Stock Photography - Could it be Bad for Your Business?
Stock Photography can seem very appealing to businesses. You can acquire the images very quickly and cheaply for a start. So, overheads can be reduced and short deadlines easily made. Sounds great so far doesn’t it? But, there are also some very real dangers of using stock photography for your business. It isn’t a magic wand to wave to create success.
The key danger to your business is in terms of your brand. Your brand is your business’ unique identity. If you use images that are already associated with another brand or can be used by anyone then you are weakening the uniqueness of your brand. Yes, there may be times when you want to associate with other brands. However, using stock photography risks portraying you as generic and not original. You may just blend in with the crowd or you may look like a poor imitation of someone else. Worse still, you could find yourself sharing aspects of your brand with products and services that you’d rather not be associated with!
Stock Photos often risk looking fake. They may sometimes be leftovers from a genuine business shoot. However, many stock images are deliberately created to be non-specific. They are intentionally generic so that they can sell to a wide audience. If there is anything about a photo that doesn’t quite look genuine then we can pick up on it, even if only subconsciously. Actors and models can create specific characters very well. However, generic, vague characterisation is highly likely when they don’t know what business they are supposed to be representing. Any little signals that something isn’t right, whether conscious or sub-conscious, risk putting off potential customers.
You’re effectively giving away control of your property by using stock photography. If you commission your own photos then you can negotiate the exact terms for how those images can be used. You can stop the photographer making those images available to others with the right licence agreements. You can stop the images being sold to stock libraries. So, if anyone else tries using your photos then you can sue them and force them to be taken down. On the other hand, if you simply licence a stock image then there’s nothing to stop anyone else from doing the same and using it for their purposes. Do you really want to leave a large portion of your branding unprotected?
A more subtle negative effect is the tendency to devalue images. Paying tiny sums for photos can lessen their value in our minds. So, we then can become blaze about the images our businesses use. So what if its not the best image, its “just” a photo”?! Would you say the same if your product was being manufactured inconsistently with errors in many examples? Would you be happy for your logo to look different or your colour scheme to be only loosely adhered to? It is easy to lose sight of how big a role the images we use actually play in our branding. Using too much stock photography is a bit like getting hooked on junk food. It might seem to taste ok and do its job, but in the long run you’re heading for trouble. Look after every aspect of your brand and ensure that it is on message. That might mean that you only have one or two images per post instead of 5 or 6. But, does that really matter? Isn’t it better to have less of something good than more of something unhelpful?
But, what if you are a small business struggling to afford professional photography? One option is to learn how to produce images in house. Get a professional to create a repeatable lighting setup to photograph your products with. This is something I’ve done for several small businesses. It has enabled them to create their own images to a reasonable standard. It is something that is more true to their brand than purchasing stock imagery. That isn’t to say that there is never a place for stock photos. Sure, sometimes they can be worth it. But be careful especially when it comes to core content for your business. Don’t let your business be effectively a “stock” business.
© Joe Lenton, April 2019