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Content Marketing // January 12th, 2024

BRAND STORYTELLING THROUGH PHOTO: The Why and the How of Visual Expression

Written by Danguole Lekaviciute

If you’re already here, you don’t need us to tell you about the sea-of-sameness this and distinct-brand-visuals that. You’ve been there, done that, bought the T-shirt (or got conference swag for free).

As Kate Jenkins, our Photographer & Culinary Lead put it, “It’s important for a brand to establish and own a mood, feeling, and style so that they’re instantly recognizable by their consumers, and therefore are more likely to inspire brand loyalty and purchasing power. I’m more drawn to brands that showcase powerful storytelling, and intentionality in their creative social concepts, and have beautiful branding and photography; and I know I’m not the only one!”

However, how do you go about this daunting task of finding your visual voice, bringing it to life, fine-tuning the details, and making it consistent across all consumer touchpoints?

That particular recipe for success has many ingredients, but the most important is: Take the time to explore.

So, say you have a kombucha brand. Your product kicks ass; your branding is impactful and modern; your story is inspired; your ingredients are top-notch; your flavor range is intriguing yet accessible; you’ve made it to retail and the reviews are *chef kiss.* You’ve done all the things you need to do so far, but now you’re turning your focus on your brand’s footprint across all mediums. What does the brand’s universe look like? What does it feel like? Does the kind of person you’re trying to reach want to come in and stay a while?

If you’re looking to explore some of this work on your own, here’s an exercise to get it going and help set up creative teams for aligning on your internal vision.

  1. Gather up a bunch of brand images you like. At this point, anything you like goes—any industry, any aesthetic, any color palette. Copy and paste them into the copy-and-pasteable computer program of your choice, or print them out.
  2. Look for themes. Write down anything that comes to mind when you think of these, and patterns will begin to emerge. Try to sort them into three piles. Some images won’t have a pile. Unless you really love them, discard them. If you do really love them, find more like them and make another pile—but another pile must go away in its place. This is a ruthless exercise, folks! Not everybody is America’s Next Top Model material!
  3. Decide which one feels most like your brand. Write down what the person who resonates with this imagery is like. Give them a voice, hobbies, preferences. Maybe a name, if it helps. This is a good time to crowd-source some answers from friends, colleagues, and strangers who are willing to accept bribes of free kombucha. 

Kate Jenkins did this exercise for Lion Heart Kombucha, a local favorite. Here’s what emerged.

 Minimalist Pastels 

Our “pile” becomes a moodboard.

We were naturally drawn to this admittedly ubiquitous—but equally irresistible—aesthetic for a few reasons. Kate describes it as “modern, trendy, on-brand, simple, effortless.” Especially when paired with soft light, it embodies calmness, order, intention and tidiness. We’re here for the elegance, chic neutrals and pastels, and visuals with room to breathe. This style tends to be popular with, of all things, baby food brands—there’s a certain assuring purity to it.

And here’s how it shows up for Lion Heart—by way of a product photo, an ingredient/flavor cue showcase, and a lifestyle photo.

One With Nature

Our moodboard is basically a frolic through a meadow, with some detours to look at cool rocks.

Is this our hippie side showing? For brands who pride themselves on all things natural, eco-friendly, sustainable, organic, plant-based—or any combination of those—this is more than worth consideration. This is where nature-connected products and brands really walk the walk. Whether it’s recreating outdoor settings or incorporating fresh ingredients, florals, and other elements of the natural world, this embodies a wild, organic, rustic quality.

For Lion Heart, the images exploded with vibrant palettes, flowers, picnic blankets… And a whole lot of the still-warm-from-the-sun Oregon blackberries growing right in Maxwell’s backyard.


Lush Maximalist 

We love direct light, resembling bright sunny days with this one. It’s the ultimate kick of energy.

Every trend is ultimately met with its opposite, and this is the reaction to those sleek pastels we were just discussing. The revolt of MORE is MORE. This is a style that embodies abundance, vibrance, spontaneity, and a certain kind of freedom, abandon. In Kate’s words, “opulence, abundance, richness, unorganized fun chaos, truly creating and capturing a story and vibe.” Textures and prints are welcome here—the louder, the better. Digging in grandma’s attic for tablecloths never looked so chic.

For Lion Heart, the images evoked a certain sense of fun, mystery, energy, quirk. It took kombucha from a stuffy, health-food-aisle place to something fun, vibrant—almost an alcohol replacement at a really great party.

So, Which One is the Right Choice?

Good question! And as you might expect, it depends. It depends on where the brand wants to go, the stories it wants to tell, the kind of people it wants in its community. The only wrong answer is “Please combine all three.” Trying to please everyone most often results in a whole lot of bland nothin’. People may buy your product, but they’ll only do it until someone else—with a strong POV and brand—comes along and they fall in love.

We hope you agree, and feel inspired to start—or refine—your brand’s universe. If you’re ready for a partner in creating, check out our capabilities or email us at heythere@thinkmaxwell.com to learn more!