Why {Some} Stock Photography Should Not Represent Your Brand

First, let me be up front and honest. I have had to use stock photography for client projects more times than I care to admit. In those cases, it was because there was no time, no budget and/or no existing visual assets available to use. Sometimes it’s difficult to convince a client that investing in custom photography has value and well, you’re stuck with the alternative. Non-profits suffer the most, feeling they shouldn’t use donor dollars on custom photography. Oh, au contraire! If anything, non-profits have a lot to gain from investing in custom photography, like trust and authenticity.

Cover star Emilia Clarke re-creates stock photos for Vanity Fair. Emilia might be best known as Daenerys Targaryen in HBO’s “Game of Thrones”, but her true calling is posing for stock business photography. If this video doesn’t completely turn you off from canned stock photography, I don’t know what else to say.

A Case for Custom Photography

While clients might cringe at the cost of custom professional photography, I offer a different mindset. Custom photography is an investment and a vital part of your brand structure. It visually represents your brand, your values, and your business culture. Custom photography emotionally connects you to your audience and gives people a better sense of who you are as an organization. Try getting all that from a $5 stock photo.

Custom photography is a digital asset. It strengthens your marketing communications and provides an authentic representation of your brand and your organization. We have no idea who those people are in that stock photo you used in your last brochure.

Custom photography sets your brand apart from the rest. It upholds your brand’s image by having a defined style that is in tune with your brand. With custom photography, your brand is clearly and consistently represented across your marketing channels – social media, website, videos, blogs, and print collateral. Using stock photography dilutes your brand and confuses people. Who can relate to a line up of suits, all giving a cheesy thumbs up? Is that your CEO in the middle?

Custom photography sets the right tone. It visually creates a personality for your organization, projecting the adjectives you use to describe your brand – i.e. friendly, approachable, leadership, socially responsible, innovative, human-centric, etc.

Tip: Consider your brand’s color pallet when having custom photography taken. You have the ability and creative direction to subtly incorporate your brand’s colors as well as complementary colors within a setting where and how your photo shoot is taking place. The result reinforces your brand visually. A bit of planning, storyboarding and staging can help make this happen.

Don’t get trapped into thinking a one-time shot of having professional photos taken of your organization and staff is enough said and done. Brands need to stay fresh and relevant with audiences in order to engage and retain customers, fans and advocates. Building a library of custom photography should be the goal of any organization for brand management, improve the quality of their marketing communications and maintain a consistent experience with audiences. Custom photography (and video) come into play for new projects, annual reports, events, milestones and as an on-going authentic way of telling your story.

Up Next: When It’s Perfectly OK To Use Stock Photography. Really.

ENDNOTES: Kristin Maija Peterson is an experienced art director and designer who cares deeply about creating authentic brand experiences. She provides clear, crisp design that effectively communicates and emotionally connects, crafted to translate seamlessly across marketing channels.

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