How images can play a key role in making content work and look better

No matter how good a content piece is, it always stands the risk of falling flat if it is not supported by the right images. Experts say a good picture can make content more intriguing for users. But how well do brands understand this? does a deep dive on the role of images in making content more appealing

Akanksha Nagar
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A picture can say a thousand words, goes the adage. Good and relevant images can make rather ordinary content stand apart and push the user into reading it.

That’s the reason why tweets with images are most likely receive 150 times more retweets and Facebook posts with images see 2.3 times more engagement.

However, customers today have an eye for sophisticated content.  They know the concept of stock images, which certainly doesn't resonate with them anymore.

But do content marketing teams, agencies or brands understand this? The recent case of LG and Whirlpool using the same stock image in full jacket ads in newspapers was no less than proof of how loosely do brands use pictures.

The case for images

Saisangeeta Israni

“Pictorial representation has always been appealing. Creatives play a great role in perception building and creating the necessary imagery in the minds of the customer. Also, with so much experimentation happening on the art front, the brands have to be on their toes to ensure they are no more passé in their visual representation,” said Saisangeeta Israni, GM, Marketing, Spykar Lifestyles.

Sameer Makani

“We would soon be entering a new and dynamic era around image creation and content where photos will become a ‘universal language’ as images and speech are going to take over traditional content pieces. Images have always helped consumers in understanding a topic and enhancing the overall understanding and acting as an emphasis on the content; consumers usually shy away from a giant content wall that is boring to read. Brands have now understood that it’s the image that will turn heads and not large, written content pieces,” said Sameer Makani, Co-Founder and MD, Makani Creatives.

Madhavi Irani

On e-commerce sites, almost 70% of consumers say the quality of a product image is “very important” in determining their purchase decision. Even on Facebook, the engagement rate for photos averages 0.37%, while for text it is only 0.27%. Therefore, it is incumbent for content specialists to spend time and energy creating visuals that convey the right message. Brands need to take special care to shoot images regularly that not just convey the essence of the content but also maintain brand values that we stand for. The images have to be as authentic and real and as close to the subject as possible, said Madhavi Irani, Chief Officer, Content Nykka.

An image is a perspective. It’s not just people, objects and props framed right. And because of that, it is tasked with many responsibilities and some of the most important ones are to imbibe a story, a message that the brand is giving out to its consumer about who the brand is for or what the brand does or the difference that the brand is making to the world, Pragati Rana, AVP, Strategy, Dentsu Webchutney, said.

She said tonality, the styling, the typography and the colours used in the images should be unique to the brand that brings alive its world, evoking an emotion and shaping the perception of the brand in his/ her mind. Apart from that, the image content needs to be distinctive to grab the attention of the intended audience and make them want to understand it and interact with it.

The creatives need to be impactful enough to drive the key messaging in a short span with appropriate copy.

Girish Bindal

Girish Bindal, Head of Content,, said just like content guidelines, brands also need to focus on any image selection guidelines as well. If an image is not able to get the attention, the battle is lost, then and there only. Keeping brand values in mind, specialists should curate a mix of real and unreal sort of pictures, to make it both believable and artistic at the same time.

For example, if the fun, young world of Vespa needs to be brought out, pop colours, moments of playfulness will need to come out from the visual. If the trustworthiness and reliability of problem-solving toothpaste Sensodyne needs to be brought out, then it is best done using a doctor in white and blue to give a more clinical and dependable appeal to the visual, Rana said.

Content marketing teams today are well aware that the only way to reach consumer’s mind is to create content and curate images that evoke an emotional appeal.

The curation expertise

The content teams have been driving this conversation for a while. The barrier comes from the end of the client’s marketing team. The lack of budget for a stand-alone photo shoot and, sometimes, the speed in which the content needs to go out, are the two gaps that exist.

The easiest way to solve this is to plan and conceptualise smaller pieces of content at the time of producing campaign content or to keep a separate budget for creating such visual storytelling pieces, said Rana.

“Brand and the agency both have to put their best foot forward to get this alignment. Agency needs to spend as much time with the brand in the initial days to understand the brand prism, the larger vision. Also the brand needs to ensure the information is well disseminated to the agency to optimise the collaboration,” said Israni.

She said that in her team, she has an entire design department that scours libraries to find appropriate images. In addition, in-house designers and visualisers who direct photo shoots and, finally, writers themselves who either shoot or search for images that best represent the story they are writing.

She said it should be a joint effort by the content creators in the agency and the brand’s internal marketing team, to churn out such images. Rana said that the role is primarily helmed by the art team with inputs from the creative strategy team.

“It is very important for brands to sound, look and be authentic. They cannot come across as ‘me-toos’ or copycats in their messaging or their imagery. Using stock images can be very limiting from the perspective of a brand looking authentic and the brand being able to tell its story in the best possible way. The other big thing about curating images is that you can control the composition and the emotional reaction of the audience. You can make the audience not just understand your story but feel it too,” said Rana.

Irani explained why such stock images are actually useful for brands sometimes, if used smartly. “Stock images are useful and often necessary for brands that churn out vast quantities of content on a daily basis. However, for relevant campaigns and for targeted communication, setting up shoots and creating unique visual content becomes vital for conveying the right messaging and connecting with audiences. Ultimately, it’s a mix of both. One should also never underestimate the power of good in-house designers who can create magic with standard stock images.”

Satbir Singh

“The importance of quality, custom-designed imagery cannot be underplayed. While you can sometimes get lucky with stock images, they are mostly vanilla, especially when it comes to human shots. However, stock images do save on time and, more importantly, cost. The curator has to strike a balance between time and cost saving on the one hand and maintaining a certain exclusive look and feel of the web content,” Satbir Singh, Founder and CCO at Thinkstr, said.

Having a unique image which is your proprietary is always the best option. But is it always feasible? No. Bindal said there are certain instances and depending on the volume that brands publish, for them to have a curated image gallery on their own little, seems a little different. Brands can go ahead with stock images for certain sections, but the image should corroborate with the story.

“It is important to have a unique image keeping the trends in mind to create a wider brand recall. For example, incidental viral content like the infamous ‘Rahul Bose Moment’ provided an opportunity to the brands like Amul, which has always been active in creating topical images that connect with the brands,” said Makani.

Dipankar Mukherjee

However, Dipankar Mukherjee, Creative Leader, HyperCollective, said when brands look at curating content and specifically imagery, they shouldn’t just focus on product shots and consumption shots. Instead, they should look at different aspects of the consumer universe where they act as enablers. Unfortunately most brands and agencies in India are only doing lip service towards creating a bank of authentic imagery. Consumers see themselves as the stars of every story that a brand seeks to tell. Brands need to open up and partner with consumers to create great content.

“We need to lower our guard and give consumers access to our brand assets, music, graphics, celebrity images, etc., allowing them to remix, rehash, and reimagine new content with that. A 17-year-old with a smartphone can create slick images rivalling expensive studio setups with green screen. All we need to do is to incentivise and direct them with purposeful intent for content,” he added.

For instance, Doritos crowdsourced their #CrashTheSuperBowl ads for 10 years, the Starbucks White Cup challenge went viral, Airbnb used crowd-sourced Vines to create high-quality content, and brands like Fenty, Toyota and MAC used consumer-sourced images to drive engagement and build affinity.

Apart from that, Mukherjee pointed out that the anti-stock movement is now peaking across the world. Websites like provide high-quality open-source images by amateur and professional photographers with free commercial licences.

Brands across the spectrum need to start experimenting with curated imagery, user generated imagery and in-house content generation. This is the only way they can have a large enough image bank to allow sustained conversations with their consumers.

How images can play a key role in making content work