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Stock images might be killing your brand

Neil McKenzie //June 30, 2010//

Stock images might be killing your brand

Neil McKenzie //June 30, 2010//

The images you use to portray your brand on your website, advertisements or even your business card should connect with your customers and prospects in an impactful and authentic way. Stock images have their place, but it may not be in representing your personal or business brand. The same applies to using clip art graphics or “canned” music.

What is stock photography? Stock photos are images sold by the photographer or agencies that represent many photographers. With the increase in the number of people with digital cameras there has also been an increase in the number of stock photo agencies – most all are represented on the web. You can find a stock photo for almost any subject or object.

As the number of stock images that are available has skyrocketed the price for images has plummeted – many can be had for a few dollars. Today, many of these stock photo agencies are fighting for their survival as their numbers multiply and thousands of people with a digital camera try to make a few extra bucks with their images.

A lot of the images I photograph are used in helping to develop business and personal brands. In many instances, the personal brand is the same as the business brand. These images are used in all kinds of printed materials from business cards to brochures and almost always on a website or social networking site.

In my travels I meet quite a few website developers, and the conversation often goes like this:

Neil – “Hi, I am Neil McKenzie and I am a photographer specializing in business and personal brand photography. Quite a few of my images end up on people’s websites.”

Web Developer – “We use stock photos, I can get an image from the web for a few dollars.”

Neil – “Well, that is certainly cheaper than I can take a picture for.”

Web Developer – “We can find just about anything we need on the web, even free images.”

Neil – “Well, keep me in mind if you need images of the people who you are designing the website for or if you need a picture that shows them in their element.”

Web Developer – “Most of my clients don’t have a budget for photos — they just need a picture to go on their website.”

Here are a few ideas on how stock photography can detract from your personal brand:

– There is nothing unique about using an image that may have been used thousands of times by others including your competition. There are plenty of stories about stock images have been used more than once in the same publication promoting different products and sometimes even competing products. The fact that has been done by major companies makes you wonder about the company’s marketing personnel and the outside creative talent they employ.

– You probably wouldn’t consider using the image of someone else on your personal business card. Are your web presence and other printed materials any different?

– By using stock photography you run the risk that the image has been used so much that it lacks any impact other than filler – most people don’t even bother to give them a second glance. Stock photography is now even showing up in newspapers and national websites to accompany news stories.

– Stock images do not help you build relationships and trust with your customers and they do not help you in developing a brand that is unique.

– A huge concept in brand strategy is “authenticity”. If you need an image of an object such as a red rose then stock photos will work just fine. If you are depicting your customer service department as a group of beautiful models with phone headsets standing by to take customer calls and the reality is “Mabel” who has been taking care of your customers for 20 years – what kind of “authentic” brand are you creating?

To sum it up: Be wise on how you use stock photos, be authentic on how you present yourself and your people, and budget money in your marketing programs to develop images that are unique to you and your business.

Lastly I urge you to support Colorado’s creative community of photographers, graphic artists and musicians. It will cost you more than buying from stock agencies on the internet but you will have content that is custom to you and helps showcase your brand. As an added bonus each dollar you spend at the local level multiplies and helps grow all of our businesses.
I look forward to having you as a regular reader. If you have comments or ideas on this article please post them below. If you would like a review of your brand images feel free to drop me a line or give me a call.
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Neil McKenzie is a visiting Professor at the Center for Innovation (MSCD), where he has developed the course “Artrepreneurship.” He currently is a Centennial-based commercial photographer specializing in business and personal brand photography. Neil has more than 30 years of business planning, marketing and marketing research experience as an economist, management consultant and corporate executive. He was also a founding faculty member of the Regis University MBA program. He can be reached at 720-339-3160, [email protected] or