Our guest, John DeMato, went all-in on the topic at the Nov 14th event by sharing his personal journey as an entrepreneur, his special approach to connect with his clients and why, what the role of great visual assets plays in branding, and what is supposed to happen when magical moments are captured by a skilled branded photographer who does not take his eyes off of the ultimate goal of translating his clients’ brands.
He held nothing back.
Mouth-watering value bombs after another, the 2-hour session flew by so quickly that I almost did not want the session to end.
It is a tall order for me to outline the essence of the event in a written format. But, I will give my best shot here.
This is Where We (Entrepreneurs) Go Wrong with Visuals
Throughout the session, there was a number of factors that John pointed out in terms of where we go wrong with our approach to acquiring visual assets that work for us as entrepreneurs.
Mistake #1: Having a pre-conceived notion of “what you are supposed to look like.”
“You need to get over yourself.”
John explained how dealing with his clients getting over-obsessed with their flaws. This gets in a way of keeping the momentum going with his shoots which are supposed to capture what makes his clients unique.
“Think about people you have been following, looking up to, and idolizing like your mentors. Did you study their photos? Do you even care if they have photos that show not-so-flattering angle? Did you give a shit? You didn’t. You want to see them in action. You want to see moments where they are in the zone. You just need to get over yourself. Let go of your personal issues with your look that no one cares.”
Mistake #2: Going for a “heavily-staged” route.
Similar to #1, for some reason, we tend to have a pre-conceived notion of how the overall look should be, including surrounding environment whether it’s an office, outdoor, or in public. At times, it could be far removed from what’s real. There is no such thing as “what they should be.” If anything, it should be all about “what it really is.”
John calls this phenomenon, “The bastardized version of branded lifestyle photos.” Here is a list of common scenarios,
1. Every photo has fake smiles & postures that are just not real.
2. Non-candid shots that are taken in a heavily-staged environment that does not translate your work,
3. Shots that are only focused on you and nothing else.
These permeate the “manufactured” look and it doesn’t resonate. Worse yet, in my opinion, these photos would end up building a wall between you and people who, otherwise, would have been your customers or clients. This is a big turn-off.
This probably happens because we get too self-conscious and critical of ourselves and make up a false narrative about how we are supposed to look in a certain setting.
Mistake #3: Falsely believing you are going for editorial shots.
As you might agree, in the online world especially on social media, it is flooded with so-called “flawless, perfect shots” that are doctored up with Photoshop to oblivion. We are so accustomed to seeing these photos everywhere to the point where our eyes are, in a way, brainwashed to think we also need to look “just like them.”
If our photos don’t come out just like those we see on the internet, we feel disappointed, embarrassed, and depressed. But, what we need to realize is that we are NOT going for editorial or beauty shots. Instead, well-branded shots are supposed to serve as an invitation to people who want to get to know us better.
John articulates that this has nothing to do with leaving in obviously unflattering parts like blemishes. At the same time, he believes laugh lines, for example, can be part of translating someone’s character, and he would insist on leaving them in as opposed to wiping them out completely.
Picture Perfect: This is What Should Be Happening with Your Visual Assets.
Although our session started by defying what John’s work entails and what he advocates for, I wanted to, first, open this post by accentuating how easily we approach this topic the wrong way. This way, I figured, you will be better situated to dive deep into what makes your next shoot so drastically different.
“It’s not a visual aid. It’s a punctuation.”
Regardless of what business we are in, we have another role we need to serve, which is a “content provider.” These days, we are expected to become our own media company to convey our strong and unique POV (point of view). We can argue about this for days, but it is a fact.
John’s belief is that images, if done right, play the role of being punctuations that draw people in and highlight your core message, your voice, and your story including struggles, triumph, aha-moments, etc. This is when people will stop scrolling and take action to get to know you more by clicking on your posts.
John himself writes every day and publishes his content on a regular basis. He says,
“The secret is to create content that speaks to the people you want to help the most. No one else. That’s why getting caught up in numbers like how many followers you have on your social media is meaningless.”
Instead, we should get caught up in visual assets that punctuate and compliment our content. Moreover, finding a photographer who understands this process to work with you is imperative.
This is no exact science. There is a bit of art and science (with one’s experience) almost like paring a wine with food. But, one thing is clear – there are some great photographers who are up for this task, and… you guessed it, there are some not-so-good ones.
The ultimate goal for branded lifestyle photos: Capturing what makes you, “YOU.”
Remember the first section of this post was about the common mistakes we make when it comes to collecting our visual assets? There is a common thread among those 3 mistakes – they all push the image of who we are not. To avoid making those mistakes, John suggests,
1. Obtain a high volume “Mood Library” that is diverse to match your contents,
2. Go over your daily work routine to find “you, in action” and “why you do what you do” moments,
3. Dive deep into what your audience craves from you. It is your job to provide something to them that would endear yourself to them as if you are the only answer to them.
John calls collections of images he provides to his clients, “Mood Libraries” for a reason. Collectively, a mood library showcases stories, inspirations coming from his clients who do what they do to help people, and many non-candid moments that signifies their purpose.
How Do We Achieve This?
Now that you have a complete understanding of how the right images can translate who you are and what you stand for, it’s time to dig into the “how’s.”
As you might have guessed, John has a system in place. It’s called “Brand Elevation Planning.” This is born out of his original professional background, working for a number of years in the TV production industry. He treats all of his shoots to be more like a producing a TV show. That’s why his pre-shoot planning goes much deeper than other fellow branded photographers.
We were fortunate to use part of his planning system as a mini-exercise during the session.
On average, John spends anywhere from 90 min to 2 hours with this pre-shoot discovery process with his clients. The deeper he dives in to find out whom his clients are about and what drives them, easier his actual shoots will be with them. Because of this, he believes in investing heavily in his effort and time for his pre-shoot discovery process.
I am going to list some of the questions here that would help you think what you want the most from your own shoots.
1. Where do you see yourself in a year?
2. What makes your business (services) unique?
3. Who do you serve? (Target market, niche, a type of industry, etc.)
4. What is your unfair advantage?
5. What is your workflow or process to get your work done?
6. Where do you work? How do you work with your customers or clients?
7. What do you wear at work or when you see your customers or clients?
8. What are the tools and devices you use to do your work?
9. Do you have any accessories that have special meaning to you personally?
10. How does your work intersect with your life? How does your family come into play?
11. What do you like to do that makes you feel alive outside of work?
These are the kind of questions that, in John’s words, “extract juicy details.” Because even tiny details can add “texture” to images that he shoots.
For a brief moment, John and I were immersed in a conversation about how many business owners have no clue who they serve. Often times, they say they serve everybody, which is far from the truth.
John told us how some of them do not know a concept of “niching down.” I suggested John give a copy of Pia Silva’s book, "Badass Your Brand: The Impatient Entrepreneur's Guide to Turning Expertise into Profit," instead of getting into a lengthy conversation about the importance of niching down since Pia is John’s client.
What If You are in the Product Business?
The simplest answer to this would be, “The same concept applies.”
Some attendees at the event were in the physical space. Their focus tends to, naturally, put a spotlight on their products.
According to John,
“Getting a set of pristine product shots are vital. (But this is also a given.) I can even shoot damn good product shots with my iPhone. But, that’s not nearly enough. Potential buyers want to see how your products are made and who is making them. If you are hand-crafting, they want to see you sweating while you are making your products. What’s the process of creating these products are like? What is the story behind your products? What does your product do to make people feel great? There are so many ideas I can share with you to make your visual assets so incredibly appealing!”
So there. If you are in the eCommerce or in the product business, don’t just focus on what you sell. Focus more on behind-the-scenes stories to invite your potential customers into your world. I agree with John, no one buys with his rationale or logic. People buy with their emotions.
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The Final Word
My final word to all of this is, well, as usual, pretty darn simple: You should have been there to experience it all.
On the other hand, John has a lot more wisdom to offer. He and I got into a whole discussion about the term, “thought leader.” Here’s what he had to say:
How is that for a wrap?
John himself lives and breathes the life of an entrepreneur. He understands the struggle, pain, isolation, agony of figuring out the next steps, joy, validation, new discoveries…all of it.
It became clear to me why his photos look the way they do. They all capture these feelings vividly. He takes photos that are way beyond just subjects themselves. Subjects are there, but he focuses on capturing expressions and nuances of various life experiences coming from his subjects so that they come alive as if you are right there with them.
If you haven’t already, you must check out his site to find out what I am talking about. www.johndemato.com