In the early days of ecommerce, a stock photo was enough to get the message across to potential buyers. Online shoppers were OK making purchases with little more than a stock image, a product description and a few customer reviews to guide them. Cut to 2015: It’s no longer that simple.

Rather than providing context about a product, stock images these days tend to come off as inauthentic. The highly visual consumers of today need to be inspired before agreeing to buy. As photos continue to pervade our lives—via the likes of Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, Snapchat, Imgur—our standards are higher.

So, what’s the most effective way to convey authenticity and invoke a feeling of personalization? Well, every brand has a story to tell; stories that go deep beyond their products. Whether that story is about embracing your free spirit or taking comfort in yummy meals, marketers need to do their best to communicate that narrative to their customers.

When it comes to telling authentic and relatable stories, there’s no better strategy than to rely on those who know and love the products. Fans truly enjoy sharing their experiences with their favorite brands. The most resourceful thing a marketer can do is to harness those visual experiences and paint a colorful picture for other consumers.

Take a look at these five brands that use fan photos exceptionally well and consistently see the benefits.

1. Free People: Inspiring Women to Live Creatively and Freely


The name says it all. Free People’s products are bohemian-chic and invoke a sense of feeling liberated. The brand’s target consumers often portray an artsy and free lifestyle on their own social feeds, so it makes perfect sense that Free People would draw from fan photos to help tell their brand story.

What’s particularly interesting is that not every fan photo features products. The brand often shares Instagram posts from their fans that simply feature beautiful sunsets and beaches. Still, it all fits into the narrative. This does a lot to drum up interest from consumers who aspire to live this lifestyle.

2. Herschel Supply Co.: Serving as a Passport to Interesting Experiences


Herschel Supply Co. is more than just a backpack and accessories company; it’s a brand that takes its customers on “limitless adventures” around the world. In their photos, fans feature their backpacks everywhere, from the tops of mountains to urban destinations to European castles. By sharing these photos on brand channels, Herschel is relaying to potential buyers that the brand is a passport to interesting experiences.

On Instagram, Herschel’s visual story shows nearly every aspect of the travel journey. Some images are taken from the top down, featuring a collage of items needed for a big trip. Others show people during the trip, exploring a new city. Herschel also includes (meta) images of people partaking in the celebratory phase of travel, taking snapshots to share later with their friends. This 360-degree perspective inserts Herschel into every journey – before, during and after.

3. Walt Disney World: Making Memories in the Moment


There’s no disputing that Disney is one of the most popular brands of all time. And although everyone knows what Walt Disney World stands for, the brand isn’t holding back from using Instagram to tell its story via fan images.

Walt Disney World is in itself an experience. Vacationers who visit the park take photos and share with their followers as a way to show that they’re taking part in the magic that is Disney. The narrative on Disney World’s Instagram feed illustrates, “This is a magical place.” Photos feature visitors taking in the beauty of Cinderella’s castle, enjoying fireworks and consuming Mickey-Mouse-shaped treats.

While professional images can easily depict these things, there’s nothing more authentic than seeing it from people who are actually making memories in the moment.

4. Whole Foods: Finding Freshness and Comfort in Food


The imagery on Whole Foods’ Instagram account primarily comes from fans. And they aren’t just photos of organic raspberries and granola; these images exhibit mouth-watering meals crafted by home cooks. Since it’s summer, the photos currently feature refreshing foods. Whole Foods changes its theme with each season that comes and goes, but the underlying narrative stays the same. The brand is more than just a place to get healthy food; it’s an oasis of freshness and comfort.

5. Mizuno: Pushing Negativity Aside

how mizuno uses fan photos

When I think of running outdoors, I immediately feel overwhelmed. “Ugh, do I really have to time myself? How far should I pretend to run? How’s my form?” Mizuno helps shift that perspective for me because of the story the brand tells through its fan photos.

On Instagram, Mizuno shares photos of fans relaxing atop cliffs, sitting back with a cup of coffee post-run and enjoying the outdoors with friends. The brand also sprinkles user-generated content on the product detail pages of its ecommerce site, showing shoppers how products come across in real life. This strategy tells consumers that running isn’t just about putting on a pair of sneakers and getting your blood pumping. It’s about being at peace with one’s self and taking time to enjoy the great outdoors. That narrative is enough to change anyone’s mind about running.

Make Your Images Actionable

Being authentic is key to reaching the visual consumers of today, but it doesn’t end there. Making it easier to shop these photos, turning this content into commerce, and working with influencers are core pieces of the puzzle, too. To learn more about how brands are turning engagement with an entire generation of online shoppers into revenue, download our latest guide.