iStock’s Andrea Gagliano: how iStock’s AI is Advancing Startup Marketing

In a digital age where rapid access to the right creative assets can define a startup's branding success, technology plays a pivotal role. Andrea Gagliano, Senior Director of AI/ML at iStock, is at the forefront of adapting the creative search landscape.

iStock has been enhancing how startups navigate vast digital libraries to find that perfect image or video that resonates with their vision. Gagliano shares insightful perspectives on how technological advancements are not just simplifying search processes but are also crafting a more intuitive journey for users. This transformative approach is proving to be a game-changer for startups looking to stand out in a crowded market.

What do startups need to know about the shift in online search?

Andrea Gagliano iStockGagliano commented: “For many years, online search has been synonymous with keyword-based queries. Users had to upskill in Boolean search – combining keywords with Boolean operators such as AND, OR and NOT - to find the right and most accurate information, which can often be a time-consuming and fragmented process.

“Now, search systems are better at responding to natural language thanks to AI-powered technology. iStock’s proprietary search performance data and analytics show that small and medium-sized businesses are starting to use more descriptive and natural phrasing within their image and video searches. Users that have a vision of the visual they want to see can add more descriptions to their search queries to generate the most relevant results – for example, the subject, the environment, and the time of day.”

What part do innovative technologies, like AI and ML, play in this?

“AI and machine learning models are having a profound impact on improving the search experience, with more search platforms integrating artificial intelligence into their algorithms. Now, AI-powered search is allowing people to search in natural language, offering a more fluid and intuitive search experience,” she explained.

“At iStock, we are harnessing this technology to transform how our customers search for and find relevant visual content in our creative image and video libraries through our Enhanced Search feature. But we are not only leveraging AI technology for natural language search.

“As part of the features offered within iStock’s AI generator, we also have a reverse search functionality that allows users to look for similar content in our pre-shot library with images generated by the AI. This has streamlined the process of discovering the ideal visual assets for their projects, enhancing the efficiency and creativity of our users.”

Why should startups and SMBs prioritise customer-centric communications?

“Last year, we fielded a survey to small and medium-sized businesses globally to find out what their priorities are when they create marketing materials for their brand. Our findings show that a key priority for British SMBs is to convey how their product or service is responsive to customers’ needs, as finding new customers is one of the top challenges they face in making their business more profitable.

“One way of showing tailored solutions is being thoughtful about the visuals a business uses – whether that be in using visuals which show and are inclusive of people from different backgrounds, ages, and genders.”

How can startups harness the power of video content?

“Video content is reigning supreme in today’s digital age – especially with people turning to social platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube as search engines.

“Our research shows that 64% of British consumers are consuming short-form video content as a primary source on social media to inspire, educate and learn new things. This statistic not only underscores the growing importance of dynamic and engaging visual content in today’s digital landscape, but also highlights the significant role that social media platforms now play in knowledge discovery.

“SMBs can capitalise on the opportunity to spread the word about their product or service on social media by creating engaging video content. When you create this content, consider showcasing a product feature with a live demo, sharing tutorials, or providing a behind-the-scenes look at how your business operates to make your brand more appealing to a wider audience.”

How can startups and SMBs craft compelling visuals tailored to a specific audience?

“It is more important than ever for SMBs to create content that stands out in a crowded visual landscape. To cut through the noise, businesses must understand what their audience is looking for and tailor their marketing materials and products accordingly.

“Insights from our VisualGPS survey underscore the importance of authenticity and relatability as key components of trust in the age of AI, with 98% of Brits considering authentic images and videos as pivotal in establishing consumer trust.

“To foster stronger connections with your target audience and to drive engagement, think about how and when AI-generated content is used. Visuals created using AI are likely not the right source if you are looking to tell stories about real people in real-life scenarios in your marketing. Instead, opt for high-quality pre-shot images and videos that include the people you are trying to represent – either in front of the camera or behind the lens.

“Also think about embracing social media aesthetics, injecting humour, and incorporating user-generated content in their marketing to further enhance your brand appeal and relevance.”