Before digital photography, I remember the excitement of getting my pictures developed the moment I returned home from a great trip or event. It was all about the anticipation, the hopes that I’d captured a specific moment, face, or place. Conversely, I also recall the instant gratification of my parents’ Polaroid: watching the photo coming out of the camera, waving it in the air to “dry,” and watching the magic of film appear right before my eyes.

The romance of waiting for film to develop may have faded. But like Polaroids, today’s photo trends in digital, mobile, and social offer instant gratification. These trends are kindling our loving new relationship with photography – and smart brands are using photo sharing to win some love themselves.

Tools such as Instagram allow users to instantly capture an image with their phones, adjust lighting and color for more professional-looking quality, and share the finished photo via social networks for instant feedback shares. Users freely share images of products they like, places they’d like to go, or sights that inspire them – a wealth of valuable data for brands. Instagram won Best App in Social Media at the Shorty Awards, the Facebook recently purchased the company for a reported $1 billion.

Instantly-sharable photography lets consumers share not just of their view of the world, but also their view of brands. On Pinterest, for example, users collect images by searching pinboards of both friends and strangers identified as having similar interests, and “re-pinning” images to their own collections for inspiration. Colleen DeCourcy, CEO of Socialistic, describes the activity as “shopping without money.”

Brands like Burberry, GE, and Starbucks are taking steps to engage these window shoppers. Not only do these consumers’ shared photos deepen their relationship with the brand, but they also advertise the brand to others through earned media. Through social tools like Pinterest and Instagram, these brands encourage sharing by sharing images that inspire or fit the brand. They also encourage customers to share images they feel fit the brand, creating a vibrant visual community around brands that reflects consumer perceptions.

In using photography to build an emotional connection to a brand, marketers should be mindful of the following tips:

  1. Open up to a dialogue of sharing. The images that depict your brand shouldn’t just come from you. Embrace the images that your customers and advocates see as fitting your brand, too – after all, they are the ones who matter.
  2. Let that dialogue spark conversations. Respond to images posted by your customers. The most popular brands with their customers are the ones who are interacting and engaging publicly online through social sites.
  3. Stop trying to sell something. Consumers are smart, and they’ll see right through a sales pitch. If you follow steps one and two above, the sales will follow through a deeper relationship with customers.
  4. Validate consumers to boost their ego. People often share content online as a way of expressing themselves, and look for validation (whether they know it or not). Boost your customers’ egos by re-sharing their photos, and recognizing active contributors in front of your community.
  5. Help people help each other. Another reason people share is often to help others – by bringing valuable, helpful, or entertaining content. Encourage your customers to help each other in order to inspire a sense of community around your brand. For example, an apparel brand could ask customers to share images of their fully-accessorized outfits. Even if the clothing isn’t all from your brand, customers appreciate the opportunity to seem expert and guide others – and will thank your brand for it.

I don’t know about you, but as I catch on to the likes of Instagram and Pinterest, I do believe I am cultivating a very unique and authentic view of my world – and a deeper connection to the brands I engage with.

8 Responses to “The new window shopping: how to build brands by photo sharing”

  1. Completely agree. And sharing photos of your products taken by customers builds authenticity over professional photos. Thanks for reading!

  2. Instant gratification is definitely helping drive the explosion in amateur photography and online photo sharing.  Thanks for your comment!

  3. Sharing the photos of your customers and contributors enhances one’s confidence and excitement about your product. nice ideas. 

  4. I can relate to the excitement of immediately developing the photos. But now all the
    photos can see after you clicked the camera, no time to wait to see the photos.

  5. I appreciate your comment @aloomba:disqus .  I think brands have a lot to learn from the way consumers view and talk about their products and services!

  6. Very interesting article and some great tips. I completely agree that the various brand pages that exist are really meant for consumers to have a peek into the brand’s world. It’s such a great way to connect with consumers on another level and engage with them.

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