Design

Planning & Collecting Photos for Small Business Marketing

Everyone hates stock photos… yet they are used constantly. How can that be?

It’s because collecting good photographs and imagery is much harder than you think. Without a large budget for professional photography, it requires long-term planning and a cultural shift in your organization.

You will need many photos in the course of marketing your business. Websites, print brochures, blog articles, social media posts, PR opportunities, etc. All will be improved with good visuals.

If you only think about photos in the moments you need them for some particular project you will be way behind. With a good plan, you can effectively create your own stock photo gallery that is far more personal and authentic than anything you can purchase.

The difficulty of producing quality photos is easily underestimated. You may routinely dazzle your personal Instagram followers but when you are on a deadline and need something that feels professional you’ll realize how few photos are keepers.

But you can rely on amateur photography if you approach the task strategically.

A big piece of the puzzle is committing to consistency and volume. With amateur photography, you’ll want a large collection of photos from which to pluck the gems.

You should harness the creativity of your entire team. Make it clear that creating a collection of photos to draw from is the responsibility of the group. Everyone has a phone camera and everyone can participate.

Look for ways to incentivize contributions. Try a weekly photo contest that recognizes people for their creativity. Try giving out little rewards to those that are making a real effort. It can and should be a fun process. Get your staff on board and you’ll suddenly have a team of iPhone toting photographers continually building a collection.

You can improve the results by providing your team with creative inspiration. Nurture a culture where everyone is constantly thinking about the imagery that defines your personality, story, process and product.

Hold routine brainstorming sessions and keep a running list of specific shots you want to capture. Get your team involved in that ideation process to harness their creativity and entice their enthusiasm. Establish a Dropbox or Google Drive account where people can easily upload their photos. A tagging system to keep pictures organized is also a good idea.

Coming up with the creative ideas for imagery is a big part of the challenge. Below are some photo types and examples that can provide a framework for brainstorming and hopefully trigger additional ideas.

Focus on the community

If you serve a particular geographic area, take pictures that reflect the community you serve. That could mean shots of local landmarks like a distinctive building or a gazebo in the town square. It could also be a landscape photo taken from the highest point in town.

Think about local visuals that all your customers will immediately recognize and associate with the community.

Showcase your toolkit

Collect images of the tools you use to get your job done. For a fine home builder the tools are quite obvious… they’re tools. Snap a few photos of the nail while framing or the cement truck when it arrives to pour the foundation.

For other businesses, the tool kit may be less obvious but it exists. A lawyer has a legal pad. A real estate agent has a sign. A yogi has a mat.

Those images become the static equivalent of B-roll for a website, blog or social post.

Reflect your customers

What photos would reflect the customer you serve? An inn can use visuals of the luggage their guests will certainly be toting. A caterer might want bride and groom shots.

Portray an event

Don’t miss the opportunity to gather photos at any events you and your team visits. If your staff attends a tradeshow, walks for charity, or has a ribbon cutting, be sure to have cameras out through the whole thing.

Diagnose the problem

Use images to document the problem you solve. An accountant serving small businesses could capture the unwieldy box of receipts from an unorganized client. A stone mason could show a collapsed rock wall or a crumbling chimney.

Before and after

Now that you have documented the problem, be sure to the capture the solution for a powerful before and after sequence. A landscaper can show the beautiful space salvaged from an overgrown mess. An engineering firm could display the detailed schematic that grew out of a rough sketch.

Highlight your personality

Not every photo has to relate directly to the work you perform. What images would reflect the personality and spirit of your brand and team?

Demonstrate creativity with photos of your team working on an artistic personal project. If you’re fun and like to cut loose, get some pics of the team clinking glasses at happy hour. Get shots of office dog under your desk.

Introduce the team

Your most important asset is likely your team. Get as many pictures of them as possible. Candids, portraits, solos, group shots, in the office, out and about, with their pets, pursuing their hobbies, hard at work, hard at play… everything!

That collection will convey the human side of your company.

Show the work getting done

An author could show herself parked in front of the computer, signing books or at the podium of a speaking engagement. A university should collect shots of professors engaging with students. A chef peeling an enormous pile of potatoes conveys the work that goes into every step.

Feature your workspace

Provide additional context for your audience with images of your work spaces. Include your office or desk but get more creative with it as well. A law firm could capture shots of an empty courtroom. A bakery might take close-ups inside the oven.

Document your process

Try presenting visuals from your planning or creative process. You could use a series of images that show the evolution of your product design. Or capture your team gathered around the whiteboard in a brainstorming session.

Display your raw materials

Get pics of the raw materials that drive your business. A farm shouldn’t just shoot the produce – photograph the seed. Caterers could snap shots of the grocery delivery. Manufacturers might have a huge rack of sheet metal that would make a perfect background image.

Show products in the wild

Don’t stop at staged product images – document your product or service in use. A builder could bring life to a client’s kitchen renovation with shots of a family dinner. Or a designer could show where their work is being displayed.

Get artsy

Get a bit more abstract and symbolic with images that represent your value. A sapling could convey personal growth. A rocket ship could represent business growth. Just don’t use those ideas exactly because they are really cliché - but you get the idea.

SUMMARY

  • Stock photos suck – collect your own imagery whenever you can
  • Have a long term photo collection plan and weave it into the company culture
  • Enlist the help of your team and inspire their creativity
  • Create a system that makes it easy to contribute and organize photos
  • Provide a framework of the types of images you want

Photo types to consider:

  1. Focus on the community
  2. Showcase your toolkit
  3. Reflect your customer
  4. Portray an event
  5. Diagnose the problem
  6. Before and after
  7. Highlight your personality
  8. Introduce the team
  9. Show the work getting done
  10. Feature your workspace
  11. Document your process
  12. Display your raw materials
  13. Show products in the wild
  14. Get artsy

Packaging Your Marketing Project for a Designer

People often think they are less creative than they really are - That, or they think they are more creative than they really are. That leads to some challenges when they work with professional designers on a project.

You may be interested in the creative process and have a vision for how the final product should come out. The danger there is giving too much direction and preventing the designer from taking ownership of the project. It will stifle their passion and creativity.

Or you can go the other way. You may underestimate your abilities and want to leave it all to the expert. But no design professional can do their best work without having all the information they need - that means you need to be involved. As with anything, weak inputs produce weak output.

When you’re working with a designer your goal should be to strike a balance. Give them any and all information they need to produce their best work without getting in the way of their creative process.

Here are my suggestions for how to stay very involved in the process and positively impact the result, without suffocating and frustrating your creatives.

Define Why, When and How the Design Will Be Used

Spend the time to really think through all the use cases for the design you’re discussing because it could really influence the design and requirements.

Let’s think about a logo project as an example. Some uses, like on the website or office sign, will be obvious. Others can become a troublesome afterthought if you’re not careful.

Does your logo need to look good when it’s shrunk down to a very small size for a business card? Will it appear in black and white - perhaps in your local newspaper?

Does it need to be incorporated into the design of your actual product? You might want your logo molded, stamped or etched into your product. If it needs to be worked into the manufacturing process you may need to think about how a particular design impacts your tooling requirements.

Do you need a variation that will work as a thumbnail for your social media profiles? Hint: The answer is yes.

What various background colors will the logo be placed on? You may need inverted variations where one version uses color A as the dominant color and another version that uses color B as the dominant color.

Are there any pieces of company swag you have your heart set on? Your logo may need to look good in a single color in order to be etched into the side of your company pint glasses just the way you want.

Spending the time to think through all the settings in which your design will be utilized will save time and result in a better final product.

Design for Your Target Audience

Hopefully you’ve already taken the time to develop detailed buyer personas that reflect the preferences and personality of your target audience. Sharing those personas can be a great starting point for your designer.

A successful design needs to be targeted to the audience you’re after. A particular look may resonate with midwestern, middle aged, female executives but do nothing for young, tech savvy, urban males.

A great designer is an expert on visual preferences of different types of people and how they will perceive design differences. But that designer can’t be expected to know exactly who your target audience is unless you help  them understand.

You may have developed your buyer personas as a means of focusing your internal marketing and sales teams but the usefulness doesn’t end there. Don’t deprive your designer of that same advantage.

Reflect the True Personality of Your People and Brand

Design decisions should of course be made with the preferences and tastes of your target audience in mind - but that shouldn’t be the only guide.

Every aspect of your business, especially design elements that will play a big role in first impressions, should accurately reflect your brand and your people.

A design that feels fast paced, sleek and powerful is great for some businesses. But if your business is more accurately characterized as friendly, generous with time, and charmingly dorky then it’s a bad design for you. You’ll disappoint the people you do attract and scare off the folks that would have loved you.

Make sure your designer gets a feel for who the company and key people really are. A design that reflects your personality is going to feel authentic. That will accomplish much more than something beautiful but misleading.

Know What Your Competitors Are Doing

Provide a list of your competitors and the designs they use in similar settings.

You’re competitors shouldn’t be a place of inspiration - you don’t want to mimic them. But design presents an additional opportunity for differentiation.

You want to be sure your look isn’t too similar to your competitors. You likely already fill a particular niche or cater to a certain personality type. Your designs can and should reflect that positioning.

Provide Examples to Illustrate Your Design Preferences

Spend some time refining your own tastes by finding examples of other designs you like.

Use Evernote or create a Pinterest board so you can capture images you like and easily share them with your designer.

Don’t try to find the perfect example or two. You’ll either end up with a design that feels like a knockoff or you’ll be disappointed that it isn’t close enough. Find lots of examples where you like some particular element. Try to find and share at least a dozen or so.

As you find more and more examples of designs you like, it will make it easier to identify the common elements that define your tastes.

Be sure to include notes about what you like about each one - and be detailed. “I like how these two utilize negative space.” “I like how the soft colors in this one feel friendly and inviting.” “I think the clean lines here give a sense of expertise and organization.”

Just don’t expect your designer to replicate the examples you provide. The examples should merely be a way to facilitate a conversation about your tastes.

Understand How Color Impacts Perception

If you’re working with a well established brand your color decisions were probably made long ago. However, if it’s a new brand or complete overhaul then color choices are a major element of the design.

We’ve all had ideas about what our “favorite colors” are since we were kids. Our feelings about color are heavily influenced by our subconscious and we rarely give it much concrete thought. But when you’re embarking on a design project intended to influence others, it’s important to more precisely understand the ways that color can impact people’s feelings.

The slightest shifts in tone, texture or opacity can have a big impact on first impressions and associations. The emotional response to a color can also be influenced by the viewer’s cultural or geography.

Spend some time researching general color associations so you’re at least in a position to have an informed conversation. Learning the basics can help you discuss the topic, better understand your own preferences, and articulate why you love or hate a particular color scheme.

But remember not to be too rigid. A good designer likely has a better handle on the psychology of color choices than you. So don’t go in with a list of exact colors. Give your expert the opportunity to find the perfect combination based on what they know about you, your customers and your business.

Get Your Artists on the Same Canvas

Take steps to ensure that your various creative and artistic elements will work well together.

None of those elements will live in a vacuum and they must be cohesive. Your copy lives along with your UX which lives with your graphic design which lives with your photography and video. But those pieces are often created by different people.

It may make sense to get those people working together directly - or you may need to serve as the hub. Just remember that each will influence the other and they’ll all need to be aligned on message, brand personality, customer personality, space limitations, color, use case and more.

Talk to your creatives about how they like to work with the others and do your best meet those needs.

 

Summary

  • Strike a balance - Empower you designer with information but let them do the designing
  • Take the time to define exactly how the finished product will be used - It’ll come out better
  • Introduce your designer to your customers with buyer personas
  • Help your designer understand actual personality of your people and brand
  • Watch what your competitors are doing and go another way
  • Provide examples of designs you love and why - But don’t expect a knocked-off version
  • Understand the psychological undertones of color
  • Make sure all your creatives are working in the same direction