Over the past few years the use of stock photography in marketing campaigns has been increasing exponentially. There are a wide array of options, from high end houses like Corbis and GettyImages to more affordable options like Dreamstime and Shutterstock, all providing a variety of images to meet any companies need. With this rising popularity, accessibilities and quality of stock photography it might be hard to see any reason not to use it for all of your marketing needs, right? Well, there are a few other things to consider before you go running to your nearest stock site and fill your pages with "women laughing alone with salads." How are these photos really connecting your message with the viewer? How can you best use photography to turn your marketing materials and website into creative marketing pieces?
Images are powerful
The right image can transform the meaning of the copy it's paired with and make an instant connection with your audience. Images can grab someones eye and pull them in to find out more about a product or service. On the other hand, images can blend in and be over looked, pushed into the vast sea of images online. If you scan through any stock site you can see the similarities that flow through the photos. They were made for general use, so they are often vague, reaching toward some kind of commonly used theme (i.e. "teamwork" or "success") you see people with over exaggerated expressions or happy about something that remains unclear. The viewer is not blind to this fact, it is easy to look over something that feels hollow or contrived, or even an image that we have seen before. Take, for example, the case of Samsung, Dell and Gateway all using the same stock woman for their online banners.
The Costs vs. Benefits of Stock Art
Though using stock photography might seem like a more affordable option you are likely to rake up costs in search time and alterations. It often takes a lot of careful combing to find an image that fits just right in relation to the content, and even if you do find an image that fits pretty well there are still the costs associated with altering the image, i.e. designer's time spent cleaning it up, masking it out, extending the background and/or customizing it. All of this in an attempt to make a photo look relevant and authentic, or in other words, custom.
When you use custom photography you are immediately unique, separated from the pack by a genuine honesty. You can chose the location, content, lighting, and mood representing your self exactly the way that you want. In a world with a thousand businesses all shouting for attention, images that make a connection with the audience are the unique ones that stand out. When you can gain or lose a customer within the space of 3 mouse clicks, the photos on your website had better be engaging and effective. Good photos can make an impact on their audience to be remembered forever. Custom photography can promote authenticity. Seeing an actual staff or office building can create a level of transparency and trust with a customer before a verbal connection is ever made. If they are genuine and personal they have the power to give an immediate and lasting impression of your brand and often times can convey a message much stronger than words. Along with transparency and trust is consistency. Creating your own photos puts you in the driver seat giving you full control moving forward all of your marketing materials can be in line with one another, giving your customer exactly what they are expecting.
Every situation is unique when it comes to the debate of stock vs. custom, but it is always pertinent to remember the importance of quality. Though I think that custom photos are always a home run, if you must go the stock route, here are a few things to remember. Photoshop carefully, the average eye is becoming pretty savvy, mask with care and try to avoid obvious clone stamp replication. Go for quality, always make sure the size and resolution that you are buying is appropriate for the use. Try to avoid clichés and lastly, take your time. Be thoughtful and pick out an image that actually relate to your content.