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Bring in the Brand Photography

Sam Sullivan
Art Director

How do you make a great first impression to an audience with the shortest attention span in history? Simply stated, visuals.

Instagram, Snapchat and rich media sites are all photography driven. Sharing, interacting and relating to imagery is the heartbeat of today’s communication, especially for college-bound teens. The good news for marketing pros, is that the use of compelling photography is a powerful way to tell your brand story and to highlight its strengths and differentiation.

Optimally, institutions should use custom photography. Professionally shot photography in which each image is brainstormed, planned, and designed to to tell a story communicates the brand’s important points of distinction. We call that branded photography. An investment in branded, attention-grabbing photography is very likely to see a return on that investment in terms of greater interest, inquiries, and applications at your institution. 

There are instances, however, when tapping into a pool of professionally shot and compellingly composed stock imagery is an option if the budgets for branded imagery are not available. We’ve compiled two examples: one that uses branded imagery and one that uses stock to show that each can help advance a brand strategy.

Crafting Your Brand Image With Custom Imagery

For the past several years, Old Dominion University has crafted a visual strategy that captures the University’s commitment to a campus-wide culture of forward-thinking entrepreneurship that is embraced by the entire campus, faculty and students alike.  The images are carefully composed to tell a multifaceted story about the interests and personality of the subject in the image, the opportunities presented by the University, Old Dominion’s academic and research strengths, and many even suggest its metropolitan, coastal location. As important, each image seeks to convey a brand personality that is energetic and innovative.

Following are examples of some of the imagery:

making waves in business
Making waves in business. Old Dominion University student.
learning for a cause
Learning for a cause. Old Dominion University student.
turning talent to career
Turning talent to career. Old Dominion University student.
exercise my business plan
Exercise my business plan. Old Dominion University student.
branded photography
Because Hampton Roads is our pride advertisment. Old Dominion University faculty imagery.
Branded Imagery Old Dominion University
Because Hampton Roads is our pride advertisement. Old Dominion University faculty.

When Stock Can Be a Cost-Effective Alternative

While custom photography is most often the desired approach, there is a time when stock imagery can be powerful and compelling. The Community Colleges of Nebraska uses stock photography for a campaign designed to recruit students to their Career and Technical Training (CTE) programs. As a consortium of five individual institutions, a unified brand is non-existent; and with limited time and budget, stock photography was an excellent choice for the Colleges to create a unified and branded campaign.

The Community Colleges of Nebraska ad samples
A sample of stock imagery used in online advertising for The Community Colleges of Nebraska.

The images were carefully selected from to create a branded look, reinforcing the College’s communication strategy that with CTE careers you can “Be on the job you live in 2 years or less, without a lot of debt.” Each image has been selected for its specific composition and photographic styling. The many images, representing the variety of CTE programs showcase an individual who is confident and successful in their field of choice. They are tightly cropped in the ad space, and the model is looking at the camera, interacting with the audience. While taken by many different photographers, having a strategic and branded style in mind when searching for stock results in a well crafted, branded look.

What’s your branded image strategy?

Compelling, branded photography can elevate your brand to the next level, connect you to your audience and shape your brand’s personality. Below are a few questions to consider when choosing a branded image strategy.

Brand Reinforcement

  • Do you have strategic statements you seek to communicate visually?
  • Does your imagery authentically reflect your campus and academics?
  • Do you want real students and student stories represented?
  • Are you in a competitive marketplace?

Timeline and Budget

  • What does your campaign timeline look like?
  • Will your budget allow for an investment in your brand?
  • Do you have the personnel to plan a photo shoot or have you considered hiring a firm to boost your team?

Ownership and Usage

  • Do you own the rights to use your images however you please?
  • Has stock imagery been overused in your marketplace?
  • Does your current library feel outdated?

Below are additional branded photography examples produced in partnership with Educational Marketing Group, Inc.

Shenandoah University Photography
University of Mary Washington Photography

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