5 Tips for Choosing Images That’ll Make Your Content Engagement Skyrocket

Last year, I read a report from CMO Council that thoroughly stumped me. Sixty-five percent of senior marketing executives said they believe visual assets are an essential tool for communicating their brand’s story. But what about the other 35 percent? Why wasn’t that number higher? Do more than a third of marketing executives really think visuals aren’t important?

If you work in marketing, you’re constantly reminded about the impact visuals have on audience engagement. Kissmetrics found that content with relevant images gets 94 percent more views than content without relevant images. Buffer cited data that suggests users are 40 times more likely to share visual content on social media. Xerox explained that consumers are 80 percent more likely to read a piece of content if it contains colorful visuals. There are telling stats all over the place.

To me, that missing 35 percent gets at an important idea: Many marketers still don’t know how to use visual content effectively. After all, many editors and marketers lack design training. We aren’t always comfortable choosing images, treating the task like a chore that we just have to grit through during the publishing process.

As head of marketing for 500px, a photo community and marketplace, I decided to tap our visual content editors to see if they had advice that could help marketers and designers work together to create a unified visual brand.

Here are their five best tips for choosing the right images for your content.

1. Match your mood

When it comes to imagery, it’s essential to pick images that fit your brand’s voice, style, and mood, because images should appeal to your target audience. There are so many styles out there, but even if some appeal to you, that doesn’t mean they’re going to fit.

Huckberry is a great example of a brand that consistently picks imagery that matches its voice. As an online retailer and magazine for adventurous men, the company wields its nature-loving, flannel-wearing, hipster vibe consistently across all its marketing channels, from its website to Instagram posts to emails.

2. Don’t forget the people

Great marketing helps to forge a personal connection between the brand and the customer, so it’s usually smart to including people in your visuals.

We did some research on this at 500px, and the data was surprising: 60 percent of our best-selling images with people had a single subject, while only 20 percent contained two or more subjects. Candid photos sold nearly twice as much as posed images. And 85 percent of the sold photos we analyzed featured a subject looking away from the camera.

Why are candid shots of individuals looking away from the camera best sellers? Because all of those characteristics make it easier for viewers to imagine they are the person in that frame.

3. Capture a feeling

When it comes to choosing an image, your main focus should be on conveying the right feeling. You’re trying to connect with the person on the other side of that screen, and the quickest way to earn their interest and, more crucially, their trust is through their heart.

A photo that screams “security” or “trust” or “confidence” will be much more effective than an image that only makes a literal connection with the reader such as “money” or “beautiful landscape.”

HSBC is a great example of a company that emphasizes images that evoke emotion. Over the years, its ad campaigns, like the airport billboard campaign “Different points of view,” are compelling, eye-catching, and uniquely creative for the banking industry. HSBC clearly values emotional images—its personal banking website features a child kissing a dolphin right on the homepage.

The simplest way to adopt a similar approach is to search for emotions and states of mind. Looking for images that represent “confidence” or “happiness” works better than searching for “money.”

(Full disclosure: HSBC is a Contently client.)

4. Consider the conceptual

Creative conceptual photos have a timeless popularity and appeal. A well-executed conceptual still-life photo—like this one by Hardi Saputri—can deliver a visual punch and work for a number of messages. Its charming use of paper airplanes connects to travel, journeys, and forward movement, while the combination of the gold airplane with the finger makes a subtle analogy to the Midas touch. The hand is also reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. This image delivers on multiple levels while still offering simplicity and plenty of space for copy, if necessary.

Image via Hardi Saputri

Brands that want a clean, contemporary take often lean toward graphics for their content marketing needs, but conceptual photography is a powerful visual communication tool that can help a brand separate itself from the crowd.

5. Hold the cheese

Cheesy stock images just don’t look good in front of today’s savvy consumers. But that doesn’t mean you have to eschew the stock photo marketplace altogether. In fact, stock photos can be a great starting point for developing genuine images that match your brand’s style.

Lonely Planet, which offers travel advice from locals and active travelers, partnered with 500px to redesign a series of stock photos for its new Destination pages. Instead of relying on clichéd postcard images, Lonely Planet made great use of unusual perspectives and stunning wide shots to transport users to destinations, inciting wanderlust along the way.

With a little foresight and strategy, you can pick out high-quality images that will complement your content and outperform cheesy stock photos every time.

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