This Just Tested: Stock images or real people?
In our most recent Web clinic on optimizing leads, we quickly reviewed a recent case study in which two banner images were tested – a generic stock image vs. an image of a real person. This experiment led to more insights than we had time to cover last week; so, I thought I’d give it a little more room to breathe here on the blog.
CONTROL: Who doesn’t love a generic smiling lady?
If you haven’t yet watched the Web clinic replay, the company (blurred intentionally) we were working with in this experiment was a consumer credit counseling service offering free debt consultation. Their homepage had been the focus of many previous radical redesign tests, but for the scope of this research project, we were focusing on one particular issue: The main banner image.
Currently, the homepage utilized a generic stock image of a random lady wearing a headset, basically attempting to bring some reality to a free debt consultation. The main draw (as I see it) is that a really friendly attractive lady is standing by to help you with your credit challenges – why not give her a call today?
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?
Or as David Meerman Scott said at this year’s Email Summit, “The problem with the B2B happy multi-cultural conference room with computer shot is that it has become a cliché. It is world-class, cutting-edge, mission-critical visual gobbledygook. Just like written gobbledygook, this kind of image is so overused to have become meaningless.”
TREATMENT: Putting a face with a name
The question arose from our team, “Would visitors respond more to a familiar face over this generic one?” The thought was that the higher relevance created by a recognizable image would more closely tie into the motivations of the ideal prospect.
So, to test this hypothesis, we pitted the happy-go-lucky anonymous phone rep woman against the popular, reputation-wielding company founder. I guess you could say it was a “head-to-head” competition (ok, sorry I couldn’t resist). Now this new image represented a real person, with real credentials, and was highly recognizable for channels coming to the home page (television ads, news articles, etc.).
Side note: Notice anything else different about the images. Yep, that’s right, gender. Might gender play a role here as well? Possibly. (So might weight, hair color, attractiveness, etc.) But just so you aren’t bogged down by this question, this lady had been tested against other male generic stock images, and was the current reigning champion (no offense to all our male model blog readers out there). This test treatment, however, was the first in which we tested a stock model versus an actual person.
RESULTS: Familiarity Breeds… Conversion
So what were the results? Well, Mrs. Generic finally met her match. It appears that an attractive smile is not a match for a good name. Overall, the familiarity hypothesis held some water. When the recognizable image of the founder was used, visitors were 35 % more likely to sign up for a free consultation. Remember, this is a 35% lift on top of many other previous gains in the testing-optimization cycle.
INTERPRETATION: Quick! Sell your iStock credits before this post goes viral
So what are the implications of this test? Are all of our generic stock images worthless? Should you trade all your iStock credits in for a new camera? Well, not exactly.
Stock images are not the enemy here – irrelevance is. You could hypothetically take your own irrelevant picture and it wouldn’t make a hill-of-beans difference – except that it probably wouldn’t look as good. The main point here is that how we choose images matters. This is true for all graphics, and the following principle is key.
KEY PRINCIPLE: An image is only as valuable as the value it communicates
This is how we must think when choosing images. We shouldn’t just pick images we think make our site look prettier, but rather, we should choose images because they say something about the value of our offer. So, if you use a stock image of a smiling lady, make sure it is communicating value. If you use a picture of a middle-aged balding CPA, make sure it is communicating value. It really doesn’t matter where your images come from, so long as they communicate relevant value.
To help bring the rubber to the road, the following questions can serve as a grid for finding the most effective image. You can see how the images above fit within this grid and why potentially the image of the founder generated the most response.
Image Assessment Grid (Click to expand)
(Note: we also discussed these questions more deeply in the article entitle Images vs. Copy.)
AUDIENCE FEEDBACK: What image would you test next?
Before concluding, I wanted to ask you if there’s an image that you think might perform better than the picture of the founder. We have discovered a picture that is more RELEVANT, but is there an image that might bring more REALITY (per the grid above)?
Maybe you can make a convincing case for what kind of image our research team should test next…