Let’s Talk Pictures: The Importance of Brand Photography

If you’re like most people, you don’t know why you can recognize any given brand. You simply know that you do. In fact, you probably don’t even need to see the company’s name or logo to recognize a given brand’s ads, website, social media, packaging and products. There’s just something about the look and feel. Of course, in the world of marketing and branding, it’s our job to know how a well-crafted brand brings together multiple visual, verbal and tonal components to establish and reinforce a consistent experience at every point of contact. And one essential component of that identity and experience is brand photography.

Every picture tells a story (make sure it’s the one you want to tell)

We’ve all seen companies whose corporate photography consists of formal portraits of leaders, snapshots of products, and stock imagery. But those companies are hard to remember because a generic approach generates generic results.

By contrast, compelling, carefully curated brand photography communicates a specific look and feel. It will tell the story that the company wants you to know. And it will establish and reinforce a specific, visceral, emotional experience. In short, the right photography can and should be a critical component of any successful branding effort.

Here’s a snapshot of how it works

As part of our support for the Columbia Theological Seminary brand, we refreshed the institution’s photographic assets. The goal was to create a collection of brand imagery for a wide range of communications material across multiple electronic and print media — from websites and social media to university signage, course catalogs and fundraising campaigns.

Most importantly, the new photos would have to represent the feelings of warmth, spirituality, inspiration, and beauty that students, faculty and alums have long associated with Columbia. At the same time, the new imagery would also need to reflect the seminary’s diversity, dynamic of exploration, and connection to the future as its leaders embarked on a third century of spiritual and educational leadership.

Together with Columbia’s marketing leadership, we selected a photographer whose work demonstrated artistry and photojournalistic storytelling style. We sought to capture scenes of active engagement as well as images of quiet reflection. And we arranged two separate photo shoots — one in the spring and one in the fall — to show the seminary, its faculty, administrators, students and alums during two times of the year when the campus is most dramatically beautiful.

The first place where most people could see the new photos was in a fresh update to the Columbia Theological Seminary’s website. Jennifer Cuthbertson, Director of Marketing Communications at Columbia Theological Seminary, remarks, “The photos are the perfect highlight of the new website. Students and faculty have told us, ‘The site looks like us.’ And ‘It honors Columbia.’ I have to believe that is in no small part due to our fantastic photos.”

How to choose the right photographer for your brand

It would seem that the first step in selecting a brand photographer would be to review portfolios. There is undoubtedly a time and place for that step. But the first step is to define your brand identity, asking and answering a variety of key questions, which include (but are not limited to):

  • How should any point of engagement with your brand make people feel?
  • What story does your brand tell? What story should your brand tell?
  • Who needs to connect with your brand? What do you know about that/those audience(s)?
  • What do they want and need? What do they reject?
  • Which other brands is your audience likely to seek — and which brands are likely to seek your audience?
  • When are they likely to engage with your brand?
  • How and where are they likely to engage with your brand?

Once you’re armed with the answers to these questions, you can start exploring portfolios. Keep in mind that while it’s great to find imagery that could be part of your photo library, you’re also looking for a photographer who knows brand storytelling. Look for a portfolio whose images don’t all look the same. Seek a photographer willing to take creative risks to capture the right images. Talk to photographers about your brand — and listen not only for how well they repeat what you tell them but how well they extend the conversation and share ideas that demonstrate true understanding.

It’s a hefty effort, we know. This is why — full disclosure — we provide this kind of brand photography support for our clients all the time. It’s true that we have a few “favorite” photographers whose creativity, productivity, reliability and responsiveness consistently deliver results. But it’s part of our process to continually look for new talent who can elevate our work — and help our clients’ brands to shine.