Sunday, 1 January 2012

A Tip For Photographers... How to Build A Brand.

So I am just going to throw it out there and duck and cover in case I offend anyone…

Many of us photographers start their business at the same time they’re starting to learn to be an artist. We expect to create beautiful images people will want to buy at the same time we are launching a new small business. Yet, on occasions we often lack the skills necessary to do either, and end up failing miserably.

If this is you I do not mean to offend, I am actually trying to help. Ideally you would have gone to school and got a degree in marketing or business, or received the necessary work experience to run a small business. Then learned how to take fantastic photos that people will consider art.

But hey, if life was perfect we would all be hailed as a modern day Ansel Adams and be living the dream… :-)

So let’s work on getting you one step closer to that dream and help you build a better brand… and a more successful photography business.

“Branding” is a word that often gets thrown around quite a bit in the photographic community; but what does it really mean?

Generally when people think of branding, they think of a great logo, a memorable website, or business card. While these are all parts of a successful brand strategy, they aren’t the whole picture.

What you should be thinking about when you consider “branding” your business is actually building a brand around “YOU”, the talent and your own photographic style… or should I say “your own Art”.

In other businesses we would be describing the way a person feels about a product or service. But in a photography business this feeling is about you and your business. You will influence their purchasing decisions. You will determine whether or not they trust you and, you will ultimately determine whether or not they hire you.

For the successful photographers, they are the brand. Everything they do, from how they respond to inquiries, to how they act at a photo shoot, to how they have refined their art to differentiate themselves communicates the character of their brand.

So how can you get the most out of your brand and your art?

Have Confidence
Its gut check time… let’s be honest with ourselves. At one point in all of our photographic journeys, we were insecure about our abilities; we questioned whether or not you were as good as more recognizable names.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but if you cannot get over this hurdle you will never be successful. If you do not believe in your own abilities, how are you ever going to convince a client of your talent?

So get over it, start to build a brand around your name and images and move forward without looking back.

Be Social
What you say and write has a direct effect on your clients’ opinion of you, which has a direct effect on your business and will decide what your bottom line looks like. This is an important thing to remember in the age of social media. Before you send out a tweet or a blog post, consider if it will build your brand or stick a fork in it. Your voice should be consistent across your client communications – blog posts, emails, social media and printed materials. Is your brand friendly? Formal? Flexible? How do you want people to feel about your business? Your voice should match who you are in person when interacting with clients.

Think of it this way… lets take a moment to look at a few of the blogs you follow regularly. Without looking at the header, can you tell which one is which? If they have a unique voice, a certain tone, one that’s personal to them, you should be able to identify the author.

Be Consistent
Building a brand means being visually consistent. You should have the same logo on your website, your printed materials, and your business cards. It takes people several impressions before they remember something and seeing the same logo repeatedly will build recognition and create top of mind recall.

This is why Nike is able to use their swoosh graphic without the name – after years of seeing the logo, you don’t need to see the name anymore to know that it’s Nike. If a client is looking at several photographers, they should be able to tell which material is yours at a glance. Every impression the client has from you should reinforce your brand. When they pick up your business card and go to your website, it should be immediately obvious that those two things belong to the same person. Make sure everything that you put out there reflects your brand.

Building your brand also means being consistent in the way you deal with clients – how they book you, change an order, or set up meetings. If I refer you to a friend, I should be able to tell them what kind of experience to expect. You want clients to feel that when they come to you, from start to finish, they know who they’re dealing with. They know what sort of service and quality they can expect from you.

The most important part of your branding is you and your product: yep, that’s right, your photographic skills and the “Art” you produce.

Ideally, prospective clients should know it’s your “Art” before they ever see the logo. Define your own style of shooting, and identify what makes you different from your competition.

I would encourage photographers to find their niche in any industry. If a client is looking for a wedding photographer, would they be more likely to hire someone who only shoots weddings and is really an expert in that style of photography or someone who shoots a bit of everything?

This isn’t to say you can’t shoot more than one subject. There are people who do so very successfully. Hey, look at me… a landscape and nature photographer at heart that also likes to shoot urban landscapes.

I learned that in order to be successful with my art I had to market my different art as completely separate businesses.

So if you want to shoot weddings and fine art landscapes. Just remember that the audiences you’re trying to reach for each of these are very different, and the branding and marketing for each has to be approached separately.

Toot Your Own Horn… and toot it loudly.
No one is going to do this for you… so do it for yourself.

Become a publicity animal! Unless you’ve got potential clients standing at your front door right now, then you have to do what it takes to get them there. In past posts I have addressed many ways to do this. I encourage you to go back and read these posts. For this post I want to mention press releases… the purpose of a press release is not only to promote your “Brand”, its also to reinforce all your efforts in a neatly structured letter to people in your local and extended community.

Whenever you have a significant advancement in your company, send out a release. When you do send out a press release, try to include a photo of you involved with somebody in the community that’s relevant to the topic. Plus, don’t forget to send it to companies and organizations outside the local paper. For example, Chamber of Commerce, local business leaders, corporate clients etc.

Deliver, or should I say “Over Deliver”
Clients won’t book you, or refer you to their friends, if you don’t deliver. Your brand is a promise to the client. Trust comes from meeting, and exceeding, the expectations you’ve set up for your client.

This is the single most important step in your branding, because the best marketing in the world won’t get you the job if the work isn’t there.

I hope this post helped you think of one or two more things to help build your photography business.