The Art and Science of Choosing Images

Choosing images for a website or marketing piece can be a challenge sometimes.  It’s very subjective, and trying to figure out what emotions someone will experience when they look at an image isn’t easy. That’s where the art comes in.

Fortunately, we don’t have to be artists to select images for our marketing or website copy. There’s actually quite a bit of science that can help us determine what kind of images we ought to use.

Recently, I had a client in the technology consulting industry ask, “We are a technology services firm, so shouldn’t we be showing pictures of technology in our marketing pieces?”

My answer:

Not necessarily. As a general rule, I think it is better to use images of people for your main image instead of pictures of technology, even in the technology industry.

There are a few reasons for this.

The first is human nature. It is in our human nature to respond positively to other human faces. People trust other human faces – even the goofy ones in stock images.

Studies have been done on the use of human faces in the area of e-commerce websites and landing page optimization as well as human/robot interactions; they show that you can double the conversion rate with pictures of babies, women and attractive people, and that humans find robots that look more like humans to be more trustworthy. An attractive woman dressed professionally is the best type of image for establishing trust – this kind of image nearly doubles conversion rates with men, and has a smaller but still marked effect on women.

(As an aside, women respond best to babies but obviously a picture of a baby wouldn’t be appropriate for a consulting firm!)

There is even a discipline called neuromarketing that studies how the brain responds to different types of marketing images and content. The idea behind neuroscience is that buying decisions aren’t necessarily rational – they are based on a mashup of thoughts and feelings that drive decision making. Neuromarketers study these thoughts and feelings by hooking subjects up to an EEG and tracking their eye movements as they read or watch advertisements.  What they’ve found is that people look at the facial expressions in the images to determine how they should be feeling (this is called facial coding), and their eyes follow those of the photo subjects.

We can use this to our advantage when choosing images to use, and how they should be placed within a website or marketing piece. If you want to engender trust, consider choosing images where the faces show someone looking happy – maybe not over the top happy and giving the thumbs up (I see this all the time in stock images and can’t imagine it eliciting any emotion other than irritation), but pleased at least.

Also, look at the eyes – the eyes have it in this case. Do the eyes look calm? That would probably be an image that fosters trust. Which direction are the eyes looking? If they are looking away from the copy, consider reversing the image, or finding one that has eyes looking at where you want the audience’s eyes to go (the headline for instance, or an important bit of copy).

The second reason is to consider what your company is really selling. I work with a lot of technology services firms. What does a technology consulting firm actually sell? Is it technology, a product or a service? You may be a REseller of products, and have a lot of knowledge about technology – but if you are in the consulting or professional services business, you are ultimately a service company. Services are provided by people. When someone hires a consulting firm, they are hiring you for the expertise of your people. So while we may see a products company using images of products successfully, a services firm is selling something different, and we need to approach it from that perspective.

Third reason – know your customer. Why does a client hire an IT services company in the first place? They are hiring you because technology is not their area of expertise. Some may feel confused by or even have a negative reaction to technology. They may feel technology itself is a necessary evil and just want you to handle it for them.

The upshot is – people trust people. So that is why in most cases, choosing images of people to go with my marketing or website copy makes the most sense. Images of products also increase trust but they don’t do as well as pictures of people. So, having pictures of both would probably work best for our purposes as technology marketers.

Agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.