An image is worth a thousand words, but how about a thousand conversions? The debate has gone on for some time now, with marketers comparing the success of using stock imagery versus more of a lifestyle-related image strategy. So, is there a better choice between the two? I find that this is fairly case dependent, since it would be quite a generalization to say that real, lifestyle imagery will always outperform stock imagery, and vice versa. Humans form the 1st impression of a website in 50 milliseconds, so the very first viewpoint is of utmost important for your website's success. The use of imagery is key, especially as images are processed 60,000 times faster compared to text. It goes without saying that visual content is the focus of every branding campaign, so each business should really take the time to think about if their imagery aligns with the message they are trying to send. But you can't go out posting any picture thinking it will work just because it represents the brand. The goal is finding the images with the best results, and there are several ways you can begin doing just that.

real imagery statistics

How can your company determine the type of imagery that works best for you? Simple - A/B test. Running a test of each image, both stock and lifestyle, on different pages and media can give you measurable data to see which will get a better response from your users. This can be tested in a variety of ways, but here are a few suggestions:

Website Imagery

By sending half of users to one home page with stock imagery and the other half to a home page with lifestyle imagery, you can test the success of each to determine what kind of imagery works best with your target audience. Be sure to keep the messaging and the overall user experience consistent outside of the image variations to ensure a clear differentiator between the two options. An image on a landing page can quickly communicate value to the visitor and allow them to make a decision within a few seconds if they want to continue into your site or not. So conducting an A/B test with a control and variation photo can determine which one will provide the most benefit and best results.

Social Media

Incorporate the use of both types of imagery into your content strategy on social media. Your audience can engage with your post or ad to give you real-time results on all different types of platforms. I suggest doing this two different ways.

  1. On-page posts - Test the engagement results of your on-page posts using each image type to better understand what drives the most engagement from your audience on your social platforms. Keep in mind; it is important to use similar copy and post times to minimize the variations outside of the image itself.
  2. Social advertising - Create a unified campaign with consistent targeting and messaging, and create multiple ad variations testing out both stock imagery and real imagery. Compare the results over time to determine which image type performs the best.

Display Advertising

Similar to the strategy used with social advertising, by creating ad variations for display advertising efforts, you may compare the results of your advertising efforts by image type to identify the top performers within your campaigns. Of course, there are many ways in which your image types may be tested, and the key takeaway here is that by testing the results of each image time, you'll be able to determine what type will perform best for your company. If you're a national or global company, it can be quite a challenge to achieve an image of authenticity. When it comes to uniqueness and product differentiation, the use of real imagery is usually going stand out. Companies are looking to connect with their target audience on an emotional level, and using the right "real" imagery can be a strong driver of success. "But who is this lady? How can she help me? And why in the world does she keep smiling at me? Your customers are pretty savvy. They know Smiley McHeadset doesn't really work for your company. They know she's a paid model and is likely smiling in an ad for a bank and a billboard for a credit card as well. Do you think that deepens the trust with your company?" - Austin McGraw, Marketing Experiments Blog

Real Imagery Examples

Now, let's examine a few companies who are presenting their brand WELL through the use of real imagery. United Airlines

united airlines real imagery


aerie real imagery


dominos real imagery

Go Pro

gopro real imagery

Planet Fitness

planet fitness real imagery

Which is Best?

As a company, you need to determine the type of imagery that performs best, may that be through the use of stock imagery, or by using real, lifestyle related imagery. In general, there isn't a clear image type that prevails, but there could be a top-performer for your specific industry or company. It could go either way - stock photos may appear more professional and high quality and real lifestyle photos might come out looking too gimmicky or cheap. It's really all about testing for results, as well as branding your business. By doing ample research and testing, you'll be able to optimize your image strategy and generate higher results for your company.