The Complete Guide to Using Stock Photos in Your Marketing

Here’s why: Stock photos are cost effective (mostly free ) If you know where to look, you can find some incredibly high-quality images We’ve found that stock photography can outperform custom designed images in terms of reach and engagement In this post, we’ve teamed up with Unsplash to bring you the complete guide to stock photography and answer the ever-illusive question: should you be using stock photos for your marketing? How people react to stock images When it comes to finding the right images to use in our marketing efforts it goes far beyond simply finding an image that simply “looks nice.” Stock photos, when used correctly, can elicit emotions in your audience (both positive and negative). For example, have you seen an image like the one below before? Defining authenticity It’s hard to tell exactly what makes an image authentic, but it seems to be incredibly important as people are instinctively drawn to brands that are considered more authentic than their competitors. These are often tell-tales of stock photos. Try to use colors familiar to your brand to make a stock photo feel cloesly aligned with your business. Further reading For more design tips, check out these posts: 4 tools to help you edit stock photos 1. Sketch is an amazing design tool and mainly used by professionals to create and design graphics and interfaces from scratch. Any tips on editing stock photos? Feel free to share in the comments below.

The Complete Guide to Using Stock Photos in Your Marketing
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When you hear the term ‘stock photo’, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

My hunch is it’s probably a photo of a group of friends awkwardly laughing, business people staring at charts on a wall, or something along those lines.

Probably not the best connotations, right?

Used correctly, though, free stock photos can really bring your ads, blog posts, and content to life.

And at Buffer, we use stock photos daily.

Here’s why:

  • Stock photos are cost effective (mostly free )
  • If you know where to look, you can find some incredibly high-quality images
  • We’ve found that stock photography can outperform custom designed images in terms of reach and engagement

In this post, we’ve teamed up with Unsplash to bring you the complete guide to stock photography and answer the ever-illusive question: should you be using stock photos for your marketing?

The power of images

We’ve known for a while now that images can work wonders when it comes to grabbing attention and boosting engagement:

But, not only can images boost the performance of our content, they can also influence purchasing decisions:

“Visual platforms such as YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram are highly influential in shopping,” Nikki Karai Renaud, CMO at Zazzle explained in eMarketer’s US Millennial Shoppers 2017 report. “For millennials, we found that the visual piece – honing our photography and creative assets – helped attract and convert [this generation].”

In other words – not only are people posting and sharing more images online, but these images can also be a major influence in their decision to purchase a product.

Nowadays, images aren’t a distraction from the message – the pictures themselves are the message.

How people react to stock images

When it comes to finding the right images to use in our marketing efforts it goes far beyond simply finding an image that simply “looks nice.”

Stock photos, when used correctly, can elicit emotions in your audience (both positive and negative).

For example, have you seen an image like the one below before?

Typical stock photo

We’ve become so accustomed to seeing this style of image that it can often be hard to differentiate between where we saw it and the brands that used it.

We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10 percent of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65 percent. Think back to the last ad you saw on Facebook or the last billboard you walked past in the street, I bet there’s more chance you’ll recall the visual, rather than the copy.

This happens due to the Picture Superiority Effect, which essentially means that images are more likely to be remembered than words. In the brain itself, there are hundreds of millions of neurons devoted to visual processing, nearly 30 percent of the entire cortex, as compared with 8 percent for touch and just 3 percent for hearing.

If the stock photo you’re using is at all similar to the image on another website that created a negative experience for the visitor, subconsciously, they’re projecting their previous experience onto your stock photograph, reducing trust and bringing up negative connotations.

A study has also shown that 63 percent of consumers say that repeated, generic messages from brands are irritating to them.

So instead of enhancing your content, you could actually be harming your chances of success if you’re choosing the wrong kind of image.

The importance of authenticity

In the social media world, authenticity is key. We often turn to social media to see an authentic look into the lives of our friends, our acquaintances, and our favorite brands.

The content shared to these platforms is meant to give us a glimpse into the world of the people and brands closest to us. And often, the most authentic and genuine content is the most interesting. This is evidenced by the surge in popularity that stories have seen since the format was debuted by Snapchat. Stories enable us to see raw, often unedited content and give an authentic glimpse into other’s lives.

The problem with most stock photos is that they’re not authentic. For example, when it comes to business-related photos, there’s no shortage of clichés. A photo of a business person in a crisp suit or a smiling group of twenty-somethings might help fill a void, but often, these images will fail to connect with your audience as they’re simply not relatable or authentic.

Let’s say you’re looking for a stock photo showing someone working, the below image could fit the bill:

Typical stock photo

On the other hand, something like this image from Andrew Neel may be better suited:

Essentially these two images show similar scenes, but the first one feels a little more staged and inauthentic. Whereas the second option feels a little more relatable.

Defining authenticity

It’s hard to tell exactly what makes an image authentic, but it seems to be incredibly important as people are instinctively drawn to brands that are considered more authentic than their competitors.

Authenticity means that the things we say and the things we do are the things we really believe, not just something we say to help sell our products/services.

The reason being authentic matters so much is deeply seeded in our instinct to survive as Simon Sinek explains:

Instinctively we’re constantly evaluating the words and actions of others. We’re assessing if they can be trusted. To that end, the more we sense that our values and beliefs align with the values and beliefs of others, the more apt we are to trust them. This is the reason we are drawn to people who are “like us.” The trust we feel and the relationships we form with another person or with a brand are exactly the same.

So when we’re looking at images, we’re making split seconds decisions based on their authenticity. If the image feels fake, or in any way inauthentic, we might lose trust in the brand instantly.

On the other hand, an authentic image can provide feelings of safety, trust, and comfort.

You might think an image of a group of people working is just an image. But if it doesn’t feel authentic, it’s likely doing more harm than good.

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