How Stock Photos Can Hurt Instead of Help

diverse group of people stock photo
Rob Tinsman - Vice President and Creative DirectorWritten by: Rob TinsmanVice President and Creative Director

In business, people want to interact with people.  And it makes sense. If someone is spending money, that person has an expectation of authenticity in the process. Knowing who  the person or company is helps with that. It creates confidence that the buyer is making a good buying decision and the outcome  will be a positive one.  

This is true whether that is a person on the phone, a live chat or via email. Ever call a business and expect to get the automated  attendant but instead get a real person? It’s jarring. It’s a nice surprise. The opposite is also true.

But this is about photos right? Yes, stay with me.  

How about chatting online? That can be very convenient. You’re just wanting to ask an ingredient/allergy question or if a store is  open on President’s Day. However, even here the person typing back to you might have been swapped out for a non-person.

Chatbots  are starting to be more popular since they can answer a lot of common questions and are intended to help quickly rather than make  customers wait for a real person to become available. The downside, of course, is that they are impersonal. If you’re chatting with one, you’re relying  on how well the programmer wrote the code that the chatbot is “saying” to you. You’re not really connecting with that brand or  company. The relationship is cold. Real people are what is needed.

Now, let’s talk photos.

Stock photos just aren’t you.

Stock photos are easily spotted as “not you or your business”. Let’s say you are a house painter in Arizona. The photo on your site  shows a beautiful house with a lush green lawn. Great! But something isn’t right. That house photo isn’t exactly one you would find  in most of Arizona. In fact, it looks more like one from the Midwest and definitely not the Southwest. It doesn’t seem to be the end of the world — the house  painting looks nice and that’s really the focus, right? Well, while that is true, the problem might even be subconscious. Not  everyone is going to spot the inaccuracy but they’re also not likely to be convinced that everything else on your website is wholly  accurate either — and they might not even know why but they just can’t quite put their finger on it. This person won’t exactly be your flag-waving brand  cheerleader.

Thumbs up.

The same thing goes for people and photos. Many of us don’t want to get our pictures posted on something as visible as our website or other  marketing pieces. So what’s the problem with using a photo of someone more dashing? After all, no one really knows what you look like anyway… but that’s the point. That photo, like the house photo, is easily seen as “not you”.  

Let’s say your insurance business website  shows a photo of a small group of people. It’s a nice composition and fits your website design. But, did you really hire six,  attractive, stylish, 25-year olds with distinctly different ethnic backgrounds to work in your insurance office? You might say, “But  hey, they’re all looking at the camera with ‘thumbs up’ gestures. They’re going to make my customers seem broad and super  connected with all that is current and modern today, right?” While that idea might work, most people are more savvy about that photo  than you think and believe it’s not likely that your office looks like that or that your staff is so diverse. (Side note: Can we agree that no photo with a thumbs up is a good idea?)  

You have two options.

Choose better stock photos — there are many free, good quality images out there. Or hire a photographer  (we know plenty) and take that advice from your mom — “Just be you and people will see your value.” Now say cheese!