In any business, we talk a lot about building a brand. Brand loyalty is especially important for building repeat business and repeat business drives success. For various kinds of businesses it may be easier to build a brand because their product and market is focused to a product or service. But what happens when you have a diverse business like photography? Do you have a photography brand in your business and if so, what is your brand saying?
When we begin to think about building a better photography brand we must start by definition.
What is photography branding?
While a proper branding plan should have coordinate colors, designs, and materials, that does not comprise “branding” as a whole. Yes we all understand that, in order to be a successful photographer you must have technically sound, artistically beautiful photos, but even good work, a catchy tagline and a proper website do not equal “branding”.
So if branding is NOT all of those things what is it? Branding, in our opinion, is the FEEL of your business. More importantly your brand is how you make your clients feel at every point of connection with your studio. And this is precisely what makes your business unique and allows it to stand out in front of the Joe Schmoe’s who just bought a $500 DSLR and decided to go into business as a “professional photographer”.
Get a USP and Keep It.
To delve further into this, your branding is your USP (Unique Selling Position). What makes you different? Why should any family choose you over any other photographer. And we are not talking gimmicks here. It’s not about freebies or discounts, its about the soul of your business. In a word, you. Your branding is YOU! Photographers have businesses that come to life. They have a soul and a “feel”. They touch lives with their art. They bring tears with finished photos.
Are you there? Can you say that your business “brand” is up to snuff?
Don’t have a photography brand “identity crisis”!
If you want to create a cohesive photography brand, first things first, don’t have a brand identity crisis. What do we mean by this? Let’s say you describe your work on your website as “whimsical” or “fun” and yet every photo you show is black and white or dark and serious with no smiles. Do those two things fit together? (We can tell you the answer is NO!)
Photographers can also run into problems when branding as their work can span many genres, ages, and “feels”. But in general, if you sit down and look at ALL of your clients across each type of photography you will start to see that these people all have things in common.
Ask yourself these questions to help define your audience:
WHO is my target client?
Are you marketing to young professionals who are looking for chic wedding photographers or are you marketing to boho chic barn weddings? Are you marketing to moms who want cute “Pinteresty” pics or is your client someone who has a more modern edgy style? IF you are both a wedding photographer and family photographer its OKAY! If you begin with the family through a wedding you can become their photographer for LIFE!
WHERE do my target clients hang out, shop, eat?
This is not stereotyping by any means. What we mean is… do your clients carry Target purses, Coach, Kate Spade or Louis Vuitton? Do they prefer to eat at McDonald’s or at a $100 per plate Michelin Star restaurant? Do they park in a garage and walk or do they valet? This is important not because you know they have money to spend but it will help you define expectations for experience and will give you insight to what they will expect from you as a service provider!
WHAT is the general income, lifestyle and demographic of my target client?
Are they living in a tiny 1 bedroom apartment or do they own a $1 million home on a lake? This is important because the priorities of these clients will be different. Obviously living in small spaces will limit the potential for large portrait sales. But more than that, it helps you to understand their mindset. Maybe they would rather have very nice online presentations than printed proofs.
Evaluate your current marketing and branding plan.
Sit down with a staff member, friend or family member who can be objective and who is not afraid to tell you the truth! Ask them what they think your work, displayed in your media, is saying to your customers. Be prepared for the truth. Sometimes it hurts!
Building a photography brand is a process.
It is not something you can slap together overnight with some pretty colors and a logo and call it done. When building your website, anticipate that it will take you days and maybe even weeks worth of work. You should thoroughly evaluate every single image that is on your site and ensure that it fits inside your brand. These are the images that will speak to your target client!
I once saw a photographer whose tagline was “Images that speak to your heart.” and thought… WOW that is DEEP! But it was exactly what her work did! Nearly every in person proofing session had tears involved at some point and she prepared her clients for this in her materials which read: “When attending your proofing session, we truly advise that you should wear waterproof mascara. It can be a very emotional experience to see your photos for the first time. Don’t worry, we will provide plenty of tissues!”
Not only was this person on point with their brand voice, they were preparing and conditioning their clients to expect an emotional hour. Plus, we all know, emotions sell!
Start at the beginning with your photography brand.
Even if you have been in business for years it is sometimes necessary to re-evaluate. It is really easy to end up off course. Trends can cause you to derail from your original brand and sometimes you just need to reign it in.
Regardless of where you are in business, take time to evaluate your brand right from the heart forward.
Ask yourself these questions:
- WHO am I as an artist?
- WHO is my business?
- WHAT are 5 words that best describe me as a person?
- WHAT are 5 words that best describe my business?
- HOW am I different than other people?
- HOW is my business different than other businesses?
- WHY did I become a photographer?
- WHY am I still in business? (do NOT list money here… that is not what this is about!)
- WHAT has changed along the way?
That last question may be the hardest to face down but it is most necessary. Often, photographers feel drained and less able to “create”. You need to revive yourself as a human so that you can continue to pour yourself (your brand) into your business. Attending seminars and workshops are a great way to accomplish this! Not only are you able to learn more about your art, you can network and socialize creating a better support structure for yourself as an artist and business owner.
Be Creative but Cohesive in your photography brand.
Yes your brand should be unique. Do not go copy someone else’ idea just because it looks cool or fit your idea of what you want your business to be. But as you progress through the process of building your brand, ensure that your brand voice permeates every single aspect of your marketing. From business cards to website, from printed materials to the décor of your studio, every part of your business should scream YOU.
Don’t forget you are still a business.
Yes, we want the personal touch and we want to take care of our clients, but don’t forget your brand is NOT becoming someone’s doormat or stepping stone. You are still a business and your policies can be friendly and stern at the same time. You don’t have to “give in” to every request or demand in order to provide GOOD customer service. Be consistent in your policies and you will be able to eliminate the guilt.
All in all, photography branding is not easy! There are 1.2 million (yes maybe an exaggeration there) photographers out there and it may be a struggle, at first, to stand out from the crowd. As you progress through embedding your brand into your clients’ lives, you will begin to form a circle of people who are loyal and those people tell other people. When you have a cohesive brand it is very easy to grow that brand through word of mouth. So, get to it! Evaluate your brand and ensure that your voice is being heard by your clients.