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We know, we know—stock photos don’t usually make for the most exciting content. Even worse—images that are weird, boring or irrelevant to your messaging can set you up for failure before your audience has a chance to really dive in to what you have to say. (How many people do you know who actually use a laptop on a beach?)

But when used in the right way, stock photos can actually enhance your content and motivate your clients to act. They also drive social media promotion, website traffic and higher conversion rates. To stock up on all the insider design deets, we sat down with Firespring Art Director Dakotah Hicks to play a little game of this, not that.

So, the next time you’re considering stock imagery for your marketing, try …

This: Dynamic, natural-looking photos that demonstrate situations that would happen IRL (in real life). For example, a healthcare provider blogging about client services might consider images that illustrate the doctor-patient relationship in action.

Not That: Cringe-worthy photographs featuring overly posed people with fake smiles. Photos of doctors grinning and staring directly into the camera against a white background just wouldn’t have the same effect for a healthcare blog. It might even be a little creepy. “If it makes you think, ‘What even is this? This is not real,’ then you know it’s a no-go,” Dakotah said.

This: Images that complement or expand on your content. This is particularly important if you’re trying to describe abstract concepts to your audience, such as payment processing, digital strategy or marketing tactics. “Don’t be afraid to use illustrations or vectors here,” Dakotah said. What’s a vector file, you ask? Simply put, it’s a file type that can be easily opened and edited to suit your purposes. It’s especially groovy for help with creating graphs, charts and logos.

Not That: Low-resolution or highly filtered images that detract and distract. “Your images should be high quality and fit seamlessly into your overall presentation,” Dakotah said. If you want to add filters or create edits so the stock image better matches your brand, do so after you’ve downloaded the original photo.

This: Photos that your target audience can relate to. For example, if your primary clients are millennials, consider visuals that align with their buyer personas and lifestyles. A thought leadership piece on career advice for millennials might include images of a young professional scrolling job opportunities on her smartphone or laptop.

Not That: Images that make you seem out of touch with your clients. You’re probably not going to seem like much of a thought leader if that same piece visually encourages millennials to peruse the classified section of a newspaper for hot new job opps. In Dakotah’s words: “You want your imagery to lend you credibility.”

Used properly, stock images can help you save time and money on your marketing efforts. By ensuring your photos look professional, increase your audience’s understanding of your message and add value to your content you can safely avoid the slippery slope of the stock imagery world. 

Still stuck on stock photo ideas? Don’t worry, we can help you get photo ready. Shoot us a message at hello@firespring.com.