At its core, shopping is an emotional process. As consumers, we associate lifestyles with products and services and the associations that we make about the lifestyles that brands will afford us are hugely influenced by images. Have you ever purchased an item to cheer yourself up? Have you ever bought something after seeing a photo that inspired a particular feeling? Me too.

Essentially all American adults (96%) participate in retail therapy, according to research from Ebates. However, discerning consumers are also prone to take more time to consider the pros and cons of a particular item from a very rational, non-emotional vantage point. They consider the price, how they’d use it in everyday life, the value and other factors.

Successful brands understand and appeal to both the emotional and rational sides of the discovery and shopping experience. While it’s important to provide detailed data about a product, they know they also need to capture customer attention and draw them into digital or in-store shopping experiences. Striking this balance is challenging — especially when there are so many other tasks and goals to balance and contend with — but visual lifestyle content is the key to creating a compelling brand story across all channels.

Visual content is the most efficient way to strike the balance of emotional and rational while selling the lifestyle your brand represents. Think about a bank or an insurance company. They technically sell financial services but pictures of forms and applications don’t sell their products. They’re selling security. They’re selling freedom. They’re selling peace of mind. How can that be portrayed in images? Think about what your brand ultimately sells and how images can tell that story (emotional) while also providing helpful information (rational).

In an era when Instagram has become a top channel for shopping inspiration, the brands that don’t embrace visual content and share it across their paid, earned and owned channels will be left behind. (And not to mention, miss out on a significant revenue opportunity.)

Even highly aspirational luxury brands like Saks are embracing visual content to share their brand stories and better connect with consumers. Here are some tips to ensure your visual content inspires shoppers and drives action:

1. Establish your brand lifestyle and corresponding vision and content standards

All brands have a specific lifestyle they want to portray and audience they hope to engage. Your target audience, their personal tastes and preferences, and the stories that resonate with them should all be considered when you build your brand vision and story. Your visual content should be a natural extension of this lifestyle; and while it can take on a broad range of images, the story should be a consistent thread throughout the brand’s presentation.

Brand standards should even apply to the user-generated content you share. Rejuvenation has a thriving hub of user-generated content, which was built with the help of the #myonepiece hashtag. The entire hub is extremely consistent and does not stray far from the style standards established by the Rejuvenation brand. There’s often a misconception that brands need to publish all user-generated content that’s being created. However, with the right technology, brands can maintain full control of how content is seen and shared, making it a very feasible option for any brand.


2. Encourage customers to participate

Peer reviews and user-generated content can significantly impact brand perception, site traffic and average order value. When retail customers engage with peer-created content (whether it’s comments, photos or videos) their conversion rate is 97% higher than customers who do not engage with the content. Capitalize on this trend by encouraging consumers to snap photos of their experiences with your brand. People want to talk about the “brand of me” – encourage them to do that (since they already are) and just include your brand in that conversation.

By creating a specific hashtag, you can track all images that are created and shared, and even syndicate the photos that align with your brand vision across a variety of outlets, including your blog e-commerce site and specific product pages. When consumers see the standard and style of photos you share, they’re more likely to adapt to those guidelines and continue to submit their photos.

Let’s use #SaksStyle from Saks Fifth Avenue as a great example. When you visit the dedicated page on the e-commerce site, it’s clear that the brand gravitates to a very specific tone and image style. The images are not overly filtered, and very few show an item on its own. Typically, there’s a stylish woman as the focal point, and she’s wearing pieces from one, or several, key designers found at Saks.


3. Combine branded content with user-generated images

Lifestyle images are the most powerful ways of engaging consumers, regardless of their source. A powerful image, whether it’s user generated or brand created, shows a complete, contextual scene that combines a multitude of elements. This could mean a group of girlfriends wearing the same bangles, a beautiful living room scene redesigned for summer or a fashion blogger sporting her top trends from fashion week. When combined, all images create a dynamic yet comprehensive story that shows off diverse product lines, real-world use cases and just how adored the brand is — as represented by the lifestyle it portrays.

Let’s refer to the Urban Outfitters #UOONYOU gallery for inspiration. The visual content community combines “best looks, spaces, music and more, captured with Instagram and here to inspire.” And inspire it does. But when you look closer at the Instagram accounts that initially created and shared the images, you’ll see that in addition to everyday consumers and bloggers, local Urban Outfitters accounts have also been added to the mix. Their participation has undoubtedly helped grow the community significantly and shows a more diverse range of products to display.

Urban Outfitters

4. Extend your visual content across channels

It takes a lot of time to collect high-quality images from your consumers. Not to mention, you have to plan and budget for your own branded content too. Instead consider incorporating a variety of consumer-created photos to create a collage promoting a new product line. Or use one or two key images for a campaign that spans social, email, digital advertising, your blog and your web site. Your consumers want a seamless brand experience, and your visual content can play a key role in creating that consistency.

Apparel and footwear brand Sperry does a great job of displaying visual content across its online shopping experience. In addition to showing off user-generated content on its homepage, Sperry also has a dedicated user-generated content gallery and adds consumer submissions to product pages. This allows visitors to see how other people style and wear Sperry shoes and apparel.


Embrace the Shift to Visual Inspiration

When created, used and shared effectively, visual content is an extremely powerful way to convey a lifestyle. It can inspire and delight customers, and create that powerful connection between that lifestyle and your brand. And by following the above tips and taking cues from best-in-class brands across categories, you can see an increase in brand engagement, average order value and bottom-line results.

How did brands like Sperry, Urban Outfitters and Saks execute their e-commerce plans? By partnering with Curalate. Learn more by getting a demo of the Curalate suite of products.