Last week, Curalate held a webinar in partnership with Twenty20, a platform that allows mobile photographers to sell their photos to brands and digital creators. In the webinar, titled “How to Drive Revenue with Photos,” Micah Cohen, Twenty20 Director of Growth, and Matt Langie, Curalate CMO, shared a wealth of insight on why marketers need to think beyond the products they sell by sharing images that depict desirable experiences.

In case you missed the live event, you can take a look at the replay here.

For those of you who prefer the TL;DR version – we’ve prepared five quick takeaways below.

1. Stock images are no longer enough to convince consumers.082415_Product_02

The buyer journey has changed significantly since the inception of ecommerce. In the early days of online shopping, consumers were confident in making purchase decisions with a stock image, a company-written product description and a few textual reviews to guide them.

“Things are more complicated these days,” Matt said. “More than 2.6 billion photos are shared on a daily basis, which speaks to the prevalent role images play in consumers’ lives.”

It’s not just the volume of images, either. The environments in which these images are shared play a role in the kind of content that today’s consumers are receptive to. From Instagram to Snapchat to influential blogs, photos are now a core part of the human experience. The pervasiveness of images is leading consumers to hold brands to higher standards. Stock images simply won’t cut it in the sea of imagery people are consuming every day.

Alternatively, consumers crave authentic photos that speak to the experiences they desire. Matt shared an anecdote from cosmetics brand Sigma Beauty, who is seeing that consumers are 5x more likely to make a purchase or click through when they see an image that’s driven by an experience vs. a traditional stock photo. The message is clear. Inspiration sells.

2. Millennials are driving this experience-driven visual phenomenon.

A July 2014 Eventbrite survey found that 78% of millennials would rather spend money on a desirable experience than on a desirable thing. This doesn’t mean that consumers are going to stop buying products. It indicates that marketers need to sell full-fledged experiences. Brands need to convey a lifestyle in their imagery, rather than just pushing out products, Matt noted.

“Ultimately, millennials do not want to be marketed to; they want to be engaged.”

3. Tap into your consumers’ experiences … but do so legally.

One of the easiest ways a brand can tell an authentic story is by harnessing organic visual moments from fans.

“Chances are, your fans are already sharing their experiences with your brand on various channels,” Matt said. There’s nothing more resourceful than collecting those photos, and sharing them with potential customers to give them a firsthand view of what it’s like to interact with your brand.

Of course, it’s necessary to make sure you’re sourcing fan photos legally. One way to gather content is by creating a unique hashtag (such as Urban Outfitters’ #UOonYou or Wet Seal’s #WetSeal4Me) and asking consumers to upload photos with it.

But what if you happen to stumble upon a great photo that isn’t tagged? Just ask the fan if you can use it. “If you think your fans won’t [grant you permission], think again,” Matt said. “Four out of five Instagram users give brands permission to share their photos.”

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Above, you can see a great example of a popular brand asking for permission to utilize one of their customer’s photos, and the eager response received in return.

4. Consumers aren’t necessarily partial to user-generated images.

While UGC can be incredibly powerful for brands, it’s not necessarily about the person behind the lens; what the present day shopper is drawn to is the style of image.

Many brands are already tapping into the notion that experience-oriented photos are more engaging. In addition to using fan photos, brands like Gap, J. Crew and Bonobos are busy creating their own editorial-style photos that inspire their fans.

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As an example, Matt shared the images above. The photos on the top were produced by brands, while the two on the bottom came from fans. These photos originated from different sources, but there’s a common thread. They all deviate from the traditional product shot that consumers were so accustomed to seeing in the past. “They’re all symbolic of lifestyles or authentic experiences,” Matt said.

As long as the photos are lifestyle-oriented, they’ll strike a chord with consumers. In fact, an analysis of Curalate data found that consumers are just as likely to engage with a lifestyle-oriented photo that originates from a brand, as they are to engage with one that originates from a fan.

5. Monetize lifestyle-oriented images on different channels.

Whether you source photos from your fans or your own brand, marketers need to keep in mind that these images can be monetized on different channels.

Matt shared examples from Sigma Beauty and Rebecca Minkoff, who both source content from their fans and make it shoppable on their sites. For Sigma Beauty, it resulted in a 16x ROI. Rebecca Minkoff reported an 11% increase in time-on-site.

Moorea Seal, founder of the eponymous accessories brand, relies heavily on branded editorial images. Upon partnering with Curalate, her lifestyle-oriented images on Instagram helped turn the platform into a top driver of revenue from a referral source.

Matt also noted that authentic, experience-driven imagery thrives beyond social and ecommerce sites. Brands have seen success with authentic, experience-oriented images within emails, for example. Just how much success? Within 24 hours of featuring editorial-style images from Instagram in an email, a leading fitness retailer that works with Curalate generated a 7x lift in on-site engagement.

Take Better Photos

Now that you’re aware of how crucial it is to provide consumers with visual experiences, it’s time to take action. How can you learn to create editorial-style images on your own? Our popular guide—“Instafamous!”—is packed with 25 tips and tricks from top Instagram influencers that can help you take better photos. We hope you’ll check it out.