As the old saying goes, every picture tells a story… so when it comes to the stock imagery in your marketing materials, you have to ask: is it the right story?

Lately, in our weekly creative meetings, we’ve been discussing the importance of authenticity in marketing. That is, how key creative elements like voice, imagery and tone combine to give your brand a sense of authenticity with your audience. People trust authenticity. It’s appealing. It can help you really differentiate yourself in the market. I would suggest genuine always wins over marketing that is too, shall we say “salesy”.

But unless you have the financial resources to shoot original photography, like a great many credit unions and community banks, you rely on stock photography to carry your brand. The trouble is, stock imagery can look notoriously fake and overly staged. Not authentic. Studio-posed images of thrilled car buyers, happy homeowners, and dedicated staff helping customers, that have a staged and phony air, will undercut authenticity every time. Unfortunately, this describes a lot of the stock imagery available. Thumbs up? Check. The handshake? Check. The arms-crossed power pose? Check. Sure, people give the thumbs up. Sure people shake hands. But stock represents, by nature, idealized images (you could say clichés) of what the gatekeepers of stock banks think depict key moments in a customer’s journey. Perhaps not so much the detailed nuances of who they really are and how they act.

This is not to say ALL stock imagery is bad. By no means. There is a lot of great stock photography available. Images that look intimate, a bit unpolished, personal and NOT staged. They have an authentic, slice of life feel. The point is, credit unions don’t have stock members. Community banks, stock customers. You don’t have stock employees. So avoid using stock images that present them as stock concepts versus real people. In the work we do for our clients, we strive to make sure we are using imagery that puts the best face on their brand.

Bottom line: bad stock photos can give your brand a black eye. The brand you work tirelessly to elevate. Your brand is your baby, so keep your “bad stock” filter on as you think about your communications, and keep that authenticity factor high.