#StartYourStory: Five steps for using imagery to tell your brand’s narrative


#StartYourStory is an ongoing series that explores storytelling lessons from popular media and how we can apply them to branding our organizations and businesses.

By Sisi Zhang, an experienced multiple consultant who is part of our extended team of collaborators.

Why is it that when we see a slick smartphone on a plain white backdrop, we immediately think of Apple? Or when we see a red box of golden pillars, we end up craving McDonald’s fries? It’s because our brains make associations even before our consciousness catches on.

Along with logos, slogans, and jingles, we recognize brands through imagery. Here are 5 steps toward thoughtfully creating your brand’s visual language to help you #StartYourStory and build lasting brand equity.

1. Find a brand voice

Let’s start with brand voice – what kind of personality do you want this brand to have? What’s the story behind your brand? Here are some starters. Is it:

  • Fun
  • Playful
  • Regal
  • Warm
  • Sassy
  • Slick
  • Modern
  • Classy
  • Mischievous
  • Strong
  • Bright
  • Cheeky

Once you’ve pinpointed three words that best describe the brand voice or tone, have some Pinterest fun! Create a collection of photos that feel “on-brand” and resonate with the tone you’ve chosen for your brand.

This collection of photos and inspirations will become the basis of a Mood Board, on which you can add fonts, colors, and anything else that is visually “on-brand.”

2. Consider context

Equipped with a brand voice, now let’s consider your audience. Where are they going to be seeing your images? Will it be on Instagram as a curated post? If so, what will the caption bring to that experience? Or will it be a billboard on the highway? If so, how will text play a role in the image?

Based on the context and platform of your image, it’s important to think about the images’ relationship with other elements both inside and outside of the image’s borders. For example, where might branding elements go? Does it need a caption? The image, caption, and branding elements should all work in harmony to tell a story. Balancing the visual space is key to effective visual communication, and more often than not, negative space is just as strong of a statement as a beautifully photographed subject.

3. Set a budget

A picture is worth a thousand words, so give your pictures some worth! Create a realistic budget for branded imagery – whether that’s hiring a professional photographer or designer, paying for an intern, buying stock imagery, or rolling up your sleeves to capture your own images.

If you’re going to work with an external source, such as a photographer or stock image library, make sure to verify that your selected images are available for commercial use and that you’ve obtained them lawfully.

4. Photograph with purpose

If you decide to capture your own photos or videos, here are some quick tips:

Avoid direct sunlight. The best times for taking photos outdoors are during golden hour – which is shortly after sunrise or just before sunset – or on overcast days. These lighting environments give us just enough soft light as well as shadow variation to make for interesting textures in a photo.

If you’re shooting portraits, try to angle your subject 3/4 facing the light – that gives their face dimension, doesn’t force them to squint at a strong light, and doesn’t create overblown flare in your lens.

Show depth. Having a strong focal point where the image is sharp and letting the rest of the photo blur draws the audience in to an image. The softer textures around the focal point create intrigue, while the sharper focal point centers the image.

An easy way to achieve this effect is by creating layers in a photo – foreground, middle ground, and background.

Shoot different angles. Our first instinct is to always bring the camera to our eye level to take the photo, but consider different angles – high and low, since that will drastically change how the image is conveyed. Shoot photos at the subject’s level to bring more intimacy to the image, shoot above the subject for a bird’s eye view, or shoot from a lower angle to give the subject a heroic frame.

5. Organize assets

You’ve now spent the money, effort, and time to create amazing images for your brand, so the final step is to organize all your assets. It’s easy to get lost in a sea of content, so make sure to clearly define folders and/or markers so that you can easily reference your image library of evergreen visuals to bring your brand to life on social media or other communications.

Happy branding from #TeamMoonsail!