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If you’re at all into marketing or shopping, there are some brands that you admire. Perhaps one or two come to mind right away. Your photo lab, your camera brand, your favorite coffee shop, or, perhaps, that shoe designer that always causes you to squeal, “I’ve gotta have a pair!”
You don’t have to be a raging consumerist to be a fan of brands. In fact, you may know of a very small, unassuming brand that very few people know about, but that you greatly adore.
Take note of why your most coveted brands are so madly appealing. It may serve as a bit of inspiration as we gallivant through this exercise about your own photography business brand. Here’s what we’ll cover:
1. Find Yourself
If you’ve been struggling to identify the answer to this question for some time, you’re certainly not alone. Most photographers, in fact most entrepreneurial businesses, are challenged to answer this question with succinct language and confidence.
If a magnificent phrase of approximately 1-3 sentences didn’t just spew out of you, don’t worry. We’ll come back to this point in just a bit.
2. Identify What Makes You Unique
There might be something you believe that’s uniquely your perspective on the world. Perhaps it’s an uncommon thing to shoot. Or maybe, the market you serve is undervalued or otherwise ignored by other photographers.
This step, just like step one, is another that photographers frequently struggle with. Intuition tells us to try to be everything to everyone so we can earn money from all directions. In truth, this is one of the world’s worst, most boring and certainly most overplayed marketing strategies. As a result, customers have trouble finding anything different about your business, which always resorts to competing on price.
Often, photographers blame the saturated market and the proliferation of digital cameras as the cause for so many lost customers who went to another photographer because of price. I believe infantile marketing and unremarkable brand positioning are more to blame.
3. Work on your Message
I teach a business class to photography seniors at Drexel University, a school known for their hardcore internship program. All of the students had more experience working on large-scale photo shoots for some of the country’s biggest brands, including Target, Urban Outfitters, Comcast and more, than most other already established professional photographers.
I went around the room and asked each of the students to tell me what they thought was particularly unique and remarkable about the place where they fulfilled their internships.
When I got to one student, she said, “The photographer really cares about her clients.”
“That’s unique?” I challenged.
“Well most photographers say that, but they don’t really mean what they say. It’s just marketing. The photographer I worked for really means it… she becomes friends with everyone she works with!”
If this sounds familiar or resembles the About Me page on your website, listen up.
The “I become your friend” , “I believe weddings are beautiful” , “all babies are precious, let me capture yours” kinds of messages don’t work:
- None of those messages break through marketing clutter and resonate like you’re intending them to.
- If everyone says it, even if you really mean it, it doesn’t matter…. everyone says it. End of story.
- There is no contrast to carve out a market for you. In other words, if all other photographers in your area shooting weddings thought that weddings were all BS, you’d suddenly look pretty unique. It’s probably not the case, so you’ll have to work a little harder to become worth talking about.
- Rarely, if ever, does a customer hire a business because he or she wants a new friend. That may be a nice add-on benefit, but it isn’t the message she wants to read when she’s out there looking around.
4. Divide and Conquer
When people are turned off, it’s a good sign. And I don’t mean turned off because of poor service or a poor product. I’m talking about marketing that divides an audience into the fans and the people who say, “this definitely isn’t for me.”
If your business isn’t turning some people away toward selecting another photographer, instead, something’s wrong. Keep working at it until you’ve at least identified a few groups of people that’d be better served elsewhere.
5. Focus on your Ideal Client
Sometimes figuring out your brand is easily done once you focus on the people you believe would be happier with another photographer, instead. By identifying who your business is not designed for, you can start to identify the people that it is designed for.
Which clients–whether actual or imaginary at this point–do you want to clone because they make you come alive?
6. Have a Reason
It’s important to you and your employees, if you have any, to know why you do your work. For your customers, however, the “why” is rarely interesting enough to catch their attention, at least at first.
If you are among the few photographers that have a heart-wrenching story that led you to becoming a photographer, then this is part of your brand and is likely interesting enough to get you noticed by the right clients, assuming you’re willing to share it.
For the rest of us, the reason why we became photographers is not significant enough to be marketable material.
So if your story is pretty typical, that’s cool. But remember, you’re looking for pockets of uniqueness to use as pieces of a puzzle making up an elevated brand.
I suggest leaving anything ho-hum off your website.
For the vast majority of you, the answer to the question, “how do you do your work?” is potentially a more interesting part of your brand. You may do things for your clients that always happened “behind the scenes,” and now it’s time to reveal it to potential clients. More and more, photographers are finding a short promotional, branded video a great means of communicating this information.
7. Tie it all Together
If you’ve been dying for an example all this time, here you go:
Here’s a branding example using my own photography business brand that brings us back to the answer to step one by going through the subsequent steps, first.
2. I love photographing newborns and am fascinated with alternative parents, whether they be same-sex parents, interracial, a little on the “crunchy side” or otherwise unconventional.
3. I have yet to find another newborn photographer that makes alternative lifestyle parents feel comfortable like I do.
4. If the average parent or mother-to-be can’t hang with someone that understands and connects with those that walk to a different beat, there are plenty of other photographers they’d be better suited for.
5. The answer to this question is obvious to me, but it took some time to figure out. If yours isn’t coming easy for you, I encourage you to read more, learn more and talk more about your business and what types of costumers you enjoy the most and, most importantly, what commonalities do they share?
6. I’m actually working on a video to show people exactly how I do my work. A close friend and I set up a video camera at a shoot and just let it roll. I did my thing for two hours, and now I’m simply planning on editing it down with a voiceover into a 60 second reveal into my work. It’s extrermely easy to pull together, and anyone can do it, even if you just need to rent some extra equipment for a day.
Finish up at the first step… 1. I’m a newborn photographer for parents that enjoy a slightly alternative lifestyle. These are the kinds of parents who believe love is love, no matter what it looks like or what shape it comes in. They’re seeking an image creator who knows how to capture that in photographs.
Next Steps for Building a Brand
Listen to my speech at the Dream Bigger Conference telesummmit (affiliate). I’m speaking on the topic of branding and uniqueness in the opening session, titled “How To Never Have To Market Your Business Again”.