The Content Creation Manual for Marketers (Part Two): Your Audience & Imagery


Your Audience & Imagery

The old adage of “a picture is worth a thousand words” is more true than ever before. To the content marketing professional, a photo, illustration, or other visual content is a natural corollary to the written word. We can get a good idea of why visuals are so important by examining the three basic groups you typically encounter in an audience:

The Skimmer

The skimmer is the individual that wants to compartmentalize information and get a summary of the post as quickly as possible. This is the new-world equivalent of the “Cliff’s Notes” seeker. More often than not, they do not want to take the time to read the entire post. I also see this behavior in digital commerce. I would refer to this type of buyer as “the hunter.”

The Sharer

Next we find an interesting type of content consumer. One that intends to distribute or share messaging from sites. This type of individual may cultivate content to redistribute for multiple reasons, including:

  • Category expert, or obsessive (see: “Cats” on the internet).
  • A perception play of establishing thought leadership by aligning herself with a particular topic. This is most often an attempt to establish credibility/notoriety in a specific vertical. These individuals might do things such as creating large interest boards about a particular topic, or writing many blog posts about one specific attribute or position.
  • If a topic has limited deployment, the content could be a campaign transition, or entry point into a creative story arc.
  • But most often the sharer is a re-distributor. We are attracted to friends, fans and followers who are aligned with our likes and viewpoints. Therefore, those individuals will share content that we will simply redistribute to our own followers. It’s not sexy, but we’re all just links in the content chain. When was the last time you posted something for the first time? No, I’m not talking about your trips to Utah or your child’s birthday.

The Learner

Last but not least in our trifecta of readers, we find ourselves face-to-face with people that actually want to learn, research or fully digest the directive of the author. As crazy as it may sound, they are actually interested in what you have to say ;) So do your very best to construct an environment where your audience will take away “a complete circle.”

It is important to understand these audience types because understanding your audience’s objectives helps dictate the type of visual you want to deploy. For instance, let’s say the directive of my social media is very much in line with the support of existing products and the occasional launch of new products. Clearly we have established that the propensity of my audience will be “learners.” Therefore when I start to publish photographs, I may very well do so in a multi-step format. Step one: description, image. Step two: description, image — and so on.

The bulk of social media users are “sharers,” seeking content that is mutually beneficial to them in their education, and beneficial to their social footprint in its shareability. Content – especially visual content that makes the sharer look smarter, funny, inspirational, etc. – will always have greater traction than simply a supporting image. This is why infographics are so well received. They are interesting to look at, contain insightful information, and will more than likely be passed (shared) within the user’s social graph.

So what type of photos should I be taking/creating/buying?

The answer to this question is not as simple as it may seem. Here’s a quick checklist:

  • How sophisticated are my audience’s visual expectations?  If I’m an architect, I’m going to feature photos of my work taken with high-end studio lighting and DSLR wide-angle lenses.  If I am a B2B manufacturing company, I may construct a planned photo shoot that shows the process from beginning to end.  While a small, craft-based local retailer may utilize cell phone photography that feels “in the moment” to express intimacy and locality.
  • What are my competitors doing with their visuals?  Moreover, how is their audience reacting, sharing and commenting? Nothing gives you better insight as to what does and doesn’t work than spying on those who are fighting the same battle.
  • Are the visuals I am representing in line with the expression of my brand?  This might be the most important question you should ask yourself when constructing any type of visual content for your company, product or education. When people come and expose themselves to your brand, are the visuals supporting the perceived expectation, voice and essence you intend to bolster?Would you use from-the-hip “food-spotting” style photography to sell a Chanel purse? Would you use glamorous models and copious amounts of lens flare effects to sell barbecue?

 Basic inbound/content marketing imagery types:

  • Selfies – If I have to define what this means, you are reading the wrong blog.
  • Candid images –  These images are often shot “in the moment” with a cell phone.
  • Product/table-top photography – This style is usually set up in a controlled environment where you can have consistent lighting and thereby give your products the same look and feel.
  • Event photography – Much like candid imagery, but typically done professionally. Hire a photographer to roam your event with good DSLR rig to capture your setting in a professional manner.
  • Illustration – this type of imagery can be extremely well received if it marries with the content you intend to convey. Remember however, there is an endless array of styles – pick the one most suited to your brand. And if you intend to use this illustration as a medium within your brand guidelines, be sure to develop a long-term relationship with the illustrator.
  • Infographics – This booming trend in data visualization is both educational and a great platform for conveying marketing messages if used properly. The key to a great infographic is simply that the audience gets to learn something tangible from the results.
  • Studio photography – Much like the name conveys, this is a closed setting in which you can control the environment where your photographs are produced. The advantage is a professional “high-end” product. The disadvantage is typically expense, especially if you intend to utilize talent (models).
  • “Metaphor” visuals – This hybridization is typically photography that has been designed with overlaid illustrated visuals to express a more non-traditional approach. You see many stock houses filled with this type of work.  See:;
  • Iconography – Using icons and larger graphics within your content is incredibly important and often streamlines both user interface and user experience. Moreover, keener brands will also use iconography to represent both models and service types within their modality. I know I belabor this point throughout this post, but it is essential that your iconography be in line with your brand essence and guidelines. Otherwise you are distracting your customer’s understanding of your directives.

If you are running a marketing department, it is essential that you preemptively develop a “shot list” or summary of imagery you would like to utilize for both your campaigns as well as for content marketing. As you create this list, you also have a better understanding as to how you can distribute these types of visuals over a content calendar. This way you can step back and determine the best use for the images.

What about the DIYers trying to save the budget?

With my experience as a professional photographer for the majority of my career, I will give you this one fact to ponder: You don’t have film any more. So shoot as much as you want, then go back and pick out the gems.

And when it comes to social media and photography, as long as your imagery is not supposed to be live (such as covering Tim Cook and Apple announcing a new product), this rule applies more than ever. Take lots of photos, especially with guests and groups that you can’t get back to re-shoot, and then pick out the best and deploy against your channels such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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