As I’m now averaging some 20+ video conference calls per week, I get the opportunity to see a lot of “backgrounds” — both real and fake — and along the way I’ve begun to give more thought to what these backgrounds say about the person on the other end of the call.
I will confess, at the beginning of the pandemic virtual backgrounds were fun and I was among the many folks who imported vacation pictures from my phone, searching for the most extreme location or most bizarre content. Along the way I entertained a number of clients with my port-a-potty in the middle of nowhere landscape shot.
Fast forward 11 months and folks have invested in ring lights, better cameras and wireless Bluetooth speaker phones but still many aren’t taking the opportunity to invest thoughtfully in their backgrounds.
We know from months of TV interviews reaching stars in their homes that viewers have a tremendous interest in your personal environment. I’ve seen countless conversations about what your art says about you, the appropriateness of bringing your dog or child to call (no) and whether we should believe that folks have actually read all of the books on the shelf behind them.
From a business perspective, what I don’t see enough of are firms who have encouraged their staff to invest in thoughtful and professional backgrounds. Your background is like billboard for your business. If you’re spending 20+ hours/week on calls, this is a blank canvas you should take advantage of to market your wares.
You have two pathways to choose from: create a digital virtual background or simply choose more suitable décor for your office. Let me share a few examples:
1. Choose a Contextually Relevant Background
For some reason I became fascinated by former FDA Commission Scott Gottleib’s virtual background because at least at first, I bought into the idea that he was actually outside in this beautiful portico. Except that he was never sweating, even in the summer, and so it became apparent this was unreal AND a missed opportunity to boost his credibility as a medical professional.
If you work in a profession where folks are accustomed to seeing you in a uniform or a certain predictable environment, you need to incorporate that into your background – virtually or physically.
Even with the awkward camera angle, his uniform, the presence of the white coat and his degrees on the wall boost viewer confidence in his expertise.
Total cost of his background? Probably $150,000 or more for those degrees. Total value for UCSF in terms of branding? Priceless.
2. Make Sure Your Virtual Background Works
Everybody wishes they were someplace else, and especially in the wintertime, the beach is most attractive but unless you work in the hospitality industry and sell resort wear, a virtual beach background probably isn’t a great choice no matter how realistic the waves. Likewise, if you have fair hair and ocean blue eyes, be careful of those wave-filled backgrounds that make you appear your eyes disappear.
Dropping your logo into a virtual background sounds easy but can be tricky. Just this morning I joined an event where one of the guests displayed his logo proudly in the background. Problem: the logo was backwards. Don’t forget if you’re going to use text in your background that you need to tell Zoom or Teams not to mirror your image or the branding effort will be wasted.
3. Choose a Good Physical Background
At the beginning of the pandemic Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, did all of his conference calls from his sofa. There was a lovely and calming print on the wall that confirmed he was at home but did nothing to brand his role or responsibility. Fast forward a few weeks and the U.S. Chamber’s marketing folks had suitably upped their game and brought in this physical backdrop for his set:
Total cost for this bannerstand? Maybe $300. Total value for the Chamber in terms of branding? Priceless.
Don’t have budget or space for a custom backdrop? Don’t worry. Take advantage of materials and signage that you already have in your office.
Mini-posters or collateral that describe your services reinforce what you’re sharing during your calls and provide great props for conversations when and if you need to explain how something works.
Industry awards and photographs with clients or at events reaffirm your expertise and provide a positive association with the customer or event sponsor.
Increasing the value you get from your brand in video conferencing calls need not be difficult nor expensive but you should take the time to consider how the image of your working environment today influences tomorrow’s customers.
This post is courtesy of MMC Principal Jennifer Koon