5 Ways Stock Art Might Be Killing Your Small Business Brand

You could get sued. Your image could pop up on a competitor's site. It can't be trademarked. So, stop defending stock art because it's "cheap."

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By Katie Lundin


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Your brand? It should be like your fingerprint -- completely unique and associated with you (or, in this case, your business). Everything about that brand, from your business name to your logo to your web design, should support and communicate your business's unique identity.

Related: 3 Reasons Why Web Design Is the Domain of Your Entire Company

So, why on earth would you consider using stock art or stock images to represent that brand?

"It's cheap and convenient!" you'll probably reply. But, stock art is the opposite of a fingerprint -- it's generic, lacking in personality; and, worse, that very same stock art could (and does) show up on your competitors' websites, business cards and logos. That's one reason why a business owner should never buy logos at so-called "logo stores" that sell pre-made generic templates.

These are all factors that will weaken and muddy your brand. In addition, when you consider the lawsuits you may face if you use stock art improperly . . . that "cheap" option may not be so cheap and convenient after all.

Finally, your brand deserves -- no, needs -- something better than stock art. Here are five reasons why generic stock art could be killing your small business brand.

1. It steals your brand's voice.

Your brand should be as specific and unique as possible. After all, no other business is exactly like your business. Your unique circumstances and vision are one of a kind. Your brand should reflect that. A clearly articulated, consistent mission coupled with the specificity of your authentic brand identity demands a visual language just as specific.

Stock art, on the other hand, exists to be malleable and adaptable to a wide range of users -- the more buyers can use it, the more profitable it is for its creator. By design, stock art is the opposite of specific. Therefore it can't have a strong point of view.

Yet, your brand needs a strong point of view if it's going to stand out.

So, instead of stock art . . . sing your brand's voice "loud and proud." Make art design choices that will give your brand a consistent, clearly articulated point of view. Invest in original logo and web design that captures the unique essence of your brand.

2. It undermines your brand's authenticity.

An authentic brand is one that presents itself with honesty and transparency. These traits make authentic brands relatable and trustworthy. In fact, in a 2016 study, 83 percent of consumers surveyed said that trust drives their loyalty to a brand.

Using stock photography on your website in place of photos of your actual business or employees may be easy. But, it's a far cry from authentic.

Opting for slick but meaningless stock art means you run the risk of alienating a wide swathe of your customers.

Related: 7 Sources of Free High Quality Stock Images

So, instead of stock art . . . make choices for your visual content that will cultivate a deeper relationship with your clients and customers. Professional, well-lit photos of your real employees doing their real jobs will carry more value and build more trust than yet another stock photo.

3. Most logos featuring stock art cannot be trademarked.

Since a logo is your business's visual identity, it's in your best interest to legally ensure that no other business can use your logo. This is called a trademark. If you use a piece of stock art as your logo, however, it can hardly be a unique identifier. That same stock art is available to any other person or business that purchases it.

The second relevant issue is that a trademark provides the owner with the legal rights to prevent the trademark's unauthorized use. But, stock art is sold with a license that allows for use under certain pre-approved circumstances. (These licenses will, however, frequently dictate that the art may not be used as a logo or trademark.)

At the same time, a stock art license grants all buyers certain legal rights. This would preclude you from preventing other buyers from using the same art that is featured in your logo. For a logo, then, stock art is just not the way to go.

So, instead of stock art . . . work with a professional graphic designer to get a logo that is original and properly embodies your brand. Either way, you'll end up with an original, unique logo that you own and which can be legally trademarked.

4. Your brand might be confused with a competitor's.

What if you and a competitor both liked the same stock art and incorporated it into your logos? Your logo wouldn't be unique anymore. Now your logo could be easily confused with a competitor's. And, that's not so great for you.

Customers seeking your business might get confused by your similar logos and shop with your competitor instead. Referrals from existing customers might get lost in translation when they said, "I don't remember what they're called. Just look for the one with the ___ in their logo."

Losing customers (not to mention all of the accompanying revenue) is bad news. But, it's especially painful to lose customers to such an easily avoided misstep. And, the danger doesn't stop there. If your competitor does something unethical and his or her reputation takes a hit, your reputation might be impacted as well! Guilt by association, fair or not, is a real threat.

And, making a logo change when a PR disaster is already upon you is the wrong approach. Rebranding in the wake of a PR crisis is reactive. Worse, it implies that you may have actually done something wrong.

So, instead of stock art . . . Stand out from the competition, with a unique logo and authentic photos of your products, services and employees. Share more about your business. The more clearly you articulate your brand identity, the more you'll differentiate your business from the pack.

5. You might violate copyright law.

Lawsuits are never fun. And, they cost money, too. So, if your goal is to save money by using stock art, be aware of the possible legal dangers. Cheap stock art that leads to a lawsuit isn't "cheap" anymore.

Stock art can trip you up for a few different reasons, legally speaking. I've already mentioned the first: You can't trademark most images that include stock art. Attempting to do so could get you in trouble right there.

And, stock art licenses include more potential pitfalls than just trademark issues. You open yourself up to litigation if you violate the specific terms of use for the stock art you purchase. Worse than that, copyright law is no-fault. This means that you can get into legal trouble even if you haven't knowingly done anything wrong. An example would be legitimately purchasing an image from a stock photo site that later is discovered to be a stolen photo.

So, instead of stock art . . . Hire a professional photographer to take original pictures for your business. And hire professional graphic designers to create a logo and visual assets for your brand.

In conclusion…

You owe it to your business to make choices that will provide a return on your investment and help your business grow. Stock art will do neither of those things. On the other hand, a clearly articulated, unique visual brand supported by authentic photos of your business will support growth.

Related: 14 Amazingly Free Stock Photo Websites

So . . . Give your brand the original visual design elements it deserves. And steer clear of stock art.

Katie Lundin

Customer Service Representative at Crowdspring

Katie Lundin is on the customer support team at Crowdspring, a marketplace for crowdsourced logo design, web design, graphic design, product design and company naming services. She helps entrepreneurs, small businesses and agencies with branding, design and naming, and writes about entrepreneurship, small business and design on the company's small business blog.

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