Make Your Content Marketing POP with Powerful Images

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In my post You Should be in Pictures, I discussed the growing importance of visual imagery in content marketing. As I wrote then, we love images because they provide a welcome diversion in a busy social media environment. Further, pictures have been proven to drive more engagement and sharing.

Yet it might not be obvious how to put the power of pictures to work. They can take many of us out of our copy-centric comfort zones. It is not always easy to know what image will work the best. There are many ways to get it wrong, and use pictures that are not high quality, or are off in any number of ways.

Once you have a concept in mind, there’s the challenge of how to find or create the images for your content and social media marketing; especially if budget and turnaround time are issues (and when aren’t they)?

So how do you go about getting the right images; the ones that will pull people in, and interest, amuse or delight them? How can you put the power of images to work in content marketing?

The Basics

Selecting the graphical look and feel for your content should not be an afterthought, given the importance of imagery in content marketing. Plan well in advance, especially if you need to look beyond your current team or vendors to create original artwork or do a photo shoot.

You want to develop, design, find or photograph images that in some way complement the piece. The image(s) should attract attention and/or be a nice visual representation of the content. They should not be at odds with the tone of your marketing or brand attributes, e.g. it might be tempting to choose something very edgy or outrageous to draw attention – but not if you are in the mutual fund business.

Choices can be obvious or uncertain depending on the topic at hand.  It is an easier exercise when the subject matter is about people, places or things (products, for example).

Picture Perfect

There are so many types of images to use that even deciding where to start can be overwhelming – do you go with a photo, drawing, cartoon, infographic, or other original artwork?

Again, your selection will be depend on the topic at hand. I find that it can help to brainstorm with team members when image choices do not jump out.  Searching on Google Images is another neat trick.  You can play around with keyword combinations, and see which images come back based on how Google has tagged them. This method can be particularly helpful when searching for images about an abstract topic.

In his post his post 5 Content Marketing Ideas Worth Stealing, social media marketing blogger Jeff Bullas suggested looking to brands and industries that do a good job with images, e.g. the fashion world, for inspiration.

“Fashion Brands such as Threadless use images in clever ways to survey customers on their Facebook page that ensure that the garments they produce will be successful driven by the crowd sourced voting through “likes”. The garment with the most likes is the one that is manufactured!”

Keeping it Real

Whatever you do, don’t use low quality, clichéd stock images. My post Get More Readers with Content Marketing “Curb Appeal” explored pet peeves that cause people to ignore content; these include poor image choices and stock photography.

In this NY Times article, Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen said: “Invest in good photo shoots: a great photographer can add a fortune to your Web site’s business value. After all, most sites are full of fluff — of which there’s too much already on the Web.”

The advice is so important that it bears repeating, because it is sadly not followed much these days. Photo sharing, digital cameras and cheap stock photo sites are sucking the life out of professional photography. People are all too willing to sacrifice quality to save money.

Steve Lesnick, a commercial advertising photographer, said in my post Quality Photos are Marketing Money: “I’ve been living and watching the entire dumbing down of visual arts that has taken place since everyone got Photoshop/Quark/Illustrator and a decent digital camera… a company that brands itself with mediocre imagery makes it look like an afterthought.”  Steve was kind enough to share one of his photos for this post.

Suffice it to say, there is nothing like having a professional photographer or artist create custom images for your content.

When it comes to custom photos, I found some helpful advice in Heidi Cohen’s post 7 Ways to use Photographs to Support Content Marketing on the CMI blog. The article suggested putting careful thought into how products are portrayed, for example:

“Make your products into stars. Go beyond basic product shots used on websites and in catalogs. Display your products in the context of how they’re used in real life. Entice viewers to want to have them.”

On the Vertical Response blog, Lisa Furgison said that every picture should have a focal point and use vibrant colors (she shared some nice examples in the post). The article also offered helpful tips on editing and sizing images.

Where to go for Images

Custom art or photos can take more money and time. Further, there may be times when you just need to get a quick image, e.g. for a routine blog post (I believe that every blog post should have an accompanying graphic). What do you do then?

While it might be all too tempting just to grab any image that you find on Google, it is important to make sure that the ones you use are properly obtained. Many images are copyrighted, despite the fact they appear in Google Image search results. Getting caught in a flap about image rights is one sure way to derail your campaign (I am not a lawyer, but as I understand it, “fair use” does not apply when it comes to appropriating copyrighted materials for marketing; besides, acknowledging and compensating the artist/rights owner is just the right thing to do).

I asked Neal Schaffer, publisher of this group blog, where he goes for images to accompany blog posts. He said:

“I buy stock photos to be on the safe side. I used to search Wikimedia Commons and Stock Exchange for free photos, but ended up spending so much time doing that and ensuring I could use the photo that I decided it was a better use of my time to merely pay for the image.”

Some of the options he suggested are iStockPhoto and 123rf. Also, Getty Images has a huge library of high quality digital media.


Using the right image can make your content marketing pop. Take care with image selection, and make sure that it is not an afterthought.

Do you have examples of great images in content marketing that you can share here?

Bob Geller
This monthly Content Marketing and Social Media column is contributed by Bob Geller. Bob is president of Fusion PR, and has a background that combines a solid grounding in technology with a 25 year record of success in sales, marketing, and public relations. Bob joined Fusion in 2000, and has helped build it into a leading independent tech PR agency. He has led client teams that have achieved outstanding results in areas ranging from enterprise tech, to telecom, online, CE, financial and clean tech. Bob also helped launch Social Fluency, a subsidiary of Fusion that develops dynamic social media practices which are integrated with traditional PR efforts. Bob has provided critical commentary to publications such as CMO Magazine, PR Week, PR News, and Bulldog Reporter. He created and manages the influential blog Flack’s Revenge, and has contributed to Cision Navigator, Ragan’s PR Daily, and Handshake 2.0, among others. +Bob Geller
Bob Geller


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  1. says

    Lately (on PR Conversations) I’ve been using photos that I took.

    For example, one from China’s artist/political activist Ai Wei Wei exhibit (in my Part II Challenges and risk mitigation for PR when the crisis root is social, a copy of the publicist-provided The Year Without Pants book by Scott Berkun (where I “pondered” public relations and product management), and most recently my Declaring piffle on those “traditional PR” publicity arguments, where I used a slew of photos I had taken at Black Creek Pioneer Village.

    Of course I only use photos that I’m very pleased about–that’s the beauty of digital, you can take a lot and pick-and-choose the right ones that “pop.”

  2. says

    I have read that editing photos can’t be considered cheating since it’s one form of digital art. As long as it does not interfere with the photo journalism rules then I guess it’s safe. I know one writer that instead of doing this, she made selfies for her blog. Well, we can’t incorporate selfies all the time but variety and creativity should it’s one great tip. :)

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