What is a stock image?
An image, photographed and made available by someone else, and then rented or sold to third parties for their own use (generally marketing communications). Some stock images are royalty free and therefore available without a fee.
Stock images (photographs and illustrations) have been used by major corporations and advertisers for years, long before the Internet made digital images available to the masses. It's an effective way to build your marketing message without having to budget for a professional shoot or professional illustration.
Many major advertising agencies will still use stock images in the concepts they present to their clients, but usually once the client is "sold" on the concept, the agency will arrange for a professional shoot so that the client has their own image for their own ads, promotions, websites, etc.
If the image is part of a concept that isn't promoting what the client sells, they may use an actual stock shot in the final marketing materials. So for example, if you were selling hamburgers, you wouldn't buy a stock image of another company's hamburger to use in your ad, though you might buy a stock image of a vacation destination if you were offering your customers the chance to win a vacation when they purchased your product. So the ad might contain the stock image of a beach with the company's own photo of their food.
Sidebar: The reason those advertised burgers rarely look in real life like what you see in their ads is because the "star burger" had a professional team of stylists, food stylists, a high priced photographer, lighting crew and all day to make it look just right. Then someone used a photo editing program to fix anything else that wasn't perfect. Your real life burger is usually cooked from frozen in under a minute in a microwave and slapped together by someone who does that hundreds of times a day, every day for minimum wage.
If you were selling your car, would you run an ad with a different vehicle in the picture? If you were promoting your business would you use a photo of your gorgeous neighbor instead of your own on your "about us" page? And if you did, would the person buy the car when they saw the real thing? Would your client ask "who are you" when you showed up at your apointment? Would everyone be feeling good about themselves in all this?
Use of stock images to promote your home staging or decorating services
It's my belief that as professional home stagers we should not be using stock photos of house interiors or exteriors in our marketing efforts. I know many will disagree with me, especially the people using them or making money selling them to others. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I'm simply stating mine.
Because what we're selling is our ability to stage or decorate someone's home, I believe that any image we use should be of a room (or house exterior), that we've actually worked on.
When we use an image that we've bought, begged or borrowed from someone else, we are implying (to potential customers) that it is our work because it's showing the service we are selling. That's why in my above example, using a stock shot of a beach to visually illustrate a vacation contest prize is not the same as using one for the actual product you are selling.
Establishing trust and credibility
In a nation-wide survey of why people buy, "confidence in the company or their service/product," was the number one reason ("price" was down at number 5 in case you're wondering). If a prospect assumes that all the lovely room shots they see on your site, brochure, etc. are your own work and they find out that it isn't, what does that do to your credibility?
If your brochure and front page of your site have gorgeous stock shots and then they go to your portfolio and don't see the same level of quality, what do they think of your portfolio? I think they'll very likely feel like they were getting sucked in by fancy packaging and there isn't anything beneath that. So, their confidence in you has just gone out the window.
It's all relative
If you haven't bought my case for why using stock "decor" images is misleading, consider this.... your own portoflio of before and after photos can only look worse when you mix it in with professionally shot and styled stock images. Because they're juxtaposed together, the contrast in quality is obvious. What might have been a perfectly acceptable portfolio on it's own now looks amateurish.
With every word and image you use in your marketing efforts, you are communicating who you are and what you offer. When there are inconsistencies you only lower the confidence others will have in you, making actually getting hired for your work, infinitely harder.
For all of these reasons I don't use stock images on my two home staging websites and I don't provide staging portfolios as part of the Staging Diva Training Program. Though I do discuss how to go about building your first home staging portfolio as part of course 2 of the program.
Home Staging expert Debra Gould also known as The Staging Diva is president of Six Elements Inc., a leading home staging company that provides free information to raise the standards in the industry and build awareness amongst homeowners and their real estate agents about the benefits of decorating a house to sell.
After personally staging hundreds of homes and gaining international recognition for her expertise (The Wall Street Journal, CNNMoney, HGTV, Reader's Digest, Woman's Day, MoneySense, CBS Radio, etc.), Debra Gould developed The Staging Diva Program to create opportunities for others to grow their own profitable home staging, real estate enhancement businesses.
Learn more about the Staging Diva Home Staging Training Program