When it comes to running a business, effective branding is a “must.” It seeps into everything you do — from your marketing strategy to your customer interactions.
Consistent and cohesive branding across all platforms — websites, emails, landing pages, social posts, advertisements, products, etc. — builds trust. It shows professionalism. It represents your passion for your product and your attention to the little details.
And it makes you instantly recognizable.
Branding helps you define:
- Who your business is
- What your business does
- How you visually communicate #1 and #2 to your potential and current customers
Larger businesses put tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands!) of dollars into branding. They can hire agencies (or pay for internal marketing teams), who brand everything from their stationary to their websites to their products.
So what should a small business or solopreneur do? How can you compete? Where do you even begin? Below, I’ll show you how to create amazing brand images on zero budget.
Start with stock photos
You’re probably using stock photos. Stock images are a fantastic option for those who are short on time and resources. Nowadays, you can find great free images to use at your disposal.
Some of my favorite sources include:
While stock imagery is a quick and easy solution that anyone can use, there’s also one big problem with it: The selections are often boring and generic.
Plus, everyone uses stock photography. (At least everyone who can’t hire professional photographers on a daily basis!)
Here at AWeber, we had a similar problem. We noticed many other businesses were choosing the same stock images as we were — which decreased our brand’s impact in the inbox and on social.
How to brand stock photos
As a Brand Designer for the AWeber team, I wanted to change this. I wanted to create unity across all our assets — our blog, social feeds, ads, and emails — and put our own twist on the stock images we used. I wanted them to be modern. I wanted them to pack a punch, and for readers to instantly know they were AWeber’s images. I wanted to brand stock photos.
In order to change the way we handled our stock photography, I looked at what was currently missing from our blog images: consistency, color, and fun.
Here’s what our blog looked like before:
To enhance consistency, I started using a subtle, warm-color overlay to create similar feelings across all images.
But I didn’t want all the overlays to be the same. And I didn’t want them to be totally different, either. So I started to systematize the color themes to correspond with our different article categories. For instance, an article about “writing better emails” would have a blue to green color shift, and an article about “designing better emails” would use an orange to yellow color shift.
I also wanted to make our images more FUN! In an attempt to do something a little different and unexpected, we incorporated the color additions within varying geometric shapes — like circles, rectangles, and pentagons. The shapes are placed in a way that benefits the composition of the image — not necessarily beholden to a content category. Plus, I added bold, capped font for all social images so they’d catch a person’s attention as they scrolled through their feed.
We applied this new branding style to all our content — blog articles, social posts, ads, and landing pages. We even incorporated elements into our new blog newsletter sign up page.
Here’s a before and after of our blog with the branded stock images.
(Unlike other email service providers, AWeber offers unlimited image hosting — so you can upload as many images as you want with no quotas to worry about.)
More ways to brand stock photos
You can easily make similar changes to your stock images today by pulling elements from your logo, website, or blog to personalize the look. (I recommend using free editing software like Canva or Pixlr.) Some ways you can make quick branding updates include:
- Use brand colors: You can overlay them on top of the image or use them behind text so that it becomes easier to read. Make sure your font colors are the same on your blog, website, and emails.
- Pull shapes that reoccur on your site or are used within your logo: This is specifically great for those who use any icons within their logo (the simpler the shape the better). It can also help as a divider between your image and text.
- Use fonts that are used in your logo or as plain type on your website: It’s important to pick a font that is easy to read and, ironically, not too original. Typically fonts that are not commonly used as standard type like “Lobster” or “Brush Script” can be hard to read at a quick glance. In order for your images to stand out, you want people to know exactly what you are saying right away.
I encourage you to use any elements you can to make your photos stand out from the masses. Create a brand you’re proud of — and one that people are excited to be a part of.
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