What does life look like beyond the work? One of the main goals of the branded portrait sessions that I conduct with clients is to create an image content portfolio full of photos that visually punctuates stories related to their expertise, life as a business owner and life as a human being. That “life as a human being” part is not a nice-to-have — it’s a prerequisite. Why? When you share the full scope of what motivates you to show up in the world the way you want, that paints a full picture of who you are, who you serve and why you do what you do. And when you do that, that helps create that emotional connection with your audience that leads to them trusting you. As a result, I’ve shot clients during their morning workouts, meditating, playing sports, reading, engaging in some type of arts and crafts, among many other scenarios. These activities are highly relatable to those you serve and it inspires them to lean in and learn more about you. It never hurts your brand to act like a human being, :)
As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview John DeMato. John is a branded lifestyle portrait photographer who collaborates with expert-based business owners to create an emotional connection with their audiences through persuasive visual storytelling.
More than just a photographer, John sets his clients up for success beyond the portrait session by coaching them on how to best leverage their image content for every touchpoint across their online, and off-line, presence.
In addition to 20 years working in the television production space, John also is a C-Suite Network Advisor, a sponsor for the NYC chapter of the National Speakers Association and writes guest posts for various photography trade magazines about creating a memorable online presence.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After spending years working as a television producer for Maury, my mother died of cancer.
It was a painful and drawn out process. One night while sitting by her bedside at the hospice, she was, at this point, non-responsive. So, my mind wandered and I had a moment of deep clarity.
I thought to myself that if I were in the same position as her at this moment, I would have a list of regrets as long as the eye can see. Despite the fact that I was someone who craved stability, I also realized that my current work was creatively stifling and left me angry, resentful and depressed.
Once she died, I set my mind to figuring out the next move.
That next move involved following my heart, so I quit my job, and began my portrait photography business.
In the 5+ years that I’ve been on my own, sure it’s been up, down and outright scary at times, but, not for one second have I ever looked back and regretted my decision.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
For years, I basically wrote the type of social posts and blogs that I see from every other photographer.
I’d share technical aspects of photography that no client would ever care about and share galleries of photos with zero context or relatability to the audience.
I assumed that’s what was required. And of course, no one cared to follow what I was writing — for years.
And then I hired a creative consultant who basically told me that no one will ever care about my work until I start to inject “John” into the equation. He pointed out that although the photos I create are pretty, people can hire a photographer to shoot pretty photos anywhere.
I need to sell ME, and that meant that I needed to write more from the heart and weave it into stories that are relatable to my audience and teach them lessons.
Rather than positioning myself as a commodity or a means to an end, I need to build relationships with those I serve through my online presence, including my content.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?
The “tipping point” began about two years after I committed to writing more value driven content while also engaging a national organization for speakers (the National Speakers Association).
You see, the takeaway was that, yes, the content was important, but the spark was having direct content with those I serve and get them on my list so that I can nurture them with the content that I’ve created.
They, in turn, share that content with their colleagues, and that’s created a ripple effect for my business.
My clients don’t simply want a shutterbug to show up and snap a bunch of photos of them — they want someone that holds their hand throughout the entire process and ensures that all the strategy and prep leads to a wildly successful portrait session.
And the type of content I create lays out exactly how we do it.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Every new client that signs on is an exciting project for me because it allows me the chance to unearth the juicy nuances and wrinkles of that person’s expertise and personality.
That information is critical in shaping the types of lifestyle portraits that we capture during their sessions.
While many people work on phones and computers, that’s where the commonalities end and their uniqueness shines through.
It’s a hell of a lot of fun to make those magical discoveries and turn them into persuasive image content.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
When it comes to creating compelling and persuasive content, listen to your body and mind.
If you try to shoehorn creativity into a day where you’re not feeling it, your ideas will reflect that.
So, when I hit the wall, I walk away from the computer and do other things to reset.
Listen to podcasts, people watch, read something unrelated to work — they all serve to help you reset. The faster you acknowledge that the ideas aren’t flowing, the faster you’ll get back on that horse and begin creating good stuff again.
Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
I exclusively deal with personal brands, so I can only speak to that, honestly.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
If you’re looking to build an audience of engaged and loyal potential clients, you need to give them a reason to care about you in the first place.
You not only need to show through your brand that you are the solution to the friction points in their lives and businesses, but you also are a relatable human being who is empathetic to their struggles.
This type of persuasive messaging builds relationships and creates a unique distinction between you and those who share your space of expertise. This is how trust is built and trust leads people into buying decisions.
Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?
For my clients, rebranding is a common occurrence because they constantly find new ways to update and evolve their intellectual property, which ultimately leads to new service and product offerings, which necessitates the need for them to call me for new photos to reflect these pivots.
Another reason why clients rebrand is because they started their brand building in the corporate space and now have struck out on their own. As a result, they need to tighten up how they’re presenting themselves to the world and clean out the old corporate language and images that no longer serves them.
Strictly speaking about photos, some clients want to rebrand their images because they look different than the previous round that they’re currently using.
Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?
There’s always a risk when thinking about a rebrand. Personally, I know that every time I pivot my messaging to reflect a new spin on how I serve is potentially alienating a core group of audience members.
But, I remind myself that it’s important to keep the messaging as current and consistent as possible because wherever I am with my business and life, I want to serve people that appreciate the way in which I approach my work and how to create value for them.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.
All of my strategies are related to branded lifestyle portraits for business owners that are the faces of their brands. The goal of every single image, whether for a rebrand or otherwise, is to create an emotional connection with their audiences so that it inspires them to want to get to know you better.
1 . Create a consistency in your image content
Eliminate the patchwork of content — stock photos, random outdated photos and smartphone photos — and create a streamlined and continuous look across your entire online presence with professional lifestyle photos and self-created smartphone images.
2 . Don’t simply post content to post — be purposeful
I’ve had several clients that have hired me because their online presence was a mess. It had images that were horribly outdated, stock photos that didn’t resemble who they are or who they served, and smartphone photos that not only looked terrible, but made no sense to post based on their businesses and brands.
That’s why I conduct a lengthy strategy call that not only addresses the types of photos that we need to capture for their businesses to shine, but we also spend time talking about the other image content they would need to fill in the holes since they don’t have the paparazzi following them around 24/7.
3 . Be a superhero, but also relatable
My clients are magicians when it comes to their spheres of expertise, and it’s important to reflect that in their image content.
It positions them as an authority who is willing to help those they serve. But, too much of anything isn’t good, and balance is needed in order to create relatability and connection with their audiences.
It’s a fine line, but a line worth toeing, especially when it comes to building an engaged audience.
Oftentimes, I have speaker clients who have the big hero speaker shots on stage in front of hundreds and thousands of people, but nothing else to supplement that. This can, oftentimes, create intimidation in the minds of their audience members. “S/he’s a superstar, look at all those people. There’s no way s/he can relate to me and where I am with my life.”
Eliminate that objection with image content that speaks to the contrary. In short, show image content that spans the emotional spectrum, from confident to joyful to vulnerable.
4 . Show your audience how the sausage is made
Another part of the lifestyle portrait sessions I conduct include capturing lifestyle portraits of clients revealing what their creative process is for serving their clients. For some clients, I’ll shoot them facilitating a workshop or other training. For others, I’ll capture them during an in person consultation. And for others, I’ll capture candid portraits of them during a Zoom call or a one-on-one, in-person consultation.
It’s important to break down the fourth wall and reveal these aspects of your process because it provides an entry point for your audience to enter your life and it gives them a chance to preview what working with you looks like.
It’s a great way to get your audience thinking beyond the fandom of following you, and leads you one step closer to a sale.
5 . Showcase all aspects of your business
I work with a lot of clients who have many slashes in their titles — speaker, author, consultant, podcaster, trainer, etc.
Show each arm of the business in your image content, not only to create familiarity with how you serve, but also to alert potential collaboration partners and clients of how you can be hired.
I had a keynote speaker client tell me during one of his live facilitations once that a couple years prior, he had difficulty booking in-person facilitations because the companies he contacted didn’t really see him as a facilitator — they only saw him as a keynoter.
That prompted him to invest in photography to capture one of his smaller events, which he used to promote that arm of his business.
Since then, he hasn’t had a problem booking workshops with organizations. The photos were enough social proof to get those conversations started.
This is why I flesh out my clients’ business structure during strategy calls — so I can help them visualize how we will represent each aspect of their business in their image content portfolios.
6 . What does life look like beyond the work?
One of the main goals of the branded portrait sessions that I conduct with clients is to create an image content portfolio full of photos that visually punctuates stories related to their expertise, life as a business owner and life as a human being.
That “life as a human being” part is not a nice-to-have — it’s a prerequisite. Why?
When you share the full scope of what motivates you to show up in the world the way you want, that paints a full picture of who you are, who you serve and why you do what you do. And when you do that, that helps create that emotional connection with your audience that leads to them trusting you.
As a result, I’ve shot clients during their morning workouts, meditating, playing sports, reading, engaging in some type of arts and crafts, among many other scenarios.
These activities are highly relatable to those you serve and it inspires them to lean in and learn more about you.
It never hurts your brand to act like a human being, :)
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
As far as my clients are concerned, Speaker, Author and Provocateur, Ted Rubin, is the gold standard for how he leverages his branded lifestyle portraits.
What impresses me is his passion and consistency for sharing his story across his website, blogs and social channels. He seamlessly weaves smartphone photography with the portraits and event photos we’ve created together, and it leads to a tremendous amount of engagement from his audience.
The best way to replicate this model is to fully commit to creating daily social content, weekly blogs and constantly updating your website to reflect your distinction from other experts in your space.
Oh, and be sure to invest in a boatload of photos because Ted runs through his like nobody’s business, :)
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would start a campaign that centered around my personalized #yeahabsolutely hashtag.
As a way to combat against the ubiquitous noise online that’s framed towards canceling people, I’d want to create a space for people to share positive moments, insights and experiences that aptly represent my #yeahabsolutely philosophy.
I see it centered around creating a landing page with testimonials from people describing what #yeahabsolutely means to them, and attach those words to an image of them wearing a #yeahabsolutely t-shirt.
I was gloomy and angry for a long time, so a project like this would be a nice change of pace, :)
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“There is no mountain top moment — it’s all a series of steep inclines and plateaus.”
When I first started my business, I had no clue what I was doing or where I wanted to go with this photography thing. I would often say, “well, once I reach a certain level, I’d…”
One day, a colleague was very blunt in saying to me that running a business is not a “once you’re there, you’ve arrived” thing — it’s constantly shifting and evolving, and as such, your goals inevitably change.
I paused on that insight for a while, and one day, I came up with the “no mountain top moment” quote and now I regularly share it with friends and colleagues when they need to hear it most.
On an artistic level, this philosophy drives me to continuously get better at my work behind the camera.
Although I’m happy with the direction of my work, I always want to get better every single time I’m behind the camera. In my eyes, there is no mastery — it’s constant series of improvements that lead to better work — that’s it, and I’m totally cool with that!
How can our readers follow you online?
The best way to follow me is to sign up for my blog: www.johndemato.com/personal-brand
Otherwise, they can follow me on LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/johndemato/
Or Instagram — @dematophoto
Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.