What is it about all this photo sharing? Come on, how
many pictures are you going to take of you and your buddy at the
bar with droll expressions, and why do you think we want to see all
of them on Facebook?
Folks, it’s a rhetorical question. People these days just love
to take pictures, and they love to post pictures, and my guess is
that the trend is just going to continue. More than that, it’s a
trend that marketers with strategic smarts have latched on to.
Where just a couple of years ago brands went into overdrive to
figure out how to take advantage of all the online chitchat about
their products and services (you know, word of mouth on steroids),
now they are going into overdrive to figure out how to use still
images, candid snapshots, memes, video snippets, and infographics
to help tell their brand stories.
The word-of-mouth market has now been superseded by the
We live in a culture whose technological advances have made
images so simple to capture and disseminate that visually shared
moments have become the currency of everything in our lives, from
hard news to dancing cats and everything in between.
Apple is a master at using strong, beautifully crafted images to
show how its products fit into people’s lives. Its recent launch of
a new iPhone campaign is a meta-example of this phenomenon. Though
the ad is only one minute long and conveys limited information
about the iPhone’s myriad capabilities in a single-sentence
voiceover, it’s a glorious piece of moviemaking.
On the face of it, the ad is typical of Apple’s earliest
initiatives in that it is basically a product demonstration: Here’s
what this device can do. But it’s the heart of the ad that conveys
how images—and the desire to share them with friends and
family—have become one of the most significant human dynamics to
emerge from the technology revolution.
Yes, mobile image sharing is booming, and it can be supported by
more than just Apple’s beautiful campaign:
- Global new camera phone sales are expected to reach 1.5 billion
units in 20141
- Our phone cameras are with us 24/7, meaning there is no reason
to ever miss a photo opportunity
- Facebook says it gets more than 300 million photo uploads every
- To strengthen its mobile presence, Facebook bought Instagram,
the photo app that went from zero to 30 million users in its first
- Twitter, formerly a words-only communication application,
recently introduced a major upgrade in the form of Vine, a feature
that lets users add six-second videos to their tweets
- Pinterest, the fabulously successful content-sharing service
that allows members to “pin” images and videos to their virtual
“pinboards” for sharing, continues to experience exponential growth
since its launch in 2011; the platform had the highest increase in
audience and time spent on any social network across all devices
such as PCs, mobile web, and apps
Just as the implication for brands in a digitally enhanced
word-of-mouth marketplace was significant, equally so is the
implication for these organizations in the candid camera,
word-of-eye marketplace. Obviously, the key to success is unlocking
the power of pictures, whether they’re still or video, and getting
consumers to engage with your brand and, more importantly, getting
them to become willing brand advocates.
Intuit cofounder Scott Cook says, “A brand is no longer what we
tell a consumer it is, it is what consumers tell each other it is.”
If a picture is worth a thousand words, you can only imagine the
impact visual sharing will have on building brands today.
So how do brands take advantage of the power of pictures?
There are two ways. The first is to create and control sharable
moments, to design experiences that are meant to be photographed or
videotaped and passed along to as many BFFs as possible. The second
is to make sure that everything associated with your brand is ready
for its close-up. That is, think about how your brand naturally
fits into people’s lives and make sure these everyday experiences
are worthy of being shared.
It’s amazing the number of marketing folks who think they can
create something that will instantly go viral. Creating an
experience that will go viral is sort of like buying a lottery
ticket and thinking you’ll win. Easy in concept. Hard to achieve.
But there are a few rules that can help lead to success. If you’re
looking to encourage the snap-happy purveyors of your brand
message, your initiative must be:
Simple to understand and take part in. All
strong brands are able to express what they stand for as a single,
sharply focused point. If you can’t do this, you can’t get your
message across. The same is true of a branding initiative you hope
will catch on. Your customers must be able to grasp your story’s
intent and understand the way you want it portrayed.
Real. Credibility is a key to powerful
branding. Your effort must be genuinely tied to what your brand
represents. In this transparent, cynical market, consumers are
nothing less than skeptical. They’ve developed a sixth sense. When
something doesn’t jive with the brand’s essential nature, they can
tell. If you want them to share something relative to your brand,
it must be the real deal because, as agents of your brand, they’re
putting their own reputations on the line.
Relatable. You need to know your customers—how
they think and feel—in order to get them involved in your
initiatives. Your branding must be something they can relate to,
something they can identify with.
Winnable. Not every branding tactic is right
for every brand. Pick your battles. Not all brand experiences are
equal in getting your point across. Know where—and if—you can play
One example of creating a platform for visual brand sharing, and
one that adheres to the rules above, is the Hollister Photo
Challenge: a chance for one of your original photos to be used as a
Hollister T-shirt design and have it appear on Hollister’s Twitter,
Facebook, or Instagram pages. For cool, chill laid-back SoCal
people, this initiative is a perfect fit.
For the more sophisticated fashionista, Burberry has come up
with a more appropriate candid camera marketing tactic. In 1856
Thomas Burberry opened an outdoor apparel shop in England, where he
introduced gabardine (a water-resistant and breathable fabric) and
started producing the trench coats that would make the company
famous in England and around the world. After decades of success
followed by a short period of declining sales, the brand was
repositioned to appeal to the younger, higher-end audience who
covets the coat today.
While Burberry had a solid presence on Facebook, it realized it
had to do something more ownable and unique to the brand to keep
its name on the top of the fashion charts. In 2009, it introduced
the Art of the Trench campaign through which existing customers
could share photos of themselves wearing their Burberry trench
In the year following the launch of the campaign, Burberry’s
Facebook base grew to over one million, and e-commerce sales grew
50 percent year over year.4 By 2012, 60 percent of
Burberry’s marketing budget was allocated to digital.5
Given that a study undertaken by ROI Research finds that 44 percent
of respondents are more likely to engage with a brand if they post
pictures, this is a smart marketing move.6
But smart word-of-eye branding initiatives include more than
just posted and curated shopping sites, be they for T-shirts,
trench coats, or any of the hundreds of crafts, handbags, or
wallpapers found on Pinterest, Etsy, Fab.com, and other similar
The folks at Diageo, with the objective of broadening its market
for Johnnie Walker in Asia, looked beyond the unique flavor and
distinctive packaging of the product and created an actual place
for people to experience the brand. Johnnie Walker House in
Shanghai is the first “whisky embassy” anywhere in the world
outside of Scotland.
It is an impressive example of looking beyond the normal
channels to tell a brand’s story. Everything about the building and
its amenities was designed to help consumers understand the brand’s
history in China, and to increase their appreciation of whisky and
how it is made. Visitors are just naturally inclined to take
pictures of the eye-catching building, its blending room, and the
hundreds of back-illuminated bottles of whiskey. And they’re just
as inclined to share these pictures.
Pictures drawn, viewed, and shared also figured significantly
this past April as part of Dove’s ongoing Campaign for Real Beauty
to the tune of about 26 million viewers of its web-only
initiative.7 In the spot, a forensic sketch artist draws
several women based only on their descriptions of themselves. Then
he draws a second portrait of each woman based on descriptions of
relative strangers. The resulting sketches are displayed
side-by-side, and the ones inspired by the strangers are more
flattering than those based on each woman’s own sense of herself.
The tagline reads: You are more beautiful than you
It is, of course, a demonstration of the insecurity so many
women feel about their looks. It clicked with its audience, rating
over 90,000 “likes” on Dove’s YouTube channel. It was way back in
the pre-digital era of the 1960s that testimonials became an
integral part of Dove’s branding strategy. In this fast-forward
version of Dove’s simple brand idea—to make more women feel
beautiful every day—the company has skillfully leveraged the
tactics and the power of word of eye to reinforce its brand’s
While there are hundreds of clever examples of companies that
have captured the power of visual sharing as part of their branding
strategies, there is another way brands can take advantage of the
word-of-eye phenomenon. Quite simply, this is thinking about how
your brand fits into people’s lives and ensuring that your points
of touch are so remarkable and photo-worthy that people want to
document and share without outside encouragement.
Visual branding is part of the success of Virgin Airlines, for
example. In a conversation I had with Julie Cottineau, founder and
CEO of consulting firm BrandTwist and former VP of brand at Virgin
USA, she told me, “Virgin America pays a lot of attention to the
visual aspects of the experience. From the moment you walk into the
plane you can see a difference. There’s purple mood lighting and
white leather seats that really reinforce the airline’s promise of
a Breath of fresh airline. You can literally hear people
ooh and aah and watch them as they reach for their cellphones to
snap a picture to share the experience with friends, all before
they’ve even left the ground. Take a look at Flickr, Pinterest, and
Instagram and you’ll see tens of thousands of shots and pins of the
Virgin America planes.”
Apple, too, is a great example of a company whose brand
communication is part and parcel of everything it does, and built
into its very culture. Russ Klein, the former global chief
marketing officer of Burger King and current chief marketing
officer of Arby’s, in a discussion on the subject of word of eye
told me, “It’s odd to think that someone could own the color white,
but Apple has done it in such a fresh, vertical way. The ubiquity
of its usage, combined with the discipline of the execution of the
experience makes it a dominant image for people. The color white is
a signature for the brand and is immediately recognizable in visual
communication. It’s not a marketing add-on, but is branding that’s
built into the product design.”
Many companies look at marketing and branding to create
demand—and to create sharable moments. The best companies know that
the best sharable moments come from doing what they should be
doing. Or, as Russ put it, “The gestalt of a brand happens along
the way—it’s an inflection point. Consumers won’t connect with
something if it’s not authentic, doesn’t represent positive
What’s behind the success of the best companies is a clear
vision of what their brand stands for, a commitment and the courage
to stick to this vision in all of its efforts, along and across the
entire customer journey.
When someone takes a picture of the most delicious pizza they’ve
ever eaten, the most amazing hotel room in which they’ve ever
slept, a video of a salesperson helping fit baby’s first pair of
shoes, and posts it, well, you get the picture, it says more about
the brand than words ever could.
It’s a word-of-eye market. Now that every brand is on candid
camera, it (and its customers) had better be smiling.
1. Woody Oh, “Global camera phone sales to reach 1.5
billion units in 2014,” Strategy Analytics, strategyanalytics.com/default.aspx?mod=reportabstractviewer&a0=8817
(13 August 2013).
2. Rick Armbrust, “Capturing growth: photo apps and
open graph,” Facebook Developer Blog, developers.facebook.com/blog/post/2012/07/17/capturing-growth--photo-apps-and-open-graph
(17 July 2012).
3. Sarah Kessler, “Instagram: From zero to $1 billion
in 17 months,” Mashable, mashable.com/2012/04/10/instagram-timeline (10
4. Jorge Grieve, Anita Idiculla, Katie Tobias,
“Entrenched in the digital world,” Business Today, businesstoday.intoday.in/story/burberry-social-media-initiative/1/191422.html
(3 February 2013).
5. Russell Parsons, “Burberry credits digital spend
for revenue bump,” Marketing Week, marketingweek.co.uk/burberry-credits-digital-spend-for-revenue-bump/3031880.article
(15 November 2011).
6. Ekaterina Walter, “The rise of visual social
media,” Fast Company, fastcompany.com/3000794/rise-visual-social-media
(28 August 2012).
7. Eric Spitznagel, “How those Dove ‘Real Beauty
Sketch’ ads went viral,” Bloomberg Businessweek,
(26 April 2013).
This article was first published in the Hub (July