Photos Make a Difference


In Mirrors and Images, I speculated that the presence of images such as a picture of Christ in a church or those omnipresent portraits of the leaders of totalitarian states might influence the behavior of people in their presence. Now, the New York Times reports that photos have been shown to influence the behavior of radiologists:

Dr. Turner’s hunch turned into an unusual medical study. Its preliminary findings, presented in Chicago last December at a conference of the Radiological Society of North America, suggested that when a digital photograph was attached to a patient’s file, radiologists provided longer, more meticulous reports. And they said they felt more connected to the patients, whom they seldom meet face to face. [From New York Times – Radiologist Adds a Human Touch: Photos by Dina Kraft.]

So, the mere inclusion of a patient photo altered the behavior of these medical professionals, presumably without their awareness that they were treating the patients differently. This might have implications for how medical records are kept and transmitted, but what are the neuromarketing implications?

It would seem that including a photo with other information makes the communication more personal or at least attracts the attention of the reader in a way that is more involving. We already know that a photo of an attractive woman had a profound effect on how males responded to a loan offer (see A Pretty Woman Beats a Good Loan Deal). But this seems to be a different phenomenon, unrelated to the viewer being attracted, consciously or not, by a photo of an attractive member of the opposite sex. Rather, it seems that the photo establishes a more personal connection.

Non-Profit Marketers. Fundraisers already understand the power of personal photos. Savvy nonprofit marketers include photos, names, and often detailed biographies of the recipients of their charity. Rather than exhorting donors to “wipe out hunger” in general terms, a mailer may show a photo of a child made even more specific by including her name and specific circumstances. Colleges soliciting donations take a similar approach by including the photos and stories of individual students who benefit from the funds.

Photo Business Cards? Except in real estate and a few other fields, photo business cards and letterhead aren’t common, and might even seem a bit unprofessional. You certainly wouldn’t expect to find the business card of a Fortune 500 CEO emblazoned with a grinning photo. Nevertheless, marketers might well want to look for ways to build photos into their efforts. Not random photos, of course, but photos of the individuals in actual contact with the customer. It might result in that salesperson, for example, being accorded a little more attention when she calls to schedule an appointment.

The evidence that photos of people DO alter behavior is mounting – the challenge for marketers is to determine what works in their particular situation. Have you found a clever way to build photos into your advertising campaigns or marketing materials? Let us know how…

  1. Simon Wilkes says

    This could also work for personal marketing.

    A job hunter might be more likely to get an interview if their CV includes a picture of them.

    While I doubt that a picture of them on their last beach holiday will cut it. A carefully chosen image could convey a lot of positive information.

  2. Roger Dooley says


    I agree, although I think in job hunting in particular there are some other big considerations. Certainly, one is whether the photo matches the hiring manager’s mental image of the ideal candidate. I.e., does the photo of the person applying for the Exec. VP of Sales look like he or she fits the part? That isn’t totally fair, perhaps, but there’s litte doubt that appearance is a factor in many or most hiring decisions.

    Thanks for stopping by!


  3. Steve says

    We also know from lots of implicit emotional affect studies that expressions on human faces prime emotional states in the viewer, even when they are not consciously noticed. So if you’re going to attach a photo to a resume (and you will be incurring all the risks Roger identifies), be sure you’re smiling.

  4. Roger Dooley says

    Good point, Steve. It makes me wonder why people sometimes use such bizarre expressions for Twitter avatars and the like.

  5. Jim Kukral says

    This is very true. I’ve been using photos in my marketing efforts for 10+ years and it’s a difference maker.

  6. Kenneth Knapp says

    I think putting a human face on business is important. There are positive and negative ramifications in all cases but the overriding evidence I have read suggests that people like dealing with other people more so than nameless faceless businesses.

    I have been taught 80% percent of a sale is derived from attributes provided by the sales person representing a product or company, only 20% of a sale comes from the attributes provided by the brand, product or service. If this is true aren’t we better served by presenting real integrity driven human beings rather than simply leaving it up to our branding and virtual personalities to aid our suspects in their buying decisions?

    IMHO I prefer to know who I am working with upfront.


  7. Happy says

    But what do you do if you’re ugly?

  8. Tom says

    Does seeing a lot of different facial images in the same place weaken the affect? The default interface view for most microblog and social net apps is a column or grid of avatars, yearbook-style. Is a neutral facial photo still the best strategy in those circumstances?

  9. Roger Dooley says

    Makes sense, Kenneth, and that’s one reason why job interviews are so ineffective. The personable, articulate programmer gets the job instead of the malajusted sloppy guy who would code like a demon for 14 hrs a day.

    Happy, good question. Being attractive is an advantage in interviews, selling, etc.

    Tom, I think a photo that stands out but presents a positive image would be the best choice. (Though I admit my own avatar is quite neutral.)


  10. Richard says

    This narrative shares similarities as tabloids and the binary oppositions of the headlines and pictures. The headline is often partnered with a picture; together they are the way you reach out and grab readers as they skim through the publication. If you don’t stop them, you can’t talk to them. People will generally stop to look at a picture far more readily than they will read a headline.

  11. Diana says

    Great news for all of us who may be patients one day if not already. I hope the word spreads! As a market, in very different markets, using pictures is known to suppress response rates. It’s truly based on purpose. But, the results here are very apropos.

  12. Raman VikramAdith says

    It sounds like a good idea to put a pic in the resume.

    But as wisely pointed out by Happy, what to do if you’re ugly. :p

  13. John says

    In the U.S. it may be against corporate policy (and sometimes the law) to include photos in resumes or college applications because it can introduce factors like race, age, and ugliness into the decision making process. I know long avoided photos on profiles to keep the site from veering away from business and toward dating.

    That said, I always try to have people see a photo of me looking both professional and happy. I’d never include a photo in a standard resume/portfolio situation, but I do generally send a link to LinkedIn or Twitter, where people can see my smiling face. I might behave differently if I didn’t match the American stereotype of a business/marketing person.

  14. Patrick says


    Overall ethic and attitude of the organization must remain consistent. If everyone in your company is tidy and professional, the work will be tidy and professional (provided the management reinforces it). If the “maladjusted sloppy guy” gets the job but creates social dissonance within the organization then his (subjective) 6 hours per day more coding will not be worth the blow to the corporate culture. Therefore he needs to get a job at a place which is set for people like himself (a bit more unorthodox) as he will do better where HE doesn’t feel uncomfortable and his co-workers will not suffer productivity loss because THEY don’t feel uncomfortable.

    Just my 2 cp.

  15. JLundholm says

    On the question of ugliness-eye of the beholder to a large extent, but there are definite cultural expectations of beauty/attractiveness that not all fit. I am not a photographer, but know from my contacts with professional photographers that there are very few people who cannot be made to look attractive when photographed properly. I don’t mean Photoshopping, but the use of light and angle. When it is worth including a photo, it worth doing it right.

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