In an ideal world, every company would have its own full-time graphic designer to create unique art for all of your promotional needs. But that’s not realistic. A lot of the time, you can meet your needs with stock images. 

Many libraries online collect images that you can use freely, but in some instances you might need a paid subscription in order to gain the rights to use stock images for promotional purposes.

Sourcing those images might be completed by multiple members of the marketing team (such as a social media manager, external consultants, or even interns). But if several people are collectively working on choosing the images that will represent your company to the public, and none are expert visual artists and designers, it helps to provide those team members with a single set of guidelines for choosing their images. This way, every piece of content will look like a deliberate choice, with one point of view, that represents your brand.

We can provide you with a custom set of branding guidelines if that’s what you’re seeking; and, of course, Mad 4 Marketing is also available to create and curate unique creative for your company and campaigns. However, in the meantime, we’ve collected a set of general tips that can help your team choose images with purpose:

1) Is it free to use? If you don’t have a subscription to a paid image library, then you’ll want to be sure you’re accessing and downloading images that are free to use for promotional or commercial purposes (also known as commercial use or royalty-free images). Otherwise, you can be hit with steep copyright fees. Then, you’ll want to check if the image can be modified. Free stock images can be cropped to use, but they can’t always be edited with new layers, lighting, or text overlay. Check what kinds of modifications you’re allowed to make to the images you’re using before you slap your logo over it, blur the background, or otherwise modify the base image.

2) Are you using the correct search terms? When browsing a stock image library, you use keywords. The first thing you want to do is try a variety of specific keywords that match the message you’re trying to convey. But then you should also explore the other search functions, like whether you want a photograph or creative art. You can search by size and shape, as well as color scheme and other features. The more of these settings that you can provide in your guidelines, the faster and more accurate your searches will be.

3) Does the color scheme match? One of the most egregious mistakes to make is choosing images that look amazing, but they don’t all go together. If you’re scrolling through a social media page, this will jump out at viewers before the content of the images does. You can have images with very different subject matters and themes if they’re linked by the same color scheme (no clashing colors, lighting contrast, or fading—and not overwhelming your own brand colors). You can search for images with dominant colors or palettes, or look for a specific color code (by Hex or RGB value) within the results from the keywords you’ve searched.

4) Is this an image that’s unique to your goals? Another mistake that many people make is typing in a keyword, searching a stock image library, and then picking the first great image they see. But, of course, thousands of other people are using the same library. And (unless you want to shell out the big bucks for exclusive usage rights) that means your image might be used in thousands of other campaigns. The face you’re using for your brand might also be on the side of a bus—advertising medicine for upset stomachs. To get the best results, it helps to use the most niche search keywords possible. Then, dig deep into the library to find the perfect image for your message, not just any image that might work.

5) Does it translate between channels? If you’re grabbing an image for a blog, let’s say, you have to keep in mind that the image might also be turned into a thumbnail for the menu of the website, repurposed for an email, or shared on social media. Every time the image is compressed or cropped for these purposes, it might look different. Some digital channels will also source and skew the images automatically, and they’ll look a little different than the original. And the biggest difference, of course, will take place if you intend to use the same image across a campaign for many different formats, like print and digital. So when you’re choosing an image, you’ll want to get the highest resolution possible, and make sure it has the capacity to convey the message you intend from various displays, crops, and sizes.
We hope these tips will help you quickly generate content with eye-capturing visual elements that truly represent your brand to your audience across channels. For more custom help and professional multimedia design, reach out anytime to Mad 4 Marketing.