Marketers know the power of images on the Internet. Some of the most successful platforms (Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc.) prioritize imagery while keeping written content to a minimum. However, so many marketers are stuck on stock photos that they end up preaching authenticity but delivering generalities. Here are some ways to bring your written and visual content into accord, and why that's so important.

Why Imagery Matters

A person can process the entirety of an image in about 13 milliseconds. Many webmasters lament the fact that the time people spend on a page doesn't always seem much longer than that.

Images are often the first pieces of content that digital audiences see when a screen loads. If the imagery does not match the content or creates a preconceived notion in the viewer's mind, you may be going in the wrong direction. The content experience will change, and possibly not for the better. An image can set someone's brain up for a certain type of website, describe a key point, or leave a reader feeling confused.

Images are key components in a user experience, which means the quality and content represented in images matters. Brands take great pains to create the perfect layout and navigation tools for their users, then slap a stock image on the site and call it finished. Ignoring the power of imagery does a disservice to the entire digital project.

The Problem with Stock

If the citation on the photo doesn't give it away, the contrived poses, false smiles, and carefully chosen message will. Hey, I'm as guilty as anyone. Take a look at the images in the hundreds of posts I've written here at Inc. It can be a struggle to find compelling images.

Stock images are convenient, like grabbing a boilerplate snippet to copy and paste into materials. Marketers, journalists and graphic designers can pop an image into one of their stories, a website, brochure, or advertisement and move forward with daily activities. While they get the job done, stock images tend to devalue the content they accompany a little bit.

Stock images are generic, off-the-shelf pieces of content anyone can use. The average digital user can pick stock photography out of a lineup - it's that obvious. Since stock photographers must meet the demands of a wide range of customers, they often revert to cliché and generic visual cues. For brands trying to represent a specific message, stock imagery may catch the eye, but for many of the wrong reasons.

Modern audiences often prefer absorbing personalized pictures from Pinterest blogs and genuine photo stories they see on Instagram. Personalization is a major marketing trend in 2017, and visual imagery can create a personal connection to the brand in the same way a customer's name on an email can.

5 Tips for Creating Synergy Between Written and Visual Content

Boost the value of written content and engage customers at every level with the right visual cues. Consider these tips to deliver a consistent message across digital assets:

  1. Choose stock images carefully. I realize that choosing totally authentic images for every blog and social media post is unrealistic for busy organizations. Just do the best you can with the options you have. If you must use stock images, choose something uncommon and striking. You take time to perfect the words you use, spend time finding the right images to accompany those words.
  2. Train employees to take candid pictures. Modern technology puts high definition photo power in the hands of everyday smartphone users. Consider hiring a professional photographer to conduct a one-day seminar on taking great photos. A graphic designer can add polish to the image, and the final product will more genuinely represent your company. Proudly add captions to your photos to bring your brand to life online.
  3. Stick with branding rules. Branding should look consistent across all mediums. Whether you use a stock image or an authentic image, maintain brand consistency. Colors, fonts, and the level of professionalism should appear the same on social media, primary websites, and mobile applications.
  4. Use a photo that truly represents the content. Do not choose the first image you find that sort of supports the content. Take the time to really consider someone's first impression of the photo and how the image complements the content.
  5. Find inspiration on social media. Explore highly visual social media networks to better understand the images that resonate with audiences. Follow influencers and popular brands. A few great images can really set your brand apart from the competition.

Since people process images faster than text, content marketing strategies should include guidelines for matching images with messages. Express straightforward and abstract ideas with the right images for a better, more authentic digital presence.

Published on: Jun 1, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.