Not Another Stock Photo: Why You Need Custom Images For Social Marketing

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It’s no secret that I am a visual content aficionado. Duh, I am a brand photographer and a social media strategist, of course, I am obsessed with all things visual. Visual content and social go together like Nutella and crepes, and photography is the perfect form of visual content for almost every brand and platform!

I have discussed the importance of visual content and making choices about photography on your website and social accounts that tell a brand story. Today, I’d like to focus on custom styled images, and why I think you should be using custom brand photography on your social media

Yeah, this is some ‘quit it with the generic stock images’ tough love.

As I have written in the past, images play a huge role in brand building. As TNW put it: the brain is a visual instrument. We make tens of thousands of decisions daily, and a significant proportion of these are driven by visual cues. We make consumer decisions based on what we see, and by failing to take the time and invest the resources in custom images, we miss a huge opportunity to make a unique impression on target audiences.

The Content Marketing Institute agrees -  they say that visual content is ‘the cornerstone’ of brand building. Photographs are, without a doubt, one of the ideal ways to put your business’ best foot forward and catch people’s attention. From Pinterest and Instagram to Facebook and blogs, images play a huge role in telling your brand’s story online. Yet so many businesses rely on stock photography to tell their story, without considering whether the images they use truly set them apart and suit their brand.

I know what you’re thinking: “stock photography has come such a long way, have you even looked at Creative Market lately?”. I have, and I agree. Styled stock photography has totally come a long way, and there are some truly gorgeous examples around. And no doubt that styled stock is way better than the smartphone photos and Hipstamatic IG filters that abounded on Pinterest and Instagram circa 2011. No doubt at all. But there does come a point where stock images are just that: stock. The same people in the same niches buy from the same stock stylists or go to the same free stock sites (Pexels, anyone) and they’re not always truly considering whether these resources are actually the best images for the job.

At some point, investing as much in your brand photographs as you do in other aspects of your business like your logo or your website is simply the next step in up-leveling your business and building a memorable brand. To help highlight why here are two big reasons you need custom images for your brand:

Your Brand Is As Unique As You

Again, I am not suggesting that royalty-free images or images from Pexels are a terrible choice for your brand. They aren’t. Many will be a great fit for your brand and tell exactly the story that you want them to. But they’ll also do the same thing for countless other brands both in your niche and outside it. Literally, on this blog, I have a stock image that I threw up there because I was too lazy to shoot something. Every time I see that image on another blog, and it happens often, I cringe and wish I’d just invested a little extra time (and because time = money, which means I wish I’d invested a little money) in using an image nobody else will have.

You wouldn’t use the same logo design as someone else because you want to be memorable. So, why would you only use images you know another business will be using? Your brand is unique, so at least some of the images you are using to build it should be unique, too.

Your Brand Is Legit, Treat It That Way (i.e. Custom Images Are More Professional)

Beyond being more memorable, investing in images created specifically for your brand is just more professional. It demonstrates you have the resources and the respect for your own business to invest in it, you don’t cut corners, and you won’t cut them when you work with their brand either.

Imagine this: Whole Foods uses random images of sandwiches to try and sell their catering services. No matter how they try to talk about their artisanal cheeses and organic bread, all you’ll see is that generic sandwich that you can get for half the price from any sandwich place. They’d be failing to tell their clientele the full story about what they offer, and that they don’t even care enough about their super delicious, fancy sandwiches to invest in showing them to you in their full, real glory.

You know that’s not what Whole Foods does. No, they take the time to use styled images of their own catered items to show you exactly what you’ll be getting and letting you see why their sandwiches are the bee's knees and worth paying for.

Now, consider your own brand: do you want to be the professional who invests in themselves and shows their customer their value with their images? Or do you want to be the brand telling a subpar story with images that aren’t really theirs alone? I know what I want to be!

Are You Convinced Yet?

Hopefully, these two reasons help crystallize why I think it’s important to invest in custom images for your brand building. Again, I am not at all suggesting that you can never use stock images. They absolutely have their place. But they just aren’t enough when it comes to establishing a consistent brand and a signature visual style.

If all this is overwhelming, I’ll be writing soon about ways to invest in custom images without breaking the bank entirely, if hiring a brand photographer is not in your budget to start with.

Why Visual Content Matters, And Five Tips for Great Visuals