It’s hard to imagine a field where communication is more essential than the healthcare field. Essential to build trust. To help people find the care they need. To make them feel comfortable when a medical or mental health crisis emerges. To keep them healthy, both mentally and physically.
As a marketer in the healthcare field, you use language to clarify complex topics and engage patients and prospects. You leverage graphic design principles to present information in a way that’s clear and easy to access. And you have another communication tool in your kit: photography.
So, how good are the photos your marketing team is using in print and digital communications? Are they current? Do they represent your audience? Can people see themselves in your messaging?
Photography is a foundational element of storytelling. It shows, literally, how your work helps real people in real ways. It helps your audience envision themselves in your organization’s care.
Why, then, do marketing teams fall back on outdated photos or, worse, bland stock imagery that any other healthcare brand out there can use too?
Yes, time and money are hurdles. But we’re here to advocate for building a library of unique, brand-centric imagery that you can use across campaigns and channels. It’s a smart investment that can fuel your marketing efforts for at least a couple of years.
Start With Custom Photography
If you don’t currently have a library of branded imagery (or if you need to refresh it with new photos), now’s the time to begin building one. A major campaign tied to brand awareness or a new service offering is a great opportunity to create custom photography. Dedicate part of the project budget for imagery, or spread the cost out over several initiatives.
Because you’ll be capturing photos for a campaign, begin by developing a visual concept and a storyboard that indicates what shots are needed — be it doctors in their offices, joint replacement patients out on the pickleball court, behavioral health clients pursuing their favorite activities, or whatever the story you’re telling.
Your marketing agency will be helpful here: They’ll develop a photo shoot list that includes details on subjects, locations, propsand framing. They’ll also recommend a skilled photographer for the work. You and your marketing team will be the liaisons for getting the right people and permissions for the photo session. In addition, your role is to ensure authenticity and accuracy so the photos reflect the reality of your organization’s staff, audience and work.
Once the photo shoot is underway, you and your agency partner should be alert for opportunities to shoot additional stuff to fill the library. A good photographer and art director will be flexible and open to images that emerge on the fly: different perspectives, casual takes that capture the subject in a relaxed pose, environmental shots that can be used in different ways, and so on. You’ll come away from a single day’s photo shoot with hundreds of images that, in addition to supporting the campaign, can begin to build your library. It’s always good to have too many photos: You can repurpose outtakes in countless ways, which gives you more bang for the buck.
Stock photography can be a useful tool for healthcare marketers; there are tons of services that offer seemingly endless options. You may already subscribe to a stock photo website that has images that reflect your audience and services.
There’s a perception that stock imagery is inexpensive compared to custom. But the cost of a monthly stock photo service subscription can add up, and you often have to pay extra for higher-resolution images suitable for print or for the right to use images across multiple platforms. And your design team will spend additional time tweaking the photos to fit your needs. Using stock means you wind up retrofitting a generic photo to plug into your narrative, rather than crafting imagery specifically to support your story.
The biggest concern about stock photography, though, is that it’s not authentic to your community. Those aren’t your providers or your patients. And stock photos are so sterile and overproduced that they don’t look real. Thanks to what we see in our social media feeds, the prevailing visual trend is toward imagery that looks casual, imperfect, real-life. If your marketing goal is to build the community’s trust in your healthcare organization — and it should be — then they need to see themselves in your communication.
In short, stock imagery can be a supplement — but not a substitute — for a branded photo library. Choose stock photos that reflect your audience, and revise them (cropping, retouching, adding splashes of color) to fit your brand.
Whenever your marketing team is on the ground, interacting with your community, encourage them to take photos “in the wild”: At a health fair, or a fundraising event, or the 5K race you sponsor.
It’s OK that these aren’t taken by a pro; cameras built into mobile devices take decent shots, and in-app editing tools make it easy to tweak the images. These casual snapshots are idea for sharing on social media, and if you secure permission from the subjects, you can add them to your photo library.
A custom image library creates a consistent visual presence for your healthcare brands. As your audience sees similar photos on billboards and social media and print ad campaigns, that repetition builds familiarity. What’s more, these photos represent real staff and real people, telling your unique brand story.
And when the community you serve see themselves, figuratively speaking, in your marketing, they’ll be comfortable entrusting their own care to your organization. And you can’t put a price on that trust.
Let’s talk about your marketing needs.
Tenth Crow Creative is a brand marketing agency that creates, aligns, and promotes messaging for health and wellness organizations. Through insightful branding, engaging design and compelling marketing campaigns, we help these essential organizations find their identities and effectively communicate with their stakeholders so they can fulfill their missions.