Studio images vs 'real people images: Which converts more

 The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.

The second rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.

Third rule of Fight Club: Someone yells stop, goes limp, taps out, the fight is over. Fourth rule: only two guys to a fight.

When converting readers to customers via content marketing Fight Club style, the first rule is not to talk about your brand alone. It’s not about you but your customers.

The second rule is to talk about how your brand can help your customers through highly-impactful stories.

Third rule: Use images as much as possible with your stories. Imagery do not just make your content appear more put-together but according to recent figures from MDG Advertising - content featuring compelling images averages 94 percent more total views than those without.

The question though is which images converts more. Let the fight commence through the fourth rule: only two types of images to a fight!

The Red Corner: Studio Images

The history of studio images, popularly known as stock photography these days, can be traced back in the 1920s when script writer H. Armstrong Roberts founded an agency offering still photographs of generic images - smiling children, a family buying a new car, or a woman sitting behind an office desk. He sold these images to commercial buyers who realized that Roberts’ images were less costly than organizing a photoshoot and paying a professional photographer.

The convenience of using stock images when it started out in the 1920s is the same reason of businesses and organizations who choose to use stock photography for their online presence today. It saves time and money by doing away with the hassle of hiring photographers, models, and crew in a photoshoot. The vast online database of stock photographs has also made it possible to find the exact image that you need with just a few searches. Furthermore, you can instantly download the image you want in mere seconds!

The Blue Corner: Real Images

Proponents of using real images to complement your content marketing efforts through texts argue that while a picture definitely paints a thousand words, using stock images is worth a thousand bucks of lost revenues.

As online marketing strategist David Meerman Scott succinctly puts it, “The problem with the B2B happy multicultural conference room with computer shot is that it has become a cliché. It is world-class, cutting-edge, mission-critical visual gobbledygook. Just like written gobbledygook, this kind of image is so overused to have become meaningless.”

What Research and Statistics Has to Say

In the fight between studio images and real photographs in engaging audiences and converting them into customers, it is best that we test both for their ability to convert by checking the numbers.

An eye-tracking study by the Nielsen Norman Group wanted to determine how readers perceive images in websites. They came up with the following conclusion:

“Some types of pictures are completely ignored. This is typically the case for big feel-good images that are purely decorative.Other types of pictures are treated as important content and scrutinized. Photos of products and real people (as opposed to stock photos of models) often fall into this category. In e-commerce, product photos help users understand products and differentiate between similar items. On personal websites, users want to see the person behind the site; author photos, for example, are a key usability guideline for blogs.”

The folks at Marketing Experiments pitted a stock photo of a smiling phone-rep woman against the image of a company’s founder in business suit to find out which of the two will bring in more people to sign up for a free consultation. The results were quite similar to the Nielsen Norman Group study. Here’s an excerpt:

“Well, Mrs. Generic finally met her match. It appears that an attractive smile is not a match for a good name. Overall, the familiarity hypothesis held some water. When the recognizable image of the founder was used, visitors were 35 % more likely to sign up for a free consultation. Remember, this is a 35% lift on top of many other previous gains in the testing-optimization cycle.”

Harrington Movers, a New-Jersey based moving company, also did a similar experiment. Their Services page used to have an image of a generic couple carrying boxes and are obviously moving home. Spectrum Inc, the company’s marketing consultant, suggested that they change the couple photograph into an image which closely resembles the company. They created two versions of the new Services page - one with a photograph of the actual Harrington Movers’ team and the actual truck used by the company. Both images had Harrington Movers’ logo.

By using the visual website optimizer, Spectrum Inc found out that the two new versions of Services page brought in more customers. After three months since the new pages were added, people who clicked the Request a Quote link increased by roughly 45 percent.

The Clear Winner - Real Images!

Using real images in your overall content marketing strategy is the clear winner when pitted against stock photographs. First, using real images enhances the humanness of your brand. It sends the message that you and your team wants to genuinely help.

Second, it makes your business appear more professional. Stock images may have worked during the 90s when eCommerce was just starting out. Yet people, circa web 2.0, are smarter and cannot be fooled with the perfect image of two smiling men in suits shaking hands.

If you insist on using stock photos, use them at your own risk! Don’t tell us we didn’t warn you though. We won’t be surprised if you’ll find out that one of the studio images you used in your website’s landing page is the same photo that one of your competitors have been using since they launched their website. This content marketing faux pas may have been avoided if you didn’t insist on using studio images.

Still not convinced about using real images? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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About the Author


Kyjean Tomboc

About Kyjean Tomboc

Kyjean likes to think of herself as an online content machine but her love for all things feline makes her human after all! She writes mainly about health, science, social media, and online content marketing. If she’s not writing, she’s either scaling mountains or taming tardigrades. Follow her tardigrade taming attempts at Twitter - @autodidactikai


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