Imagine This: Better Visuals for Better Digital Marketing

Great imagery can bring your digital marketing to life. Clichéd visuals will do the opposite, and may even drive your audience away from otherwise great content. Here’s how to get better visuals.

“Stock photography” is not a four-letter word. (Though “clip art” probably is.) It’s possible to bring your digital marketing and collateral materials to life without spending a fortune — or looking like you’ve spent nothing at all. Here are some tips for better visuals.

Writers Are Not Designers

At least, most writers aren’t. Some writers do have a good visual sense. But even if you’re blessed with a writing team full of museum-level illustrators or photographers, you’re better off having a visual pro on your team, as well. Not only is that person likely to produce better visuals, but a second set of eyes naturally provides a different perspective.

That additional perspective can be valuable. If your designer comes back and says, “I’m not really sure where to go with this, visually,” it’s a good sign that perhaps the content isn’t as clear as it could be. (Which might also point to the need for writing and editing roles to be handled differently.)

Give Designers a Seat at the Table

Taking this one step further, you’ll want to involve designers early and let them shape the finished product. Design will obviously be central to an infographic, a video, or any other inherently visual medium. But even for case studies and other copy-centric content, the design team should be given the opportunity to help shape the finished product. In other words, don’t bring them at the end with instructions to “do the best you can with this.” Let them help you make it better from the start.

Stock Imagery Isn’t Either/Or

When it comes to fine clothing, your choices aren’t just right of the rack vs. full custom. You can also have a ready-made suit tailored to fit you better. The same is true of graphic elements.

Your design team can combine multiple images to get the effect you need. Or even simply process an image to create a cohesive similarity across a series of blog posts, case studies, or brochures.

Stay on the Right Side of the Rules

I hope I’m not pointing out something new by telling you that most stock imagery requires a license. Tools for tracking down unauthorized usage has become much more sophisticated, so don’t think nobody will notice an unlicensed image, just because it’s not font-and-center on your home page.

One often overlooked detail: making sure that the license allows you to use it as you plan to. And if you plan to alter the image, that makes a difference. Not all licenses allow alteration, nor do all licenses permit any kind of usage.

And please don’t even think of doing a basic Google search and using any old image that shows up. That doesn’t mean it is a public domain image. You’re far better off using a tool like the Google Advanced Image Search, which allows you to filter results by usage rights, along with many other useful parameters.


In the end, there’s no substitute for a talented and experienced graphics pro. But if budget or other constraints make adding one to your team unrealistic, consider at least bringing in a designer as a one-time or occasional consultant who can create guidelines that help you avoid cliches, overly literal imagery, and those shiny happy people who all but scream “clip art.”

Dissolve’s Direct Mail and the Power of Print

For as long as I’ve been with Who’s Mailing What!, I’ve been impressed by the power of direct mail to sell, well … just about anything. One of my favorite things has always been any mail selling stock art, typography, and images.

For as long as I’ve been with Who’s Mailing What!, I’ve loved the power of direct mail to sell, well … just about anything. One of my favorite things has always been any mail selling stock art, typography, and images.

Shutterstock_01For a long time, graphic designers I knew would forward to me eye-catching creative mail like this postcard from Shutterstock. Hilarious, right? OK, full disclosure: I own a cat.

VeerHi_21And I’ve mentioned before this secret society campaign from Veer. This “Members Handbook” booklet is filled with rules of conduct, special handshakes, code phrases, some riddles, and typography humor.

Although most marketing for images is now conducted via digital channels, some companies still use direct mail in their mix.

The company that’s really captured my attention recently is Dissolve, a stock footage and photo provider based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Like some companies, they mail catalogs that are pretty traditional in how they show images from their video and photo collections.

But they also take chances by trying different approaches. A few weeks ago, I wrote about their blank story books and postcards that are great involvement devices.

Last month, Dissolve sent out a brilliant photonovel mail piece titled “Fantastic Footage.” My colleague Ashley Roberts of Printing Impressions got the scoop on this effort. The company’s Lori Burwash told her, “it’s an interesting challenge to convey video in print.”

Please check out Ashley’s fun, insightful take in her “Who’s Mailing What! Confidential” video below.

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These guys get what good, compelling direct mail is all about. With this campaign, the UV soft touch coating and high quality photography grabs me from the start. And, they get their marketing messages in like they should. As Burwash put it, “we like to create pieces that feel like gifts.”

We like them too.