4 Non-Cheesy Ways to Use Stock Photos in Email Marketing

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Everyone’s seen an email newsletter with the all-too-obvious use of stock photos. Not only is it definitely obvious, it’s definitely cheesy. And unless you are a satirical news publisher, that’s probably not what you’re going for.

Incorporating stock photos into your email newsletter may be commonplace if you’re a modern marketer. Using the right images can significantly increase click-through rates, which is why marketers flock to stock photo sites in search of the right images to beautify their email newsletters.

With the ubiquitous nature of stock photos in today’s email world, standard stock photos can get boring and cheesy. So let’s analyze what makes a stock photo look cheesy, and how to combat that with four simple principles.

Why stock photos look cheesy

Between repositories like Know Your Meme and articles written on cliché stock photos over the years (like this Huffington Post series), it seems like more and more people are not only identifying stock imagery, but getting distracted by it, which is probably why you’re reading this post in the first place.

Stock photos tend to be very cliché largely because they are prone to being staged. You need only to look at this article from Adweek that explains Vince Vaughn’s 2015 masquerade into stock photo mockery to know just how staged stock photos are apt to be.

 Adweek – Email Marketing with Stock Photos

Not only do stock photos tend to look staged (and therefore inauthentic), but they’re incredibly overused. If you’re not selective, you may end up with a stock photo that another company, publisher, or content creator has used. That isn’t the end of the world, but it can definitely cloud your brand’s reputation if a viewer connects a photo used on your site to another site.

4 ways to use stock photos in email newsletters

Let’s cover some simple ways you can avoid the cheese and strengthen your branding perception in your email newsletters. We’ll explore using photo collections, how to stay on brand, avoiding overly popular photos, and how to approach stock photos in a fresh way.

1. Use photo collections

All stock photo websites have filters you can use to find photos. You’ve probably used them before, filtering by topic, industry, number of models, indoor vs. outdoor, etc. These are great ways to find photos to fit your specific need.

Collections are a bit different. These are sets of photos that a curator or editor has pulled together intentionally and specifically. Because of the forethought put into gathering these photos, you can feel confident choosing from a collection because at least one other person in the world has considered these photos to be useful.

On top of the fact that collections are curated and chosen for their quality, they’re also gathered based on a similar topic, vibe, or type of photo. Collections that are design or style-specific are perfect for keeping your email newsletters on brand.

When you can find collections that fit the style of your email newsletter, you instantly have a variety of photos to choose from that are chosen for their quality and aesthetic similarity.

Look at this example from Shillington:

In this email, they take the pink and red hues from the header image to match the two content pieces on the right, while the yellow tones of one of the flowers in the header image play on the yellows and bright colors of the content pieces on the left. This cohesive look makes the email newsletter flow better and feel more professional—even if they’re stock photos.

2. Stay on brand

Another great way to avoid cheesy stock photos is to abide by your branding.

Looking at this email newsletter from Moment, you can immediately tell from their email header, logo, and design just what their brand aesthetic is aiming for.

All their photos have very earthy colors, are very well balanced, and draw your focus to the story. As a company selling camera gear, they need to have photos that aren’t just great but inspire the viewer to engage with the story and place themselves in the shoes of the explorer. These photos do just that, even though you could easily find similar photos on a stock photo site.

This is especially important when the subject of your stock photos are people. Their expressions and actions can have a strong effect on what is being portrayed.

Learning from this email from TurboTax, they clearly sifted this photo (which very easily could have been stock) through a few of their brand requirements:

The person fits a target demographic
Their clothing is specific but not exclusive
The person is behaving/acting in a way that a customer would behave
The photo’s composition supports the text
The photo’s layout looks natural when in context with the rest of the email

If your audience is serious, use serious photos. If your audience is filled with goofy people, then by all means, use photos of goofy people. Just make sure your photos are on brand and suitable to your audience. In the case that someone outside your audience thinks the photos you use are cheesy or out of place, it doesn’t really matter if your audience perceives your use of photos to be appropriate.

3. Stay away from popular stock photos

This is one of the quickest ways for someone to discredit your email newsletter. Seeing a photo used across multiple companies or email newsletters can clearly identify the photo as stock and may cause the reader to lose trust in the quality of that company’s brand.

Perhaps one of the best ways to do this is by avoiding the “Featured” and “Popular” sections of stock photo websites. The “Featured” section will probably have the highest traffic going to it, and the “Popular” section exists obviously to point out which photos have been used the most.

Staying away from these sections while exploring others will help keep your content unique.

4. Think abstractly

When looking for stock photos to fill in your content, ruts are a real problem. It can be so easy to always search for the same few terms in hopes that you’ll find a trove of dozens new stock photos with that same tag. But that’s not likely, and your photos and email engagement will suffer in the meantime.

Now it’s time to put your brainstorming to the test.

Images are engaging. But what they need to be are captivating and motivating. They need to draw the attention of your reader and motivate them to click through. Along these lines, photos that aren’t directly related to your title can actually be powerful magnets to your readers’ eyes.

While two of the three images in this email are pretty straightforward, the one in the top left draws your eye and makes you wonder why that image is there.

The title of the associated content is “10 Things in Your Home You Should Toss” but doesn’t actually show any objects being disposed of. That could get cheesy.

In the midst of these photos with beautiful, spacious homes, if there was a photo of a man frantically throwing items into a garbage can, it’d be cheesy. It would discredit the content. Instead, they used a crowded photo with a lot going on, alluding to the state of your home before you read the blog. The photo is color coordinated with their branding colors so as to give a cohesive experience.

Try thinking abstractly by brainstorming based on the sections of the post or email newsletter. Read through your content and try to isolate it to one or two sections that inspire imagery. Brainstorm based on these sections and you may be able to come up with an image that could work for the content in your email newsletter without it subtracting from your readers’ overall experiences.

Wrap up

Your email newsletters should be beautiful. You probably agree. But sometimes the media you have available doesn’t lend itself to that end.

These guidelines should help you sift through the noise of stock photos and enhance your email newsletters. Once you’re all set with powerful imagery, it’ll be a breeze to drag and drop your images into your email, making beautiful newsletters in no time!

Campaign Monitor has dozens of beautiful newsletter templates to choose from that can accent your photos and branding perfectly. Try it for free today.

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