Catfished by Stock Imagery
I’ve watched more episodes of MTV’s Catfish than I’m proud of. I’ve seen enough to know that each episode of Catfish follows the same dramatic formula. A confused young adult, finding themselves duped by an online romance, receives assistance finding out the real identity of their fake companion. Eventually they will meet the imposter in real life and confront them with angst and heartache. Often the imposter has been misrepresenting their appearance, gender, marital-status, age, name, etc. It doesn’t tend to end very well for anyone involved (arguably viewers included).
Due largely to the show’s popularity, the term “catfish” has become a verb. UrbanDictionary.com defines ‘catfishing’ as: “the phenomenon of internet predators that fabricate online identities and entire social circles to trick people into emotional/romantic relationships (over a long period of time).”
Recently, former Seattle Supersonic star Ray Allen has been the victim of a rather perplexing catfishing scandal.
I think we can all agree that catfishing is reprehensible behaviour. Yet in the world of B2B tech marketing, I see companies trying to ‘catfish’ new customers all the time. For example, if you’ve visited enough tech websites, undoubtedly you’ve run into at least one of these friendly faces:
On MTV’s Catfish, one of the first investigative steps they always take is to consult social media and run the imposter’s photos through Google Reverse Image Search. Let’s try it with the photos above:
1) This woman works tech support at Dell, Forbes, and WestJet to name a few.
2) You might see this woman working tech support in IT security and IT outsourcing for example. She’s a busy gal and also gets plenty of work outside of the tech industry. She works at an energy company in Australia, for a food and beverage operator in Italy and for a dentist in Florida, to name a few of her gigs.
3) This woman is so popular, her image turned up 25,270,000,000 search results.
I see images like this used on Contact Us pages, for live chat tools, in display ads, and even front and center on company’s homepages. I find it a little baffling. Does anyone actually think that these people are representative of actual IT support staff? While I’ve never worked in such a work environment, I struggle to imagine many people dressing stylishly with bleached teeth and perfectly quaffed hair. Wouldn’t a nerdy looking and perhaps slightly dishevelled individual be more genuine?
Playing devil’s advocate, there’s a counter-argument so obvious that it’s probably the most famous marketing cliché: “sex sells”. While there is certainly some truth to this, I really question the value for B2B tech products and services in particular. Speaking from my own experiences researching and being pitched on business services, I can’t say the attractiveness of the support staff has ever entered into my decision making. I also wonder what message gets sent to women in particular who may be interested in working in an IT support environment, but whose appearance doesn’t match the stereotype put forth by these stock images. It’s 2018, the subject of women not feeling welcome in tech is topical, and companies should be sensitive to these things.
Many tech companies struggle to find or take good photos, so they use stock imagery as a crutch. It’s an understandable position due to the constraints involved. By their very nature, a lot of tech products aren’t conducive to visuals. Say you’re a web hosting company – what images can you choose that are visually representative of your products/services/brand? The obvious choice is pictures of hardware, typically showcasing some server racks. But server racks are quite boring to look at frankly. The most noteworthy thing visually about a server rack is when it has neat cable management; that’s not very compelling. Plus there are countless tech companies using the same stock images of server racks too, so following the crowd won’t help differentiate your brand.
So what’s a tech company to do for the imagery for their website and marketing materials? Despite the constraints, there are still a lot of options. You could take photos of your actual staff, use hand-drawn images, use images of a mascot, screenshots of products, or even a live video feed of your server room. Finding compelling images to market B2B tech companies is difficult, can be time-consuming, and can seem like an afterthought. But catfishing your potential customers is not an appropriate workaround.
This blog originally appeared at eBridge Marketing Solutions.