Author: Jordan Powers
Some of you reading this may just be starting your photography business and are having a hard time getting clients. A lot of you have an established photography business but are just not seeing the results that you want to see, or maybe you have competition that seems to be taking all of the business. Either way, there may seem to be a wall of some sort that you are hitting that seems to be preventing people from hiring you for one reason or another. This is frustrating. It almost makes you want to give up trying sometimes. Honestly, it shouldn't be this hard. You have a service that people need to use... so why aren't they using it? Well, chances are, the problem isn’t with your photography or your equipment… you most likely have a branding problem.
I would not consider myself the expert on branding, but I do consider myself qualified enough to talk about the subject as it relates to us photographers. Often when the word “branding” is used, people think of the logo. Logos are one of the first things in our business that we get excited about making. There is something about it that makes it feel kind of official that we now have a business. It is something we can be proud of before our business even sees any hint of success. The trouble, I have found, with the business logo is that it is often made based on what we think looks cool versus actually being designed to do what a logo is supposed to do. I have been there, and truth is... I am going through this process right now. I have both a real estate photography business and am also in the beginning stages of building a personal brand for interiors and architecture photography. My real estate photography business has a fairly strong brand; one that I've invested a lot of time and money into designing. If you were to check out my website, you will find that it looks nothing like any real estate photography website you’ve seen… because there are no photos of houses anywhere! My business is all about being a marketing partner for the clients that I work with. My personal brand, on the other hand, is still very much in the beginning stages, even though I am about a year into the process. If you were to check out that site, it looks pretty much like every other interiors photography website you might look at; minimal, white, some menus, and a portfolio. No logo yet though, lol!
When I first started, I didn't really understand the concept of branding to the extent that I do now. I knew some of the basic concepts and thoughts behind logo design but like everyone else, I thought "okay, I have this business I want to start… I need to make a logo!.” So I made this logo with an aperture (of course) and distressed font (because that was what was cool back then) because I wanted people to know that I was more of an “edgy” kind of photographer... so that is exactly what my logo communicated. Problem is, I wasn't edgy, lol! I was actually kind of timid and chill and insecure in my photography. The edgy thing didn’t match who I actually was. On top of that, I thought to myself… nobody really knows what this aperture symbol even is! They might know it has something to do with photography… but was having that really necessary?
At the time, I was primarily shooting weddings and portraits. This was about 10 years ago, so believe it or not--education online was still a fairly new thing. I started reading about marketing and branding and learned a lot from some of the big shot photographers in the wedding and portrait world and began to really understand what branding was. There was a video that wedding photographer Mike Colon put out called “Marketing to Higher End Brides” that talked a lot about this brand concept. There was one part in particular that still stands out to me where he talked about making sure that the carpet was freshly vacuumed so that the couple he was meeting with would notice the fresh lines in the carpet. Really? The carpet? I also read the book “Fast Track Photographer” by Dane Sanders which had an exercise in it that I participated in which helped you whittle down what your brand promise was. There were countless other resources that I studied which really helped me understand branding at the fundamental level, but I still had a lot to learn.
After I finally understood what branding was, I had my logo redesigned. I worked with one of those logo competition companies like 99designs.com and gave them the description of my business and brand promise as well as explained the things that I did not want. After doing this, I had a pretty solid logo designed that matched me and the people I was trying to market to. They even made an emblem for me that didn’t really mean anything in particular, but the design communicated a peacefulness and a balance that I was trying to communicate in my wedding and portrait work. My entire website was designed this way as well. I had music playing on my website that matched the brand. For the most part, I would say that I became fairly successful and I can say a lot of that was because of the brand… not just the photography. When you have good photography inter-weaved with design elements that are intentionally designed to make your client feel a certain way, you have a brand.
YOUR LOGO IS NOT YOUR BRAND
So let’s get back to the whole logo thing. In case you haven’t gathered yet, a logo is not a brand. A logo is simply a representation of your brand. So... what is your brand? Your brand is you. It is how you present yourself. It is how you dress and talk and walk. It is your values and morals as a person or as an entity. It is your style. Your brand is what makes people feel a certain way about you. It is your personality. This is why you might see me cringe when people use a camera, or a house, or an aperture for their logo. Don’t get me wrong, it is okay if those elements are used... but only if they accurately represent the message you are trying to communicate. Even if my logo has some clichés in it… they are very intentional and subtle.
Do you think Apple fans exist because of the operating system? No; it's because of the design. Not just the design of their machines, but the design of the entire experience. From the way the employees dress, their ads, the design of their products... including the names of their products. Every single thing that Apple does is designed. It is designed with the brand in mind. The opposite happens when it comes to the PC. The problem with the PC is that there really is no brand identity of the PC itself. There are computer manufacturers that have their own brands, and Microsoft certainly has a brand, but when a Mac user thinks of a PC... what do they think about? It is unstable. It is cheap. They get viruses. They are slower... but any PC user will likely say that isn't actually the case. So... how is this possible? It is all about the branding. This is why branding your photography business is so critical if you don't want to just have another commodity. If you really want to build a business that customers will latch onto and become loyal fans of, you need to brand yourself properly.
HOW TO BRAND YOURSELF PROPERLY
Okay, so how do you go about branding yourself or your company? Well, you could hire a company to help you through that process for thousands of dollars but chances are, for the majority of us, that isn't an option. There are different programs you could follow that could help you do this on your own. For me? I use the StoryBrand framework. At the very basic level, you could do something as simple as writing down on a sheet of paper all of the things that are important to you; how you want people to perceive you; and even how much money you want to make. Pretty much just sit down and write a short (or long) essay about your dream business. From there, you could have a close friend or significant other read it and have them ask some questions about it. Take these questions and write them down. Answer them and include them as part of this exercise. From there, just take everything that you wrote and paraphrase it. Trim out the fat and just leave the bones... because this is your foundation, and building a strong foundation is what is going to help you build a sustainable business. Otherwise, just Google “How do I brand myself?” And follow the instructions on one of the thousands of articles written on this subject. Either way, I can assure you that regardless of the steps you take to begin the branding process, when you are finished, you will have much more clarity in your business. And then, when you go have a logo designed to match your brand, you can take this paraphrased essay that you've written or these other resources and share it with your designers because what they design should more closely match the brand that you are building.
You should really start working on this today. Even if it is just the simple exercise of writing out that essay I just talked about. If you don't strongly consider rebranding your business, you will likely stay where you are or quit... or you will just grow very slowly. Or, maybe I am wrong; you might be perfectly comfortable with how things are going for you and if that is the case, then don't change a thing! Keep going! Don’t fix something that isn’t broken. After all, the goal for all of us is to build a business that works for us and if your business is working for you… you’ve made it.
HERE ARE SOME RESOURCES THAT I HAVE FOUND HELPFUL:
“Building A Storybrand” by Donald Miller - This is the framework that my current business is modeled after. This is not for everybody, but it has done amazing things for my business. It will not only help you with your branding, but the way you communicate. Even this article was written using the story brand framework.
“Fast Track Photographer” by Dane Sanders - I haven’t read this book in 10 years so the references might be dated, but the principles are very much relevant. This book is especially good if you want a better understanding of what it means to build a photography business and think like a CEO.
99Designs.com - Great resource to use for your logo design after you have defined your brand. I would highly recommend not designing a logo yourself; pay the $300 to have it designed for you. If you expect people to pay you hundreds of dollars for professional photography, walk the talk; pay someone to make your logo for you.
How to brand yourself - This is literally just a link to the Google search “How to brand yourself”. It doesn’t get any easier than this.