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

Everything about your brand, from your business name to your logo to your web design, should support and communicate your brand’s unique identity.

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. These are all factors that will weaken and muddy your brand.

And, when you consider the lawsuits you may face if you use stock art improperly… 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.

  1. Generic Stock Art 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 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.

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. Stock Art 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.

According to a 2016 study83% of consumers say 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 runs the risk of alienating a wide swathe of your customers.

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, 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 with 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, stock art is just not the way to go.

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. You May Be Confused With a Competitor

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 especially painful 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.


5. 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 anymore.

Stock art can trip you up for a few different reasons, legally-speaking. We’ve already mentioned the first – you just 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.  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.  For instance, legitimately purchasing an image from a stock photo site that later is discovered to be a stolen photo.

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.

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. 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.


Katie Lundin works in customer service at crowdspring one of the world’s leading marketplaces for crowdsourced logo design, web design, graphic design, product design, and company naming services.