Stock Photography vs. Real Imagery? Which Converts Better?

Making a decision to use stock photography or real images isn’t nearly as easy as one may assume. This is because there is no clear-cut right or wrong answer. Ultimately, it boils down to what a person may be looking for and what they are trying to achieve with the image. Variables exist when trying to make your decision, as there are many considerations to keep in mind.

Below, we will attempt to break down some of the pros and cons of each to help you make whichever choice is right for you. Some prefer their ultimate final product has the genuine feel only a real picture can provide while some prefer the ease and simplicity of stock imagery. It all boils down to which more closely aligns to your vision.

Stock Photography

We’ll start by breaking down the difference between the two. Real images are pictures taken by you or a professional photographer for whatever use your heart desires. Stock photography is typically a storage bank of pre–existing pictures that you can choose from. Some of these storage banks are free to use, such as Google Images, but be careful! Things are not always as they appear as we’ll discuss below. For the savvy user, however, stock photography can lend itself to some pretty sizable upsides.


The first thing to consider when choosing between stock photography and real images is price. As mentioned earlier, there are many stock photograph banks that will allow you to choose from an assortment of images for free or very little cost, both of which tend to be very budget friendly.

Additionally, those working within time constraints might find hiring a professional photographer too time-consuming or expensive. Stock photo banks tend to offer a sweeping selection of images, with a search feature making it quick and easy to find a suitable offering with just the click of a button.


The most glaring con on of stock photos is lack of originality. Stock photo banks can be a great option for many people which is exactly what it sounds like–an option for everybody. Purchasing a license to use the image doesn’t prevent the next person who happens upon it from doing the exact same thing. Since most printing outlets allow customers access to the business stock photo image bank at no additional charge, the odds of running across a previously used picture are higher than one might expect.

Moreover, many stock photo banks rely on cliched, cartoonish characters or pictures that don’t lend themselves to a product or service meant to be taken seriously. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, using free stock photo banks such as Google Docs can come with a hidden charge if you’re not careful. Since many of these pull from images available online, the image may not be free of charge to use even if the platform is. This can lead to licensing violations, which can cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars if you’re not careful.

Real Images

Real Images are quickly becoming the preferred choice for users, as the pros heavily outweigh the cons. Moreover, people typically find the ability to have complete control over the image, its quality, and how it’s used far too enticing. Since real images are photographs taken by you or a paid professional, you are in complete control over what happens next. The creativity that comes from being the one to decide the exact image as opposed to settling for something close can be a small but important distinction when it comes to branding.


It goes without saying that the biggest pro to using real images is originality and flexibility. Whatever vision you may have in mind can be created, with the option of taking multiple shots from multiple angles until you get the result that best suits your needs. This also gives you control over the quality of the image and the ability to format it for its intended use without incurring additional design fees, as many printers will not format images for free. Avoiding licensing fees, while not the biggest pro on this list, can save you time and headache by not having to worry about whether or not the image is being used correctly or as intended.


When it comes to a list of cons for using real images, there really aren’t any outside of potential cost. Hiring and scheduling a professional photographer can be expensive, depending on what you’re asking for. Investing in photography equipment or design software can also be costly but not something you would likely do unless you were to pursue such a vocation on a regular basis anyway. With cell phone cameras getting better with each generation and photoshop applications aplenty, the cost doesn’t at all need to be a deterrent.   

As mentioned above, ultimately, it depends on your vision and which is better going to achieve what it is you want to do. Both offer their advantages and disadvantages, but at the end of the day, it’s about which is going to represent you and your brand the best.  

Trademarking Your Brand

Lawyers working for Entrepreneur Magazine have recently started sending “cease and desist” letters to business owners who use the word “entrepreneur” anywhere in their name. These letters urge the recipients to stop using the word “entrepreneur,” as it violates Entrepreneur Magazine’s trademark.

In a blog entry about the subject, Seth Godin, a guest blogger on, writes, “With great cost and hassle, fledgling entrepreneurs […] who have finally gotten their business off the ground now have to dig in to either fight a huge law firm and their misguided but well-funded lawyers–or spend the money to change what they already built.”

There are a couple of problems with this, but most importantly: you can’t trademark the word entrepreneur. At least not the way Entrepreneur Magazine is trying to. Why not? Read on to learn more.

What Is a Trademark?

A trademark is defined by the US Patent and Trademark Office as “a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.” The term is generally used to refer to the lesser known “service mark,” which differentiates a business providing goods with one providing services.

You don’t need to register a trademark or any other form of branding to enjoy its legal protections. Simply using the mark—which generally means a logo, brand name, slogan, or other identifying device—grants you common law rights. And trademarks, unlike patents and copyrights, never expire (as long as the proper paperwork is periodically filed).

Speaking of patents and copyrights, they’re similar in that they’re intended to protect intellectual property rights. Patents protect inventions, and copyrights protect literary, artistic, musical or film material. Both expire after a set period of time.

Apple vs Apple

The thing about Entrepreneur Magazine’s ill-advised attempt to prevent others from using the word “entrepreneur” is that you can’t trademark generic words. Under US trademark law, generic words (like apple, or entrepreneur) are not registrable, which means you can’t stop anyone from using them.

In fact, Apple Computer (now Apple, Inc.) famously sued Apple Records, which was owned by The Beatles. Apple Computer didn’t win—in fact, they ended up paying Apple Records a settlement to put the case to bed. They did reach an agreement that basically stated Apple Records wouldn’t go into the computer business, and Apple Computer wouldn’t go into the music business.

You can’t trademark a common word. Combine that word with the name of a product, (such as Apple Computer or Apple Records) and you’ve got a trademark.

If Entrepreneur made, say, smartphones and had a product called the Entrepreneur Phone, they’d have a defensible trademark. Likewise, if someone else started a company using the name Entrepreneur Magazine, they could sue over that as well. But just the word “entrepreneur”? Not a chance.

Though it remains to be seen what will happen with Entrepreneur Magazine’s threats, trademark law is pretty well defined in this area (though well-paid lawyers can make defending a trademark ultimately not worth the effort for small business owners, so it remains to be seen how this plays out).

Registration: A Good Idea

Though you don’t need to register your trademark in order to have it protected, it’s a good idea to do so, as registration brings benefits that common law use doesn’t. By registering your trademark, you create a public record of your trademark, a nationwide “legal presumption” of ownership, and exclusive rights to use the trademark for goods or services defined by the registration.

If there’s a business out there called Entrepreneur Consulting (or Entrepreneur Bicycles, or Entrepreneur Bar & Grill for that matter), their legal defense against something like those cease and desist letters would be substantially easier if they’re registered.

It’s a good idea to trademark your business’s name as soon as possible if you want to protect it and prevent other people in similar lines of business from using the same name, logo, or other identifying characteristic. The trademark registration process even includes an existing trademark search that will ensure you’re not infringing on an already established trademark, and to ensure that the word, phrase, logo or other mark you’re trying to register doesn’t already exist.

If you are running a company already named something like, say, Apple Records and you later find out that there’s another (much more famous) Apple Records in existence, you not only have to change the name of your company (and all of your stationary, letterhead, and etc.), but you have to stop selling products or services under that name—and recall any products already on the market with that name attached to them. That could get expensive.

If, on the other hand, you spend years of effort and untold resources making your company a success in its field and another company comes along with the same or very similar name? You can protect your trademark (and your exclusive ability to sell goods and services under that name) by filing a lawsuit against the newcomer.

As long as you have a trademark that’s specific to the kind of product you’re selling, you should be protected (which is why Apple Computers wasn’t able to make Apple Records change its name).

Personal vs Business Brands

If you’re trying to get your name out there, whether it be to promote your business or your blog, you will need to decide between building a personal brand or a business brand. Both of these choices come with pros and cons, and learning the differences between the two of them might make a world of difference to your project! Read on to learn more.

Personal brands

A personal brand is built around you as an individual. Your name is the focus, meaning  people will associate you, as a person, with your products. Celebrities, authors, and professional speakers frequently use personal brands.


If you’re a one-person business, personal branding is a great way to make your services or products more relatable. People will feel more connected to your work, because they will feel as if they know you as a person. Personal brands are also very flexible; if you ever want to change the direction of your project or business, it’s much easier to do with a personal brand. People will understand it as you making an individual choice rather than a business suddenly changing its focus.


It can be difficult to scale your personal brand. If you want to expand, you’ll have to find a way to hire people (and all the different ideas they’ll bring to the table) while still maintaining your image as an individual. Similarly, it can be very hard to sell a personal brand, because it won’t make any sense being operated by someone other than you!

Business brands

A business brand does not have one individual face. Corporations or companies that unite under one logo are considered business brands. If an individual were to start a business brand, it would not use their name, but a company name that either a team or individual would work under.


Business brands are often more immune to scandal or criticism. When one member of a company commits an offense, it is much easier to deal with than when a company centered around one individual suddenly has to address that individual’s mistakes. Business brands are also more sustainable. Because they are run by many people, or can be passed on to other people without confusion, business brands tend to be longer-lasting than personal ones.


Business branding generally requires more organization. Because what you’re promoting won’t be immediately obvious (compared to a well-known blogger, for example), you’ll have to put more work into raising awareness as to what, exactly, your brand does. You will also have to make decisions like what your company does and who you want your audience to be fairly immediately, and once you’re locked in, it can be difficult to change.

What You Can Learn From MARS Rebranding

When you hear the name MARS Incorporated, you probably think of Skittles, M&Ms, and the other popular candies this company produces. Unless you follow their brand closely, you probably do not consider petcare items like Pedigree or their leading food items, specifically UNCLE BEN’S, which is a billion dollar brand.

In an attempt to expand their business past the confectionary sector and bring attention to their other successful brands, MARS has recently updated their brand with a new company logo and a mission statement that will help establish the brand as something more than just delicious chocolate.

With these changes, MARS also worked to differentiate between their many business areas. The MARS brand now includes MARS Food, MARS Petcare, MARS Wrigley Confectionery, and MARS Edge. Unified through the MARS logo, which is now sleek and modernized, these segmented areas help highlight the company’s business interests while reminding their consumers that they offer more than candy.

With their differentiated business areas, modernized logo, and restructured mission statement, MARS is able to take their brand in a new, and ultimately more profitable, direction. If you think your company might need a similar update, here are a few things you can learn from the MARS rebranding:

Determine your brand’s direction and purpose

Rebranding is more than just marketing your business or giving it a new look or feel. When you rebrand, you are letting the world know what your company values, as well as the direction in which your company is heading. As such, it is vital for you to establish a company mission statement that will show the purpose of your company.

When you look at MARS and its rebranding efforts, you will notice that all of their changes support the new direction the company has taken. They are no longer focused on just pushing their candy and confectionery brands, and they want consumers to understand that they have much more to offer.

Is your company heading in a new direction? If so, what do you want your consumers to know about your brand? Are you heading in a new direction? Use this information to determine a course of action starting with an updated mission statement.

Craft a mission statement

Before you start rebranding your company, sit down with your team and ask yourself if the purpose or the mission of your company has changed. If so, come up with a mission statement to reflect this change and show your consumers the new direction your brand is going to take.

Even if you are not making changes to the purpose of your brand, you still need to have a mission statement. If your target audience is confused about what your brand does or of its purpose, a clear mission statement can help you resonate with them more effectively.

Consider the mission statement MARS recently created for its rebranding. Its new mission statement — “The world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today” — emphasizes that MARS is a brand that is not only looking ahead to the future, but also one that is working toward making that future brighter.

What does your existing mission statement say about your brand? If you cannot answer that question, or the answer to that question is different than what you would like for it to say, then you need to craft a new mission statement.

Support your mission statement

Every change that MARS made supports the fulfillment of their mission statement.

The company’s vice president of corporate affairs, strategic initiatives and sustainability, Andy Pharaoh, notes how young consumers- the future of the company’s success — want businesses to “stand up for things.” This new mission statement lets consumers know that MARS cares about the future it is helping to create. Their new logo features colors that are supposed to represent hope, optimism, and sustainability, which directly supports the company’s purpose, as well. Even the way they realigned their brand architecture supports the growth that they are aiming for in the future.

Whether you need to update your brand strategy because it is outdated and no longer relevant, or you want to emphasize a new purpose for your company, you should make sure that every single change you make helps support your mission statement.

Experiential Marketing: What Is It?

“Experiential Marketing”, also called Engagement Marketing, is a strategy that encourages active engagement from the consumer. It’s not a new concept, it’s become larger and more creative over the years, thanks especially to Instagram.  We’ll explain the idea behind it and three examples.

How does experiential marketing work?

Modern customers have become more savvy or even somewhat immune to blunt, directive messaging. It’s everywhere, and the mind has to filter somewhere.

In response, brands have picked up on ways of actively engaging consumers in their creation, personalization, and experience. Creating something gives customers something to own, to take pride in, and, importantly, to show off on social media.

The key is striking a balance between providing an experience for the customer and creating something they truly invest in and share. Here are three of our favorite recent examples.


29Rooms is the oft-cited example of experiential marketing. It’s an interactive art installation Refinery29 created in celebration of their 10th anniversary. Refinery29 is a digital media company with a mostly young, mostly woman audience, and that audience (generally speaking) loves sharing content visually through Instagram.

This exhibit brings visitors, but also brings high-profile collaborators like Kesha and Lena Waithe. Because of this, the primary audience has a sense of being a part of something with their heroes and brings them closer to feeling like potential peers.

Cheetos Museum

On a more lighthearted note, Cheetos put together the Cheetos Museum as a playful repository for the different shapes customers find in their snacks. Fans won prizes. The exhibit itself mimicked other art installations, like the Cheetos infinity room. If you’re already a fan of Cheetos, there’s nothing like having your own discovery on display in a hall composed of 128,900 of them.

Luke’s Diner

Luke’s Diner is a location featured in beloved TV show Gilmore Girls. When the show came back on the air, marketers created the idea of having fans literally interact by going to visit a pop-up version of the location. With decor and accessories from the show, it creates a mini version of an experience like that of Disneyland — a moment where you can pretend to be part of your favorite show.

Has your brand tried any kind of experiential marketing? We’d love to hear about it.

Audience Engagement: Creating Love & Loyalty

Audience engagement isn’t an exact science. We talked about target audience last week — why it’s important, how to do it, and a little about our own. But now that you know who they are, let’s talk about how to keep your audience engaged.

Be human.

Above all else, people hate feeling like they’re talking to a full-service marketing machine. Take the time to develop a consistent voice to use in all engagements, from web content to social media management, to other customer service functions. Be sure your team understands and uses your voice.

Encourage interaction.

Marketing a two-way street. Gone are the days where simply suggesting, directing, or compelling an audience is effective. If something doesn’t spark joy in 2019, you’re going to lose your audience. Just saying “like, comment, share” isn’t going to cut it. You need to…

Make it worth their time.

Time is a valuable resource and today everyone is more aware than ever of what it means to their OWN brand to endorse a company or product. Even further, the people who endorse you are an extension of your own brand. If they’re not your target audience, this can actually scare off audience engagement.

So do something that encourages the right kind of interaction. Ask real questions. Give away products and services with real (and enviable) value that your clients will truly be excited to receive.

Respect their time.

Once you have their attention, use it wisely. Don’t barrage them. Have a real and genuine conversation. Respond to questions thoughtfully.

One way you can do this is by making your message skimmable by using images. People are busy, and don’t have the time to read a wall of text. No matter how well-written, your audience does not have time for a novel. Give them the info they need and move on.

What have you found works for your own audience engagement? We’d love to hear about it.

Defining Your Target Audience

Target Audience is a well-worn concept and a commonly cited reason for a rebrand. It’s also the foundation for your brand to create its position, which helps guide decision-making going forward.

Why Is Defining Your Target Audience Important?

How could it not be? Your target audience is central to everything you do, say, and create. You have to understand who you’re speaking to in order to make your message resonate or even matter.

If you’re not doing that, or not being specific enough, you’re missing a valuable opportunity to really connect with the people who will not only buy your product but participate in your brand’s idea, development, and overall journey.

This isn’t limited to your buying public, either: placing yourself in a landscape of other companies helps you create valuable partnerships.

How Do You Define Your Target Audience?

Defining target audience is really about starting somewhere, observing, and reporting than it is about getting it perfect the first time around. Your audience will inevitably evolve. You might realize you’ve been trying to target the wrong people. You might find you’re using the wrong language to speak to them.

In other words, there’s no rigid way of getting this “right”. Your approach needs to be nimble enough to adapt when you take steps to assess.

How you decide to assess can be based on metrics like social media data and analytics. But it should also reflect your company’s stated goals and what really drives you. For instance, you may have started as a young company working with a much younger audience, but as you grow and change you might find your audience grows and changes with you. Their interests and passions will likely evolve, too.

Our Audience

Our own target audience has undergone a change to reflect our evolution as a company. Where we once engaged with entrepreneurs broadly, we’re making an effort to narrow our focus to entrepreneurs in certain industries. This will allow us to better engage with our own specific niche – something we’ve been working toward over the last few years.

Elevating Our Brand Culture

Brand culture, or company culture, is where a brand “lives” its own values. Basically, what goes on within flows out.

Fostering great, on-brand corporate culture is a huge step toward avoiding this problem. That means more than just saying what it is you believe in. It means enacting it every single day.

What Is Brand Culture?

You know those moments where something about a company’s culture bubbles to the surface in news reports and works in total opposition to what you thought you knew about the brand?

Uber, for instance, purports to be a brand that connects people, facilitates travel and therefore experience, and innovation. So it’s jarring when you hear about discrimination against female engineers, safety concerns with drivers and vetting, and practices that can disadvantage their employees trying to make a living.

How Do I Know What Our Culture Is?

Take a moment to list — yourself and your staff — what drives their work. What motivates them? Why do they come into work each day? Answers could vary from “well, I have bills” to “I really believe in our mission” to “I have the freedom to create” to “I need to achieve and I can do so here”.

Once you understand the broad sense of worker motivation, you should have a clear basis to understand what drives your workplace. Once you understand the why, you can clearly observe the how. Do your employees procrastinate, are they achievers who are driven to complete projects ahead of time? Is there a mismatch in that they want to excel but are bogged down by workload?

These two things will give you a pulse-check of how your workplace does what it does.

What is BRANDING FOR THE PEOPLE’S Brand Culture?

In the spirit of our new Brand Promise, we’re taking steps to revise our culture. Our strategy defines this as one that’s inclusive, collaborative, and creative where employees are empowered, challenged, and truly recognized for high performance. Not just at the executive level — it’s important this comes from all levels of our culture to really create a thriving ecosystem.

Articulating Our Brand Values

With a rebrand comes a reimagining of Brand Values. Along with Brand Promise, Brand Attributes, Brand Voice, Value Propositions, and other characteristics, your organization’s values guide how your brand behaves, the goals it sets, and how you work.

What Are Brand Values?

Basically, Brand Values are guiding principles of behavior that deliver on your brand.  You’ll often hear conceptual language like transparency, humanity, or accessibility. These concepts are then illustrated with more language expanding on what these specific principles mean to their brand and why they were chosen.

We’ve seen a trend of brands placing their values front and center. For example, Everlane provides their values on their website as part of their overall presence.

Other brands typically use Brand Values to guide internal organizational culture, create policy, make hiring decisions, measure employee performance, and define the brand experience for customers. Brand Values are considered fundamental to the brand’s DNA. In a competitive marketplace, they help companies retain talent, make tough decisions, and allocate resources.

In other words, if you value everything, you value nothing.

Our Brand Values

In redefining our Brand Promise, it became clear we needed to realign our values to match. Shifting our focus from “Performance Fueled by Creativity” to “Simplify + Elevate” means our own DNA needs to shift. In order to deliver on the new promise, we needed to refresh our own fundamental language.

With this in mind, we arrived at three guiding principles of behavior: clarityrelationships, and kaizen. 


Clarity is pretty, well, clear for a brand that promises to simplify. But clarity as a concept for BRANDING FOR THE PEOPLE also imagines the client’s response to finally seeing their own vision clearly. Of course, we want to be clear and easy to understand. Because we want business owners to take action when they’re clear on the direction they’re heading. In addition, we also want to inspire that specific a-ha moment for our clients when they are crystal clear on who they are…and who they’re not.


Every business values relationships, but how does BRANDING FOR THE PEOPLE value relationships? By placing this as part of the value system that defines us, we make people and relationships central to everything we do. We want to work with you, not over or under. We don’t just take on more projects for the sake of it. We value long-term, collaborative relationships in which it’s a win-win for both parties. We are truly for the people — both in the sense of accessibility and in elevating those we work with through thriving connections.


Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning continuous improvement within business culture and practice. It’s a concept that is a sum of its parts, not a static condition. We value incremental change at every step as a commitment to overall improvement. If you’re not continually growing, your business will suffer. Simply by the very fact we’re evolving our brand is an indicator that we value continuous improvement. The market changes. People change. And, our business (and yours) will also change.

If you don’t have Brand Values guiding your internal culture and the brand experience for your clients or customers, it might be time to get clear on them. Of course, if you need help uncovering your Brand Values, schedule a call with our team today to explore how we can help.

Our New Brand Promise: Simplify + Elevate

It’s time: our new Brand Promise is Simplify + Elevate.

Our goal starting in 2019 is to make a transformational impact on brands — not inch forward.

We are evolving away from fragmentation and toward unified, cohesive imagery, words, and messaging.

Here, we’ll give you a bit of insight into what a Brand Promise actually is, what it means to us to elevate, and why this.

What is a Brand Promise?

Before we talk about why: what is a Brand Promise?

It’s the single unifying idea behind everything your brand does. It’s also the why and the how of your brand’s behavior.

In traditional media, it was simpler to keep messaging controlled and unified. With digital, it’s challenging to keep everything – social media, content, visual – on the same script.

But a Brand Promise keeps your message clear and consistent. It guides every part of your brand’s vision, presence, and communication.

What does it mean to elevate?

“Simplify” is a verb with a clear meaning. And, there’s sophistication in simplicity. But “elevate” is more abstract.

The answer is: we raise brands to a level above their own market. How that happens isn’t the same across the board. It takes effort on both parts toward that same goal.

We work with brands that share the desire to reach that raised point to help them realize their goals.

More importantly, we work with you to clarify exactly what it would look like to achieve your goals. What your marketplace looks like. Who your audience is. What they respond to.

Knowing each piece of your landscape on a high level creates clarity and purpose.

Why Simplify + Elevate?

Up until now, our Brand Promise was “Performance Fueled by Creativity”. That was an idea that reflected a different time and vision.

We’ve done performance. We’ve embraced creativity. It’s time to get back to the center of why we do what we do.

And now, taking a look at ourselves as an agency, our strengths, our weaknesses, our audience. With all that in consideration, it’s time to create a future for ourselves and our clients that’s uncluttered. Direct. Easy to understand.

If this sounds like you, we’d love to hear from you.