Somebody seems to have just told Vince Vaughn that he needs to come up with images to support his latest content marketing campaign.
He’s thinking about the blog series, the ebook, the infographic and the email blast he’s got to support with outstanding visuals. Can you see the internal struggle in his eyes?
Going through Vince’s mind right now: “Stock photos, or original creations? What to do?!? I need coffee.”
This is the quandary that many content marketers try to address on a daily basis: we know we need images — really good images — to go with our content. We also know that stock photos, like the one Mr. Vaughn is shamelessly mocking above, are trite and deserve such mockery.
So what’s a content marketer to do? And what does it mean for our image strategies that stock photos have become so commonplace that they’re being used as a silly marketing tool for a major motion picture?
It means that the bar has been set high for what our audience expects from our visuals, and we need to start coming up with strategies for keeping our images consistently above that bar.
The Destructive Force of Stock Photos
Stock photos have long been the butt of jokes, and this alone should throw up a massive red flag for marketers considering using them.
In the latest example, Vince Vaughn and his co-star Dave Franco have posed for dozens of stock photos like the one above to promote their new film Unfinished Business, and they’re releasing them for free in advance of the movie.
Are universally ridiculed images how you want to introduce your content?
Visitors who arrive on your website, open your emails or read your ebook are making instant, unconscious judgements about the quality and content of what they’re reading.
I’m assuming “cliche and meaningless” is probably not the take away you’re hoping for.
Of course, the reason that stock photos have become so ubiquitous that they’re being used a marketing materials for a huge movie studio is that marketing departments need visuals, and few have the resources needed to manufacture them.
Stock photography is a massive industry, which has exploded in response to precisely this need.
So the temptation to snag a few vaguely relevant stock photos to throw into a SlideShare presentation is definitely there, but the danger of appearing lazy, irrelevant, and boring is right there too.
The problem, however, is not the stock photos themselves, it’s how content marketers choose and use them.
The Power of the Right Marketing Images
Finding, augmenting, and incorporating the right images into your marketing does exactly the opposite of what cheesy, redundant stock photos do. It makes people want to engage with your content.
The fact is that
We’ve got to use images, but we also have to use the right ones.1
Powerful images help create a lasting impression with those who consume your content and increase the chances that your content will be shared.
Improving Brand Awareness Through Imagery
If people can create mental associations through both visual and verbal (or textual) input those associations will be considerably stronger, according to Allan Pavio’s dual-coding theory:
“Visual and verbal information are processed differently and along distinct channels in the human mind, creating separate representations for information processed in each channel.
The mental codes corresponding to these representations are used to organize incoming information that can be acted upon, stored, and retrieved for subsequent use.”2
What this means for content marketers is that if your image and text are saying the same things, or at least talking about the same subject, you’ve got a better chance at sticking in your reader’s mind and being accessible to their memory later on.
Keep in mind that this goes both ways.
If you’ve painstakingly researched and written a stellar white paper, only to decimate reader trust with a pointless cover image, they’ll create a strong association with your content.
That association will just be very, very bad.
Marketing Images Increase Odds of Sharing
Quicksprout studied 41 different blogs and the types of images that they used to determine how much each image type improved the blog’s likelihood of being shared.3
The best results came from blogs that were able to use animated graphics and hand drawn images, while the worst share counts were on blog posts using royalty-free images.
The complete breakdown was as follows (each number is an average):
- Animated graphics: 551 Tweets and 680 Facebook Likes
- Hand-drawn images: 318 Tweets and 489 Facebook Likes
- Infographics: 276 Tweets and 262 Facebook Likes
- Graphs and Charts: 165 Tweets and 93 Facebook Likes
- Stock Photography: 152 Tweets and 83 Facebook Likes
- Screenshots: 119 Tweets and 46 Facebook Likes
- Royalty-Free Images: 59 Tweets and 262 Facebook Likes
Couple these stats on sharing with the massively higher likelihood of your content being read, and it’s clear that visuals are not optional in content marketing.
The question then becomes, how do we add value with visuals rather than making our content seem out of touch and derivative?
How to Use Marketing Images Well (You Can Still Use Stock Photos)
David Meerman Scott says it very well: “Stock images are not the enemy here — irrelevance is.”4
We should choose marketing images not because we know we should but because they say something new about the value of our content.
What do you think a hokey, staged office photo of people gathered around a computer says about your content’s value?
The good news is that with just a bit more time, effort, and education you can still use time- and budget-friendly stock images.
Turn Bland Stock Photos Into Brilliant Marketing Images
For example, Canva offers over 1,000,000 stock images that cost only $1.00 each.
You can easily use the online design tool to incorporate them with other images, adjust backgrounds, and otherwise edit them so they aren’t exactly like the “influencer” image that everybody and their grandma is using on their website.
This process may take you 30 minutes to an hour longer than just grabbing a stock photo and using it unedited, but the long term benefits of having content that is actually augmented by imagery rather than deprecated by it is more than worth the additional effort.
The old standard of photo editing, Photoshop (and it’s cheaper and free cousins) can also make it shockingly easy to turn standard images into exciting visuals.
The learning curve on this software may be higher than Canva’s, but they will offer you more versatility for photo editing.
Create Your Own Marketing Images With Your Phone or Tablet
Another option is to simply take your own photos.
This image from InTechnic is a fabulous example. One picture is of their actual creative team; the other is a stock photo.5
Which one do you think makes their company look more authentic and approachable?
Similarly, a creative photo to accompany an abstract topic like “affiliate marketing” can make otherwise standard content more exciting and innovative.
Possibly even more fun than staging photo shoots with your team is learning to draw your own pictures on a tablet. Many new gadgets come with this kind of software already in place, and with minimal practice you can hand draw an image of anything that you need.
The bonus is that hand-drawn images are super popular sharing fodder.
Conclusion: Just Say No to Generic Office Stock Photos
Boring, overused stock photos hurt your credibility and decrease engagement with your content marketing efforts, so evaluate your images as diligently as you do your written content.
Take the time to choose visuals carefully, edit if necessary, and make your own if you’re able.
Don’t make Vince Vaughn and his vaguely threatening team of generic professionals come after you.
1. Images Infographic
2. Dual Coding Theory
3. What Type of Images Should You Use Within Your Blog Posts
4. Who the Hell ARE These People?
5. Why You Should Never Use Stock Photography on Your Website