How small businesses can get out of a visual rut

With digital channels more important than ever for engaging with customers, small businesses looking to stand out need to consider their visual brand.

As a small-business owner, you already know the importance of your visual brand. And this can be especially true on digital channels – whether it’s a blog, an email or on social media, your visual content can have a powerful effect on customers.

For many Australian business owners, choosing the right content from the crowded online visuals can seem daunting. Even in the simplest of times, it’s tempting to fall back on the same easy-to-ignore stock images for our small-business marketing.

However, for businesses looking to create or strengthen their digital presence, deploying engaging visuals can be a quick yet powerful way to stand out among online competitors.

Combining iStock customer insights into what moves the needle with consumers, and my experience helping lead brands’ creative projects, I’ve come up with some actionable tips to give your company’s visual brand an advantage.

Choose lifestyle imagery to make a human connection

Australians are craving connection, and lifestyle images can go far beyond the same stock photos you’ve probably seen many times yourself.

Visual content that delights with positivity cultivates viewer engagement. People want and expect imagery to be representative of themselves and the world they see around them. As a result, they’re becoming more sceptical toward highly polished or overly ‘perfect’ images. Retouching, for example, is less popular and many brands are taking strong stances on the practice.

In fact, as part of the research, 80 per cent of those surveyed say companies need to show people with all body types, while 68 per cent say it’s important to them that the companies they buy from celebrate diversity. Finding high-quality lifestyle imagery with a local connection can be especially important, as many Australians want to see themselves and their environments reflected in the content they consume.

Use illustrations for greater transparency

We’ve been seeing many more brands taking people behind the scenes, providing 360-degree views into their business—indeed, 74% of consumers surveyed say they want to know how their products are produced.

While many businesses might want to show greater transparency around how their business works, creating a large amount of behind-the-scenes content can be time-consuming and expensive.

Illustrations, on the other hand, can be an easy yet effective way of communicating business practices. Perhaps you want to convey the lifecycle of your product – from conception of idea to creation and distribution – or a timeline describing the history of your business? Illustrations work across all demographics, come in a variety of formats to suit your branding and have a long-lasting appeal, potentially reducing the cost and time of needing to regularly update your images.

Learn from the curators

Finally, one of the best steps you can take to revive your company’s visuals is to follow curators online, drawing inspiration from the imagery they share. They’re great places to get the creative brainstorm going, even if you haven’t settled on a subject. Often, curators will have collections devoted to specific subjects, colours or concepts that can help inspire you to choose the right ideas for your visual branding.

Owning and growing a small business is no easy feat, but one way to overcome challenges is to build connections with customers who may not be able to experience your brand in person. Choosing the right visual content is one way to build that emotional connection—even if customers are only interacting with you online.

Petra O’Halloran, Creative Research Project Manager, iStock by Getty Images

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