Authentic Branding Photography: What Authenticity Actually Means and How it Helps Your Visual Brand

Jan 12, 2020

Want to know what experts really mean when they talk about authenticity?

UPDATE: When I wrote this blog post, I did know that “authenticity” was having a moment but would never have imagined that the an issue of The Magnolia Journal would feature this very topic. Read Joanna Gaines’ “A Note from Jo on Authenticity” for an insightful view on how to stay present especially in this day and age of curated moments.

Forbes posted a great article “Why Brand Image Matters” and included this gem of a quote:

Lately I’ve been thinking quite a bit about authenticity and how the heck to truly tell an authentic story through photography. Which leads me to sharing some sneak peeks from a session with a talented and gifted entrepreneur, Mary, who you see here, and some recent quotes from my research to fully define what authentic branding photography is. (Because sometimes I miss grad school and doing research! Who knew?)

“It’s not just about the logo or slogan; your brand image encompasses both visual elements and brand associations.”

– Solomon Thimothy

To tell a rich visual story filled with authentic elements, it’s important to know your why (another great Forbes article) and to seek out elements in your “pivot story” that help fuel the photoshoot.

Your pivot story is the moment you decided to make a change in your life to create your business or make a change within the business to solve a certain problem. 

For Mary, her pivot story involved tackling health issues, so we made sure to include oils, tea, healthy food, and moments where she was tech-free in her photoshoot.

Another authentic moment could even be someone saying to you, “You really helped with something I was struggling with…” and that story becomes an intrinsic part of your brand because it was a lightbulb moment for you to start a business and (re)define your brand. Perhaps that story had to do with finding clarity for your interior design client, and — in your photoshoot — you could show your list of design Q&As expertly design and printed out for a flatlay or you could show you and a client talking amongst fabric samples and paint colors.

“Pivot stories” and “authentic moments” may seem tangential to a photoshoot — it’s not though, I promise — elements of those stories become part of the photo session. Truly. With many entrepreneurs seeking to be heard above noise, the best way to be noticed is to offer something unique and the best way to offer something unique is to be truly YOU (because no one else can be you).

“Um, that’s great, Celia. But what is brand authenticity exactly?” — I hear you! I went on a deep dive and found a Journal of Consumer Psychology article written by a great team with this quote:

“Brand authenticity is how people “perceive a brand to be faithful toward itself, true to its consumers, motivated by caring and responsibility, and able to support consumers in being true to themselves.”

– Felicitas Morhart 

Professor Morhart and her team tackled the task to define authenticity because its qualitative nature can be hard to pin down. How people perceive authenticity boils down to this: “Results also suggest that perceived brand authenticity increases emotional brand attachment and word-of-mouth [reviews], and that it drives brand choice likelihood through self-congruence for consumers high in self-authenticity.” Basically, the more you show your authentic self, the more you will get others who are also authentic to care about your work.

Need another article? I loved this blog post, “When Brands Get Real…”, which is definitely worth the read.

So how does all this information factor into a photo session?

A great example was this photo session with Mary, who you see above and who is creating a brand new business. Mary and I discussed her “why” and how she works to solve problems for her prospective health and wellness clients who seek web-based solutions that Mary can provide.

Mary wanted to show her life and work at home — not in a super sleek glass-enclosed tech office — and wearing clothes that actually reflected her down-to-earth style and nature. Her approachability was reflected in her photos because she wanted clients to be able to see exactly who was: a health conscious and tech savvy person hanging out on her couch (or next to it!), hard at work on her laptop to provide web-based solutions for her clients, and always keeping it real.

Part of Mary’s brand story came from her pivot story about why she her health was important to her. I urge people to consider mining their pivot stories, their testimonials, what people say about them, and their “why” because that will help provide direction and clarity for the visual storyboard and shot lists.

I’m sharing some snippets of our branding session to help others and make sure that when it comes time to discover what is most important to your brand image, your photographer can capture a visual story that is rich with elements of your brand story, like I did with Mary. Every “scene” in our session and every prop has authentic roots in her story, in how she works, and in how she pivoted and decided to start her brand.

UPDATE: Mary is now LIVE with her brand: The Wellness Site Shop! Yay, Mary!

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