Less can be more.