5 Ways Stock Art Is Killing Your Small Business Brand

Oh no! His business used stock art…

Your brand identity should be like a fingerprint – unique and associated with your business only.

Everything about your brand identity, from your business name to your logo to your website design, should support and communicate your brand’s unique identity. As we previously explained:

A brand is the sum total of the experience your prospects and customers have with your company. A strong brand communicates what your company does, how it does it, and at the same time, establishes trust and credibility with your prospects and customers. Your company’s brand is, in many ways, its personality. Your brand lives in everyday interactions your company has with its prospects and customers, including the images you share, the messages you post on your website, the content of your marketing materials, your presentations and booths at conferences, and your posts on social networks.

In an article for Forbes titled Why Branding is Important, Scott Goodson preaches the gospel of branding:

No branding, no differentiation. No differentiation, no long-term profitability. People don’t have relationships with products, they are loyal to brands.

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

“It’s cheap and convenient!” I hear you say.

But, stock art is the opposite of a fingerprint – it’s generic, lacking in personality, and the very same stock art could and does show up on your competitors’ websites, business cards, and logos.

It’s one reason that a business owner should never buy logos at so-called “logo stores” that sell pre-made generic templates.

Generic, stock art, and images will weaken and muddy your brand.

When you consider the lawsuits you may face if you misuse stock art… it may not be so cheap and convenient after all.

Your brand deserves – no, needs – better than stock art.

Here are 5 reasons stock art is killing your small business brand.

Generic stock art steals your brand’s voice

Millions of businesses are competing for attention every day. And thanks to the Internet, people have easy access to a wider range of options than ever before.

If you’re starting a new business, you are trying to find ways to set your business apart from competitors.

So, how do you differentiate your business from every other business in this vast marketplace?

The answer:  your unique brand identity.

Your brand identity 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 identity should reflect that.

Your brand identity should also remain true to your business vision. Crowdspring founder and CEO Ross Kimbarovsky reminds us:

Great brands have genuine, clearly articulated and consistent missions.

A clearly articulated, consistent mission coupled with the specificity of your authentic brand identity demands a visual language just as specific.

On the other hand, stock art exists to be malleable and adaptable to a wide range of users – the more buyers can use it, the more profitable it is for the 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.

Generic stock art cannot effectively communicate your brand identity to the world. And, it doesn’t help anyone get to know or trust your brand. Stock art strips your brand of its identity by making your business look like every other business using stock art.

No successful entrepreneur made the use of stock art a crucial part of their business plan for their startup.

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 an original logo and website design that captures the unique essence of your brand.

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Stock art undermines your brand’s authenticity

An authentic brand presents itself with honesty and transparency. These traits make authentic brands relatable and trustworthy.

83% of consumers say that trust drives their loyalty to a brand.

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

In Supercharge your Small Business Marketing: How to Market to the Social Media Generation, we shared that younger buyers prefer to do business with authentic, honest businesses:

Young buyers want to see and know the people who are involved in the brands they buy from. Faceless corporations engender no trust. Show your company’s humanity.

You can easily appeal to this powerful buying demographic by using original photos of your actual employees. (In theory, your employees should be around every day, so it should be easy to snap some pics.) Opting for a slick but meaningless stock art runs the risk of alienating a wide swathe of your customers.

As content marketing strategist Buddy Scalera writes,

Your product, your branding, and your people are anything but standard, plastic widgets. Don’t show photos that depersonalize the careful and purposeful branding that is part of your holistic visual content strategy.

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 another stock photo.

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.

To learn more about trademarks, read What Small Businesses Need to Know About Trademarks.

Business Dictionary defines “trademark” as:

Distinctive design, graphics, logo, symbols, words, or any combination thereof that uniquely identifies a firm and/or its goods or services, guarantees the item’s genuineness, and gives it [sic] owner the legal rights to prevent the trademark’s unauthorized use.

Two pieces of this definition are particularly relevant to us today. The first is that a logo must “uniquely” identify a firm.

I’m sure that you can see right away that if you use a piece of stock art as your logo that 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 its 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 featured in your logo.

Most businesses who try to use stock art have to rebrand in order to get their business back on track.

For a logo, stock art is not the way to go. It’s one reason why crowdspring does not permit the use of any stock or clip art in logo design projects on crowdspring; every logo must be original.

Instead of stock art… Work with a professional graphic designer to get a logo that is original and properly embodies your brand. If you’d like more options when deciding on your logo or you don’t want to pay high design fees, crowdspring’s team of over 220,000 designers is an excellent alternative.

Either way, you’ll end up with an original, unique logo (that you own) and which can be legally trademarked.

You may be confused with a competitor

By this point, you should’ve already realized that your logo should be unique. One of the reasons this is so vitally important is that your logo differentiates you from the competition.

If you’re not sold on the importance of a unique logo, yet; ponder this… Inc. Magazine listed “Make it unique” as their very first characteristic of what makes a great logo.

But, what if you and the competition both liked the same stock art and incorporated it into your logos? Now your logo isn’t unique anymore. Now your logo can be easily confused with a competitor’s. And, that’s not so great for you.

Customers seeking your business may get confused by your similar logos and shop with your competitor instead. Referrals from existing customers may get lost in translation when they say, “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 excruciating to lose customers to such an easily avoided misstep.

And, the danger doesn’t stop there. If your competition does something unethical and their reputation takes a hit, your reputation may 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.

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.

You may 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.

Stock art can trip you up for a few different reasons, legally speaking. We’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.

But, stock art licenses include more potential pitfalls than just trademark issues. Sarah Kornblet of the SocialMedia Examiner points out:

Just because you paid $11.99 for a stock art photo doesn’t mean you can use it however you want. Many licenses limit the purchaser to personal use only, online media only (versus print), or a certain number of uses.

You open yourself up to litigation if you violate the specific terms of use for the stock art you purchase. And, 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.

Nicole Martinez of the Art Law Journal explains:

Unfortunately, the fact that copyright law is no-fault is often unfair: for example, even if you legitimately purchased a photo from a stock photo site, if it’s found that the image was purchased by the company from someone who had stolen the photo, both you and the stock photo site are liable for damages.

In other words, you may be in danger of violating a law without even knowing it. Stock photography and art don’t come with certificates of authenticity verifying that they came from a legal source. You have no way of knowing if the art you purchase is safe to use.

To learn more about marketing and copyright law, we recommend you read Everything Marketers Need To Know To Avoid Violating Copyright Law.

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.


It can be tempting to take the path of least resistance. We’re all human, after all.

But the easy path isn’t always the best path.

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.

A clearly articulated, unique visual brand supported by authentic photos of your business will support growth. You’ll stand out in the marketplace and build trust and brand loyalty as well.

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

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