How Authentic Images Beats Stock Photography in Branding

Here’s one of the first rules of your visual content strategy: Don’t use stock images on your branded website. Stock photos are cheap and easy, hence tempting. Do not be tempted by cheap and easy. (That’s advice that you can apply in other situations, as well.)

Visual content is a cornerstone of almost every branding campaign. And yet, we still see respectable brands using stock photographs that undermine the credibility of their hard-earned visual-branding standards.


Let me back up for a moment and give you an example of how you may be using stock photos and why you shouldn’t. Click on your customer service page. Is there a picture of a person wearing a headset who vaguely looks like someone who could work at your company but does not? If so, your company has committed one of the egregious sins of content marketing.

You can fix this with relative ease, and I’m going to show you how. Let’s start with people. Do you work at a company that employs humans? Some work around the office, while others have remote offices or telecommute. And those people, most of them, I assume, have faces. Maybe not attractive faces, but generally they are recognizable as human.

Those are the faces that will replace the cheap-looking stock photos on your website and in your customer-facing materials. Immediately.

That goes for everything on your website, your print materials, your prospectus, and anything else that features humans. Your content tools are real and are designed to show your company in the best light. These tools must be as authentic and real as anything else you create for your customers.

As Arnie Kuenn notes in Visual Content Marketing on 3 Major Networks: Ideas and Inspiration, photos can be used to humanize your brand. In this, he was talking specifically about photos on Instagram, but this is good advice even for your owned web properties:


People like to connect with other people, so sharing photos of your staff on Instagram can also go a long way toward humanizing your brand. Consider bringing your audience into the fold by sharing photos of a different employee once a week, and using the caption area to describe what role he or she plays in your business. You can also take photos and videos of staff having fun at company retreats, meetings, or other events to illustrate the positive influence your company has on their lives outside of the office.

You and the people at your company are infinitely more interesting than those models who have been enhanced in Photoshop. You may not be as pretty or plastic, but you are authentic.

Authenticity is like currency. Spend it wisely or it will be wasted. (See the note above about cheap and easy.)

Securing pictures once was a long, tedious, manual process. You had to shoot the images, use up the remaining roll of film, take it to the lab to be developed, return to pick up the pictures, scan them, edit them, upload them, have a developer place them into the website, and then publish them.

But the Internet made it easy to access high-quality stock art. You went online, found an image, saved it, and uploaded it. Sometimes you even paid for it.

These days, there is plenty of paid stock photography available, and some of it is quite good. In fact, there are places where you can pay for exclusive use of professional photo assets. Again, some of these are pretty darn good and may satisfy certain branding needs.

In the process of branding your company, however, you are probably aiming for a high level of authenticity. In this case, stock photography will not help you achieve that goal. After all, if you’re not showing the real people working at your company, how do we know you stand behind your products?

You know that mission statement that you toiled to create? These are the people who are making that happen. Show them in your promotional materials. Put their names under their pictures so that people who connect with them know what they look like.

SOURCE: Content Marketing Institute