Using Photos That are Truly Worth a Thousand Words

     

Published: August 1, 2018

The idea that a picture is worth a thousand words--or that complex ideas can be conveyed with a single image--has been a common saying for more than a hundred years. Once photography and reproducing images became mainstream, people began to see the value in the perfectly captured image.

Of course, not all photos are equal. For every hardworking image doing its job to showcase products, people, and brands, there are dozens that would probably be better off keeping quiet. Here’s what you need to know about successfully using photography in your marketing materials.

Down With Stock Photos
Stock photos, or digital photos that you purchase from websites or in collections, are meant to be generic images that appeal to a wide audience. You may be able to find photos with specific objects, people, or situations, but all of them will necessarily have a bland or indistinct quality to them. That’s because most stock photos need to sell multiple times to be profitable and the more generic they are, the broader the appeal.

Of course, broad appeal is not how marketing works. If you’ve taken the time to develop buyer personas and create marketing strategies based on these segments of your audience, you know how important it is for your prospects to feel like you understand their unique needs and situations. A tame photo designed for mass appeal isn’t going to get the job done.

Aside from being unable to capture attention, there’s another serious problem with stock photography: it’s available to everyone else, too. If you’re using popular stock photography sites, the search process usually means typing a few keywords into the site’s search bar and looking through the first handful of images that result.

Guess what? Everyone else in your industry using stock photography is following the same procedure. In other words, it’s entirely possible that the photos you’re choosing are ending up on competitor’s websites and materials, too. That’s no way to stand out in a crowd.

What Are You Saying With Photos?
Human beings undoubtedly connect with images. That’s why photographs are an essential component of marketing collateral, from brochures and flyers to menus, blogs, websites, and tradeshow booths. What makes photos so compelling is their ability to conjure feelings and establish emotional connections.

Photos should tell a story; they should humanize your brand and make prospects and current customers feel like they know you. Most people are happy to complete transactions on a computer, but they’re more likely to do it when they know there’s a human being on the other end of the deal. In other words, your customers want an authentic interaction and you can deliver that by using real pictures.

If you’re wondering where to start shedding your stock photos, it’s every single photo you’re using with a human face that is not part of your organization. Plenty of tests have shown that human faces get better conversions, and adding real people in place of stock images pushes conversion rates even higher.

Most people can tell when an image is “too perfect,” or seems to have had all personality and style erased from it to make it more universally appealing. The irony is that these photos are actually less appealing than one of your sales reps, warts and all. (Ok, maybe not with actual warts.)

Beyond Faces
Now that you’ve vowed never to use stock people in your photography, it’s time to take a look at your products and services photos. In most cases, you’re likely to have original photographs for these categories because they’re unique to you. However, are you simply displaying your wares in a blank space or are you adding a human touch?

When customers are checking out your product pages, they want to see the quality and value of your solutions. Super clean, white background, product-only images are essential for customers to feel like they have the opportunity to inspect the product before purchasing--but they aren’t the only images you should be using.

In addition to these photos, showcasing your products in context is a meaningful way to make that emotional connection by telling a story. Include pictures of real people using your products, making repairs, fixing things, or building things. This gives buyers an opportunity to envision themselves with your solutions and creates a tangible bond to keep them moving forward to the sale.

Are Stock Images Ever Ok?
The allure is real: stock photos are inexpensive and easy to acquire. Scheduling and budgeting for a professional photo shoot are neither. One great use for stock photography is to collect ideas for a photoshoot. If you see something you like, save it to an idea board to help your photographer know what you’re after.

The occasional use of a stock photo isn’t going to be the end of the world, but consider these tips if you’re thinking about going rogue:
  • Stay Away From Big Sites.The Big Names in stock photography are popular because everyone is using them. Reduce duplicate use by finding niche sites, independent photographers, and other less-obvious places to search for images.
  • Make Edits. Choose photos with permission to edit. That way, you can make changes to personalize the image. Even if it’s as simple as a filter and a crop job, or as involved as overlays and combinations, when your creative eye is making adjustments, your personality will show through.
  • Don’t Use People. When you need images of people, especially faces, get original photos. Landscapes, natural scenery, and ordinary objects should be the limit of your stock photo use.
Always Tell A Story
Humans are natural storytellers. It’s how we’ve passed down our history, skills, cultures, and customs from one generation to the next. When presented with a list of facts, we have a hard time recalling them later. When facts are wound into a story, they stick with us.

As you’re incorporating photos and images into your marketing products, never miss an opportunity to tell a story that will not only resonate with your audience, but also stick with them in the long run. That way, you’ll get lasting success from your marketing materials.

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Tags: local photographer, stock photography
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