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The science behind using pictures of people in marketing to convert more leads

(MARKETING) People fear using their picture in social networking profiles, but we make the case not only for using pictures of yourself, but of scrapping stock graphics for photos of people that studies show improve conversion rates in marketing.

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To avatar or not to avatar?

After all of these years of people using the web, the debate continues about whether or not people should use their headshots as their profile pictures and avatars on their blogs and their social networks. Many people are uncomfortable with the way they look in photos, and some are never satisfied with their picture, so they settle for their company logo, a cartoon image, or a random photo to share something about who they are. While some believe the argument is subjective, we would argue otherwise.

It is advisable to use a photo of yourself as your profile picture wherever you go, no matter how unsatisfied you are and how uncomfortable. There are many reasons from making it easier to connect with people offline after talking online, to giving people a better way to connect with you, but a personal side has become expected on social networks and blogs, making a profile picture culturally mandatory.

Throw culture out of the window

So let’s say you’re still uncomfortable advertising your face. I personally hate every picture of me taken since I was 11 and had a bad perm, I get it. Profile pictures can send some people into full fledged panic, and at that point, who cares if web culture dictates a photo?

You should, and here’s why… science.

Science? Yep. Any parent knows intuitively, and scientists have studied for years that babies love pictures of other babies, and part of socializing a child is giving them books with pictures of other babies to connect with, learn from, and see other ethnicities. Babies love looking at other babies, it helps them connect and learn, and believe it or not, many studies show that we don’t evolve past that point in our lives, so, adults love looking at other adults.

More science

If that isn’t enough to convince you to use a profile picture, a recent study shows that a website’s conversion rate can be skyrocketed by using human faces. According to KISSmetrics.com, using human faces “get your prospects to focus more and this causes them to draw towards a common point of interest. It doesn’t get more real than that.”

The company cites an A/B test on Medalia.net, an online art shop, which presented paintings from artists on their homepage, and during testing, they swapped out the photos of the paintings with photos of the artists hoping to increase user engagement. KISSmetrics said, “Making this small but relevant change sent their conversion rate through the roof – something they didn’t expect. Their site experienced a whopping 95% increase in conversions!.”

Reading between the lines

Using a photo in your profile pictures is important, it allows people to connect with you, just like babies connect with other babies through photos, and website viewers are converted by human photos. But, read between the lines here – using photos of people in marketing is a concept as old as the idea of marketing, and your using people in your blog photos and marketing can improve your conversion over outdated stock graphics. There are legal ways to obtain photos of people (through creative commons), and using photos of your own can have the most meaningful impact.

Whether you’re nervous to share your face with the world or not, web culture dictates that you should and studies show that a percentage of people distrust social networkers without a face shot. Independent of all of that, conversion rates improve when people see other people, as it is easier to connect with over stock graphics or abstract images, so take a leap of faith and put your picture out there, and while you’re at it, try to find ways of using photos of humans in your marketing and blogs.

Just remember – babies love looking at pictures of babies, and we’re all just babies when you boil it down.

This story originally ran here on March 6, 2012.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Marsha Thornton

    March 7, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    Thank you, I found this interesting and will use my photo more often in my marketing and on my blog posts.

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  15. Umer Idrisi

    June 10, 2021 at 1:13 pm

    I have been using my own photo for publishing guest posts on other websites and I found it interesting. It helps a lot for building our personal brand.

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Business Marketing

The use of offline marketing can still be advantageous in a digital world

(BUSINESS) Offline marketing is usually skipped over nowadays for the sparkly, shining ‘digital’ marketing strategies, but don’t forget the roots.

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Everywhere you look, people want to talk about digital marketing. In fact, if you don’t have a digital marketing strategy in today’s business world, you’re not going to last long. But just because digital marketing is popular, don’t assume that offline marketing no longer yields value.

When used together, these strategies can produce significant returns.

“Some people will argue that traditional marketing is dead, but there are several benefits to including offline advertising in your overall marketing campaign,” sales expert Larry Myler admits. “Combining both offline and online campaigns can help boost your brand’s visibility, and help it stand out amongst competitors who may be busy flooding the digital space.”

How do you use offline marketing in a manner that’s both cost-effective and high in exposure? While your business will dictate how you should proceed, here are a few offline marketing methods that still return considerable value in today’s marketplace.

1. Yard signs

When most people think about yard signs, their minds immediately go to political signs that you see posted everywhere during campaign season. However, yard signs have a lot more utility and value beyond campaigning. They’re actually an extremely cost-effective form of offline advertising.

The great thing about yard signs is that you can print your own custom designs for just dollars and, when properly stored, they last for years. They’re also free to place, assuming you have access to property where it’s legal to advertise. This makes them a practical addition to a low-budget marketing campaign.

2. Billboards

The fact that you notice billboards when driving down an interstate or highway is a testament to the reality that other people are also being exposed to these valuable advertisements. If you’ve never considered implementing billboards into your marketing strategy, now’s a good time to think about it.

With billboard advertising, you have to be really careful with design, structure, and execution. “Considering we’re on the move when we read billboards, we don’t have a lot of time to take them in. Six seconds has been touted as the industry average for reading a billboard,” copywriter Paul Suggett explains. “So, around six words is all you should use to get the message across.”

3. Promotional giveaways

It’s the tangible nature of physical marketing that makes it so valuable. Yard signs and billboards are great, but make sure you’re also taking advantage of promotional giveaways as a way of getting something into the hands of your customers.

Promotional giveaways, no matter how simple, generally produce a healthy return on investment. They increase brand awareness and recall, while giving customers positive associations with your brand. (Who doesn’t love getting something for free?)

4. Local event sponsorships

One aspect of offline marketing businesses frequently forget about is local event sponsorships. These sponsorships are usually cost-effective and tend to offer great returns in terms of audience engagement.

Local event sponsorships can usually be found simply by checking the calendar of events in your city. Any time there’s a public event, farmer’s market, parade, sporting event, concert, or fundraiser, there’s an opportunity for you to get your name out there. Look for events where you feel like your target audience is most likely to attend.

Offline marketing is anything but dead.

If your goal is to stand out in a crowded marketplace where all your competitors are investing heavily in social media, SEO, PPC advertising, and blogging, then it’s certainly worth supplementing your existing digital strategy with traditional offline marketing methods that reach your audience at multiple touchpoints.

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Business Marketing

What you can learn from Ulta Beauty’s marketing mix up with Kate Spade

(MARKETING) Ulta Beauty’s insensitive marketing email surrounding the Kate Spade brand can be a lesson: Be cautious and respond to crisis appropriately.

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Woman typing on computer representing the Ulta Beauty and Kate Spade email scandal

Last week in an email sent to subscribers, Ulta Beauty made light of designer Kate Spade’s suicide. Ulta said the lighthearted connection to Spade’s death was unintentional. The email sparked anger across social media and some national news outlets picked up the story. In an emailed response to the New York Post, Ulta apologized to their customers, their Kate Spade corporate partners, and Kate Spade’s family. They ended by saying they will strive to do better.

Words matter. Messaging matters. Hopefully, we can all learn a lesson from this painful mistake.

Check your tone. It’s one of the early things we teach writing students. The tone should match the content. If the icon you’re using to sell a product ended their own life, perhaps light and fun isn’t the tone you should embrace. Ever. But most businesses won’t be dealing with well-known people whose stories have been shared with millions. It’s up to business owners and those who write their copy to ensure the tone matches the message.

Always have a second pair of eyes look over words going out to the public. Or even a third and fourth. Often those in the creative room are brainstorming messages, reworking copy, and looking for the perfect pitch. And they get it. It sounds good, looks good, is easy to say and share, and, best of all, it will lead to sales. Having a multi-person system in place to check the copy and someone separate to give final approval can help catch the oh-my-God-no great words, but absolutely not pieces of sales copy.

Listen to your customer base and have a system in place to listen quickly. All businesses need systems for immediate customer response in play. Ulta caught their so-called oversight quickly.  But they’re a huge brand and Kate Spade was a beloved fashion icon. The negative response went viral and they had a giant mess to clean up. Companies make messes with their words often, messes that don’t immediately go viral but lead to real pain for consumers. When customers ask you to stop a message, listen to them and act.

Apologies don’t make excuses. If you’re caught in a messaging mess of your own making, I’m sorry goes a long way. If needed, follow that apology up with a plan to show you’re serious about “doing better” and making sure this never happens again.

If you find yourself in a place where a public apology is necessary, consider hiring a crisis manager to help with that plan as well.

Part of business today is constant communication with consumers. Try to have systems in place so you don’t find yourself in a “learning to do better” moment like Ulta. Words aren’t just about sales. They have power. Remember that.

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Business Marketing

Experience Design & Marketing: Where do they intersect, where do they diverge?

(MARKETING) The field of marketing has been around the sun and back, whereas experience design is a newer, but growing field. Where do they overlap?

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Identify, understand, educate, promise, and fulfill. Is that marketing or experience design? Is it both? The closer we get to marketing in the digital spaces* being truly organic and less about carpeting mobile sites with pop-ups and interruptions, the more marketing and experience design (XD)** start to intersect.

Software experiences used to be only about getting jobs done and the learning curve it took to operate that software was accepted as unavoidable. There was no expectation for ease of use and the competitive landscape was far smaller. The same can be said of marketing; when the pool of offers and services were drastically smaller, you won with volume or referral. Now there are deep expectations for human-computer interactions, expectations of low friction when dealing with a system or entity, and more choices than there are biting Tweets. Volume rarely wins anymore unless the traffic spend is massive or the niche is narrow. Both of these are the result of crowded, loud marketplaces and way more noise than signal. So what did marketing do? What did XD do? They turn to delivering more curated, personal interactions and messages. Those are now driven not by gross demographics and forty pieces of car dealership push cards in my mailbox, but by extrapolated wants and needs taken from human voices and applied to custom outreach.

  1. XD uses ceremonies and activities to discover and define our version of market evaluation and segmentation.
  2. XD prototypes and iterates based on focus groups, unmoderated testing, business requirements validation, and the things they expose. That’s our audience testing.
  3. XD seeks to remove the uninteresting, unused, or unnecessary parts of a decision tree (journey if we must lingo) based on response and introduce a version sans those things to drive closer to the intent and outcome. This is our nurture.
  4. XD uses continuous feedback to improve, refine, and in some cases recommend next steps, products, adjustments, or augmentations. That is our remarketing/retargeting, it’s how we adjust the “campaign”.

And those are only the most obvious fibers of the common thread the disciplines share. Others with a deeper knowledge of both topics can surely add to this list tenfold. The essence of this examination is to ask the question, should marketing and experience design work in tandem? Under one shingle? Can they coexist as a federated faction under the larger umbrella of CX?

They are both a part of a unified journey and the natural progression from first exposure to adoption to “damn I love this thing, I think I’ll TikTok about it” for products and services. That kind of melding could serve a common goal; seamless brand engagement.

The people that consume whatever is being offered don’t see us, the company, the thing, as a cluster of siloed pods vaguely marching in the same direction. They see us as a whole and our disciplines should support that impression.

Marketers and Experience folk– integrate! Learn each other’s wares and purposes, share things that work and definitely those that don’t. XD gang, I mean really combining to achieve specific goals. Don’t just send them a Jake Knapp YouTube, find common goals. And marketing kin, this means more than citing some Sprinklr data and the latest NPS around trending SEO. Wonder Twin into a test and prove machine, use HCD tactics to undercover new copy strategies, and test it with a group in a Pepsi/Coke standoff. I know you are A/B-ing your work, but you can narrow that lane before you traffic it. We can learn from each other, we can benefit from one another, greatly.

I’m betting we can forge something slightly fresher than passing people through our business cotton gin and expecting them to feel like we are one. What are the afterimages that last from the time I see a LinkedIn post, follow to the affiliate, subscribe/buy and actually get something good out of the product? Don’t tell me there isn’t a marketing/design love story in there.

I look forward to following up on this with an actionable plan and (hopefully) killer outputs.

Be well, feel good, and know peace.


*Experience Design as a proper name encompasses exactly what is in the eponymous name; the experience is every interaction, passive or active, through the entire cycle. From the first shred of awareness of a product or service to the lasting relationship made– that is experience in this context.

**I’m not going to call it Digital Marketing anymore, pretty sure we aren’t doing direct mail along with our IG ads

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