Marketing Your Business: Who Is Your Visual Protagonist?

by Deborah Proctor

Protagonist is defined as "chief actor,"  "one who plays the first part," or "one who plays the leading role" in a novel, movie, play, or other fictional medium. When marketing your business, creating your small business advertising plan or choosing photography for small businesses, it is important to think about who will be your protagonist and how you will tell your company's story not only in words but visually.

Think of a few iconic marketing protagonists that we are all familiar with. Characters like "Flo;" as soon as you see her blue headband and white apron you recognize her as the Progressive Insurance® spokesperson. Or when you see a photo of the Travelocity® roaming gnome nestled in some idyllic location, do you wonder where in the world he is and how you'd like to be in that picture too?  And, what if I say "gecko." Do you say "GEICO®?"

Sometimes the company protagonist is simply a logo — think of Target®, Nike®, or Pepsi®— did you picture the red and white bull’s-eye, the "swoosh," or the red, white, and blue circle? Or even just a single color, such as the orange used for ING® Financial Services? No words necessary. Visual storytelling at work.

For non-profits and medium or small business advertising and marketing though, the owner, CEO, or founder may become the "face" of your company. You may hang your name on just one product and that becomes the image of your company. Can a product itself be the visual protagonist? Yes! But it must take on a persona of its own. Or perhaps you choose to use customer testimonials for marketing your business. Each of these is a protagonist – the leading subject that tells your organization's story.


Yet, remember that the protagonist "plays the leading role." Choose your starring character and how you present it to your audience wisely. Think of an amateurish customer testimonial commercial you’ve seen in the past. Did it make you think highly of the company presenting that message, or did you wonder if perhaps they might be just as unprofessional as their spokesperson?

Before you create that first marketing piece, think carefully about the visual image you wish to impress on a potential customer's mind. Then, intentionally set out to create that visual image and project it in every ad, every marketing message, and on every product you create. But most importantly, think of your visual protagonist as a character. What does it do? Think? Avoid? As an example, the Horribly Hilly Hundreds bike tour leveraged its visual protagonist – a Viking (which ties in with the tagline, “Biking like a Viking,”), by commissioning a series of commercial photographs by Focal Flame Photography featuring a 2 in.-tall Viking doll named Bram placed in different sponsor’s businesses. It made for a compelling social media contest where participants guessed the location to win a prize. (And boy, are miniature Viking dolls demanding models…always taking breaks for “hair and makeup” and demanding ale – whew!) 


Humans are a visual lot, that is why the Travelocity® gnome or the Nike® "swoosh" do not need any words to go with them. You want to create the same instant recognition, so when creating your advertising and marketing materials, choose high quality, professional photography for small businesses to make your story come alive in potential customer's minds. A picture truly IS worth a thousand words.

Sure, there are many stock images available online, but were any of those images designed to tell your story? Will they create that memorable connection in a potential customer's mind when they see the same image in someone else's advertising too? Not likely. They might even be the same stock images that your competitor is using, which can dilute brand recognition.

When you take the time to "plot your story," truly thinking about the image you wish to project, and then deliberately create that image through a smart tag line and photography specific to your company, you will stand out from the crowd. Like that gecko, you will create a memory in the viewer's mind that is unique to your company alone. That visual  image — the one that shouts your company's brand and yours alone — that is your protagonist and you can only get that with professional images created just for you.

Focal Flame Photography is in the visual storytelling business. On any commercial photography assignment, before we make a single image, we spend time with you, get to know your plans, your goals, help you select your protagonist, and plot out the story you wish to tell. Then we set about telling your story in expressive, compelling images. Using imagery with high stopping power will enhance your marketing message and capture the attention of viewers. To learn more or to discuss how Focal Flame photography for small businesses can help you enhance your business image, contact us.

In every story there is a protagonist — who or what is yours? Share your experiences!