Branding Beyond the Physician Photo – Recap

Our latest healthcare marketing webinar was all about stock imagery—how it can help and hurt your brand, and why both matter.
In healthcare marketing, trust is key. Your audience must see you as an expert who can be counted on to present factual, helpful information and be a true authority in your industry. As every marketer knows, sometimes we need some assistance to keep feeding our feeds, and there is plenty of imagery available as long as we are willing to pay for it. But when we are using content that is unoriginal or inauthentic to our audience, it can definitely cost us more in terms of loss to our brand reputation and identity in the long run.

Join Smith & Jones VP Paul Fahey and Chief Creative Officer Richard Skiermont to learn when to buy canned and when to procure your own original content.

Watch the entire webinar here!

To be clear, our creative team, led by Richard, is not totally against stock photography. We get the need to fill in the gaps at times, but exercising caution is key—especially for healthcare marketers. When we review imagery that is available online, it’s clear to even the average user that some of the options are generic and could even be perceived as misleading to audiences.

Take Dr. Stock for example. As Paul and Richard point out, this guy is everywhere all of the time! A quick overview shows the same model in a lab coat “walking the walk” of being a physician. He is in the lab, he is consulting with clients, he is checking charts, and more. But wait! He can also be found sitting in the patient chair, playing a round of golf, polishing a car… this guy is busy! And, he is also an obvious actor/model hired to build a large stock photography library for several industries and concepts.

So, is Dr. Stock right for you?

Start With Brand

“Are we saying stock photos are inherently bad? No. They have a place,” says Richard. “Never use them for clinical purposes. Those should be authentic. Real doctors. Real facilities.” Key takeaway: Don’t mislead your audience when it comes to who is on your team or what your facilities look like. These are big patient drivers and not being real is a really bad way to start a relationship built on trust.

Richard adds: “Also, where does that fall in the brand?”

Brand is the key to where all of your messaging tactics, from copy to visuals, should start. “Your brand should drive who you are and who you want to be. If you’re thinking about rebranding or refreshing your brand—always start with asking: Who are you? What are your values? Why do you do what you do? That will inform the way the brand looks and feels,” Richard says.

Build the brand and the brand will inform the next steps like what kind of images you want to produce and use to convey emotion or to educate your consumer. As a guideline, Richard says that brand-level messaging should evoke emotion in your audience. When you get into specific service lines or want to try and motivate your audience to take a specific action, however, you can get into the more targeted imagery like technology and specific doctors.

Build a Visual Library

Once you have built out your brand, you will have a better idea of what you need to project to your audience in order to build brand awareness. Then you can start building your image library.

“Visual language of brand doesn’t have to be reliant on photography or any singular visual treatment,” advises Richard. “Graphic images, illustrations, videos… a robust visual library should be utilized to articulate different components of the brand.”

What kind of brand assets do you need? Our team suggests including lifestyle images and benefit-based visuals. Show family and community so that people can see themselves in your marketing. Demonstrate a healthy community that your audience will want to be a part of. Building value and trust are paramount.

Paul and Richard both say that they have learned that building an original image library can often be as cost-effective, or more so, than buying imagery online. For one hospital client in New York City, the creative team needed to emphasize community. “The focus was to articulate community through visual media and produce those assets,” Richard recalls. “Surprise! Shooting a library was not as cost-prohibitive as the client had originally thought, especially when compared to stock photo costs.”

If you do decide to buy, Richard says to be aware of any stock imagery that your competition might be using, to stay on brand, and to spend your money wisely. Try to limit the use of stock imagery for announcements with mass appeal for use only on organic social media, perhaps your blog, or maybe an email. But, he adds, definitely not a billboard, or paid brand awareness campaign. Those types of placement should be reserved for high-level branding work.

Richard also warns to be wary of subscription-based stock image companies. These are the ones that are going to be getting overused and cliche. They might be cheap, but at what cost to your reputation or brand? “Go for rights-based or rights-managed images,” he says. These are more expensive but are curated and distribution details are managed. At $750 to several thousand dollars per image, you won’t find just anyone using the same photo as you in a local campaign.


Healthcare marketing calls for an extra layer of diligence when it comes to being an authentic source of expertise for consumers. Using stock imagery, while definitely an option, can actually hurt your brand.

Use it wisely, or don’t use it at all. And if you’re still pondering your next steps, don’t forget: Always start with brand. Once your brand is built, these strategies will inform your marketing tactics going forward.

Paging, Dr. Stock. You’re needed in the waiting room.

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