Marketing through Meetups – leveraging niche communities to broaden your reach
Meetups were one of the pioneering groups when people still referred to the internet as the world wide web and there was no such thing as Facebook or iPhones. As an organizing principle they are beautifully simple and targeted: form a group around a common interest or passion, and literally meet up regularly in a local neighbourhood venue to share ideas, talk, network and form relationships.
ProductTank MTL runs a series of themed monthly Meetups in Montreal, featuring three speakers from local businesses sharing their ideas, strategies and insights working as product managers or founders in technology companies.
The most recent event (it’s 14th edition!), held at Groove Nation in the Plateau, centred on EdTech and featured Roberto Cipriani, CTO of GradeSlam, Renaud Boisjoly, CEO at Studyo.co, and Hiba Fanta, Product Manager at E-180.
The evenings are a nice mix of learning and networking with peers, and there are often job openings advertised, from the presenting companies and an open mic for anyone else in the audience looking for new talent. If I were looking for a new gig in tech, I’d be attending these and other Meetups like these regularly.
There are hundreds of Meetups in Montreal alone, whether you’re interested in Ecommerce, Learning, Food & Drink, or simply trying to meet other people if you are new to the city. There’s even one for Digital Nomads.
Hiba Fanta, Product Manager at E-180.com
Meetups are a fantastic way to bring people together but their use could also be an easily accessible business development tool for instigators and marketers looking to grow their influence. Just a few groups that come to mind for which the benefits of a Meetup seem obvious are:
Brands / Companies looking to make connections within niche communities
Venue owners (bars, restaurants, spaces) that are underutilizes at night or looking to get known in their communities)
Professional associations looking for new members or to share knowledge and create networking and development opportunities for their members.
As an event photographer, I’m surprised by how few Meetup organizers are leveraging photography to bring more people to their events and broaden their reach and impact.
Through sponsorships from companies seeking connections with the people your Meetup group represents you can easily cover the cost of a few hours of photographic or video coverage for your event.
Renaud Boisjoly, CEO at Studyo.co
Nothing sells an event better than professional looking photos of real people in real venues having a good time and interacting with each other. Conference planners and professional meeting organizers know this and always budget for coverage as it provides fresh new images to furnish blog posts, advertisements, website copy, and media and freelance journalist who come to the event, thus extending the group’s reach even further.
ProductTank MTL is a well organized chapter of an international group, with a very targeted niche for an in-demand professional skill set. It is an obvious opportunity for a sponsor looking to connect with that same pool of talent. For a few thousand dollars a year a sponsor could sponsor the photography portion of a Meetup for a year, providing a minimum of 12 regular posts on the group’s own Facebook and Meetup page, as well as access to images for the company’s own use.It seems like a no-brainer from a marketing spend point of view.
Roberto Cipriani, CTO at GradeSlam.org
If you are either a Meetup organizer, or in a company looking to make connections to talent and the communities your company operates in, spend an hour looking through all the available Meetup groups organized in your city – or start your own.
Over the weekend I covered a large event at a beautiful historic location in Montreal (the Théatre St. James) which used to be an opulent and ornate old bank.
Théatre St. James in Montreal
It is a spectacular place for an event – commodious main event space and a secondary space in the basement with access to the old bank vault, which can be converted into a lounge as was done at this event.
Inside the vault
The engagement included both continuous event coverage and a photobooth from my company, lePartybooth.com. Photobooths never seem to get old and they add an easy and fun activity for guests of all ages at an event. They also provide branding opportunities for sponsors and the event organizers through the use of branded imagery, green screened images and take away, instant prints.
However, to get the full value of your photobooth, consider where in the event you ask for it to be set up. While set-ups vary between open air mobile studios and premium standalone kiosks, most photobooths require about 15 x 15 feet, and ideally even a bit more space for the props table and prints.
Not every event space has optimal locations for photobooths, but your provider should be able to counsel you on where would be ideal. From the client point of view you want the booth somewhere in plain site to the main event and easily accessible by your guests. If they have to go up or down a flight of stairs, or leave the party to go to a secondary room, your participation will drop off a cliff and you will not be getting the best value for your money.
Encourage your guests to share their photos on social media with your event #hashtag
If you are planning to include a photobooth at your next event, keep these simple tips in mind:
Include the photobooth somewhere in the main event space
Remind your guests a few times throughout the evening that the photobooth is available for their use and they don’t have to pay to use it (*unless you are using the booth as a fundraising tool)
Ask your provider if they can furnish you with a few images from the booth to show on the main screen during the event
Encourage your guests to share their photobooth images online via the sharing functions built-in to the booth using your event hashtag
And a bonus idea:
If you really want to leverage the photobooth, consider running an in-event contest, offering a prize (voted on by applause or some other crowd-engagement measurement) for the wackiest or most outrageous photobooth pose of the evening.
Photobooths are always popular and including one in your event budget creates another sponsorship vehicle or place to extend the reach of your marketing. Having decided to spend the money, make sure you get the best use from it by making it a prominent and well-situated element in the layout of your floor plan for the event.
Here’s a fact that surprises people all the time when I tell it to them: more the 50% of the corporate headshots I take are last-minute rush jobs.
How is it possible, they ask, that someone could ever urgently need a photograph, let alone a headshot? Believe me, I used to wonder the same thing, until I started paying attention to the triggers. People use the same professional headshot for several years. Just do a quick scan through your contacts on LinkedIn and see how many have updated their photos in the past year. People kind of forget about their profile pics after a while, until a need arises for a new one.
Here are some of the reasons why all of a sudden, a headshot is needed, like NOW! All of the examples below are taken from real contracts I’ve had.
“Looking for new challenges”: People don’t change their headshots unless there is a change in their employment status. When that happens, there may be a lead up to the decision if the change is self-driven, but there are many reasons why a person’s employment status can change beyond their control. This unexpected change often triggers a need for a new look.
“You’re published!”: People get articles published on schedules they don’t control, and get asked to submit a bio picture along with their submission.
“You won!” : People win industry awards and accolades, or are selected for internal company awards they weren’t expecting and they need a picture to accompany the announcement.
“You’re being promoted!”: Good things happen to hard working people. They get promotions and despite company’s best efforts, HR doesn’t always keep internal comms informed of the latest personnel changes, nor provide a lot lead time before the announcement has to go out, particularly in public companies where the change in senior level appointments is material information that must be made public.
“You’re invited to speak at our upcoming…”: People get asked at the last minute to speak at an event, a gala dinner, or a conference they hadn’t planned on going to. Suddenly they are facing a roomful of their peers and colleagues with a 10-year old bio picture that looks like it was cut out of their high school year book. Awkward.
As with all rush-jobs, there are usually fees associated that raise the price of the product or service being purchased. As well, the last-minute pressure also usually indicates a lack of preparation and limits the number of other people in the office or on site who may also be in need of a new headshot but just aren’t given enough notice to get there for the appointed day because they are out of the office, in a client meeting or just having a bad hair day. All of these factors increase the cost to the buyer.
A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down…
Forward-thinking planners, event and conference organizers can score big savings by taking advantage of organizing an onsite headshot session when they are assembling people who may only get together once or twice a year. Annual meetings, board meetings, seminars, training sessions, workshops and conferences are just a few places where people are brought together. This allows the organizer to save on per/head costs as the set up fee for an onsite portrait session can be spread out over a number of individuals rather than just the one.
To those paying for the service, there may be the perception that bringing in a photographer to conduct a portrait session is just an unnecessary extra expense tacked on the event, but if viewed from a slightly longer-term perspective, the savings can be significant to the organization.
Per head costs / portraits can be reduced by 50% or more
Leverage the investment already made in bringing important people together (food, hotel, travel)
Raise staff morale – everyone loves having a little extra attention paid to them, and a professional headshot is a nice perk that saves your staff money. Happy workers are more productive ones.
Leaving anything to the last-minute creates more stress, cost and hassle. It’s great for my business, but do yours a favour and plan ahead. You will need a new headshot someday. Don’t wait till that day happens to be tomorrow.
Is it necessary to hire a photographer to cover your event? When virtually all staff and every attendee is equipped with image capturing devices, social media accounts and motivation to share the experience, in real time, what value lies in hiring a pro who will charge you for coverage that you will already be getting for free from multiple sources?
No, of course it isn’t necessary. If you want to rely on crowd-sourced images and dimly lit, shakily held videos, random tweets and multiple viewpoints for the narrative surrounding your event, then it’s probably not even advisable.
But I’ve encountered few professional organizations – companies, brands, conference organizers and event managers – who are so laissez-faire with their brand image and marketing of their events.Most professional teams choose to work with professional suppliers simply because it is more efficient, more effective and more controllable than any other option.
Everyone enjoys taking pictures at professional events. They do it to show that they are there, to participate in the dialogue and share learning and information gleaned from sessions they attend that appeal to them and their distinct personal and professional networks. They do it for fun. But one thing they don’t do it for is the company putting on the event. While some of the content they generate may well wind up being retweeted or shared across the organizing company’s social channels, it can only ever be the result of good luck and good timing. Unsurprisingly, most of the professional organizers I’ve worked with are reluctant to stake their reputations on good luck and timing.
Professional event coverage is a skilled trade. It requires attention not just to the visual elements transpiring in real time – what slide is shown on stage, the type and quality of the lighting, the instantaneous emotional responses of audience members, etc – but also the content and theme of the event, and the brand of the organizer itself. And the coverage includes everyone and everything. It doesn’t just focus on the big highlight moments or the fun times people have around the bar or at networking cocktails (though that is included). It is comprehensive, including every speaker, every session, and most if not all attendees in some context or another.
Additionally, the coverage is being captured and recorded with professional grade equipment designed to be adaptable to changing light conditions, and multiple scenarios that even the best of phone cameras can’t handle. It’s not too challenging to take a beautiful photograph outdoors in bright natural light in a beautifully laid out setting. It’s not quite as carefree when the subject is a wan looking speaker with thinning hair in a beige-walled, dimly lit conference room who rarely looks at the audience. But he’s part of the event and needs to be included, and not just included, but has to look good too.
As a line item in an overall event budget, photography is going to come in under video and frankly, have much wider applications than videography. While everyone loves video and video marketing continues to rise in influence and reach, the uses of video are still rather limited. You may put a highlights reel from an event on your site advertising similar upcoming events, but once it’s been viewed once (and it’s highly unlikely anyone will watch it through to the end no matter how short it is given that humans now seem to exhibit attention spans shorter than a goldfish), it probably won’t be rewatched, while photos have multiple applications. They can be used throughout a website, in headers, as templates for advertising, as content in blog posts and as a virtually inexhaustible supply of pictures for social media feeds. They can also be printed, used as profile pictures, put into sales decks, emailed out as gallery links to sponsors and generally be shared more easily and widely because they are lighter and require even less of an attention span than a 30 second video.
Having an event covered by a professional matters to other professionals. It translates into higher quality, more reliable, deliberate and usable content that can be leveraged by good marketers to build and maintain momentum for companies whose business models rely on hosting regular, well-attended events. If that’s not you nor aligned with your goals, than no, you don’t need a professional to cover your event. Just task a junior staffer to do it on their phone and hope for the best. You’ll for sure get some fun pictures, and maybe even a tweet or two.
A few pro tips before you let the genie out of the bottle on your DIY product shoot
Shooting product is a vastly different kind of gig than photographing people at large conferences and events.Regardless of the sophistication level of your client, organizing and conducting a product shoot requires more technical ability, more equipment, and a lot more time than most clients anticipate.
It also requires a lot of planning, particularly if you are working with a smaller business or entrepreneur who may never have organized a professional product shoot before or ever hired a professional photographer to work with.
In the best case scenario, your product shoot plan includes:
Sample imagery of what you want your products to look like: These can be previous photos of your actual products if you are updating your website and sales material, or if you’ve never had a shoot done, photos of similar or equivalent products that you’ve found online or from another vendor.
All your products prepared in advance of the scheduled shoot: if assembly is required, this should be done as much as possible before the shoot to minimize (expensive) time wasted that your photographer spends waiting for the product. The same goes for any kind of staged set up or particular arrangements you’ve decided you need.
Hire or have available a professional stylist / stager if you can afford it: While this may seem like a nice to have if you are on a tighter budget, someone who knows the product/brand and can understand and help set up a shot that displays the key features thereof is invaluable on set and can save a lot of time (and money) before and after the shoot helping ensure the right kinds of shots get taken.
Avoid working with untrained models and non-actors if you can: while I am a big believer in natural photography and capturing real moments and interactions and engagements in event photography, a product shoot entails a much more scripted and controlled scenario. No matter how good looking your husband is, or how cute your pet dog looks, involving family and friends as models is rarely a good idea. There is a reason acting and modelling is a profession – because it takes training, skill and commitment to craft and to deliver on-demand, the look, feel and emotion you are looking for in a shoot. No matter how entertaining your friends and family are, this is not something that can be done easily, particularly when there is a cost to time spent on each shot.
Double your time and budget estimate: if you have never done a product shoot before, as a rule of thumb expect the shoot to take twice as long as you think it will and cost twice as much. And that assumes you’ve got a tightly scripted plan for the shots, a shooting schedule and your product is ultra-clean and ready to shoot. Add time and cost at every juncture if you’re missing any of these.
Have a detailed shot list: while this seems self-evident, I’ve dealt with numerous clients who have no clear idea of exactly what they want to shoot, at which angle, in what kind of lighting, against a white or coloured, or textured background etc. There are a lot of details to conceptualize before you ever set foot in a studio. Speak with your photographer or studio ahead of time to ask for help planning the look of the shoot if you are uncertain or need ideas (and be prepared to pay a consulting fee for the added service). Your shot list must include at a bare minimum, the number of shots you want, a description of how it should look, and any specific requirements in terms of size, crops, dimension etc.
Don’t assume that anything that goes wrong can be fixed “with a little Photoshop”: Photo retouching and editing is a skilled profession in its own right that takes time, technology, a patient eye and a steady hand. And it’s usually billed by the hour, or per image, or blended into a higher shooting rate.Just because you can remove specks of dust from aproduct in Photoshop, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start with clean product in the first place. Similarly, if your intention is to have your products shot so that they can be matted (cut out) and used as independent images for Photoshop montages, then plan your shoot accordingly.
Don’t treat your photographer like a tool: a little bit of courtesy and respect goes a long way, particularly when dealing with professional photographers. If you really only think you need “a few shots, it can’t be that hard, all you have to do is shoot it” than you might want to just try doing it yourself. Invest in a tripod and a decent camera and give it a whirl. If you don’t quite get the results you’re after, you’ll at least have learned a little about the skill and equipment needed to make a seemingly simple shot look the way it looks.
When a product shoot goes well, it can add tremendous value to your digital assets. You can populate an online store with beautiful images that will seduce and enchant your viewers and induce a much higher volume of transactions than you would otherwise. The bar is set high these days and customers expect to see top-quality imagery if they are even going to consider making a purchase.
Failure to do it right, however, winds up costing you much more money in the long run. You may require a re-shoot, much more editing time than would otherwise have been necessary, or simply short-circuit your marketing plan by not using great photos.
Not all bottles are created equally
Take the time to really think through your shoot, and have a discussion well in advance with your photographer to work out all the details so there are no onsite surprises. And if you don’t know what you are doing, find someone who does that you can work with or learn from. It’s much better to be up front about your inexperience and lack of knowledge on a given subject than it is to try to bluster your way through a shoot only to have your lack of preparedness and ignorance revealed when you’ve already started paying for the work.
How an event photographer can help optimize your event sponsorship investment.
I cover a lot of large conferences and trade shows that are largely funded by sponsors. Sponsors pay to have their company logo, brand message and business development professionals gain access to the targeted audience attending the event. Sponsorships take the form of brief presentations, banners, swag bag stuffing, mentions on the big screen in the pre-roll before the conference day kicks off, as well as areas like lounges, or massage stops, or juice bars. Sponsors pay for the wi-fi access, and brand the room keys at the hotel where the event is taking place. They cover virtually every meal, reception and sometimes outings for guests. It is not unusual for a sponsor to spend upwards of $50k on sponsorships for an event that may last at the most a few days.
A few busy days where attendees are bombarded with information, exposed to branding and logos from hundreds of companies, gather fistfuls of business cards and all while being slightly jet-lagged, hungover and still trying to keep up on their work email.
As an event sponsor, are you getting the most for your money?
As an event photographer I am used to covering sponsored events and of course take the time to gather a set of images that are for the sponsor. These include the room set up with and without people (if they have sponsored a reception, or a dinner), all branded elements (takeaways, gifts for attendees, bags, sponsored areas like lounges, or interactive stations), as well as the speakers and company representatives if the sponsorship includes a segment of air time at the event.
But I think a creative sponsor could get more leverage by actually sponsoring the event photographer directly. Event organizers could work with the photographer to identify areas where direct sponsorships make sense and either split the fee, or leverage the sponsor to cover the photographer’s fees, saving costs for the organizer.
There are obvious sponsorship opportunities like photo booths, but I would recommend thinking “out of the photobooth” box to the more wide-reaching impact an event photographer can have.
Consider: the event photographer is going to be seen by virtually every guest, and interact with almost every one of them at one point or another during a multi-day event. What other sponsorship opportunity can guarantee face time in front of every single guest?
But who pays attention to the photographer, you might say. He or she is just there to document the event and be as unobtrusive as possible.
If you believe that your event photographer should remain in the background, like a liveried wait staff in a posh restaurant, then yes, perhaps you are better off taking a more conventional approach to event sponsorship.
But if you understand that part of what a good event photographer does is engage and interact with people – as a function of doing the job of getting fun and interesting photos of your event – than you may also recognize that adding a layer of sponsorship to that activity can possibly further your sponsorship goals for the event. And it could be far less expensive than a big branding opportunity but reach as much, if not more, of the same target audience.
A few ideas come to mind that wouldn’t cost more than a thousand dollars (which is small change for event sponsorship budgets):
Why not consider asking your event photographer to wear a sponsored blazer or jacket?
Or design a sticker or logo to attach to the photographer’s flash body which is always visible?
Offer branded instant prints to your guests.
Plunk a portable instant printer down in the centre of the conference room tables, “Sponsored by YOUR BRAND” and let guests have fun snapping and printing their own photos with their phones
Branding at events is always a bit of a guessing game and it’s hard to know if the money is having the desired impact or if conference warriors suffer the same kind of banner blindness to event sponsors that most of us do when seeing an ad on our phones. Thinking creatively about new ways to leverage your event sponsorship budget is at least worth considering, given the amount of money at stake and the opportunity for increasing your impact.
I recently ran a team for a big event at Montreal’s New City Gas, hosted by the UAE. The event was extremely well-attended with over 1000 guests shuttled in and passing through the space over the course of a few hours. One of the photographic services we provided, in addition to droneography, a greenscreen photobooth, a team of event photographers and videographers, was a dedicated instant prints photographer. I armed him with both a Polaroid Z2300W which prints on stickers and what the manufacturer calls ZINK Paper (zero ink) as the client had specifically asked we used Polaroids. As a back-up, I also bought the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo (Classic). It was an unintentional a/b test and rarely have the results been more divergent.
To put it mildly, the Polaroid was a complete dud. It’s proprietary battery couldn’t hold a charge long enough to complete one full set of prints (30). It is flimsy and cheaply made and looks like a toy camera. Sadly, even a toy camera would have brought more enjoyment than this and it is a far, far cry from what a Polaroid once was. Loading the paper is easy, but getting the starter sheet (a blue paper that must first eject before the camera can produce prints) required multiple attempts before it would work, wasting time and further depleting the already miserably weak battery. When finally you do manage to load ten sheets into the paper chamber be careful not to brush against the little latch in the back or the door will pop open and out will tumble your sheets. But even if it works, the prints (full frame and not the matted white traditional Polaroid look you would expect) are low quality, grainy and with colours so muted and garbled they come out looking like they were already old and abused, and not in a cool retro way, just in a “ew, yucky” way.
The camera is actually a hybrid digital camera, meaning it has the ability to shoot and save digital jpeg files to an SD card, like a regular digital point and shoot would, and print images you select to print. While on the surface that seems like a nice option to have, the competing demands on the miserly battery exceed any utility gained by the feature.
If one could apply a negative star rating to a product, this one merits a below zero score. Do not waste your money or time fiddling with this poorly conceived, poorly constructed and sorry excuse for a camera from what was once one of photography’s iconic brands.
And the winner is…Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo by a country mile
Happily, my “back-up” performed beautifully as I’ve grown to appreciate with the few, but growing stable of Fujifilm cameras I am acquiring. The prints are higher quality than the Polaroids (and actually look like Polaroids!), and the battery after one charge and 90 prints is still powering this handy little fun camera. Remarkably, it also sells for about $50CAD less than the Polaroid Z2300W and though its prints are pricier ($19.99 for 20 vs $19.99 for 30 ZINK Paper prints), they feel and look better and I suspect will last much longer too though we’ll have to wait and see for that.
If you’re looking at adding instant prints into your events, or even just to bring along with you on your next family vacation, if you can stomach the ongoing print costs pick up one of these Fujifilms. You won’t be disappointed.
(N.B. In case any of you were wondering if this is a paid post, it isn’t. Everything I write here is written by me, from my own unbiased and unsponsored point of view. I am not shilling for Fuji or going out of my way to trash Polaroid. I am sharing my opinion as a professional photographer about two products I’ve used and seen the results from.)
I was recently at a conference focussed on how big brands are using digital marketing to help grow and engage their target markets, and unsurprisingly, photography plays a huge role in helping marketers achieve their goals.
One of the presenters threw up a slide showing a wall of beautiful, on-brand photographs, each one like a unique page in a big story book. The images ran off the huge screen behind the presenter and you don’t need a degree in marketing to see the immediate value these kinds of high-quality images have for a variety of digital campaigns.
The presenter explained how they had gone about creating such an impressive bank of images to help them fill the huge need for continual and creative content that is the new normal in advertising today.
Did they send out a detailed list of requirements to their agency? Did they pore through hundreds of thousands of images on stock photography sites searching for ones that had just the right look and feel? Did they (shudder) run a crowdsourcing campaign directed at photo enthusiasts and amateurs, relying on their user-generated content (UGC) to give them what they needed?
Nope. They did something far simpler, and far more effective (both in terms of time and significantly, cost). They hired a professional, whom they gave a creative brief to, then let loose.
What they needed were a lot of images, rights-free, fast that they could use to fill the image needs of their planned campaigns. The company sells healthy quick meals under one brand in its portfolio of brands. Their analytics on previous campaigns had shown a strong reaction to fresh, authentic photography, so they hired a photographer to do a shoot for them. Importantly, while the creative brief specified the key brand characteristics and personality that the photographs needed to convey, their was no detailed shot list included. Instead, the brand astutely relied on the creativity and artistry of the photographer to come up with the kinds of images they needed.
The result? They got 4000 images, shot over a 3-day span, and delivered with no strings attached. The cost per image was less than half they would have paid had they gone a more traditional route hiring through an agency, or by trying to develop a complicated set of requirements to coordinate and set up a big photoshoot.
This type of contract is trending in popularity and I think it is to the mutual advantage of photographers and their client brands. I’ve always been a proponent of bringing the photographer in on the development of creative, as opposed to having the hired hand execute on someone else’s vision. While it is unquestionably the role of a creative director to make decisions about how a brand message is articulated, creative workers do their best work when they are allowed to engage their creativity independently. It seems obvious that if you are hiring a creative person for their creativity you allow that person to actually use and engage their creativity. Yet surprisingly, there are still many contractual arrangements that view photography as a commodity and consequently diminish the role of the creative photographer.
Not all products or brands lend themselves as readily to this more creative approach to generating images, but I suspect many more could than do, and an increasing number of them will into the future.
The driver is, as ever, simply that this is what the market wants and expects. People are increasingly sensitive to what they perceive as advertising. Ads, in and of themselves, are often viewed negatively and most people would not admit to liking and ad or taking action based on an ad they saw if you asked them – regardless of whether the data says otherwise.
Photography that looks too much like it is controlled by a brand has less of an impact than a more natural, authentic image. This is one of the reason why UGC campaigns are popular and there are growing numbers of UGC platforms developing that allow brands to tap into this pool of content providers.
There is a risk/reward tradeoff of working with UGC vs. professionally generated content that brands need to consider. While crowdsourcing has the allure of being a much cheaper alternative than hiring someone professionally, by definition the quality will vary and the results may not all fit the needs of the campaign. There is a place for both kinds of content sourcing strategies, but in the case of getting high-quality, brand-aware images that meet an immediate need, nothing beats working directly with a professional photographer.
Consumers see hundreds of photographs daily streaming across multiple social platforms, sent in messaging apps between friends, and on the websites they visit.They are sophisticated viewers and most can tell within milliseconds if an image looks real, or if it has been faked somehow. Authenticity and wholesomeness don’t just apply to ingredients ona Chipotle menu, they are what people are searching for.In an age characterized by easy connectivity – making a real connection matters more than ever.
Photographs crafted and designed by real photographers who take their work seriously – professionals in other words – can help brands achieve this. And they can do it on brand, on time, and on budget.
I’ve been covering events – from multi-day, multi-site, city-wide conferences to intimate gatherings – for close to fifteen years and much (everything) has changed since I began.
(Not in the mood for Long Form content? Skip to the checklist here)
Consider: my career predates the iPhone, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat to name some of the widest reaching platforms of the modern age that helped usher us all into the socially connected economy. When I was landing my first gigs as a wedding photographer and later a corporate event photographer, digital cameras were still in their early days and Photoshop was in its first iteration.
How do I check Facebook on this thing?
Fast forward to today: camera technology is ubiquitous and embedded in the daily lives of virtually everyone in some way or form on the planet. We have become blasé about being able to see satellite imagery of anywhere in the world. Seeing – in real time – what someone else is experiencing on the other side of the planet via simple hand held devices hardly registers anymore despite it being really quite amazing.Surveillance technology is pervasive – but not only are we being watched from the skies, on highways as we drive, throughout the corridors of our commutes and inside most venues we frequent, we too are bearing our own – technologically enhanced – witness, recording daily moments, protests in the streets, encounters with each other, and the beauty of the natural world ad infinitum.
What was once novel is now commonplace. We have time-lapse cameras, all manner of image-enhancing filters, virtual reality and flying cameras mounted on drones capable of tracking moving targets. We have lenses that can photograph the surfaces of distant moons and others the finely filamented wings of bees and butterflies. We can see in the dark. We can see through clothes. We can see, virtually anywhere or anything we wish to with no more effort than it takes to swipe your finger across a screen.
With this Cambrian explosion of technology you would expect professional photography to be a dying trade, going the way of blacksmithing and door-to-door Encyclopedia Britannica sales.
But the opposite has occurred, driven – paradoxically – by the same trends that have put a camera into the hands of most of humanity in the developed (and developing) world.
Content, content everywhere but nary a word to read….
One of the main drivers, I’ve seen from my front row seat on the industry, is the massive and constant need for ever replenishing content created by the sharing economy. As human behaviour itself is being altered by the omnipresent integration of the internet in daily life, we’re not just heading into the oft touted Internet of Things (IoT) but really the Internet of Everything. And every search, click, swipe, haptic touch, blink or thought wave generated by a firing neurone, is seeking out a piece of content that is enriched with photos and videos, often to the exclusion of much, if any written text.
We’re spending hours daily looking at pictures, and videos, and animated GIFs, etc, and companies are paying attention. The smart money knows that more, really is more, and feeding the plethora of content distribution platforms everyday people just call Facebook or Instagram, or Snapchat…is where the real money is made. Not, of course, by crassly monetizing the stuffing in the pipe (“I never click on a Facebook ad!”), but rather through the magnetic ability of quality content to draw customers to whatever it is you are trying to sell, when done right. That is, professionally done with enough skill, amplification and repetitive force to ensure it gets seen by as many of the right people as possible.
From mega brands spending billions a year on advertising to micro-brands of one, selling through content is one of the main ways of discovering, reaching, connecting with and engaging new customers. That content feed drip continuously through the funnels of social media platforms we’ve barnacled our minds to, relies on an equally steady stream of mainly imagery that needs to be produced on a continuous basis.
UGC ya later
And while much of it is, and will be, user generated content (UGC), that alone just isn’t enough. Just because everyone in the world holds in their hands tools for taking high quality photos and videos, doesn’t mean they will use them. Even if they do, it doesn’t mean they’ll do it as consistently, and with the same (er) focus, as professional content creators (writers, photographers, videographers) contracted by businesses with a clear intent to generate specific types of images that create a sense of excitement and elicit interest from new (and existing but no longer loyal) customers they need to attract every day to stay profitable.
Events like conferences, or major sporting events, aren’t sold by sharing the selfies and beauty shots taken by past attendees. They’re sold by professionals capturing and curating content that is purposely published and distributed to targeted individuals and communities that matter to those people organizing the event.
While owning the latest fashionable pair of sneakers and wearing jeans ripped just so is still a way of marking oneself as “in”, there are now legions of younger people who prioritize having experiences over owning more stuff (and not just because many of them are priced out of the market). The new rule is that anything that can be shared, will be shared. Transportation is particularly susceptible to this as shown through the rapid growth and expansive reach of ride sharing companies like UBER and Lyft, but everything today that has a hope of getting taken up by a large group of people has sharing embedded in its design.
Product libraries are cropping up where people can share things like lawnmowers and stock pots, and successful brands are paying attention. How do you keep making a profit if you are selling fewer things? You sell something that can’t be held onto….except in memory. You sell experiences. And how do people share experiences? In their story streams, with photos, captions, videos, silly animated filters and really good thumb work on messaging apps.
And this is exactly what is happening. Brands like puravida bracelets aren’t just selling pretty little handmade bracelets that remind you ofyour beach vacation. They are selling you the feeling of your life as a beach vacation. They are selling a lifestyle. They are selling you access to a story of entrepreneurship, of helping local communities, of sunsets on the beach, surfing and living in a timeless way that cares only about the moment. And they are doing it largely through social media and largely with well-curated photography and videography.
While having the experience is core to the success of experiential marketing – selling the experience, enticing people to partake and encouraging the spread of participation is still being done through marketing that shows off the experience in its best light. (I’ve written more on experience marketinghere and here and here.
Plus ça change…
Without an audience, conference attendees or a hand-picked curated list of bloggers you hope to influence so they spread the word about your company, event photography can’t exist. Engaging these people, making the experience they’ve chosen to participate in fun and memorable, is the core function of the event organizer. Part of doing that right is working with the right photographer who recognizes that event photography has changed, even as it has grown in importance.
To help you get the job done, I’ve put together below a short checklist for event coordinators and managers, experiential marketers and conference organizers on some of the new tools and techniques to look for when booking your next event photographer:
Checklist for the new event photographer:
Min. two up-to-date cameras and min. 3 lenses (wide angle, short-mid range, telephoto)
Ability to shoot in 360 (virtual reality ready photo and video)
Ability to shoot from drone (photo and/or video clips)
Rapid turnaround on event images (highlights reel post-event, finished product within 24 hrs)
Demonstrable ability to engage and interact with wide range of people
Active blog / good writing ability
Brand awareness / understanding of the marketing goals behind the event
Can do, team-player attitude
Creative, visual storytelling skills
If the goal is reach and engagement, cutting through the noise of a world buzzing with distractions has made the work of marketers more challenging than ever even as the tantalizing opportunity for engagement and hyper-targeted messaging has never been better. In the panoply of digital tools marketers leverage today to create real and meaningful connections with their communities, strong, fresh and professional developed visual assets are crucial in forming real and lasting connections with the people that matter most to your business.
Way, way back when I first began working as a freelance photographer, I was sometimes tempted (and asked) to work for free to gain experience, or because the client pitched their event as a “great chance to market yourself.” I sometimes accepted, reluctantly, and almost always found myself regretting the decision.
The experience gained was usually not as it was presented by the client, and invariably, the “great marketing opportunity” translated into more offers to work for free from the client’s guest list, if any at all.
The concept of how you can give stuff away and still make money was written up in a book by Chris Anderson called “Free: How Today’s Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing“, (notably not for free on Amazon), which commented on and helped fuel the whole Freemium model startups love, in which a basic service is given away for free (like Google does with Gmail) and then a small percentage of users are charged for the more advanced features of a premium account, usually on a monthly subscription.
As much as I’d like the idea of selling subscriptions to my services as a photographer (a day in the life, once a month for a year anyone?), on the few occasions where I did actually work for nothing, the results never paid off.
It shouldn’t really seem all that surprising. People who expect something for nothing aren’t usually the kind of people who turn into great clients. And as amplifiers and marketers on your behalf, the only message that usually gets communicated is that you work for free.
In creative fields like photography, writing, videography, graphic design, etc. where a large number of freelancers are competing for contracts, there is still pressure to “sell” your services for free in the hopes of winning a paying contract down the line.
When it’s a bad idea to work for free
Here’s why it doesn’t work for service providers the same way it might work out for a startup whose only cost is server space.
You want to develop a customer relationship: Alas, customer loyalty just ain’t what it used to be. Because of the pernicious effect of freebies spawned by internet startups and the mass disintermediation the internet has enabled (allowing rich market businesses to buy services from poorer market labourers), loyalty is an increasingly rare resource. As a freelancer, odds are, your clients won’t come around as often as you’d like them to. Even with a regular working relationship, you may only get two or three contracts a year. For most freelancers, that’s not sufficient revenue to survive, let alone thrive.
Free is expensive: If your free client does ever come back to you, you’ve set the bar very low for when you do eventually need to charge them real money to cover your operating costs and keep putting things into your body like food. At that point you’ll realize that negotiating for a fee compared to free. vs. a lower fee compared to a higher fee leaves you with less green in your jeans.
Free gets ignored: People don’t respect what they don’t pay for. It’s as simple as that. Even if you charge a very low cost that just barely covers your operating costs, you are sending the message that you respect yourself and are confident in your ability. Any client not willing to pay even a low fee is not ever going to turn into a client that values you for what you can provide and you are better off putting that time and effort into finding clients who will.
When it’s okay to work for free
There are some times, however, when it’s okay to give your services away. (In fact, I was recently sent a bunch of free custom usb drives from someone I didn’t know, and unusually, I accepted the offer. I don’t know if I’ll buy more, but I liked the way I was approached by the company and the fact that they were willing to offer me something of value just because. I also like the way the drives looked -ego stroke!):
It’s for a cause you care about: If you are drawn to a particular charity, or cause, and want to help them with their fundraising efforts, then you could consider offering your services to the organizers as a gift-in-kind donation. I do this for charitable causes related to children’s health, girls education and cancer research because I care about these issues and like the feeling I get lending my talent towards a worthy cause. It feels good to give, and we should all do more of it, but it should be clear both to you and the recipient that it is a deliberate choice that you are making because you care. It is completely justifiable and fair to ask for a charitable receipt for the fair market value of your services, in this scenario.
You need content for your portfolio: when you are just starting out as a creative professional, your most important asset is your work, your book, your portfolio. It’s the first thing prospective clients want to see once you’ve established contact and if yours is too lean or weak to impress them you’ll never break into the field you’re trying to get into. If this is your case, then it’s okay to do free work, but be very careful about how you do it and it is still worth putting a contract in place that specifies that you own the work, and get to promote it and include it in your portfolio.
You want to learn: in photography and many other creative fields, you start out knowing enough to get going but you are far from expert at anything. It is an art form that takes years to get really good at. And that’s great because one of the things that inspires lifelong passion is the chance to always be learning something new. If you are looking to master a technique, or just gain exposure to a line of work you are researching, then again, offering your services for free can be worthwhile. It isn’t really free because you are getting educated and making contacts in your industry. If you choose this path, research the person you want to work alongside and always keep the focus on your learning while trying to offer something of value to the person or organization you’ve joined up with so that when the time comes for you to strike out on your own for real, you’ll have someone who will feel comfortable referring work to you and or maybe even hire you first.
Working at something you love is a reward in itself and it pays dividends throughout your life in terms of happiness, self-actualization, self-confidence and just being free to live and work on your own terms. Autonomy and independence are enormously empowering emotions and should factor into anyone’s decision to go it alone and become an entrepreneur, whether as a freelancer or business owner. But giving yourself away for free for too long ultimately slows down your growth and potentially undermines it completely.
Using profiles to sort through people is a bit of a dirty word in policing but online we’d all be lost without one. We’re now “seen” hundreds if not thousands more times by people (and bots, and spammers, and other internet undesirables) online than we ever are in real life – but are we paying a proportionate amount of attention to how we -or our avatars– are being perceived?
You probably wouldn’t leave the house without at least a cursory glance in the mirror to check your hair, scan your complexion and make sure you had nothing large and green stuck in your teeth but how long have you had that cropped vacation pic up as a placeholder on LinkedIn that you’ve been meaning to change but just haven’t got anything better to replace it with?
Here’s something fun you can try out. I discovered PhotoFeeler while listening to a great podcast from Terry O’Reilly’s The Art of Persuasion . The site lets you upload a photo of yourself and have it ranked across three metrics (that change depending on whether your purpose is business, social or dating). The “free” test actually requires 10 credits which you can get easily enough by voting on ten other photos of random people the site serves up to you. The results, as this excerpt from an email I got today show, can be quite revealing, showing marked differences in opinions on the same person from photos taken seconds apart:
Here are my results (for the first two I selected “Business” and the last one “Social”):
This is my current LinkedIn photo (soon to be old LinkedIn photo as you can see from the results):
Not what I expected, but then maybe I should have sprung for the $12 evaluation which gathers more than 10 quick hit votes. Or maybe I need to change my photo. I do think that with half my face hidden behind the camera I may be turning off people as it’s hard to trust someone if you can’t see their eyes and a smile.
Now here are the results from my last LinkedIn photo that I just changed away from (but looks like I’ll be switching it back in!):
My personal Facebook photo did alright, though I care a little less about this one. I think the hat is pushing up my grade in the Fun category.
All in, though this was only the free version and a rough vote, I think it probably correlates well to how these images are perceived. A handy tool for anyone on the job/dating market looking to get a bit of insight in what their profile picture says about them. I’d like to see, in addition to these raw results, a few guidelines on how to improve the photos selected and more detail on what elements people are reacting to in particular, but perhaps that comes with more votes/the paid version. In any case, a fun way to get a look in the mirror through someone else’s eyes.
Companies spend a lot of time and money building and developing a recognizable brand. The purpose of a brand is to simplify and render the complex intelligible. With enough repetition, consistency and reliability, a brand can become established in its target customer’s mind as the “go-to” solution to whatever problem the brand solves. Your customers don’t get tangled up in choosing between competitive offerings – they just reach for you and move on. In brand marketing that’s the equivalent of having the goose that lays the golden egg. Again, and again, and again.You just cash the cheques.
How come some brands get to be in that elite club of “go-to” solutions that render their customers blind adherents to the faith, while others struggle through churn and burn, constantly waging the same battle for heart-, mind- and wallet-share that never seems strong enough to convert tire-kickers into proselytes? So, how do you get that kind of brand loyalty (fanaticism)?
It begins, of course, with having a great product/service that is genuinely of high quality, but that in itself isn’t good enough. It also has to be a smooth and consistent experience for your customers. Although I’ve never owned the Canon’s 85mm L-series lens, I already own a few others with that signature red line and therefore know what to expect. I know that I’ll have one of the best in class lenses when I finally get one, because the brand has consistently delivered a quality product for each and every other of its lenses branded as “L-series”.I trust that simple red ring and expect the workmanship, clarity, sharpness and handling of the lens to be excellent. I don’t really have to think about it. For a brand, that’s just pure gold. When your customers no longer have to process your product/service through any part of their decision-making brain, you’ve already won.
Do me like you do
One factor in engendering that kind of loyalty is consistency. Brands that can deliver a strong, consistent experience time and time again reap huge benefits, not just from existing, returning customers, but also the amplifying effects of those customers who evangelize for them, sharing stories about their experience that new customers then taste and feel in the same way, and the virtuous sharing circle just keeps getting wider and wider. (Like I’m doing right here for Canon).
But what if you’re not the manufacturer of high-end professional camera equipment, but rather a conference organizer, or a PR firm hosting a series of experiential marketing events around the launch of a new product, or an industry association or club that puts on a few membership driven events a year. How do you develop and replicate success when what you are selling is an experience rather than a physical product? How do you maintain consistency in all channels of communication that you are leveraging on behalf of your brand to connect with its tribe?
Firstly, you do it by creating an experience people want to be a part of. You are seeking to engage them for a time, asking them to forego everything else they could be doing to spend some time with you. Of course that means offering them entertainment, intellectual and visual stimulation, good food, strong drinks, and most importantly situate them in a roomful of people they will feel are sufficiently like them, to be both attractive but still offer an opportunity for making new friends. In effect, you need to target their tribe.
Tribal marketing is about cultivating and offering a consistent story that communicates through words, photos and video what your particular events are all about so that everyone in the tribe – or who wants to be in the tribe – will instantly feel something when they come across news of your event in one of their social feeds, or by browsing online for events like yours.
To everyone not already your client their first interaction with your company will likely be through a third party (i.e. not someone you control) who will share with them a review, their comments and very likely pictures from the event to give their friends/colleagues/prospects a sense of what your event is all about.
In other words, the edge of your market is the people you don’t know that know the people you already sell to. And what they are going to do is share content and their reactions based on how your event made them feel.
Your job is to provide them with enough content to share in chunkable formats that are easy to carve out, and then deliver the same results for the new tribe members as you gave to the ones now spreading the word.
While that seems obvious, it is surprising how rarely companies take consistency in mind when contracting suppliers who will form an integral part of delivering that experience for your audience. These suppliers – the audio visual team, florists, caterers, photographers / videographers, etc are all delivering on your brand’s promise. If membership, attendance, and reputation has an impact on how your events are perceived by your target audience then the role of your suppliers (almost always outsourced) is critical in ensuring the experiences you are marketing are consistent and have the power to reach beyond current attendees through the amplifying effects of social media and word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing.
Hiring the same set of suppliers for your events – once you’ve found the ones that “get” your marketing and deliver exactly what you need to make your events successful, makes sense, even if you take your show on the road. It may look like you are being smart with your money when you hire a different suppliers for events in different cities, but the hidden costs are time/effort spent finding the right people, getting them all to work well as a team. There is also a risk to the all-important consistency that once attained pays dividends (I will always buy an “l-series” lens) but once lost is difficult to regain.Maybe you can accept a degree of variation in the quality and consistency of the images you get from your event. Maybe your customers aren’t that discerning, or they don’t have a choice so they’ll always go with you no matter what kind of variable experience you offer them. If you’re in a business today that has no viable competition, where your customers don’t have any real power and you can blithely serve them up an inconsistent experience without worrying about them coming back, then congratulations. I guess you work for a telecoms company in Canada.
But if not, then consider that the apparent additional cost of using the same team of suppliers in terms of higher travel costs will be more than offset by the value add of customer retention, loyalty and brand consistency you – and your audience – can rely on.
You have to love marketers. Every few months a new catch phrase captures their attention and suddenly everyone is seeing the term pop up in their email subject lines like it’s a brand new idea, discrete and different from what’s come before and promising new riches to companies that figure out how best to leverage the trend for their wares. The “experience economy” is one of those terms being mooted as what the next big target – Millennials – is living in and how they are choosing to spend their money.
Waxing poetic in bed…
Because they’ve been saddled with student debt, and are priced out of the housing market in most places where they also stand a reasonable chance of getting a job (though probably not with much security) what this coveted and growing cohort of individuals likes to do is “have experiences”, hence the term. I would add that they also really like to share the experiences – of travel, shopping, going out, eating out or cooking at home with friends -across social media on the myriad platforms they engage with hourly.
If experience is the new black, photographic evidence of your experience is the new way to display your wealth. Despite another (complementary?) trend towards minimalism, judging from what is shared on Instagram there still appears to be a strong appetite for furnishing social proof of a non-materialistic, world travelling, lifestyle replete with lots of friends, good food and pithy moments of communing with nature. In the connected, sharing economy, one of the most liquid commodities is photography.
Let’s take a Selfie together
Selfie in Tuscany anyone?
Experiences today are easier to share than ever before. It doesn’t take much effort to snap a Selfie in front of a made-for-postcards backdrop (much easier than actually sending a postcard!) and post it online. I can’t really share my home with all 778 of my Facebook friends, regardless of how many dinner parties I want to host, but I can easily and quickly share photos of the meals I’m cooking and get almost the same level of neuronal strokes that make me feel good about myself as I would if I had actually invited them all over for dinner.
In fact, the sharing of the experiences seems as important – or more – than the having of it in the first place. Does a tree falling in a forest make any sound if no one is around to hear it? The enigma can now be answered in as much time as it takes you to open up Snapchat with your thumb: NO. For the digital nomads living and working in the experience economy, if you did something and didn’t share it, it didn’t happen.
We love ourselves
The more images people have of themselves, preferably in exotic locales with lots of different (ideally good-looking and/or famous) people, the greater their apparent wealth. For businesses trying to decode this trend before it transmutes into something else, the trick is weaving your brand or product into these snapshots of shared experiences without it looking like crass product placement. Doing so successfully involves creating a lifestyle around your brand that your prospects – or the people who influence your prospects – accept as authentic and real enough to want to incorporate into their own stories. It also means giving them something fun to photograph.
I’ll add that to My Story
In the experience economy, where social media are the new nation states and the social proof created through photos and videos, the new global currency, creating opportunities for good photos can grab a lot of attention cheaply.
It’s all about the backdrop
If you’re a brand hosting an event, this can be achieved by paying a lot more attention to lighting and the visual elements of your set up than you might have done previously. It also doesn’t hurt to offer good quality booze, hire local chefs and serve original and satisfying food as well but making sure you help people take, get and share great pictures of themselves is critical.
I’ve covered hundreds of events and I’ve observed that no matter what the theme, all people at events have one thing in common: they want to get past that awkward, initial standing around phase fast. Having something fun to do (and good to drink) – whether that’s an onsite photo booth or some kind of custom prop that ties into your brand – helps loosen up the crowd and gives them a chance to start generating and sharing photos of their experience.
Or we could play spin the bottle?
Are there fun props you can custom build that tie into your brand and are fun to pose with? Think giant shoes people can climb into, or maybe a couch shaped like a bra if you’re trying raise awareness for breast cancer. What about filling an old cast iron bathtub with your product…Setting up old school amusement park games with a twist? Anything normal turned supersized works, as would anything suspended or hanging from the ceiling. Can you implement a viewing platform somewhere higher up to afford interesting views or angles? Selling a tech-related product? What about setting up old style phone booths – the kind that used to be on every street corner but are now disappearing. Irony is still in (sort of). I can think of countless more ideas for brands with photographable products or services that can benefit from the experience economy – anything from booze to insurance. (I love coming up with ideas like this – just get in touch)
The best stories are still unfolding
In the end, having experiences is just shorthand for story, and everyone today is engaged in telling and retelling their story across varied social media channels in the universal language of images. Words are being replaced by icons, emotional responses measured by the size of your emoji and lives measured by the breadth and reach of social followers.
Giving your audience/market something new, fun, and interesting to do, document and share is a powerful way to connect with and stay connected to the people who matter to your business most.
If your company is in the business of putting on events of any kind (a product launch, sponsored reception, brand elevating evening, etc) you are now in the business of creating experiences. Get it right and one of those experiences everyone is sharing just might be a photo of them using something you’re selling.
I love making up neologism and one I’ve recently started using to describe my event photography service offering to clients is social mediagraphy. I used to be able to work exclusively as a photographer, documenting an event or covering a conference then delivering the set of edited images to my client for distribution through their communications channels like newsletters, websites and the like. This is no longer sufficient for today’s market which demands a steady and constant flow of snackable content, in real-time, to keep audiences engaged and re-engaged throughout the course of an event.
No large event today is deemed to have happened if it doesn’t have its own # and generate volumes of Tweetable, and re-tweetable content. And as a photographer, I’ve learned to adapt and actually enjoy the connectivity and heightened appreciation for my work that this behaviour brings.
Where I used to be an invisible service provider, working away in a kind of obscurity producing images that would be used long after my work was done, I am now often thrust in the middle of the action, generating and sending out my own socially-media-friendly Tweets, Instagram posts and LinkedIn content as it relates to what I’ve been covering as a photographer during an event. And clients appreciate it, because it helps them with their goals of generating interest and sparking conversations surrounding the content they’ve pulled together to mount their conference, or to satisfy the needs of their membership, boards or communications teams who work hard to show ROI on the big events they develop.
Social mediagraphy, as I would define it from the point of view of a photographer, is the combination of both traditional event coverage with frequent bursts of social media activity. In my case I will use my phone during events, and then later on post edited and refined images from the day’s coverage. Post-event, I’ll usually follow up with a roundup or a few blog posts relating back to the event, or a particular piece of content that resonated with me that I think bears reporting on for my audience.
If a quote happens at a conference and nobody Tweets it, does it matter at all?
Once the content is created and pushed out there, it can, and often is, picked up by event attendees who sometimes add their own commentary to the posts, or simply retweet or repost the content so that it reaches ever-widening circles of influence.
All of this helps increase the impact from an event and enables event organizers to leverage their attendees to extend their reach into their networks, as the people at one event are usually connected to a bigger number of people outside of the event for whom the event also has appeal. Aside from seeding sales and requests for invitations for future events, this also helps validate the relevancy of the event to its target audiences and provides context for people on the outside who may be curious and become interested in learning more simply by coming across one or more of these social tidbits as they float through their ever-refreshed news feed. It’s also fun and a great way to make new friends.
Change is good
Change is at the heart of all technology. Photography is no longer sufficient on its own to meet the demands of clients who find themselves having to publish content in myriad forms to satisfy the needs of their audiences. Gone are the days when you could shoot an event, deliver your work weeks later and charge a premium for the service. Whether your event is a wedding, a corporate gala, AGM, trade show or a conference, photos are now but one layer of social proof needed to help augment and enhance the experience. Of course this requires new skill sets and familiarity with constantly changing tools (I’m still fairly lame at Snapchat but working on it) but that’s part of the fun of photography and working with technology in general. Rapid change is the constant of our times today and the only way to not drown in it is to embrace it.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
Though Maya Angelou wasn’t explicitly talking about what makes a good photograph work, she might as well have been.Context is everything, and in the context of businesses using photography to help create, promote and develop their brands, understanding the secret sauce of what makes a photograph effective can be very useful, and profitable.
Studying the data trail on images across visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest will certainly lead to some actionable insights, but for a quick and simple rule of thumb, thinking about how the image used is intended to make the viewer feel is a big part about getting it right.
Go pro, amateur or UGC? It depends…
Recently at an iMedia conference I was covering, I listened in on a panel discussion led by Matthew Langie, CMO at Curalate, a company that helps consumers discover brands, and helps brands leverage their visual content by, among other things, enriching their photography with relevant metadata that connects back to their commerce sites. It also conducts research into things like what makes an image popular on Pinterest, and one of their findings was that sometimes professional images – those shot by a photographer with professional lighting, expensive kit and under artistic direction, did worse (fewer repins and shares) than images shot by amateurs.
I am not surprised by this finding but I think the real reason why some images resonate better than others is not whether they were shot by a professional or not, but whether there is a match up between the feeling of the image and how the viewer feels in response to it.
In my experience working as a photographer, I’ve observed that there are certain types of contexts where people have an inherent distrust of an image that appears too polished, or looks like it went through too many filters (portraits; over-reliance on HDR in real estate shots; fake family vacation photos from all-inclusive resorts, etc). There is something about the rawness of an image captured in the moment, with minimal adjustments applied afterwards that seems to carry greater weight and authenticity. No matter if the moment is manufactured, which many are, the image – the social proof that gets shared – needs to look and feel real to have an impact. Digitally aware people today, (which includes most Millenials, but also older generations who’ve embraced digital tools and toys as they’ve grown), are very sensitive to any attempt to manipulate them, and an overly edited, “perfect” looking image is often interpreted as some kind of attempt at manipulation.
Does your image have resonance?
A good photograph is one that elicits a strong emotional reaction that is consonant with the imagery shown. It can be taken in a quick moment of inspiration on a phone, or after careful preparation and setup by a pro. The method is immaterial. The photograph is just the medium connecting two synchronized emotional worlds – the viewer’s, and the one shown as felt and experienced by the photographer. When the two match up, there is a connection formed and the image “works”, regardless of who took it, what it was shot with or even what it is about. A poorly taken, blurry image can have more impact than a perfectly shot, tack sharp one of the same subject matter.
I think a lot of product photography fails, for example, because it focuses too much on showing off the product and not enough on creating an emotional resonance with its intended audience. On the other hand, when the product is shown in a context that matters to the intended audience, there is an emotional connection made and the image is successful. Sometimes, the best product photography hardly shows the product at all and still manages to drive people to take action, which in marketing parlance typically means convert and buy.
This is what I would define as emotional resonance: the degree to which an image is synchronized with the emotional reaction it elicits. The greater the synchronicity, the stronger the resonance. The stronger the resonance, the greater the impact and the more likely it is that a viewer will be inspired by the image to take action.
The more overt the attempt to manipulate that response, the more likely it is that the image will fail in the sense that its resonant capacity has been diminished in direct correlation to the amount of effort that appears to have been put into making it provocative in the first place. If it seems too calculating, in other words, it loses emotional impact and will probably not work.
So what makes a photograph work?
I think the key is actually empathy. As the photographer, professional or not, you need empathy with your subject(s) and/or the audience for whom the image is going to be shown. If you are using the photograph for business purposes – whether as advertising, embedded native content or some other brand promoting use, you need to be even more careful about making sure the image is empathetic with your audience. As more and more images are thrust into the faces of people daily, the level of attention paid to any particular one is scant and growing scanter. What will make someone stop, look and care is not the production value or the level of saturation, or any other trick of the trade. It will be whether or not the image speaks to them personally, feels real and makes them feel something in return. No single image will reach everyone, but concentrating on how your viewer will feel and empathizing with him or her will go a long way toward making them connect with your image, and ultimately your business, brand or art.
Many creative people have ideas but much fewer have the organizational ability to turn their ideas into reality. Successful entrepreneurs do, and working with one is always a rewarding experience.
I’ve recently begun working with Simon Tooley, the founder of a luxury skincare boutique in Montreal, Etiket, with very niche, high-end fragrances, beauty and specialty hair care products. A former VP for Anne Klein and Michael Kors Canada, Simon has a wealth of knowledge about building successful fashion brands, and he also intuitively gets marketing.
With product names like Penhaligon’s No. 33 (luxury grooming and skin care product for men) and Mona di Orio perfumes, the experience of being inside the Etiket boutique is one of being comfortably ensconced in a discreetly packaged, elegantly placed, vial of opulence. It is as close to shopping on a London High Street as you can get in Montreal. You are courteously attended to upon arrival, and will leave feeling well-pampered.
But how do you reach the customers who crave your high-end goods but aren’t able to make it in to your street-front store? You bring the boutique online, of course, which is the other side of Etiket’s thriving business. And as any tech entrepreneur knows, the online experience is brought to life by intuitive design, a focus on user experience and strong visuals.
One of the tactics Etiket uses to connect with and reward its customers is a subscriber based email marketing program, featuring a themed monthly emailer focusing on a few targeted products from the shop.December is all about the Art of Giving, as you might suspect and customized, product photography is an integral part of both the emailer and website.
Generic product photography might not get you wild with excitement, but if you are managing any kind of inventory and competing in a very challenged retail environment, customizing your product photography can give you an edge over your less aesthetically minded competitors. Consider creating use-case presentations of a few of your top sellers, placing the products not simply against a seamless white background, but in contexts that reflect how and where they will be used by your target customer. Like all marketing, it costs more than doing nothing, but the uplift in sales is measurable and should quickly prove the value of developing your own customized imagery to promote your site, store and brand rather than relying on the product photography given to you by your supplier that will look the same on your site as it does on every other retailer’s carrying the same product line.
In a world where everyone is fighting for a minute share of increasingly fragmented attention spans, any touchpoint you can create between your brand and your customers creates a connection that can help you prove your value and ultimately drive sales. Though now nearly twenty years old as a concept, a targeted email-subscriber list built by creating thoughtful and useful emails that are relevant and visually appealing is still a highly effective way of reaching your customers. Creative, customized photography can significantly raise the engagement rates you are aiming for with each send.
If you decide that 2016 is the year you improve or launch your email marketing plan, be sure to focus on content that tells your unique story to create that meaningful connection with your customers. Using a thoughtful combination of design, text and curated, hand-crafted imagery will help you get higher open rates, and ultimately, a lift in sales from your efforts.
I was shooting an event in Toronto last week of an award dinner / fundraiser at a ritzy hotel with several very high-profile attendees. It was a fairly typical event, the kind I’ve covered hundreds of times before, with a pre-dinner cocktail hour in the lobby area of the reception hall where guest agglomerated over drinks and canapés, chit chatting and catching up with each other as they waited for the main doors to open up. The lighting was subdued, the bars mirrored. The men wore suits and ties, the women elegant evening gowns. 450 guests were there, each having paid a handsome price for the ticket with over 20 fully sponsored tables of ten. It was an important event for the organizer, with an important group of patrons and having covered events for this client in the past in Montreal, I was happy to have been invited to cover this one in Toronto as well. Clearly they liked my work I thought, and realized that having an experienced hand at working these kind of high-society events yields the right kind of images for their purposes.
That’s why I was quite taken aback when I was chatting with one of the client team members (albeit not the one who hired me) when she asked, quite genuinely, “Is there really that much of a difference between event photographers?”. We were standing in the main hall looking out through the doors at the thickening crowd of mostly dark suited men gnoshing on smoked salmon and quaffing glasses of white wine when she asked. “Well, yes, I think so.” I responded, trying not to sound defensive or overly surprised at the query.
And the truth is, I shouldn’t be because though I don’t often hear it, I do experience the effects of that sort of thinking often. When you work, as I do, in a highly competitive field where the barrier to entry is low, and the perceived value of your service, under appreciated, this attitude translates into many behaviours clients and prospective clients exhibit such as:
Brief (one or two liner) email queries asking for a price based on loosely defined schedules for upcoming events, usually in the very near or immediate future
Requests for detailed quotes based on unspecific requirements
Refusals to acknowledge or present a realistic budget
Assumptions that your price is always negotiable
Discussions focused on price rather than value
Focus on detailed shot requirements rather than discussion on what the purpose and end use of the images will be
Assumptions that all photographers also provide video coverage at the same time for the same price
Part of this is due to the ubiquity of photography today and the near infinite demand for constant content feeds through a warren of social media networks. This ubiquity is both a blessing and a curse, as it proves that there is a near constant need for photography, but there is also a decreasing respect afforded to professional practitioners and a widespread belief, exemplified by the leading question of this post, that the service is a commodity, photographers by and large undifferentiated from one another and consequently, price takers in the economic relationship between client and provider.
But then, what is the mark of a good professional photographer worth the fee being asked and one who will work for any budget (or none) and claim to offer the same service?
The answer I think comes down to a blend of factors that some clients get instantly, and others will never really get.
A good photographer covering an event will do so in a manner that does not cause guests to feel uncomfortable or hold awkward smiles or poses for long. The images will be well-lit, attention given to background, colours and flattering angles for all manner of the shapes and sizes that humans come in. He or she will take the time to understand the event, the importance of key attendees, and if working with a brand, the brand values and personality, to ensure not only their images, but also their behaviour is consonant with the client’s. The photos delivered will also be well-organized, easily accessible, rapidly turned around, and the transactional details of the contract conducted professionally and with respect to the client’s needs and internal processes. And the photographer will still be there after the event is over and the bill paid, to respond to any additional needs that may come up and of course, to serve again on future events having now established him or herself as a known quantity which eliminates at least one element of potential concern in the many moving parts that comprise event coordination, planning and execution.
Hiring experienced professionals may appear to cost more than hiring newbies, but is the same value being provided by both? If you think that indeed, there really is no difference, than the cheapest option makes the most sense. More experienced providers who are able to offer premium level service cost more. Many clients may be satisfied with less, and that’s perfectly okay.
Some, however, realize that talent is worth paying for.
As Google busily gobbles up the world’s data you may not yet have noticed a change in its Maps program that allows anyone to create immersive 360° images enabled by its Streetview technology. (UPDATE: You can also do this easily now with a Ricoh Theta S camera that shoots in 360º. Check out my post on VR here.)
While professional photographers like me can still work with fish eye lenses, or high-priced spherical cameras (and you can hire me to shoot your venue for you), you can get pretty decent quality photospheres (as Google calls these panoramic images sewn seamlessly together) using just your smartphone and Google’s Streetview App on Android or for your iPhone.
Here’s what you need to do:
Download the app.
Review the Tips section of the app
To get good results you’ll need a little bit of practice. Try starting outdoors (once you get the hang of it you can try an indoor space but it’s easier to get it right outdoors on the first try).
Also remember to hold the phone close to your face and shoot vertically
Finally, be sure you shoot a complete set of images rotating in a circle several times to cover a full sphere
Once you’ve created your photosphere you can save it to your camera roll and then decide if you want to publish it directly to Google Maps. The default option is set to private so you don’t have to worry if you don’t like the look of your photosphere or captured any indiscreet imagery you do not want to make public.
Currently photospheres contributed to Google Maps this way lack the connectivity that professionals in the Trusted Photographer Program can enable using an access restricted photosphere editor. If you want to offer a full virtual tour your site visitors can virtually walk through you’ll still want to work with a professional, but if you are just looking for the free option that provides good value and showcases your interior or exterior spaces in its full 360° splendour, then download the app and give it a whirl.
I’ve attended a lot of digital marketing conferences recently, and noticed that a type of fatigue sets in to the hard core road warriors who fly from city to city, and conference to conference. While the topics change and conference organizers work hard to bring interesting and useful content to their attendees, inevitably an example used in one presentation on brands doing it right (think: Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty) pops up in another, or a deep dive on one topic (It’s all about moment marketing! It’s all about micro-moment marketing!) is unfortunately only a buzzword apart from another session they’ve just attended. Attention sags with heads at tables as the attendee half pays attention to what’s being said while Snapchatting with one hand and answering a deluge of work emails with the other.
Even those paid to attend and be attentive can only stretch their minds so far around another insight into the benefits of programmatic media buying, a topic they’ve heard discussed ad nauseum (particularly if it happens to be an early morning session) even if opinions diverge on how best to deploy it.
And yet, I see the same faces from one event to the next, and hear tales of other events people don’t think they’ll ever return to. So what keeps them coming back? What makes an event so memorable and worthwhile it engenders a kind of tribal loyalty that other events fail to elicit, though marketed to the same core group?
In my observation as a photographer and someone professionally required to look at people and intuit their emotional states, I think the “secret sauce” of a conference that wins people’s hearts and minds is how it makes them feel.
While content is still the reigning monarch of the internet and a central theme at gatherings of marketing people discussing it, just getting content right is not going to win over the road weary, besieged brand manager with more money to spend than energy for another vendor’s kick at the can. Buyers, people with budget and the decision making power to pull the trigger on test spends and innovative new technologies, are always going to be high in demand wherever they are.Winning them over takes more than delivering a slick presentation, and beautiful infographics showing massive growth and uplift achieved on campaigns – even if it comes served with a mimosa.
Don’t try this at home
What keeps people coming and makes them feel a little sad to leave behind, is the feeling they get when they are there. A feeling that you are with your people. You have found your tribe. You will get into conversations that stimulate your mind, and motivate you to do and be more. You’ll stay up too late and experience life illuminated only by outdoor firepits and empty glasses and you won’t be tired. You may even learn to walk on fire if you’re really, ahem, fired up.
Being with like-minded people, who want to talk together, drink together, laugh, joke and create something together around a fire is really about as primal as it gets. And it works. Yes a beautiful resort location helps, and yes, balmy eternal-summer evenings don’t hurt. Yes, the agenda has to be well structured and yes the presenters have to be engaging and smart, but in the end, what keeps people coming long after their biology suggests they should still be on their feet, is that warm feeling inside when you realize you are right where you belong.
Achieve that with your next conference and you’ll soon find you need a bigger venue.
How many business owners do you know who think they are doing enough marketing?
What if I told you there was a way to market your business using the world’s most powerful search engine that would ensure you have a visible presence online right where your customers will be looking for you? Tie that presence into the free analytics you can get out of Google Analytics and you’ve got your own digital marketing agency at less than your quarterly spend on coffee.
I’m talking about Google Business View, a remarkably poorly understood tool public facing businesses can use to boost their search rankings, attract more customers online and entice in new customers when they are conducting local based searches on their mobile phones.
See Inside – link to a virtual tour of The Monkland Taverne, by Julian Haber Photography 514.757.7657
All marketing today and into the future will be digital. It is already past time when we stop using the term “digital marketing” and simply refer to it as “marketing”. All businesses, whether you are selling pizza or complex financial derivative products, is about information. If no one can remember your phone number, no one orders the pizza. If they can’t understand what you are selling, they won’t buy it.
Having the correct information about your business that is easily accessible across the multiple devices people use hundreds of times every day is entry stakes for any business today.
How do people find your business? They search online, overwhelmingly using Google and the majority through a mobile, hand-held device. Gone are the days when having a website, or a Facebook page was something to proudly state “you were doing online marketing.” If you own a restaurant, a fitness club, a medical clinic, a hair salon or any kind of business that relies on people walking through your front door and you are not fully taking advantage of everything Google Business View now has to offer, you are leaving money on the table. And you may be slowly putting yourself out of business.
Here is an example of a search I just conducted on a business in my neighbourhood. Take a look at the huge amount of screen real estate dedicated to the right sidebar. That entire package of visually engaging information – virtual tour (See Inside), photos, direct link to Google Maps and reviews as well as the correct address and telephone number is what happens to a business that invests in its Google+Business Page.
You’ll see that though the Monkland Taverne company website is the top result, the vast majority of people on this page won’t visit that site.
Conduct the same search on a mobile phone and the results are even more striking. It fills the entire screen in your hand.
That second search, on the fly, on a mobile device, is where most people will be searching for your business
Google Business View is a virtual tour of the interior of your business. If you’ve just spent $50k on renovations, you want to be sure that as many potential customers as possible see your space. If you run a state-of-the art medical clinic, you want your potential customers to be able to visualize the environment and see the investment you’ve made in advanced medical devices. If you are a restaurateur, you want the visiting tourists walking down your street to find you on their phones when they feel a rumbling in their tummies and search for “family friendly restaurant – near me”.
The key to all of this is of course, investing the time and effort in understanding what Google Business View can do for your business, and then doing it.
You can start by Googling your own business (and this even includes service professionals and freelancers who may not have a public-facing office space, but still offer a service to the public) and see what comes up.
You’ll notice first that your search results on the right hand side of your desktop screen, or right in full view in your mobile device, point to a Google+ page. As a business owner, this site is yours for free and can be managed and exploited fully by you with just a little attention. Your customers who visit can also rate and review your business here, which provides even more attractive content for search engines to help lift your business higher in search rankings. Providing visually engaging materials here – photos and 360 degree panoramic tours of the interior spaces of your business will also give your business a huge lift and increase traffic to your online presence which will translate into increased traffic through your front door.
If you are a business owner and you think you don’t need to be found online, or that you already have enough customers, then I guess this post isn’t for you. I’d be surprised to find your business doing as well in one year, and in three years, with no change of marketing strategy, I doubt I’d find your business at all because it won’t likely exist, but hey, I could be wrong. Maybe digital marketing is “just a fad.”
But if you are like most business owners who are strapped for time and trying to manage their cash flow as best they possibly can while still putting a little profit into their own pockets at the end of each month, than I strongly encourage you to get your Google+ business page up to date and invest the small amount of time and money it will take to engage a photographer to shoot a virtual tour for you.