Van Gogh, The Selfie, and Success in Sales

Why your brand should be using video, and creating content, to build a vast loyal audience.

I am writing this post just after visiting the Van Gogh Museum on our trip to Amsterdam. It's been an incredible week, filled with art and inspiration in this bustling city we've come to adore. As artists and entrepreneurs we are living always on the brink of success in our work, and from what I gather in my studies of famous creators, that will never change. Whatever success is, I am not sure it can ever be truly realized when you are living and creating in the moment. The moment you reach the bar, it get's raised, if not my someone else, then perhaps by your own strength, vision, or dreams that you can do it better than the status quo.

Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity.
— TS_Eliot

As we walked the Van Gogh museum and studied the man, the myth, and legend of this well known painter it was all so simple. If you are going to put your work, your person, and your dreams out there for people to see, share, and comment on then it has to come with some level of anxiety. It's much harder than an outsider thinks to try new ideas in the public eye. As an artist you can only evolve if you try new techniques, take a crack at something that has never been done before, and follow you heart. However, since you, as the artist, are so deeply embedded in the creation of your work, you can no longer see it from the outside, and therefore it's nearly impossible to know what the public reaction will be.

For twenty years now, we have successfully made a living with a camera creating work for others. It's been exciting, and humbling at times. There are times when we can't even believe where the camera has taken us. The interesting people we've met and worked for, from artists, to celebrities, to entrepreneurs, presidents, business leaders, and more have all been leading us somewhere. Each assignment has taught us something, and we've worked hard to become the best at what we do. While exciting in many ways however, most of the times photography and video production is more of a "behind the scenes" kind of job where we are in the shadows of our clients. We make sure they shine, look their best, and go out of our way to insure that we somehow help them to succeed in business and life. We have become known for this ability to improve the image of others, and help them put their best foot forward. However, that is mainly because we aren't in their line of business. We are outsiders and can see what is missing. They however, cannot because they are too deep within their own product to understand their public perception.

Why Selling Never Works In The Connected Age...

With the invention of the internet, the ability to reach distant audiences is stronger than ever before. Every company and every personality needs an audience, and therefore needs to find ways to share their products or build upon their expertise publicly. However, nobody likes to be sold to. Rather, today's consumers want to trust a brand. They want to know a brand on a deeper level, and to be a part of that brand's story. Consumers want to feel as though they relate to the brands they use, and to feel as if it's something that is exclusive to them, or as if they found it first.

With that said, today's companies need to be marketing creatively to give their brands a personality rather than selling on specs, statistics, and numbers. Brands need to create a feeling that resonates with potential buyers. Yet, as we look around the digital landscape of technology companies, service providers, fashion brands, etc... very few are taking full advantage of the internet and the reach it provides.

Out from the Shadows...

Today the world is a far different place from where we started our own business. In fact, when we began there was no internet or social media. Back then, it was a simpler process and mostly about getting your work seen. Great service and good work alone was enough to build a reputable and sustainable business. Marketing was something that brands did when the product had lackluster quality. Marketing was a way to convince consumers that a product was cool, and it didn't need to be transparent. Cool was good enough. The Internet has changed this immensely. Today, as a photographer for example, it would be near impossible to stand out in the overcrowded marketplace where images and videos are seen, shared, and ingested as fast as they are. Oddly, the shadows are often historically where photographers feel most comfortable capturing fleeting moments from behind the scenes. However, if we look around, it's not just photographers who face this problem of standing out. Virtually every market is oversaturated from fashion brands, to food brands, to cameras, electronics, beauty brands, etc... If you think you can sell yourself on specs and features alone, then you should reconsider your thought process. You need to come out from the shadows even if it makes you uncomfortable.

As we walked through the museum and studied Van Gogh we realize and confirmed our notion that this post is spot on. Van Gogh you see painted over 30 self portraits of himself over the period of a decade. Why exactly he did this, beyond trying to grow and learn as an artist, we may never know. But, seeing so many self portraits in a museum of exquisite art makes you realize that it is equally important to be in front of the camera, and out in front as an artist, as it is to be behind the camera. Today especially, regardless of your brand or offering, you need to be using video and the internet to create transparency, or a better understanding of your products. It's a platform for client or customer education, but also an opportunity share how your product or brand can have a positive effect on the life and style of the consumer. Most importantly, at the same time, you as an individual become not only a trusted ambassador of your brand, but also a well followed brand celebrity because you allowed yourself to be out in front and transparent. Think of it as a brand self portrait, and let the work speak for itself. Marketing... Not selling.

Technology evolves, markets shift, products come in and out of style. That is just the way the marketplace works. If you build a product you may have a good run, but you can never know how long that run will be. However, if you build a well followed, trustworthy, brand personality you give yourself the gift of being able to unveil new products with ease, and evolve to modern markets when the tried and true become stagnant, or even overrun by knock off competitors.

With the advent of smartphones, DSLRs, and as of late mirrorless cameras, every brand has the ability to create it's own TV show, or even TV network with a quality and a budget that might surprise. Brands can connect to users through product placement in their own brand sitcom for instance. Together In Style, the blog you are reading, started simply because as photographers and filmmakers we wanted to tell creative stories about interesting people, creative experiences, exotic places, and give expert advice that we felt was missing based on our own professional journey. We've added a talk show component starring ourselves simply because we know that, as a small company, we have no choice but to be out in front and out of the shadows. It's not a place we are used to so it does come with some anxiety of not knowing how it's perceived as we discussed earlier. However, we believe in love, we believe in the power of storytelling, and we know that by sharing our own lives, and our own story that we are practicing what we preach. That is, to capture your life, and/or the life of your brand. Either through your own ability, or the abilities of others. This is your history in the making, and ultimately you should be making it a point to capture the history of your brand. The content you capture and create is something you will probably want to repurpose years down the road, especially if you are a success in the end.

The point is... do something. If you want to grow, take action in the direction of your dreams. Don't use the word failure. Action never equals failure. In the long run it equals experience and results you can learn from. The public will let you know if you are doing it right. If not, adapt it, evolve it and work towards a better way. Cameras are everywhere. Make it a tool in your business strategy, and get out in front.

For a truly effective social campaign, a brand needs to embrace the first principles of marketing, which involves brand definition and consistent storytelling.
— Simon Mainwaring

Charles Maring is a photographer and filmmaker at Maring Visuals, and a co-host / creator of the Together In Style talk show.