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Don’t be a noob. Here’s how to avoid visual cliches and make your content stand out.

February 6, 2024

Written by Simon Kearney & Tim Colman | Graphics by Jonathan Joseph

Have you ever come across a blog post about finance accompanied by a picture of a stack of coins or a piggy bank? Or an article about health and wellness with an image of a person running? Chances are you have. These are examples of visual cliches: images that are so overused they have become predictable and derivative.

Visual cliches can be a tempting fallback when you have a pressing deadline, but using them will make your content seem lazy and uninspired. In this blog post, we’ll go into details on how you can spot and sidestep them on your next visual adventure.

How to spot visual cliches? 

When a particular image or style is everywhere—on billboards, in blog posts, on social media ads—it’s becoming a cliche. This diminishes its ability to capture attention and stops your messaging from working well.

If you can guess the image that represents a topic before you even see it. That’s a cliche. Common examples include a light bulb to symbolise ideas or a handshake for partnerships. These overused images can be quickly found on stock image websites. Try searching stock photo sites. Whatever appears at the top of the list of results will invariably be a visual cliche. 

How to overcome visual cliches in content marketing

While visual cliches can work as secondary elements to your content, such as icons and small graphics, it’s important to avoid using them as hero or anchor images. You don’t want the first thing that people see to be too obvious. 

Here are a few tips on how to overcome dependence on visual cliches:

  1. Don’t use the first thing that comes to mind. 

When you’re thinking about visuals for your content, don’t settle for the first image that pops into your head. Instead, take some time to brainstorm different perspectives. For example, if you’re writing a blog post about financial planning, instead of using the cliche image of a stack of coins, you could use an image of a family budgeting together or a graph showing the benefits of saving for retirement.

If you’re using a stock image, beware the first page of results. Deepen your search terms to dig out an image that is unique, and one that speaks specifically to the detail of your content.

  1. Be original

If you have to use stock imagery try and find something that will spark interest in what you’re talking about. Use the image as a pull for the reader to read the story rather than a rubber stamp of imagery that merely matches the topic. 

Try and shoot your own photos to truly reflect your brand’s essence and connect with your audience. You can get a professional photographer, or if you’re confident enough, do it yourself. There’s a whole trend around what we call Lo-Fi content, that oozes authenticity and will connect with your audience. 

  1. Embrace the cliche, but add a twist

If you do decide to use a visual cliche, put a unique spin on it to make it more interesting and engaging. For example, instead of using the cliche image of a person running on a treadmill to represent fitness, you could use an image of a dog running on a treadmill, which is both cute and attention grabbing. 

Ultimately, the key to using visual cliches effectively, both in static images and videos, is to strike a balance. Use them sparingly and with purpose, and be mindful of the potential impact your content could have on your audience.

  1. Know your audience, industry and beyond

If you understand the preferences and expectations of your target audience, you’ll also know what they consider cliches and stereotypes. You need to study the industry they’re working in too. What are other players in that group pushing when it comes to marketing imagery? If you’re still not sure, test with a small group, see what they think.

Don’t forget to look outside the industry for inspiration. Let’s be honest, inspiration can come from anywhere so don’t limit yourself.

How do I think beyond the cliche?

Lateral thinking can be a powerful tool in breaking away from visual clichés by encouraging unconventional and creative approaches to problem-solving.

It involves approaching problems from new angles and using creativity and unconventional strategies to generate innovative solutions.

  1. Connecting unrelated elements

Lateral thinking encourages the connection of seemingly unrelated elements. This approach can lead to the synthesis of diverse visual elements, resulting in a unique and unexpected composition that stands out from clichéd imagery.

  1. Promoting playfulness

It also fosters a playful and open-minded mindset. This playfulness can inspire designers to experiment with visuals, trying out combinations that may not be immediately obvious but contribute to a more creative and original outcome.

  1. Promoting divergent thinking

The technique emphasises divergent thinking, where multiple solutions or ideas are explored. This approach can lead to a range of visual concepts, helping designers move beyond clichés and consider a broader spectrum of possibilities.

  1. Considering multiple perspectives

It is a reasoning that involves considering multiple perspectives on a problem. This approach can help designers escape the confines of clichés by incorporating diverse viewpoints and creating visuals that resonate with a broader audience.

  1. Embracing ambiguity

Finally, lateral thinking embraces ambiguity and uncertainty. Designers can use this mindset to their advantage by creating visuals that challenge the viewer’s expectations and provoke thought without relying on predictable clichés. 

At the end of the day, you need your visuals to resonate with your audience. If we’re honest, it’s the imagery that grabs them, not your words. It needs to make an impact, so don’t take the easy route.

Read more from Click2View:

  1. Riding content waves in a post-viral world
  2. What makes a case study truly compelling
  3. Writing with Generative AI: Remixing words like beats
  4. The Impact of AI and The Future of Marketing

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Click2View is Southeast Asia’s premiere full-service independent B2B content marketing agency servicing clients like Microsoft, Google, Visa, Prudential, and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.