How to make your visual content engaging: the strategy of empathy

How to make your visual content engaging: the strategy of empathy

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One of the biggest misunderstandings about visuals and marketing that I see very often is the belief that high resolution photos will instantly equate more engaged fans, higher sales and a perception of professionalism that will allow us to charge higher rates.

Let me give it to you straight right now: It’s just not that simple. 

If it was, with so many sites where you can get good quality photos for free or for a minimum price, everyone would have a cult following and a thriving business.

We would all get a drag and drop theme for our website, find a free high quality image to use as Header, or purchase one, and bibiddy babiddy boop, we would have hoards of followers waiting for us to produce our first product, which we would, of course,sell out in 5 minutes maximum.

If it was only a matter of pixels and dpi, everyone with a DSLR camera… or even an iphone, would be rich and famous.

And we all know that it doesn’t work like that.

So what works, you may be asking yourself?

What is the magic trick that will make your visual content engaging, helping you generate the all mighty tribe of 1000 true fans and followers that will, in turn, purchase everything you release?

What makes a photo effective when it comes to marketing, and what makes it just another one of the pile that we never even notice?

How can you use visual content in an engaging, effective and strategic way?

That, my friends, is what I set out to discover last year, as I mentioned in this previous blog post, and what I want to talk to you about today.

I’ve said before that I wholeheartedly believe that the key to effective marketing and effective visuals is caring for everyone that comes into contact with our businesses.

Truly, deeply caring about them, even if they don’t buy, even if they just read our social media posts and don’t sign up to be a member of our communities. Caring for the work we do, and caring about the effect it has in our followers and customers.

What does this have to do with visuals? 

Everything.

Visual content is a form of communication. We either use it as a way to scream from the top of our lungs how awesome we are (even if no one listens) or we use it to start conversations, to connect, to tell stories.

Visuals, when used right, are a conversation starter.

When it comes to words, we all know that in order to start meaningful conversations, and communicate effectively we need to listen, to observe, and to be aware of other people’s feelings. Visuals are no different.

Let me explain. Some people believe that their visuals are supposed to be about them: what they like or don’t, what their life looks like, their aspirations and dreams. Others believe visuals are supposed to be all about their customers, regardless of what they like or don’t like, and regardless of whether what they post fits their personality or not. Both positions have some truth in them, but both forget something important.

If your visuals don’t appeal to your customers, they won’t connect and they won’t buy. If your visuals have nothing of you in them, they will sound off and fake and sooner or later, you’ll lose face.

Successful visual content lies at the intersection of who you are and what your customers like and need from you. 

YOU

Your visuals need to have your personality, reinforce your positioning and contain elements that your followers already identify with you, in order to anchor these in their mind. They need to look like you in order to be authentic.

This is why, when I start working with someone, I read all the copy from their website and their blog posts. This is why I their social media, paying special attention to the posts that get more engagement and how they are already connecting to their customers. This is why I ask my clients to take a series of branding personality tests and to fill a questionnaire I’ve especially designed for them.

The props I choose in a photo are directly aimed at generating an instant connection in the mind of my client’s customers that makes them recognize her photos and anchors the right elements of her personality and her brand in their mind.

This is why I use cubes to spell the current year when shooting Mayi Carles printable planners, because I know one of the key elements of her video backgrounds are cubes with her name, and that her followers associate cubes with her.

2016-CON-CUBOSwebbis

This is why I make sure that the colors, backgrounds and style of my client’s photos match what people already know and love about them.

And your visuals need to consider your clients as well, so they can connect to you on a deeper level. And this is a matter of observation, empathy and care.

If you want people to engage with your visuals, make sure you’re creating them with your clients in mind.

Here are a few ideas on how to do this:

  1. Always post what is authentic to you. Drop the fear of not “looking premium” or “professional enough”. You are who you are and who you are is enough. Be proud of what you have to give and the story that brought you where you are. You don’t need macarons on a golden desk if you’d rather eat a chocolate chip cookie on a beach-side wooden tablen with your toes in the sand and a mason jar with lemonade and a paper straw in your right hand
  2. Take an interest in those who follow you. Visit their profiles, engage with them from the heart. Engage first, from a place of true interest, honesty and caring.
  3. Observe and listen actively: what do they like? What do they share? What do they connect more to? What photos drive more engagement? What photos drive more sales? What aspects of your personality and your brand resonate more with your customers? What do you share with them in terms of likes, values, dreams and aspirations?m (hint: I observe reality on instagram and facebook and aspiration on pinterest. Sometimes they match, sometimes they don’t and that’s very interesting).
  4. When something works, do more of it. For example, the pen that you see in the photo of Mayi’s printables above, that looks like Gru‘s spaceship with polka dots, is always a hit. Whenever Mayi posts a photo with the pen in it, she gets comments about it. The reason I originally chose it was that 1) Mayi was pregnant and I wanted a more child like fun prop in her photos (before we had been using one with Florentine design because Mayi studied art in Florence). 2) The shape looked like a rocket, and we were introducing it for a launch 3)  Its polka dots colors are present in Mayi’s printables. When it became a hit, we continued using it and now it’s a prop I only use for her photos because it has become part of her brand. (side note: I totally took it from Zoe’s pencil case but let’s keep it between you and me, ok?  😉
  5. Put yourself in your buyer’s shoes. Remember why you’re doing this, who you help and how. Remember that people have different tastes and there’s not a single definition of beauty. Consider the emotional impact what you post can have in your ideal customers.

One example about this: I was once working to define the styling of a client who had been using, until hiring me, very luxurious looking stock photos. I asked her how those photos had been doing and she mentioned that not well at all. She was puzzled. The photos were gorgeous but they were getting 1/3 of the engagement than her more ” real” ones. And she couldn’t figure out why.

Here’s the thing: For some people, luxury is enticing and they like to browse aspirational sites to day dream of how they will one day live, when they have that kind of money. For others, though, luxury is a trigger that reminds them how far away from that they are, and instead of provoking enthusiasm, it depresses them.

You need to be aware about this differences in perception when planning your content, if you want your visuals to help you grow your business. You need to know who your ideal clients are, what they’re going through and what they need from you to craft visuals that help you grow your business.

And the only way to do this is by testing, observing, listening and caring.

Now let me know in the comments below: how do you plan your visuals? What type of visuals get more engagement from your audience?

 

Who you are matters

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who you are matters

 

The strategy of being you

 

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Every time I’m meeting with a new prospective client, or doing a consultation, I ask the same first question after the initial meet and greet.

My question always leaves my clients speechless for a while, regardless of how many years they have been in business. Some of them stutter, some lower their eyes, and many become visibly uncomfortable.

The question I ask is not irreverent, inappropriate or adult rated. What I ask is, simply:

 What makes your work special?

Why should people hire you?

I don’t ask this question to be mean. I don’t ask this question to make my clients uncomfortable.

I ask this question because the reason my photographs sell is that I photograph what makes my clients and their products unique… and I can only photograph it, if they know what that is. 

I ask this question because I know it’s hard, and I know they need to explore the answer in a safe place.

And I ask this question because I can see the light in them and the higher purpose of what they do as soon as we meet, but I know that they need to discover it, own it and embrace it by themselves if they are to fully step into their power.

Why is this such a difficult question?

I started exploring this question when my children were diagnosed with special needs. I’d always believed that we all come here with a special song inside of us (As Wayne Dyer used to say), and that my role as a mother was to help my children find theirs.

I could define my children by what they found hard to do, or I could allow them to define themselves by that which they excel at, by that which they feel called to do, by that which makes their heart sing. I could raise my children to believe that they lacked something, or I could raise them to believe that their resilience, the love in their hearts and the talents they were born with, were more than enough.

We could have focused on their needs, but we chose to focus on that which makes them special.

 And as beautiful as this may sound, I would be a huge hypocrite if I didn’t tell you too, that it wasn’t easy. Not because I couldn’t see the light inside my own children, because that was the easy part. That’s pretty much a gene that gets inserted into us when we become mothers.

No, the difficult thing was setting the example, because I had no idea what made me or my work, special. 

I understand my clients

because I was in their shoes a while ago

I was 100% aware of that which I was not good at, and I grew up ashamed of not being excellent at everything. For years, I felt undeserving of success, because I was not perfect. And I grew up thinking that being proud of what I did well, was bragging.

Perhaps you can relate?

I want you to know what makes you special

I want you to step into your own power.

This is why I’d like to share with you a resource I’ve only shared with my clients until now, and that is part of series of explorations that we do when we start working together.

It’s a short test called Stand-Out. I found out about it through B-school and, when I read the results, I felt I had found a radiography to my soul. I was amazed at how it reflected the things that people had always praised me about-and that I had discarded because I was used to not thinking of myself as worthy of praise.

The link I’m sharing with you goes to LeanIn, because there there’s a code to take the test for free.

In the next few blog posts, we’ll explore how to bring personality to your photos, and how to use your photos as a tool to connect on a deeper level to your audience. But, in order to use the techniques I’ll share with you to their highest potential, you need to first know what’s your secret sauce.

So go ahead, take the test, and then come back and share your results in the comments.

Let’s celebrate, together,  our talents, and our greatness.

If you found this post useful, please share it! Let’s build a World where everybody’s talents can shine!

 

Why your business needs a visual strategy

Why your business needs a visual strategy

Visual Strategy 101:  why  and how

Visual Strategy August 12ter

When I started working as a professional photographer, I felt like Sandra Bullock in Gravity: lost in space. Yes, I knew how to take photos. Yes, I knew how to style. Yes, I knew how to edit. But I also knew very well that, in order to turn that first job into more, and eventually into a profitable business, I needed something more.

I’ll be completely honest: I had no idea what that something more needed to be.

So I did the only thing I knew how to do well: I actively listened to my clients. This means that when I asked a question and I thought I had understood their needs, I listened a little bit more. I taught myself to keep asking questions, to observe, to listen better.

Whenever my clients mentioned some of their dreams (“I want to sell in Anthropologie”, ” I want my husband to quit his job”, ” I want to teach at CreativeLive“), I’d start thinking:  What do they need to get there and how can I help them? How can my photography help them make their dreams a reality?

 I soon reached one conclusion:

My photos needed to make my clients money.

And this conclusion was quickly followed by two questions:

Could photos do this? And if so, how?

Early last year, I set up on a quest to find these answers. In reply to the first question, I found plenty of numbers and statistics. I’m sure you’ve seen them too:

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Percentage of added views when an article includes an image

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Percentage of consumers who say that the quality of a product's images is very important when selecting and purchasing a product.

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Percentage of consumers who are more likely to give attention to a website when an image appears on the search

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Percentage of ecommerce traffic that comes from Pinterest (a visual social media platform)

But I wanted to know more.

I wanted to go beyond the obvious, and the easy.

I wanted to know whether photos were an expense or an investment (and whether the answer was absolute (yes, in all cases; or no, in all cases) or relative (it depends, and if so, on what)).

Were photographs really powerful marketing tools, or where they just “an extra”, “an addition”?

Were images actually necessary? Should business owners budget for them, or could they be omitted?

If photos were important: did any image count, or were some images better? Was there a secret recipe to turn an image into a selling tool- and if so, what was it?

So I put my years of training in Legal Research to good use, my nerd cap on (just kidding, it’s always on) and I started reading everything  and anything I could find. And then I started testing and applying what I had read about. 

Over 40 books, several articles later, and many (many!) euros spent on amazon.com, I’ve come to a conclusion:

 

The most effective photos are

strategically designed, and strategically used. 

 

Strategically designed, because:

  • They need to be tied to your brand story and to your business objectives. They are ambassadors of your brand.
  • They should be about you, because they are meant to reinforce your positioning,  but designed for your customers. Why? Because if your clients don’t resonate with them,  they won’t engage, they won’t share, you won’t sell.  Period.
  • They must use principles of design and, most important, of psychology.

 

Strategically used, because:

  • They need to respect the characteristics of the medium where you will share them. If you want amazing results, you need to understand the culture, people and rules of the social media platform you’ll be using (or work with someone who does).
  • They need to work systematically, with the rest of your marketing and promotional efforts. They need to be part of a plan.

IF YOU USE IMAGES AT RANDOM, YOU’LL GET RANDOM RESULTS

If you want to achieve your desired results consistently, you need to be intentional and strategic with your photos, just like you are with your words.

Having a visual strategy will allow you to:

  • Communicate clearly with creative professionals: you’ll know what you need and what to ask for.
  • Select stock photos with intention and confidence, and in alignment with your business objectives.
  • Save time: when you know what to do and you remove the guesswork, you free mental space, and  you can even create systems around it.
  • Be more effective: You’ll be able to reach the right people.
  • Be consistent, not just in the way your business looks, but also in the emotions you evoke and the message you transmit.
  • Track results, in order to improve.

 

 

And the first step is to know what’s working and what’s not

 

 

Images can be powerful marketing tools when they are aligned with our business objectives. Tracking where and how they are used, and the response you get from them, will allow you to optimize your content.

It’ll allow you to ensure that you are reaching the right people, engaging with them in the way you want to engage. It ‘ll ensure that your brand is perceived as you desire, and that you can grow as a result.  It’ll save you time, and make you more profitable.

Ready to know where you stand? Download the cheat sheet below open your analytics, and grab a cup of tea.

When you’re done, don’t forget to come back and share your A-HAs in the comments!

What did you discover? What’s working for you and what do you need to improve?

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