How to use stock imagery

Jacqui Vear

Author: Jacqui Vear
30th July 2020

using the right stock image

You know the power of visual marketing, the premise that ‘a picture paints a thousand words’. Libraries of stock imagery consisting of photographs, illustrations and even videos can be a go-to source for visual content. There’s a huge range of images that can be accessed under different licences, through a growing number of online stock photo agencies, including Adobe Stock, iStock, Getty Images, Shutterstock and more. Yet is this an acceptable marketing short-cut? Let’s give you Systematic’s take on the marketing conundrum of how to use stock imagery.

How to use stock imagery to your advantage


Originality can be a tough brief

The pressure to compose and technically deliver the right image can be big. Then there’s the time and cost implications of going bespoke. If it’s a case of not having an image, or using a stock image, marketing stats tell us that the latter is going to be the best tact, e.g. publishers who feature visual content reportedly grow online traffic 12 times faster than those who don’t. Stock imagery can help you be agile with your messaging too, if one approach doesn’t have the intended impact you can quickly re-think your leading visual, especially on digital platforms. In the world of adverts where return on investment (ROI) rules, this is called A/B testing; simultaneously using different versions of the same campaign to test effectiveness.


a/b testing images


Choose carefully… or ask an expert

Avoid the bland, cliché stock imagery that looks like stock imagery! Images with a relevant, natural subject matter, authentic to the intended setting, brand style and accompanying text will be useful resources in your marketing toolkit. If you’re sourcing stock images directly, you must understand their legal status. An image may be in the public domain (PD) and free for you to use. A royalty free license (RF) means that you or your creative partner pay to use the image once, and you get to use it however you want, wherever you want, and for as long as you want, (although the author still holds the copyright). Finally, less common are right managed licenses (RM), which allow for a one-off use of an image in a specific way for an agreed period of time, potentially including exclusivity rights.


cheesy stock image

Cheesy stock images will get attention, for the wrong reasons!


A stock image may just be the start

With the majority of stock images available in a ‘vectored’ format, graphic designers will easily be able to adapt them to best suit your brand and message, for a bespoke result. This might involve changing colours or overlaying logos or text. Remember, your image, stock photography or not, is not the end game, it just needs to engage your target audience and compel them to follow your call to action, be that reading, clicking or calling.


illustrated calendar design

A bespoke illustration from our Creative Studio


Don’t stop at stock photography

We’ve outlined the virtues of stock imagery, just remember that it’s only one source of images. Mix up your visual marketing with original photographs too. For marketing collateral that has a longer shelf-life or higher profile in your brand marketing consider investing in unique infographics, illustrations and animations. (We can help with those too.)

Have confidence that stock imagery has its place in engaging your target audience! We’ve got access to the widest range of images and the knowledge to help you use them wisely. Image sourcing and use is included within all of our graphic design quotes and reflected in the licenses that we invest in. Let us know where you need to make a visual impact!


Check out how using stock imagery and design effectively in a mailing campaign, helped one of our clients increase their enquiries by 200%, click here to read more.


Here is a related design blog post that may interest you:
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