Our 5 Favorite Ways to use Illustration in Marketing

Posted on Jan 18, 2024
Our 5 Favorite Ways to use Illustration in Marketing

Custom illustration is waaaay more than clipart

As a kid… ok, who am I kidding? As a kid and to this day as a grown-ass adult, I still catch myself doing the same thing at a bookstore; that is, picking up a book because the cover looked interesting and flipping though its pages before I decide to spend more time with it. Why exactly? Because… PICTURES! I was looking for something within the pages (other than the content of the book itself) to keep me invested and curious to read.

Pictures, whether photographs or illustrations make a difference for me in how I like to absorb information; and you know what? I’m not alone.

Have you ever read instructions but got frustrated because you couldn’t “see” how to do something? Ever dismissed a recipe because there were no “how-to” photos to guide your process? Or did you ever pick one wine bottle over another because “the label was cool”?

Yeah. Me too! THAT is the power of imagery at work. 

It attracts you, makes you curious to know more. It holds your attention and makes you want to wear it and share it. In short, adds something to your life, doesn’t it? If art itself is food for the soul, I like to think of commercial art as a way to make everything else in life—things we buy because we want to or have to—a little more soulful and delicious.

Here at The Labs & Co., we love using illustration in our brand marketing. More than that, we love *creating* illustration for our clients to use to their hearts’ desire. Over the past 14 years (damn, time flies), we’ve had the joy of illustrating for a wide range of projects, from icons created for social media, repeating patterns for dog beds, botanical illustrations, t-shirt designs, wild animal-themed pieces for conservation organizations and infographic pieces. We’ve been around the block a few times doing this work, and any day I get to sit by the fire and draw something fun, is a very good day in my book.

There is magic in illustration custom-made for your specific purpose.

This can be the reason someone chooses your brand over someone else’s: you got the cool art that adds something to your message, or the experience of working with you/buying something from you. 

Not sure where illustration could fit within your marketing?
Let us share with you our favorite 5 ways to make it rock for you!

1. Add a touch of {insert your word here} magic, humor, whimsy, beauty etc.

When you sprinkle illustrations custom-made for you across your brand marketing materials, it adds another point of connection, recognition, and loyalty seamlessly weaves across your branding. This is especially effective when used consistently. Adding spot illustrations across your website, can help your site look polished and cohesive. Using your illustrations to create experiences for your customers in the form of stickers, cards or pins to name a few, is an easy way to create a great “Thank You” gift. 

Take our client Jennifer McCallum, photographer and owner of Firefly Pet Photography, who brought us in to create a series of custom illustrations of a dog character she dreamt up and named “Sparky”. You can see this Newfoundland holding balloons, pulling a little girl in a wagon, gazing at a jar of fireflies, wearing a bow tie or smiling with his paws on top of a rectangle with space perfect for copy. Jen uses her illustrations to add some visual interest and breathing room in her Instagram feed. She commissioned Sparky showcasing things for her business where it was important for people to get a visual reference without looking at a photograph. Because she photographs a lot of families with young children, I am sure Sparky provides a great point of connection with her clients.

In Jen’s words: “My goal is that these illustrations are another texture or layer that weaves throughout my brand.  And I hope that the more I use them the more they become a recognizable extension of my brand.”

2. Create central characters and use them as a main source of material for your brand and mission.

Such was the case for another Jennifer we love working with; Tiny Garden Stories are Jennifer McClain Singleton’s love for her garden come to life. Jennifer is the creator/cat lover/book advocate behind Read + Purr, a brand dedicated to the joy and comfort of reading as an antidote to daily stress. When Read + Purr first launched, we helped Jennifer create a central character for her brand, a bookish kitty named “Annie”. Similar to Firefly Pet Photography, Read + Purr now has Annie Kitty stickers, bookmarks, notecards and you can find her on the website and social channels. But Jennifer took it one step further when she found herself immersed in writing short stories, all featuring woodland creatures she would see and imagine visiting her garden. With the creation of Tiny Garden Stories , so came a new list of characters we created for her, including a rabbit, a raccoon, a chipmunk, a squirrel and a possum. 

In Jennifer’s words: “I love having custom illustrations to use wherever and whenever needed for my website, newsletters, social media, and other fun things like bookmarks, stickers, and pins. The real benefit, though, is in working with Nat to bring the pictures in my head to life as gorgeous line drawings and watercolors. Her illustrations provide an instant pop of color, adorableness, whimsy, and personality that does wonders for illustrating my stories and my ideas, and that also brings everything — website, social media, print materials — together beautifully.”

I love how Jennifer brings her stories to life and working together to bring these little animal characters into existence was one of the highlights of that year for me.

 

3. How-to’s and How it Works made easier with visual references

I love illustrated how-to instructions. I may not read the actual instructions, but if there are illustrations telling me how I should be doing things or what to expect, I appreciate that. In the past, I illustrated a few how-to series, mainly for how to properly fit a dog harness. However, how-to illustrations don’t always need to be hidden away in your packaging. How-to can just as easily be illustrative of a process, steps 1-2-3. For example, our client Jocelyn Mizrahi, the powerhouse lady behind the membership box Dog Mom Lifestyles, hired us to do just that: create a set of three illustrations that she could use as her “How it Works” section. An fun fact about this project was using only three of Jocelyn’s brand colors for the illustration. This helps it fit seamlessly within her website, but stand out against a plain background.

We also created the design of the Dog Mom Lifestyles box as well as quite a few t-shirt designs featured in each box, my favorite being “A Dog’s Tail Never Lies” within the silhouette of a Cardigan Corgi!

4. Illustration helps information become more digestible (and memorable)

There is no better example of this than illustration created for editorial or information graphics (infographics). Often, infographics are tasked with the difficult job to make information on a specific topic of importance both precise, concise and most of all, easy to understand and retain. I am sure there is a study somewhere that shows the average human brain retains information better when it associates said information with something, such as a memorable visual aid.

 

We have done quite a few infographic projects over the years with organizations like AVMA as well as with Animal Farm Foundation. A lot of these infographics are heavy not just on the science, numbers and graphs… but the topics can be heavy too. It is not just our job, but our mission to make important importation more attainable for everyone.

Animal Farm Foundation in particular has been a great partner in creating these pieces. They are unafraid to step out there and take a more creative approach to addressing a topic as sad as the historical “demonization” of certain dog breeds.

For that particular piece, we created vintage monster movie posters for each dog breed, poking fun at the ludicrous things people would say about these dogs they deemed as monsters, when in reality, they end up being the victims.

5.  Lastly, our favorite way to use illustration: Share what You Love for passive income or fundraising.

From building brand loyalty with ephemera I like to call “brand cool” or giving your audience a tangible way to “wear what you care about”. Custom illustration made for this purpose serves as a  way to fundraise for a cause that is dear to you. A great opportunity to support and be supported by others. 

Last year, I was honored to be asked to work on two separate projects benefitting conservation and protection for my favorite animal on earth: wolves.

I created wolf illustrations for The Hair of The Dog Conservation Fund and Wild Narrative Project—for which I also created a wild horse illustration and for which I am a proud board member for. Each of these pieces is available on T-shirts and Hoodies, both benefitting each organization’s efforts to contribute to the protection of keystone species and wild places.

Internally, we put illustration for fundraising to the test last year. When we were faced with a major surgery for our beloved dog, Willow, I opted against starting a Go Fund Me. Instead, I created a couple of “Willow” illustrations and offered them via Bonfire campaigns.

They were a hit.

We were able to pay off a couple of vet bills, but I’ll never be able to express what it meant to us to see people, some who we’d never met, buy and proudly wear their Willow shirts. 

As a brand ourselves, we commissioned a set of illustrated badges from one of my favorite designers. I have since made a ton of goodies you’ll find available in our online shop. It was especially fun to create cool swag for our Model Network members to enjoy. They can wear their pride for their dog’s rockstar talents, and carry an item made especially for them with our logo on it. It doesn’t get much better than that.

So, there you have it. Five ways illustration can add that little extra something to your brand or cause. 

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