Branding is a word that gets thrown around quite a bit in the photography community, but what does it really mean for your business?
Generally when people think of branding, they think of creating a great logo, website, or business card. These are all parts of a successful brand strategy, but they aren’t the whole picture. If you aren’t implementing these aspects in the right way, your brand isn’t having the impact that it could.
A brand isn’t pretty decoration, it’s a pattern of behavior. It’s the way a person feels about a product or service. This feeling about you, and your business, influences their purchasing decisions. It determines whether or not they trust you and, ultimately, whether or not they hire you. For most photographers, you are your brand. Everything you do, from how you respond to inquiries to how you act at a photo shoot, communicates the character of your brand. So how can you get the most out of your brand?
Building a brand means being visually consistent. You should have the same logo on your website, your printed materials, your business cards, on everything. It takes people several impressions before they remember something, and seeing the same logo repeatedly builds recognition. 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, from start to finish, they know who they’re dealing with. They know what sort of service and quality they can expect from you.
What you say has a direct effect on your clients’ opinion of you, which has a direct effect on your business. This is an important thing to remember in the age of social media and quick publishing. Before you send out a tweet or a blog post, consider if it will build your brand or take away from it. Your voice should be consistent across your client communications – blog posts, emails, and printed materials. Is your brand friendly? Formal? How do you want people to feel about your business? Your voice should match who you are in person when interacting with clients. Take 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, one that’s personal to them, you should be able to identify the author.
The most important part of your branding is the product: your photography. Prospective clients should know it’s your work before they ever see the logo. Define your own style of shooting, and identify what makes you different from your competition.
Photographers are encouraged to find their niche in the industry, and for good reason. If you’re looking for an editorial fashion photographer, would you be more likely to hire someone who only shoots fashion 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. But these people also market those subjects as completely separate businesses. You may want to shoot weddings and fine art landscapes. The audience you’re trying to reach for each of these are very different, and the branding and marketing for each has to be approached separately.
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, or 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.
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