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July, 2014

Stock photos or custom imagery

Images are a very powerful tool in marketing and branding. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

As Dr. Lynell Burmark, who has written several books and papers on visual literacy, says: “…unless our words and ideas are hooked onto an image, they will go in one ear, sail through the brain, and go out the other ear.” That’s why it’s vital to make sure you’re selecting the right visuals to represent your brand. And as every marketer is fully aware, there’s a constant need for new images, be it for a website, blog, newsletter, printed collateral, presentations, packaging etc. So what is the best way to source images? Are stock photos the right choice for your project? Or would custom images suit your needs better?

When to use stock photos

When time and budget are limited, you don’t have the resources to commission a photographer. To source a new image, there is no quicker option than to instantly download a photo from a stock library. In the short-term, stock photos are available at a lower cost than custom images, assuming you are keeping to licence restrictions. They are a convenient resource when you need an inexpensive point of reference in your marketing material at short notice. Spending a little extra time searching can help you find images that are better suited to your brand and give the right impression.

How many times have you come across a ‘contact us’ page with a bunch of people with telephone headsets all looking posed and unnaturally happy? You know instantly that those people don’t actually work for this company – just another cheesy, generic, stock photo. Lucky for us, there are websites out there that provide a reverse image search, meaning you can quickly find out the number of times a stock photo has appeared in other sites, before you decide to use it. An example of such a website is TinEye.com. Even if the image you have sourced hasn’t been used too many times before, be careful not to let your marketing communications fall back on clichés such as people in suits shaking hands.

Images such as these can compromise your brand and corporate identity. There are several techniques that can help avoid this, including:

  • Make sure the image works with the overall design and is well integrated. Either the design has to be reworked to incorporate it or an image should be selected that works with the existing design. Give it new life by cutting out the background so it looks as if it’s part of the design. Also, ensure the colour palette is integrated with the rest of your design, such as in the example shown above.
  • Combine your image with good typography or multiple images to create an entirely new visual. This way you can source inexpensive visuals whilst still giving them your own spin, knowing that it’s unlikely that the same combination can be found anywhere else.

When to use custom images

If time and budget aren’t limited, consider the option of creating images under art direction. The initial higher cost could be well worth the investment in the long run. Custom visuals will be relevant to exactly what you’re trying to portray and promote the image of your brand that you want to leave in people’s minds. You will have full control over engaging your audience and drawing them in. Custom beats stock when it comes to evoking the right thoughts and emotions; and emotions always have a big impact on decisions.

Custom images also allow you to adhere to your brand guidelines more easily, meaning you can maintain brand consistency which in turn increases quality perceptions. Good imagery is about conveying a sense of personality and character. Custom imagery will let you to create your own identity and give your audience a more unique experience. You will be able to capture the individuality of your brand and won’t end up looking like everyone else. Your brand will be accurately represented by a photographer who is working with only your business in mind. Photographs taken specifically for you will provide images of YOUR people doing what THEY do, at YOUR site. A great example of how custom photography creates more impactful marketing material is the annual CPD brochure for the Royal Veterinary College.

What about illustrations?

More and more brands are using illustrations instead of photography. Whilst any image will make a piece of marketing collateral more visually accessible, a bespoke illustration can make your brand stand out from the crowd. Many of our clients approach us for custom illustrations. For them it has provided a clear point of departure from competitors.

Interested in how we can help your business with some standout imagery? If you have a project you would like to discuss with us, we would love to hear from you. Give us a call on 0117 966 9189 or drop us a line at hello@workbrands.co.uk.