By Petri Rahja, Founder and CEO of Scoopshot

Brands are becoming more visual in their marketing, with many companies turning to images and video as a way to share information in a more engaging way. The recent John Lewis advert ‘The Bear and the Hare is a fantastic example of a brand using video to engage consumers rather than shift product. The video has been so effective it has been viewed 8 million times on YouTube.

The reasons for this are clear; images tell a story succinctly and are extremely shareable across social media sites. In fact, a study by Forrester Research found that a single image can deliver the same amount of information as three pages of text.

However, it takes a relevant image to engage your audience. Consumers want a personal experience when they interact with brands and therefore using images which are pertinent to your audience in your campaigns is absolutely key. It’s for this reason that many brands are swapping stock photos for images produced by their customers themselves.

Traditionally, brands have sourced the images they need of ‘customers’ by buying professional or stock photos, however stock photo libraries can feel stale or staged and images are often over-used. Brands today need ‘real’ images that their customers will connect with, such as those shared daily on social networks.

One brand that is turning to social media to source images is Urban Outfitters. The clothes retailer encourages its customers to share photos of themselves wearing its products on Instagram and then uses these images in its marketing. By opting for images taken by its customers, instead of relying on willowy models and high-end studio shots, Urban Outfitters is able to get closer to its customers and appear more in touch with its shoppers.

This opportunity to become more relevant is a powerful reason why brands should ‘get real’ and embrace photo and video content produced by the public in their marketing; these images and videos truly reflect your customers, and in turn, your brand. Letting your audience get involved is like handing out the mic. People love to give their opinion. Furthermore, it creates a bond, making your customers more loyal to your brand. You can’t say that about stock photography.

Social media platforms are powerful tools to connect your brand with your community to co-create visual content. However, images posted on social media sites cannot be re-published due to image rights issues, and not every brand has a million likes on Facebook or a huge Twitter following. By looking beyond these existing fans, brands can source the ‘real’ images they need while engaging with the wider crowd. Platforms such as Scoopshot offer an effective way for businesses to source ‘real’ photos on-demand, offering the ability to gather content in real-time from real people while ensuring publishing rights are managed.

By using ‘real’ photos and engaging customers in their marketing, small businesses can compete with big brands. Your customer is your most powerful marketing tool, their endorsement whether visual or verbal is worth its weight in gold. By working with them to co-create content you can build the perfect content marketing strategy, while growing your customer base and customer loyalty.

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