Authenticity, the Power of Visual Storytelling for Businesses

Written by Megan Lowdon

Megan is the Director of Operations at Robert Lowdon Photography. Megan has 10 years of experience in project management and logistics planning, having worked in the event and hospitality industry for large companies for many years.

Published May 11, 2023

Storytelling image of employee marching at pride parade.

Recently I was editing one of our case studies and found a recurring theme throughout the piece – producing authentic images. We hear this so often from our clients; they want their marketing efforts to tell the real story of their business and, as a result, create authenticity. They believe that using stock images no longer suits their brand’s identity and instead aim to use curated images that accurately connect consumers with the products and/or services they offer. Generating visual authenticity is a pillar of our business at Robert Lowdon Photography. We have the expertise to take these types of photos but thought it would be worthwhile to explain why businesses should want these types of photos.

To better understand the significance of authenticity in website and marketing images, we reached out to a diverse group of professionals, including CEOs, founders, marketing experts, and some of our clients we’ve had the pleasure of working with. We had 3 main questions on our minds:

  1. Why is authenticity important for website & marketing images?
  2. What specifically tells you if an image is authentic or not?
  3. How do businesses use storytelling?

After chatting with these industry pros, one word stood out in every single response – TRUST. And why is trust so important? Because trust translates to sales. When a potential customer trusts your business, they are more likely to buy what you’re offering and increase the likelihood of repeat business. Generating trust and credibility is essential for any successful business.

In this article, we also discuss our approach to this style of photography, providing some top tips and best practices.

Construction employees having a conversation while working at a construction site.
Construction employees having a conversation while working at a construction site.

Why is authenticity important for website and marketing images?

Builds Credibility & Trust

Image authenticity is crucial to a brand because it helps to build trust and credibility with a target audience.

These days, people have a better understanding of marketing and can easily recognize when an image has been staged or manipulated. By creating brand-owned, authentic images, you can produce a more meaningful, memorable, and positive experience for your audience. This is because people are more likely to remember an image that feels fresh, special, and relatable, as opposed to one that’s stock, staged, or over-polished. These types of images help to differentiate your brand from your competitors by highlighting your unique qualities and values, ultimately leading to increased engagement, loyalty, and conversions.

To sum it all up, when you prioritize image authenticity for website and marketing materials, a stronger and more effective brand image will surely follow.

Tyler Metcalf, Producer, Apt Agency

Authenticity Boosts Marketing Success

Authenticity is a critical component in website and marketing imagery as it establishes credibility and trust with potential customers. In a survey conducted by Cohn & Wolfe, 63% of consumers prefer to purchase products and services from companies they perceive to be authentic. Similarly, according to Stackla, 86% of consumers consider authenticity a crucial factor when deciding which brands to support.

Real-life examples of Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign featured real women of all ages, sizes, and ethnicities, and resulted in a 600% increase in sales. Another example is Airbnb’s marketing campaign that showcased real hosts and their homes, which resulted in a 30% increase in bookings.

Authentic images create a connection between the brand and the audience by showcasing real-life experiences and emotions, thereby strengthening the brand’s identity.

Himanshu Sharma, CEO and Founder, Academy of Digital Marketing

Fosters a Lasting Impression

In today’s digital landscape, trust is paramount in consumer decision-making. Customers seek genuine representations of a brand, its products, and its people. Stock images, with their exaggerated emotions and forced situations, fail to convey this authenticity and establish the necessary trust.

Website and marketing images must showcase the real essence of a brand, creating a personal connection with the audience. Customers want to see the faces behind the company, the actual products, and the service environments. Professional photography captures these authentic moments, fostering trust, enhancing brand perception, and driving sales. 

Authentic images resonate with customers, forging meaningful relationships. In a world where personal connections matter, authenticity in images makes a lasting impression.

Nicole Bews, Strategic Director, Hometown Design Studio

Creates a Relatable Experience

Authenticity is crucial for website and marketing images because it establishes trust, resonates with the audience, and enhances brand credibility. Here are several key reasons why authenticity is important in this context:

Authentic images create a sense of trust between the brand and the audience. When website visitors or potential customers see genuine and real-life representations, they feel more confident and comfortable engaging with the brand. Authenticity in images helps to humanize the brand and establish a connection based on trust and reliability.

Authentic images have the power to evoke emotions and create a relatable experience for the audience. When people see real individuals, situations, or products represented authentically, they can better identify with the content. This relatability helps to form an emotional connection, increasing the likelihood of engagement and conversion.

Jason Moss, President and Co-founder, Moss Technologies

Office employee taking a break in cafeteria with employees in the background.
Office employee taking a break in cafeteria with employees in the background.

What specifically tells you if an image is authentic or not?

Capturing Unguarded Moments

A couple of generations ago, I would have been able to tell if an image is authentic with the way it resonates with me intellectually, emotionally, and perhaps to an extent, spiritually. Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother photo is one perfect example. It became an iconic representation of the Great Depression: a dishevelled mother looks toward an uncertain future with her two unkempt kids laying their heads on her shoulders – still a very relatable sentiment for most people who struggle to make ends meet in an increasingly expensive consumerist world. It tells a great story of a human experience that can potentially still move modern viewers.

These days, it would just be far more challenging to have any sort of similar resonance with the images that are constantly being churned out on social media. One can’t help but wonder if the photos one sees on their mobile devices are real: with an unlimited plethora of sleek gadgets, realistic filters, and seamless AI, anyone can fabricate and curate their own narrative and call it authentic.

Other than thoroughly examining images with a technical eye to consider if a photo is authentic or not, perhaps when we capture people in their most unguarded moments, we just might get a glimpse their authentic stories.

Nelson Agustín, Brand Lead, MS Canada

Imparts a Competitive Edge

Authenticity is critical for sticking out from the crowd. Consumers value real and relatable content in today’s digital age. Authentic visuals generate trust and connection in consumers, fostering a stronger bond with the company. Businesses can differentiate themselves from competitors who may use stock photos or generic visuals by using authentic imagery.

To evaluate image authenticity, check if it reflects the values, identity, and target audience of the company. It should feel unposed and natural, capturing genuine events and emotions. Genuine expressions, real locations, and diverse representations all contribute to an image’s authenticity.

Businesses utilize storytelling to elicit emotions, encourage action, and create memorable experiences for their customers. They can humanize their brand, make complicated ideas easier to comprehend, and develop a deeper emotional connection with their customers, whether through written content, graphics, or multimedia formats.

Johannes Larsson, Founder and CEO,

Use Specificity to Differentiate

Authenticity is key to showcasing legitimacy and differentiation. There is nothing worse than a brand that is generic and bland. That means your images need to tell your story about your company. 

To do that, they need to be specific. Feature your people in your facilities and city. Showcase uniqueness; don’t smooth out the rough edges. It’s this specificity that creates authenticity and drives your brand.

Temmo Kinoshita, Co-founder, Lindenwood Marketing

Use Reverse Image Search

What specifically tells you if an image is authentic or not? Run a reverse image search.

When you run a reverse image search, you can backtrack on the internet and review all the sites in which the image has been used. You will soon find out whether the image is authentic or not. The source and the credibility of this source will also give you a fair idea of the quality of the image. Once you confirm its authenticity, you just have to check its copyright licensing and go forward accordingly. If you find any traces of tampering, it is best to avoid using the image as it may be fake or modified.

Ariav Cohen, VP of Marketing and Sales, Proprep

Originality Outshines Stock Photos

The rise of stock photo sites (especially free ones) has simplified the marketer’s job. But as more and more people take advantage of these done-for-you resources, customers start seeing these images associated with more than your own brand. 

Inauthentic images do little to help you stand out and create memorable experiences. Good imagery entails images that are relevant, on-brand, original, and high-quality. It’s a subtle demonstration that you’ve put thought and effort into the content you create and aren’t seeking the path of least resistance.

Alli Hill, Founder and Director, Fleurish Freelance

Cheering on participants in the toronto ms walk at the finish line.
Cheering on participants in the toronto ms walk at the finish line.

How do businesses use storytelling?

Humanize Your Organization with Storytelling

Businesses use storytelling as a powerful way to humanize their organizations. I believe business storytelling is about creating a voice that resonates with people and builds a deeper connection.

In my own experience with my tree removal business, I often tell the story of how my grandfather planted the seed of this venture, both metaphorically and literally. He was a devoted arborist, and his passion for the preservation of trees deeply influenced me. His old saying, “We remove trees to let others flourish,” became our company’s ethos. 

This tale not only communicates our values but also establishes an emotional connection with our clients. It makes us more than just a service; it transforms us into a community partner with a rich history and passion.

Ben McInerney, Director, Go Tree Quotes

Showcases Your Actual Business

Authenticity is vital in website and marketing images because it builds trust and credibility. As a personal trainer, I’ve experienced this firsthand. My marketing changed significantly when I started using photos from my actual training sessions rather than staged or stock photos.

Why is this important? Well, authentic images show your business as it truly is. They’re the real deal, not an airbrushed version. When potential clients see me sweating during a tough workout or laughing with a client, they connect with me on a human level. You know an image is authentic when it’s not overly polished and represents a real moment in your business.

Evander Nelson, NASM-certified Personal Trainer, evandernelson

Evokes an Emotional Response

Several factors can indicate whether an image is authentic or not. Firstly, the people in the image should appear genuine, expressing real emotions and engaging in authentic interactions. Poses and expressions that feel staged or forced can undermine authenticity.

The context of the image also matters. It should align with your brand’s narrative and messaging. For example, if your brand promotes sustainability, featuring images of eco-friendly practices or natural environments can reinforce authenticity.

Luciano Colos, Founder and CEO, AI Pitch Deck Generator

Security guards patrolling neighbourhood in company vehicle.
Security guards patrolling neighbourhood in company vehicle.

Our Approach at Robert Lowdon Photography

Authenticity is top of mind for every project we undertake. For an architectural project, we utilize specialty lenses and have the expertise to ensure the building looks exactly as it was designed. This includes ensuring straight lines that do not appear to be bowing out in a “V” shape, which is a common detail missed in the industry. We want the viewers to experience the space in the same way as they would if they were physically present.

Moreover, in order to prepare for a retail store project, we focus on ensuring that it appears inviting, clean, organized and secure. We achieve this by paying close attention to details such as; positioning products strategically, tidying any mess, and capturing overall store images & unique details, so that the images showcase the store’s true appearance and essence.

Authenticity in imagery is trickier when it comes to taking photos of humans. When hiring models for a project, it is always our priority to find talent that fits the specific role we are recruiting for. Whether it be a grocery store employee, office worker, or a customer, we need to ensure they are natural & believable. This includes people of all different sizes, ages, races, genders and backgrounds. At a shoot, we often ask the talent to play the role and perform tasks to capture those authentic moments. We do our research in advance to know the specific roles/tasks, the uniform, the safety standards, and the types of individuals in those roles. All of these components help to achieve authenticity in a completely curated shoot.

When working with a business’s employees, they may have had very little experience with having their photo taken, which is why we make extra efforts to ensure they are comfortable. To achieve this, we simply have a conversation with the employee to get a better understanding of their role and any safety considerations. When an employee feels like an outsider to their organization is empathetic towards their tasks and has an understanding of their specific responsibilities, it breaks down the barriers and nerves. It also helps that we ask them to do their job, resulting in less pressure for them to “perform”, and depicts true-to-life scenarios.

For the style of photos, we always include a mix of candid photos and posed photos. This way our clients can choose what works best for their specific usage. In our experience, language can be misinterpreted and someone’s version of candid may differ from another. It’s important to us that the images can be utilized for more than just their website. We want our clients to have an image library of strong authentic imagery that can be used for social media, proposals, internal communications, presentations, ad campaigns, recruitment efforts etc. Providing a variety of images that are candid, posed, singular, group/team, and with shallow depth of field can achieve this.

Finally, it is important to consider how the photos will be used. Taking into account copy space or cropping as needed, as well as both verticals and horizontals ensure that the images are usable for any purpose that may arise in the future.

Construction employees displaying teamwork and going over the plans for the day at a tailgate meeting.
Construction employees displaying teamwork and going over the plans for the day at a tailgate meeting.

Final Thoughts

It comes as no surprise to us that the industry professionals we connected with see the importance and value in utilizing authentic imagery for marketing purposes. All agreed that authentic imagery is required to build a sense of trust with the consumer. This could be a customer purchasing a retail product, a client looking to hire your business for a service, or a B2B sale. To generate authentic imagery, our contacts thought it was important to produce something meaningful, memorable, and relatable. The theme that emerged was evoking emotions through real scenarios, real work places, and real people.

In creating authentic imagery for website/marketing, it’s believed to build consumer confidence, brand loyalty and increase engagement. Business pros felt this was important to converting clients and making sales. It was also agreed that stock photography could not accomplish this and could actually detract from your marketing goals.

If you want to chat more about authentic imagery, feel free to reach out! We’d love to discuss your project, ideals and goals, as well as how we can help achieve them.

Employee repairing ultrasound equipment.
Employee repairing ultrasound equipment.
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