Daniel Burstein

Landing Page Optimization: Goodbye stock photos and Happy Man, hello social media

Back in my agency days, my art director, Steve Moran, and I penned a tongue-in-cheek ode to stock photography books that went something along the lines of …

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I want to live a stock photo lifestyle
Attend meetings with happy people smiling around obsolete computers
And then jet off home to page 157
To laugh with my family during the golden hour

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While a songwriter I am not, we were joking about how unlike reality the stock photo images are. And, while search on a stock image website has replaced stock photo books [Historical note for young marketers: Books were like websites printed on paper], one thing hasn’t changed – stock photos still seem phony.

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Who are these people?

Especially in an age of social media. So while marketers might have gotten away with stock photos in print ads and on billboards for many years, we’ve become so accustomed to seeing real people on the same platform you are communicating your marketing messages.

In fact, I’m always momentarily surprised when I see my own picture on a website in the comments section – because I’m still logged into Facebook and that site uses Facebook Connect.

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Phony stock photo people raise a red flag since we are all now on the Social Web.

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Happy Man

Don’t take my word for it, ask Happy Man. Actually, Happy Man isn’t real, you should ask Marjorie Madfis, worldwide editor, IBM Software homepage. She introduced me to Happy Man while we were working on the on-stage interview of her case study for B2B Summit 2011 in Boston. (We have so many interesting findings to talk about from her case study, we probably won’t even touch on Happy Man at B2B Summit, so I wanted to introduce him to you in this blog post.)

Happy Man used to enjoy an existence at the top of IBM Software Group’s homepage, a pretty prestigious perch for a generic businessman, so I can see why he’s smiling.

Madfis chose the picture with two of her co-workers at IBM. She said they thought he looked satisfied that he had found a good IT solution. According to traditional marketing practices, and a quick survey of corporate IT sites, I think most marketers would make a similar decision.

But then her team started some impressive research and testing of this site …

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They learned that visitors did not like Happy Man, especially our mates over in the United Kingdom.

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“People don’t buy from websites, people buy from people.”— Dr. Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director, MECLABS

There was a distinct lack of authenticity, perhaps a feeling of fakery, from essentially seeing a fake person across the top of this page. And while, as the saying goes, “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM equipment,” a purchase decision is based on more than just a brand or a website.

Especially for a complex IT solution, the people behind the company matter. Many customers are betting their jobs on this decision, and entering into a multi-year relationship with the IT solutions provider. They want to know they will be working with people they can trust.

In fact, Madfis’ team’s research and testing showed that making IBM experts the heroes resonated more with visitors, making the company seem more human and accessible, something you just can’t fake no matter how happy you look (as you can see below, the real experts look at least 10% less happy).

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“Even if visitors never clicked on the experts, the real, reachable people gave them confidence in IBM,” Madfis said. “Authenticity is so important.”

In addition to authenticity, one challenge with stock photos is that the same photo is often used in many, many places (unless you buy an exclusive license). A fun parlor game (historical note for young marketers: Wait, who am I kidding, I’m not that old. I have no idea what a parlor is) is to go around the Internet or flip through print ads and collateral, and to identify the same exact picture of the same exact person shilling for everything from a bank to a retirement community to an embarrassing product they probably didn’t realize they’d be pictured next to when they signed the release.

But, here’s the good news. Unless your job is driving cars into a brick wall at high speed to test air bags, the upside for your marketing is that you work with real people as well. So, below are a few ideas, based on Madfis’ team’s success, about how you can put those experts to work for your marketing efforts …

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How to recruit your own experts

Of course, many marketers have a spotty record of getting subject matter experts involved with marketing and content. From having worked as a consultant with IBM Software Group in the past, I know its senior vice president would say, “Everybody sells.”

You may not be fortunate enough to have the same culture in your workplace and have a tough time convincing already busy subject matter experts to do just one more thing. Or, you may have a gung ho group and are having a difficult time deciding just who should speak on behalf of the company.

Here are a few things that impressed me about Madfis’ team’s efforts that you may be able to use in your own organization:

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  • Determine (and encourage) social engagement … – Madfis’ team looked for a minimum level of social engagement from her experts. The litmus test? LinkedIn. If the team could find experts that already had a fairly complete LinkedIn profile, or were willing to create one, they had some backing that the featured experts were real people. Unlike a blog or Twitter, a LinkedIn profile does not need to be updated nearly as often, so there was less time required from the subject matter expert, and less chance that the team would link to a dormant blog or Twitter account.

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  • … but be flexible – That said, social media is an inherently personal form of communication, and not everyone connects in the same way, so the team does allow some flexibility for which social media platforms are used. If you are an active tweeter or blogger, include a link. You can have a firewall between your personal and professional life and keep Facebook private … or not. You can link to a community. Or SlideShare. Or even Second Life.

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  • Evangelize from the inside out – IBM has an internal team of social media evangelists called BlueIQ. Their mission is to identify best practices, make it easy to get started, generate buzz, and tap key influencers as early adopters. In other words, “Drive change tops down, bottoms up, sideways …. encourage experimentation.” Not just for external platforms like Twitter, but with IBM’s internal Lotus Connections as well … an especially important element for a company with more than 400,000 employees that is seeking to become a social business.

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  • Make relevant experts easy to find – Once these experts are identified and evangelized, marketing teams at IBM can uses its Expertise Locator to find relevant experts for specific uses. I think this step is crucially important. Except in the smallest organizations, it’s not enough to get excited hand raisers participating in marketing and social media, you must be able to quickly identify and use a relevant expert for each (often deadline-oriented) execution you need. Or you may just find yourself typing in keywords to a search box on a stock photo site.

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So what happened to Happy Man? Sadly, he is no more. Fired from his job atop the IBM Software Group homepage, he has been replaced by a non-human resource, like so many others in the new economy.

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Related resources

MarketingSherpa B2B Summit 2011 in Boston (September 26-27) and San Francisco (October 24-25)

IBM Social Computing Guidelines

‘Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch’: An Interview with IBM’s Sandy Carter

Social Media Marketing: How SAP identifies and replicates successful tactics across a global company

Social Media Companies: 3 non-obvious ways social media will impact big companies

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Website And Landing Page Design



  1. Chuck Meyer
    September 16th, 2011 at 08:08 | #1

    Dan – Good article. I’ve been wondering this same thing for years. Who are these happy people, and are they really that happy with the site they are pictured on ?

  2. September 16th, 2011 at 12:25 | #2

    Happy Man sighting: http://bankfirstatlantic.com

    Keep your eye on the homepage slider to catch a glimpse.

    *Note: this is where I bank and I love them. Please don’t judge them just because of happy man. :)

  3. September 19th, 2011 at 05:10 | #3

    This is a great article – I think as website designers we are all guilty of happy-man over-exposure -we certainly are! Our website resonates with a lot of clients who approach us through it – who like the way we communicate our personalities.

    Thanks for sharing

    Matt

  4. September 19th, 2011 at 14:10 | #4

    That’s a remarkably Happy Man image next to your headline about saying goodbye to Happy Man. Just sayin’.

  5. September 19th, 2011 at 14:12 | #5

    I used to work for a company that used a stock image of a particular lady. We went to a convention and two other companies (within the same industry) has the exact same lady plastered across their booths.

    I guess that’s what it must be like to see someone at a party wearing your dress.

    The best part? Just last week at the grocery store, I saw an in-store display for some Kellogg’s cereal and – lo and behold! – there was the same lady hawking breakfast cereal. Now, if anyone can afford exclusive rights, it’d be Kellogg’s. Weird.

    It was quite embarrassing, too, because we were both wearing the same dress. :P

  6. Emily Carter
    September 19th, 2011 at 15:35 | #6

    Great article, Dan. I can definitely say that here at Grass Roots Marketing, we have our own “favorite” stock people that we see from time to time. It’s not surprising to me that people don’t buy this — customers today like real, valuable content and information that they can use. That’s why our website (www.grmwebsite.com)is chock full of marketing tips and specifically lacks any “happy men!”

  7. September 19th, 2011 at 16:47 | #7

    Happy Man isn’t *GULP* real???? Poof! First it was Santa, then the Tooth Fairy…now this.

  8. September 20th, 2011 at 08:57 | #8

    Thanks Troy,
    I guess I’ll never be as happy as those people in the stock photo book (or be able to smile that well in a picture), but I am pretty darn happy that I get to write for the MarketingSherpa blog.
    Dan

  9. September 20th, 2011 at 08:58 | #9

    Sharon,
    And it’s not just people. I’ve got an investigative reporter on that famed marketing spokesrabbit, the Easter Bunny, and I’ve got to tell ya… it ain’t looking good.
    Thanks for the comment,
    Dan

  10. September 20th, 2011 at 10:53 | #10

    A keeper, for real.

  11. Paul Hughes
    September 20th, 2011 at 15:20 | #11

    I remember reading that for years, The Reader’s Digest employed a made-up person to handle all subscription / customer service inquiries. This was in the days well before the Internet (well, the commercial iteration) and I think the late Harry Reasoner of “60 Minutes” once joked that it was a “long-term relationship” for him and this (made up) woman …

    More seriously, people DO buy from people — but plenty of us buy from commercials when they are as made up as someone smiling on a website. Happy Man is an actual sentient being. But the difference might be that while REAL he doesn’t appear to be ALIVE. Viva Video!?!

  12. September 22nd, 2011 at 11:04 | #12

    Hi Daniel

    Thats a good one, I have bin thinking the same, good artikel

    Thanks
    Maskinauktioner

  1. May 3rd, 2013 at 07:43 | #1