Choosing stock photos for your company’s brochures, print advertisements and online content can be a challenge. With millions of images to choose from, often available for just a few dollars, which should you select to represent your brand?

Stock photos can range from excellent – many may perfectly capture your target audience or company values – to low quality or contrived. We’ve all seen generic corporate stock photos before, and most of us can spot them immediately.

Because of this, choosing the right stock photos for your company’s branding and marketing materials can have a huge impact on their efficacy. In this guide, we’ve shared five tips to help you choose effective stock photos for your branding.

Choose photos that depict your target demographic

Does your business offer consulting to Fortune 500 companies? If so, represent your audience in your marketing materials by using stock photos of executives, people in the workplace and other professionals.

Does your company sell products to middle-aged homeowners? If so, choose photos of people that match your audience. Is your product aimed exclusively at 20-30 year old women? Use photos of young women to identify your audience in your branding.

The most effective stock photos are those that directly represent the audience your business is targeting. The more closely a prospect identifies with the people in your imagery, the greater their response to your marketing efforts will be.

Adding text? Choose photos with lots of usable space

Stock photos are often paired with text, such as in a direct mail postcard or printed advertisement. This means choosing a stock photo that’s suited to the use of text as an element – preferably one with lots of usable space.

The best photos for use with text tend to have small points of focus that are away from the center of the image. They have colorful backgrounds that make white or light text visible and large amounts of space to insert your text content.

They also tend to have very little visual business. Photos with a lot of action – from fast-moving objects to visually dense backgrounds – aren’t suited to text, because a viewer’s attention will be forced to choose between text or image content.

Match your stock photos to your company’s identity

Is your company hip, young and modern? If so, choose photos that represent the type of people working in your business or the values it holds instead of generic, corporate-style images.

Many stock photos are of individuals, often posing in a workplace setting. Here’s a good test to see if such a photo is suitable for your business: Could you imagine the model in the photo actually working for your business?

A professional in a black suit carrying a briefcase might look perfectly in place in an investment bank, but they probably don’t match your creative agency. Pick images of people that match your company’s culture, not mismatched or generic photos.

Avoid photos that look artificial, posed or too unusual

The purpose of most stock photos is to represent your brand and fill in important visual space in your branding, not to stand out on their own. A stock photo should never be the focus of your marketing – instead, it’s just part of the background.

Because of this, it’s important to avoid using photos that look too posed, artificial or unnatural. Stock photos that look staged will immediately stand out to your target and distract people from your marketing message.

When in doubt, go with the least artificial, posed or unnatural stock photo you can find. Audiences are easily distracted by unusual stock photos, but natural images blend into your marketing and rarely distract from your core message.

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