How to get better visuals (like photos) for your digital marketing efforts

Estimated read time: 5 minutes

Additional disclaimer: This story came out of me attending Advertising Week in New York City in 2017 free of charge as Adobe’s guest.

At the Adobe Think Tank in New York City 2017
At the Adobe Think Tank in New York City 2017. I was sitting nearby but still had headphones on to listen to the audio feed of the livestream. That really helped!

The chief marketing officer of National Geographic – Jill Cress – at Advertising Week’s Adobe Think Tank event at Advertising Week 2017 mentioned something about how the organization has built its brand, reach and audience digitally through the use of beautiful imagery.

I immediately tweeted that to use good images in your digital marketing that you have to leave your office! My guess is that National Geographic does not use stock images! 🙂 Obviously, they don’t but so many digital marketers unfortunately do. And even though use cases for stock image use exist, usually they do not help brands stand out.

Related: PODCAST: Unique and original photos add to our stories!

Sometimes knee-jerk tweets remind us of things that can help people share better stories. And while I’m not 100 percent opposed to using stock images from time to time. Overall, they usually don’t help us display the unique story we just spent time writing or recording. Also, unique images help us rank higher in Google search!

And it’s so true. Really, to use unique and original photos we likely have to get out and take them. Or have somebody else take them, like through a service like this one. 

I’ve run into this photo problem plenty of times. Organizations spend so much time to write and produce their stories. Time and money really. And then the photo is forgotten about. Sometimes it’s not taken. Sometimes it’s not a priority. There are so many reasons, but ultimately many stories are better with unique and original photos – even if they are taken with an iPhone.

“A photo is worth a thousand words.” The person who said that first certainly hadn’t heard of irrelevant stock art photography that people now use abundantly on their blogs and websites.

Those people in that meeting look oh so happy. The beauty of stock art or something like that.

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Yes, every blog post needs an image and blog posts with images on here usually outperform those without. But the image has to be relevant. And for true success, I would recommend original and authentic.

That doesn’t mean the photo can’t be of a high production value. It can and if you have access to a professional photographer, please proceed and hold onto them.

Related reading: 

The reason why images should link to something other than themselves

But organizations publishing photos with actual stories about great customer service accompanied by a smiling stock art photo customer is just wrong. Ask to use the photo of the real customer. They already let you use their story.

Here are the ways I get photos with most of my blog posts:

  • While I spot the story in the wild (aka my life), I immediately think about the photo opportunities. Is there something I can take a photo of? If yes, I’ll quickly take it and upload it to my blog’s image library.
  • If you ghostwrite blogs for others, remind them to be thinking of photos.
  • Some stories have no good photo opportunities, but there’s a spot on the home page that holds each story’s photo. Sometimes I just publish an image with a relevant quote. Better than stock art of unrelated people, I think.
  • Some of my most read articles are how-tos of social media tools. Photos for those are easy. Publish the screen shot that shows what you are talking about.

There are ways to use stock art (when people aren’t involved) as a design base. A generic stock art image of a building, for example. But then on the other hand, why not step outside and take a picture of a building and then Photoshop that, which is what was going to happen anyway. In general, in cases like this, stock art is fine. But strive for photos that help tell the story and are original.

Photos also come into the discussion when designing our blogs. When the design is photo heavy, remember that you are committing to getting photos for those slots.

My blog template has a photo slot for posts on the home page. I used to ignore it and that was okay, but then started having images for some. That looked strange, and now I’m committed to adding some kind of visual element to each post. With around 700 posts on here, I’ve never bought stock art and somehow have grown readership to around 80,000 a month.

We can live without stock art and get more unique photos. We spend all this time catching and producing our stories and then we spend $5 for a stock image. Doesn’t add up to me.

Here’s to all of us taking unique and authentic photos moving forward. It’ll help our stories.

In organizations where one person writes and another person takes photos you could use a journalistic newspaper approach. Newspapers for a long time have had reporters reporting stories and then they communicate photo opportunities to photographers. This isn’t perfect in all scenarios, but can be used in corporate content marketing as well.

  • Reporter reports story
  • Snaps some iPhone pictures
  • Shares further details with photographers for more produced images
  • Assets can collected and publish together

Better images are possible. Just like better content is possible. We just have to set our mind to it and use the right strategies at the right time.


(Part of this story includes information previously shared in a January 2017 blog post that has now been incorporated here.)