Lifestyle Branding For Lifelong Customers - Part 3

April 9, 2014

By: Kellis Landrum,
Author Title: 
Art Director
, Magento

In my last segment, I went over some tips on how to get a photographer who can tell stories. Hopefully you’ve found the right person behind the lens who can help you tell a great story and create the right presentation of your product. There are many facets to getting that story right, but there’s one that stands out in almost any lifestyle image: getting the right model. Why is this so important to storytelling and lifestyle branding? Simply put: because people (like your customers) relate to other people on a much deeper level than they relate to products.

Many merchants debate whether or not to use models at all. After all, you can just as easily shoot product in a studio, on a mannequin, or flat, for a fraction of the cost. But if you know your target market, you can show them a vision of what they would look like using your product by using a model, not to mention give them valuable merchandising information like size and fit.

So how do you go about finding the right people to shoot?

3. Energy Makes the Model

Let’s start off by dispelling a myth: you don’t necessarily need incredibly gorgeous and expensive models. Granted, no one minds beautiful people, and high-profile names may be part of your brand, but hiring hotness is not always the same thing as storytelling. Ask almost any professional photographer if they have some favorite shots of interesting everyday people they happened upon, then kiss the rest of your afternoon goodbye. Every good photographer knows that the key is to find someone with great energy, and then raise the production value by putting them in the right setting.

The term “model” may actually be a bit loaded, as it can technically apply to anyone in front of a camera. If you sell sporting goods for example, shooting an athlete (or even a team) in the middle of a game might tell a great story. Documenting fierce competition or heroic triumph is likely to be much more compelling than simply shooting someone attractive in a studio. Your athletes might not even be “beautiful” people, but if the story is great then all is forgiven.

As an art director, I'll let you in on a secret: models don't always look that great in real life. Good hair, make up, lighting, camera angles, and Photoshop are used to make regular people attractive, and reasonably attractive people stunning.  Even “beautiful” people are dressed, lit, shot and Photoshopped to create the brand story. If you have the budget, feel free to dial up Ford or Wilhelmina, but, bottom line, your products will look best in the context of people who look and act authentically to your brand experience. We’re talking about people who have the vibe of your brand. If it suits the story of your brand, don't be afraid to grab people off the street. No one is offended when you ask them if they want to be a model.

You could even take advantage of the “real people” movement and avoid the Photoshop controversy, but, before you go down that road, make sure it’s right direction for your brand. There are sites out there dedicated to capturing everyday people with great style, like None of these people are professional models, but if you stole borrowed some style ideas from here, you certainly wouldn't be the first.

The key to finding the right person is to know what you are looking for. Short or tall? Long hair or short? Skinny, preppy, punk rock? Generally the best way to answer these questions is to look at a ton of people, and over the course of an hour or two you’ll find a few faces that suddenly “feel” like your brand.

This is the third blog in a five-part series. Stay Tuned for Part 4: Images - Go Big or Go Home

Read Part 1: Lifestyle Story Presentation
Read Part 2: Energy Makes the Model

KellisLandrum is an Art Center College of Design Alumni, a member of the Art Center Legacy Circle, and Art Center Instructor. Kellis is Co-Founder and Editor In Chief of online style and culture magazine,, and he has designed, developed and directed award winning projects for a variety of clients including NBC, Scion Motors, Kia Motors, American Apparel, Guess Clothing, Symantec, and Aiwa. View Kellis' portfolio.