Let me say to start that I am not against using stock images. In fact, even as a photographer, I use some stock images to illustrate a point when its not about my photography. Stock images can be very useful to build out the details of a website.
But if you want to define your brand and stand out in your space, then unique custom created images are a necessity in today’s digital marketing world.
Everyone Uses The Same Stock Photos
This is the biggest negative to using stock images. No matter what source you use, the images at the top of the list for your search terms are getting used a lot. They are probably also the highest quality and most appropriate images for the use that you want. That means all your competitors are using the same ones.
Think about it from a perspective of someone searching online. Most people will check out the top handful of search results that come up on Google. That will probably be the extent of the “comparison shopping” that they do.
Imagine going to 4 different websites where three of them all have the same or similar stock images and one has custom photography showing the people and products involved with that business. Which one would you choose?
People Connect To People
Stock images are usually very high quality, there’s no denying that. But they are missing one very important element of your personal brand…YOU.
Face facts, there are a lot of other people that do what you do and have online content similar to yours. In order to stand out in today’s business world, you need to build a connection to your audience.
Once someone finds you online, you want them to get to know you and your business. You want them to understand what you do and how you can help them. You want them to connect with the reasons why you do what you do. If the images you’re using are all stock, then none of that is happening.
Customers Buy What They Can See
Whether you sell products, online courses, services, or talk about other products as an online influencer…you need your audience to see what you’re talking about.
People are much likely to want something that they can see. There are a couple of primary reasons for this.
First, any buying decision is based mostly on emotion and connection (rather than logic). So you want your audience to make that connection. For those of you offering services, the visual should represent the result of the service you provide (that can mean different things to different businesses). But no matter what it is, you need the person viewing your website to get a taste of what it feels like after a purchase.
Second, showing your actual products or services (as opposed to a stock image that is somewhat related) let’s people see what they are getting themselves into. That is very important to help people get over any skepticism they may have about doing business with someone they found on the internet.
Custom Photography Adds Value To Your Brand
Consumers are becoming more and more saavy. Many of them know the difference between a stock image and one the is unique and they certainly know the difference between a professional image and one you took on your cell phone.
Especially when it comes to your website, stock images and cell phone images communicate to viewers, “we’re doing this on a budget.” It’s up to you to decide if that message matches your brand.
I do want to add here that I think DIY images (like smartphone shots) can be a really important part of building a brand. But the place for that is on social media. A blend of professional images and self-taken candid shots can be a strong combination for social media marketing. But your website is more static than social media, it should be more polished and professional, especially the home page and other main pages.
You Can Control The Brand Perception
You worked hard to build a brand.
Maybe you even have a guide that you use to ensure that everything you put out in the world is “on brand.”
But stock photographers don’t have your brand guide. They aren’t creating images specifically styled to match your brand. You may be able to find a few images here and there that are close to on brand for you, but if you want to have control of your branding, you’ll need control from the beginning of the creative process.
Days or even weeks before a client shoot, I meet with them to talk about their brand. I’ve even developed a brief questionaire they fill out before that meeting that helps me get right to the point of my client’s branding.
At that meeting we talk about their core values as a brand. Then we will brainstorm the stories they want to tell about their brand to illustrate those core values. From that point we have a baseline to begin talking about the creative photography process and what specific images we want and where we want to use them.
You can’t get any of that from stock images.
You Need To Stay Current
Every industry changes. You either have to keep up or fall behind.
The same principles hold true when it comes to your visual marketing. Whether it is changing products and offerings, changing staff members, a storefront remodel, or even major shifts in the direction of your business, keeping your online visuals up to date will communicate to your audience that you’re on top of things. That kind of perception creates trust and confidence.