iBrand Blog

7 sins of selecting stock photos

Is your website having this effect on your visitors?

Is your website having this effect on your visitors?

Imagine you are visiting a friend at his home. While waiting in the living room, you decide to take a peak at the photos he has displayed. You saunter over to the first slowly, then are jarred by what you find.

Each of the pictures still has the stock image that came with the frame.

What would you take away from that experience? Here's what you wouldn't take away -- any information that helped you get to know him better.

Turning to a stock agency can be a good alternative when done properly. Stock photos can help you create an illustration that might have been too costly or time consuming to shoot yourself. Done poorly it can be a turn off and probably cost you business. Too often marketers who use stock images commit one of these seven sins. See if you see yourself in any of these examples. 


1. Using a generic photo to represent something specific

When you need to show something specific like your staff or your products, it doesn't help to use a generic image.  When was the last time you visited a web site to see five soap-opera pretty, Benetton-diverse models? Did you ever think that they worked at that business? Did it make you want to pick up the phone and call? 

Always take the opportunity to show something specific. Your employees. Your products. Your ideas. Don't waste the moment on generic people who don't help me understand you.

Here are some guidelines: If they aren't your employees, don't ask me to connect with them. If it isn't really your office building, I don't need to see it. And for God sakes, if you sell cheese cake, show your own cheese cake.


2. Using industry CDs

Don't ever use something generic created for your industry. Marketing is about differentiation. If everyone (i.e. competitors) in your industry uses the same images, you will look like everyone in your industry. Your goal is to stand out. Be memorable. You can't be remarkable with the same boring images as all the other people on your block. You've given me no reason to think you are special.


3. Selecting overused, cliche'd images

There are some stock images that should be banned forever. Please, whatever you do, don't use any of these tired concepts:

  • The close-up hand shake. That was mildly interesting back in the 90s. Two hands without bodies will not communicate business, partnership, diversity, agreements or anything else the keywords suggest. It makes you look too lazy to find real art. 
  • The girl or guy with the headset. Do you really want to communicate that you have a bank of operators standing by? It doesn't say personal. I don't believe she is waiting. It doesn't make me want to call.
  • Generic board room with the older guy looking into the camera. I know he's in charge, but why isn't he working like everyone else?
  • Anyone other than The Fonz giving me a thumbs up sign. It's been cheesy since Happy Days jumped the shark. Stop it.
Multiple sins. Who are these people? What does this photo communicate? We have thumbs?

Multiple sins. Who are these people? What does this photo communicate? We have thumbs?


4. The images don't communicate your message

Photos aren't decorations. Use them to help tell your story. Pictures that don't help communicate your unique value are a waste of time and space. Worse, they don't do anything to help attract your ideal client. 

Would you add generic words to your blog if they didn't work to advance your message? Would you add random words to your headline? Your photo can play just as important a role in helping potential customers decide whether to click and read. Use images that help them come to that decision easier.


5. The images don't bring me any closer to knowing you, liking you, or trusting you

Each photo can be an opportunity to help me get to know you better. If you don't have any personal photos of you or your staff anywhere on your website, blog, or brochure, you are missing an opportunity to connect. Your prospects want to do business with people. They want to see who you are. Use your own images to help me get to know you. Then I'll likely want to do business with you.


6. Using stock when it would be much easier and cost effective to take your own version

Sometimes it's easier to take your own photo. If the ingredients to communicate your message are lying around your office, use your camera and a little creativity. If it would require staging a professional shoot for a blog post, buy the stock.


7. Using the photos 'as is'

There's no law that says you have to use the stock photo the same way you downloaded it. Overlay text. Combine two images. Change the background. Do something to make it look a little different from all the other people who are using it. Stand out.

Stock photos can be a great tool to help you tell your story. They can help you communicate concepts and emotions. They can even help you illustrate complex ideas. They key is to think about them as strategically as your words. 

Lynford MortonComment