The power of illustration (or how stock shots are killing your content)

Sharon Tanton
illustrations are good for your blog

Lizzie’s hand-drawn sketches for one of our blog illustrations

Our most recent blog post, illustrated with the finished version of the image above, has been flying round the web this week. That post has something in common with our most widely read post of all time. Both featured original illustrations by our brilliant designer Lizzie Everard.

The success of both these posts has got me thinking about why illustration is so important, and why (even as a very small company) we choose to invest in it time and again here at VC.

Reasons to invest in original illustration

1. Originality

I don’t know about your industry, but blogs about content marketing have reached tipping point. Everyone has access to the same stock shots, and most of the world seems to be illustrating their blogs with variations of this picture:

Boring content marketing stock shot

There’s no need for this

This kind of same-old same-old visual device yawns ‘you’ve probably read this before.’ It’s like fitting a snooze button to your blog. Or even more likely, an off switch.

2. Thought

Good illustrations demonstrate another layer of thought in the writing process. They show you’re thinking creatively about your subject, seeing it from a different angle, making an attempt to understand it afresh and come up with something new.

3. Humanity

An illustration by a great designer shows more humanity than a clichéd stock shot photo of a man in a suit, or a woman on a beach. Even if the illustration doesn’t show a person, it still conveys the sense of the illustrator. Hand drawn images appeal to the emotion, making a deeper connect with the reader.

4. Personality

Bold, authentic, clever, warm, smart, approachable – illustrations can express your personality or the personality of your brand far more effectively than a picture which everyone else is using too.

Grabbing you by the b****cks. Lizzie’s image from our most successful blog post

5. Impact

Once your reader has arrived at the blog you have a sliver of a second for them to decide whether what you’ve written is worth investing a few minutes in. I’ve already decided that hands on whiteboards aren’t worth my time, and I doubt that I’m the only one! A great illustration grabs attention and holds it for longer.

6. Social sharing

Facebook, Google, and Linkedin all love visual content. We know from our experience how much further and wider our posts go when we get the picture right. Of course headlines matter, but I think these days a great visual is as important as the words for getting people to click. Upload the illustration separately and attach it to your social post for more impact.

7. Care

Maybe this feels a bit off track, but I think illustrations convey that you care about your subject, and that you care about your reader. You want to share the joy, or make them laugh, or make it easier for them to understand. An illustration shows you’re not into factory farm content production.

8. Value

Great illustrative design does cost a lot more than stock shots, but it increases the value of your posts. It makes your blogs more likeable and more shareable. If you get that right, it’s worth it.

End note: not all stock shots are bad

Of course there are good stock shots as well as lazy ones. It’s possible to put together a portfolio of stock images that will reinforce the thinking in your blog, and strengthen your brand very well.

However, do consider commissioning some original illustrations. We reckon they’re an underused medium and a great way to stand out in a very crowded space.

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