I love photography and graphic design. I grew up admiring some of the world's great photojournalists like Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Without waxing too poetic on this tradition, I believe we all expect to find some truth in pictures that is often obscured in long narrative. While journalism is a discipline embroiled in change if not decline, the demand for photography of events, people and places remains strong.
When we search for information via Google, we look for videos and images as well as Web pages filled with text. Search behavior for most of us is turning into 'net fishing' where we fling a few nets in many directions and drag them in to see what we have retrieved. We sort through it all in some "blink" fashion discarding the irrelevant and much of what doesn't align with our world view and end up with the information we feel we need.
More corporate brands care about their image
Large multinationals who sit behind some of the best known product brands (insert FMCG - fast moving consumer goods - of your choice) used to be content to build awareness and loyalty against those product brands. They were satisfied that Wall Street knew full well that P&G, Kraft or Unilever was behind that rich portfolio. Now all sorts of corporate brands feel the need to establish consumer affinity with their corporate brand not just the product brands filling the shelves at point of sale.
Part of that is rise of "purpose-driven marketing" which is a thesis about the strength of a company that has a higher mission when combining its community mission with its business mission. Brands see a future where the constant product variation that fueled sales in the FMCG world - new flavors, new packaging, new brand positioning - will not drive sales nor loyalty from customers going into the future.
Part of corporate brand self-consciousness is fueled by the effects of social media and the Internet. Increased transparency is more than a buzzword. We can find out anything. What is the truth behind a brand's environmental claims? I and millions of digital forensic anthropologists can find out without their cooperation. If its not buried in a myriad of unforeseen places online than it may just be published by a employee with a grudge (or a conscience) just as the US State Department grapples with Wikileaks.
Whether by good business or good conscience or more realistically, both, corporate brands care about their image online.
Brand visual search doesn't deliver
Then why do visual searches for many of the world's biggest brands return a chaotic universe of imagery that does nothing to give evidence to their purpose-driven commitments?
- Lots and lots of brand logos
- Product packaging montages out the wazoo
- CEO headshots - smiling in that forced portrait kind of way
- Office buildings - a testament to unexceptional high-rise architecture
- The occasional embarrassing protest image
If it is a brand with some deep heritage like GE, you will also find some great historical shots from packaging to signs to corporate photography. But almost nowhere will you find photography or graphics that support the social commitment from the company. Go to Flickr and the results are equally chaotic and unflattering.
Where is Pepsi Refresh? or P&G's Changes That Matter? I get plenty of visual analysis of the Pepsi logo "refresh" but nothing on their commitment to the environment and community.
A commitment to visual content
If brands really want people to know them for what they do and not for how many redesigns their logo has gone through. They must take care to document that work and that commitment via photography that shows us its true. Visual evidence is key. Even, perhaps more so than video. Search images are part of that grazing and collecting we do as searchers. There are only so many videos we can take the time to sample.
Part of the problem is that many brands only have a partial understanding of search engine optimization. We can't completely control what shows up on organic search results but careful content creation, a social strategy and understanding search intent can allow us to get our content out there.
Part of the problem is that brands are only now getting serious about becoming content creators and media companies. That means a serious commitment to creating and distributing content that delivers business value back to the enterprise.
Time for brands who want customers to know their true nature to care about how they are seen online and to care about the visual evidence of that true nature.