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Core Branding: A Step-by-Step Overview on How to Create Your Brand and Stand Out in Your Market

At the PFRE Conference in Las Vegas, I had the privilege of presenting a topic that is near and dear to my heart: Branding. It is a topic that I believe is very important to all photographers so I thought I’d offer some of the key elements that I’ll be presenting.

WHAT IS A "BRAND"?
Let’s first define what is meant by the term "brand." The former brand manager at Coca-Cola, Sergio Zyman, defines brand as a “container for a customer’s complete experience with the product or company.” I find this a particularly useful way of viewing "brand" because it focuses on the customer’s “complete experience,” rather than on any single marketing tactic. What this means is that your brand is NOT just your logo, it’s not your website or your marketing materials… believe it or not, it’s not even the images you capture! All these things, while very important, simply represent components of your brand. Your brand is actually how these things come together to form your customers’ over-arching experience of you and your photography business.

STEPS IN SETTING UP A BRAND

There are six steps involved in establishing an effective brand for your photography business, which are:

Step 1: Understanding that YOU Are Your Brand
If you think about it, all professional photographers worth their salt deliver great images to their clients. If that’s the case, how do photographers differentiate themselves? It’s my strong belief that what ultimately distinguishes a photography business (or any small business, for that matter) is the personal connection that the business owner has with his/her customers and prospects. Indeed, the way you choose to interact with your customers, the thoughtfulness you apply to understanding their concerns and aspirations, the feelings that your images evoke; ­ these are the things that truly contribute to your customers’ “complete experience” of you and your business that was previously noted as being central to a brand. This is why I say that YOU are your brand!

Having a full understanding of who you are, what you want and why you want it, lays down the foundation of how you will approach virtually everything in your business plan, including: who you choose as your target customers, how you market to them, and how you communicate with them. It’ll even influence the types of photographs you capture.

Step 2: Understand Your Competition
Taking the time to understand/know your competitors gives you information that highlights how your business compares. Without this knowledge, it’ll be extremely difficult to “position” your business’s strengths or differentiators in a way that will resonate with your current/prospective customers.

Step 3: Understand Your Customers
It’s been said that customers don’t buy products or services, they buy solutions to their issues. In order to figure out how your photography might be able to address certain concerns that your customers might have, you must first find about those issues; and the best way to do so is to simply to ask! Having conversations with your current and prospective customers is key because it gives you a chance to ask “open-ended” questions (e.g., questions that start with "What" or "How") that will allow you to glean valuable insight into their world.

I recognize that for some, taking this step might be a little uncomfortable. Indeed, you may find that not all customers will be so easily forthcoming in describing their key issues/wants/needs. However, I hope you will believe me when I say that simply going through the process of asking thoughtful questions about their business will distinguish you from most other photographers who might not be as savvy when speaking about business-related items. I’ve seen this approach work throughout my career and I’m confident that it will work with your photography business as well.

Step 4: Create Your Value Proposition
By this point in your brand development process, you should have a lot of information related to you, your customers, your marketplace, and your competitors. Organizing it all into a cohesive whole is what a value proposition statement is all about. In a nutshell, a value proposition statement is a concise, clear statement that fills in the three blanks in the following sentence:

For [insert target client] who need [insert their chief pain point(s)], I deliver [insert the best of you/your work and how it helps to resolve #2].

A value proposition statement allows you to explain three things:

  • How your photography addresses one or more of the client’s specific concerns or “pain points”
  • The specific benefits they’ll be gaining from your photography
  • Why they should use you and not one of your competitors

In summary, having a clear value proposition is extremely important to the overall success of your brand. It will be at the heart of all aspects of your business including sales, marketing, and relationship management efforts.

Step 5: Test and Validate
Once you’ve put together your value proposition statement, the only way to make sure that it will resonate with your customers is to ask them what they think of it. Find out if your customers can make sense of it from their perspective. If not, then you can ask them about what they think might be missing. Having this sort of interaction not only helps you tighten up your value proposition, it increases the number of contacts that you have with your target customer group; and that’s a good thing!

Step 6: Align Your Brand
Once your value proposition has been validated by current and important target customers, you then must start to make sure that every interaction, ­ every “touch-point” with them ­ serves to entrench their experience of your brand. Establishing consistency in the customer’s mind is key.

Moving Forward Bravely…
Remember that YOU are your brand… being able to fully understand yourself and what you bring to your photography business allows you to portray both what you do and how you do it. Having this awareness and combining it with all the other “market intelligence” that you gather, allows you to articulately and confidently answer the following questions:

  • Who am I? What drives me?
  • Who are my target customers?
  • What makes me different?
  • Why should people care?

Coming up with solid answers to these questions and applying them to your photography business allows you to generate a consistent and positive experience for your customers that they will associate with you–and it’s THAT positive association that is ultimately what you want to achieve with your brand and your branding efforts.

Tony Colangelo is a residential and commercial photographer, as well as a photography coach, based in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is a long-time contributor to PFRE and is the creator of The Art & Science of Great Composition tutorial series.

5 comments on “Core Branding: A Step-by-Step Overview on How to Create Your Brand and Stand Out in Your Market”

  1. Today, I shared an elevator with a couple as I was leaving the PFRE Conference at the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas, and they asked me who was my favorite speaker. I loved all of the presentations and told them that almost all of my action items came from Tony Colangelo's brand presentation. It was evident that Tony worked his ass off during this fantastic and inspirational convention. BRAVO!

  2. @Jim Barnes - Thank you for your very kind compliment, Jim, I really appreciate it! I'm glad you found value in my Branding presentation and that you'll be able to apply it quickly ... and thank you for coming to the PFRE Conference, too. 🙂

    @Frank - It's my guess that you're presuming that a brand has to be instantly recognizable by the masses (like Coke or Disney, etc.), then, with all due respect, Frank, the answer to your question is yes. In our niche photography field, Mike Kelley has a very clear brand and his brand is distinct from Scott Hargis's whose is distinct from Wayne Capili's whose is distinct from mine or Garey Gomez's or Mike Lefevbre's or any other photographer who has put thought and work into defining how they want to be recognized and how they want to influence their current and prospective clients ... and we're all individual proprietors.

  3. @ Frank -- You're not getting it. 🙂

    Tony, as well as the other presenters, give use lots to think about and ideas that will help us improve our businesses.

    As Tony presented and summarizes here, it takes work to create your brand. And just as much to keep it working for you.

    Again, Thanks Tony. For your insights and your hard work to help make the first PFRE Conference a success.

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