This article was written by Michelle Weger.
I still remember the moment I opened that email.
The first thing I saw was a well-dressed, beautiful woman with a welcoming smile.
That photo put me instantly at ease. All of my anxieties about my recent purchase disappeared the moment I laid eyes on that photo.
I had signed up for a yearly membership with a software company. It wasn’t an easy choice: it came with a large price tag and I was admittedly wary, wondering if I’d made the right choice to spend that kind of money.
That first email after my purchase featured our contact person and seeing her photo eased all my doubts.
Not because of her professional attire or her bright smile.
Because of where she was sitting.
She was in a wheelchair.
It was the first time that I had seen a person with a disability used in a positive context in marketing.
Someone like me.
I do not use a wheelchair, but I do have narcolepsy. I have a service dog. It meant a lot to know that this company would be inclusive, accessible, and accommodating, and that solidified my decision to work with them.
The images you use in your website, blog, social media posts, and emails are exceptionally important. These images should be carefully selected to represent your business in a positive way.
The images you select can mean the difference between making potential customers feel confident and welcome, or walking away entirely.
If you run a restaurant, for example, you’d probably pick an image where people are smiling, look happy, and seem to be enjoying their meal. You would think that image says something like “You’ll enjoy eating at my restaurant. The food is delicious and you’ll have a great experience. Come spend your money here!”
And on a surface level, that is what it says. But depending on what the people in the photo look like, it also says something else.
What if all the people in the photo look the same?
A lack of representation in your stock images makes a statement, even if you don’t mean to make that statement.
When you see a visual representation of yourself in any sort of media – whether it’s stock images, TV shows, advertisements, etc. – you instinctively feel more welcome and more comfortable.
People who regularly see themselves represented in media will barely notice if some of the images don’t include a model who looks specifically like them. People who don’t regularly have that experience, though?
If your images lack diversity, people from underrepresented groups will wonder if your product or service is right for them, even if that wasn’t your intent.
For example, let’s say you run a fitness company.
You might think that selecting images of physically fit, able-bodied people will be inspirational to potential clients – “Oh wow, if I do this workout program, maybe I could be that strong too!” But if you only select stock images that show physically fit, able-bodied people, you’re saying that is the type of person your product or service is appropriate for.
That means some of your audience is having a reaction you didn’t intend:
- “Oh, this workout class isn’t for me, I would be the biggest person there.”
- “I’m too old and out of shape to do this program.”
- “It doesn’t look like they have accessible alternatives.”
“We do have accessible alternatives,” you might respond. Or “This program is totally welcoming for beginners!”
But that doesn’t matter. Those customers aren’t going to reach out to you to ask, which means you’ve just lost a customer.
If you don’t have diversity in your images, you’re losing business.
But finding representative imagery is much harder than you think.
Finding good stock images that represent your business, service, or product is difficult to begin with. Finding diverse stock images is harder.
The biggest and most easily accessible image databases are still woefully underrepresented. There are a number of resources and databases that exclusively provide diverse stock images. The fact that these resources exist tell you a lot about how difficult it is to find appropriate stock images from mainstream sources.
Many of these databases or resources also work under different licenses, which means you may not be able to use the images for commercial purposes or need to include an attribution when you use them. Depending on your needs, this may not be realistic.
And even if you find representative imagery, are you sure it is sending the right message? So many images play off cultural stereotypes or show a very obvious attempt to “be inclusive”.
Using those images makes it look like you simply wanted to check “diversity” off your list. And that is not a good look.
Using diverse stock photos isn’t about “tokenism” or “political correctness.”
Being inclusive means you’re not shutting the door on part of your audience. By selecting a wide representation of people in your images, you’re telling your potential customers that your business is for them.
Using the right images can mean the difference between gaining a potential customer who feels welcome and secure, and losing one entirely.