Back in May we looked at (and mocked) the silly world of stock images, particularly for business marketers. Photos of sleek call centres, beautiful employees and cult-level enthusiasm are used over and over again by lazy marketers and agencies to break up text and create a home for alt tags.

All of this despite the new-found appreciation for all things design-driven. If we accept that design and imagery matter more now than when people could get through an entire paragraph without stopping for water, then we really ought to be paying a lot more attention to our photos.

If you have the patience and the budget, I maintain you should go find a photographer and a good art director and start building a library of great, original images that you can use over and over again. In addition to having content you own and your competitors don’t, you also get to control the most important factor of all: resonance.Baby Mannequin Morgenstern

Whether you use custom or stock images, you need to be paying attention to resonance. Resonant images work very, very hard. Non-resonant images just take up space and give people like me reasons to make fun of your website and your collateral.

High resonance images share three key factors:

R-Factor #1: Familiarity

Your customers and prospects should look at your images and recognize themselves. This is where your personas come in. If your target is middle-aged senior executives in the paper goods industry, show them middle-aged executives who look like they are talking about dead trees. Or go shoot (not literally) some middle-aged models in suits and hard hats in front of a pulping machine or a doomed stand of old growth forest.

If your target is 20-something entrepreneurs in the tech sector, go find or make photos of people wearing plaid and having a really, really great time in their slightly grubby but still very relevant office space.

We’re not looking for a reality show here: our customers are not generally all that attractive; we’re going for a look that feels comfortable but with a generous helping of R-Factor #2.

R-Factor #2: Aspiration

Take a look at high-end travel destination sites or luxury car images. Do you see a lot of people in them? No. They don’t need to show you how it looks when your muddy dog is messing up the back seat of your pretty car. They need to show you the cockpit of the pretty car and your imagination can do the heavy lifting of placing yourself in its warm embrace. Ditto the azure ocean and pristine beach you can imagine yourself gazing upon from your hotel room in Aruba.

This is aspiration at its most subtle. In B2B, we have to work a little harder and dig a little deeper to illustrate professional aspiration. Again, we want to go to our personas and see what they tell us about how our buyers and customers view success in the context of our products and services.

It may look like our paper executives in a giant warehouse full of former old-growth trees; it may look like our hipster tech company in a much bigger space; it may look like our construction client standing with a new fleet of trucks or working on a bigger project than usual.

The aspirational leap doesn’t need to be a particularly great one; in fact, we need to be careful that we don’t overplay things here and wander into miracle diet territory. We need to find the balance between a reasonable expectation of what is possible and a vision compelling enough to hitch their professional wagons to our horse.

This takes some work and, if you have time and money, some focus groups.

The key is to show them what you, and you alone, make possible for them by using images to help with R-Factor#3.

R-Factor #3: Narrative

Images should not be left to fend for themselves on your website, ads or collateral. They need to work with the copy to tell a story about your brand and your customers.

Your story needs to cover the narrative ground from current reality to imagined success. It builds on that familiarity and creates a plausible version of the future they want in the presence of your brand.

If you make actual things, then clever imagery can weave them into this story. If you are marketing services, your imagery needs to support the copy and illustrate the journey to this aspirational, yet familiar place in the future.

When your buyers and users can see themselves in your images, doing the work they believe in and succeeding at it, you’ve got yourself some serious Resonance.