Are generic photos killing your content?

Content marketers have been chanting about original content for years now. Professional photographer Paul Pichugin suggests we need apply that mantra to images as well.

This article originally appeared in the Australian edition of CCO Magazine.

Marketers know that images included with content help to convey the right brand image and improve search engine rankings. The availability of stock photography has exploded over the last fifteen years. Have you ever considered that easy access to high-quality images might be working against your brand?

Before the internet made sourcing images so easy, a designer would spend hours reviewing a physical catalogue to find the right photographs. Once a selection was made, the image was ordered and, after paying a significant license fee, a physical print of the image was delivered. While the process was cumbersome and expensive, it did have advantages. The danger of selecting and using an image your competitor was also using was minimal. It was even less likely your audience would see another copy of that image because many publications weren’t widely distributed.

Sourcing images the web way

Today we enjoy a vastly different experience. Simply type in a few keywords to any given stock site and you receive highly relevant results. You pay a few dollars and immediately download the image. The trouble is the process is this easy for everyone.

Do you really want to run the risk of having other products associated with your company or brand?

One blogger I follow pointed out an image of a generic corporate team in use on many sites across the internet. A photograph with wide appeal, the image is being used to represent everything from greeting cards to cosmetic surgery and Viagra. Do you really want to run the risk of having other products associated with your company or brand? What does it say about your business when the images you’re using are in heavy rotation on the internet and off?

Another example — with bigger ramifications — concerns the cut throat game of politics. A recent political campaign used a generic, non-exclusive, stock image for their marketing. The competing party bought the exact same image and used it, completely legally, to discredit the original political party.

Quick risk assessment

When it comes to selecting images for your content — from websites and magazines through to annual reports — you need to complete a quick risk assessment.

•High Risk: Microstock images

Quite possibly, hundreds of websites and businesses use the same tired image. These images often look cheap and generic, proving the old saying, ‘You get what you pay for.’

Verdict: Immediate credibility killer

•Lower Risk: Royalty-free images

It’s still very likely many other websites and businesses are using the same images, but on a smaller scale than microstock.Though modestly better in quality, royalty-free images are typically still generic in style.

Verdict: Dull and boring content

•Very Low Risk: Rights managed images

Not many, if any, other businesses will be using the images. You should be able to find out who is using the images and how they are using them. The quality is likely to be much better than any regular stock photography.

Verdict: Overall content quality improves

•No Risk: Hire a professional photographer

Surprisingly, this is not always the most expensive option. Booking a photographer for multiple jobs (e.g., photographing your staff, products and premises) can be more economical than buying stock. You’re left with a custom library of exceptional quality and a unique collection of images you are free to use in any manner you want.

Verdict: Exceptional content for your brand

In a telling note, many high-end businesses are now steering clear of stock photography altogether, building customized photo libraries instead. Today’s consumer wants to connect with real people, not a generic corporate team. Professional custom photographs of your employees, offices and products are much more credible than the plastic, highly posed images found in stock libraries.

If your brand is important to you, do not run the risk of damaging it with generic images.

By using original images created specifically for your brand, you will never risk being associated with an unsuitable company. Nor will your competitors be able to use the same images to discredit you or your marketing. Be sure to perform a risk assessment before deciding what images to use for your content. If your brand is important to you, do not run the risk of damaging it with generic images.


This post appeared on the ImageBrief Blog and was written by Paul Pichugin, an ImageBrief Premium Photographer. For more of his work, check out his ImageBrief profile, website, Twitter, and Instagram.

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