Traditional marketing is breathing its last breath. And while it is dying a slow but inevitable death, content is the new context that brands live in. Companies need to learn to tell engaging stories in an authentic and entertaining way that will leave potential customers with a positive association to the brand, particularly in highly competitive markets.
Making an emotional connection with consumers is still a skill underestimated by many marketers. People do not relate to brands, they relate to other people. Stories have been the social glue that binds society for as long as humankind has existed and what better way than to tell stories through visual content. While we have an overwhelming choice of media today, it is more important than ever to choose the right images to tell your story and bring your message across.
When mb! by Mercedes-Benz magazine launched in 2011, the objective was to appeal to younger audiences and individuals that are not necessarily fans of the brand yet and therefore could not be lured by images featuring cars. While it was clear that photos needed to fit an independent magazine in order to attract new readers it was also necessary to visually connect to the brand and its values in a subtle albeit authentic way.
Images chosen are therefore of a clean, almost glossy aesthetic with high contrast and an often an element of surprise or preferably feature a face or persona that the audience can relate or even aspire to. The overall effect is to be of high visual quality as suitable to a luxury automotive brand, with a unique angle, but most of all with a positive emotional element.
Digital natives and internet-savvy users instantly recognize and reject staged images or press shots in a story context. Independent tests clearly revealed that “real” images of real people are what draw visitors deeper into the content. Showing the product itself is overrated but still a requirement for many companies (unless you’re selling an energy drink in a silver-blue can). Showing a G-Class in a roadtrip scenario is part of the story and authentic – a new shiny press car in a studio void of humans is not. So when producing or buying photos, make sure they have the special qualities that you are looking for – how does looking at the image make you feel? Is there a unique quality to it that fits your brand? How does it look once it is online? What other images are surrounding it – do they complement each other visually and do they support or even make the story? Hence, an editorial team and a photo editor are invaluable.
Marketing teams, product managers and other in-house staff will always decide from an inside view and too many stakeholders will compromise editorial quality. Put a capable team of editors in place and back them by a few qualified in-house people and you will get the content that your audience is not only wanting to read and watch but more importantly, to share with their peers.
When you manage to reach people emotionally, when they feel they saw something that added value to their lives, inspired them and made them want to share it – then you have created a connection that traditional marketing with its forced messages and interruptions will never manage to achieve. Choose the right images and make your audience remember connecting with your brand in an authentic, enjoyable experience and they will return to engage.
Hadassa Haack is a freelance editor, writer and producer and helps brands develop concepts and content for digital storytelling and connects them with the right creatives to bring them to life. Hadassa is also founding editor-in-chief of zeitgeist magazine mb! by Mercedes-Benz, where her focus is on finding topics and visuals that tell an engaging story and championing talented people that are passionate about life and work. Video projects have been featured in German Spiegel Magazine, on Redbull.com, NYLON and numerous lifestyle blogs and TV channels. She divides her time between Frankfurt, Sydney and LA.