In the photo industry, “branding” seems to be a dirty eight-letter word, even though it’s crucial to success. If photography is your hobby, then no, branding isn’t essential. But if your business is commercial or editorial photography, then yes, it is.
The first mistake people make, truly, is not understanding branding. What exactly is “branding?” Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” As a business owner, it’s very difficult to succeed unless you stand out; and in a world where so many image-makers offer similar services and pricing, branding adds a personal element – a personality to your business.
Branding is how you fit into the marketplace. Maybe your brand is urban sophistication. Maybe it’s celebrating parenthood. Either way, your images are not generic. They are about something.
Once you have clearly defined your brand, it’s time to get consistent. Do you think it’s wise to put 20 photos in your portfolio, representing 20 different styles? You might think 20 different clients will look at your work and find that one thing they like, but the reality is those 20 clients don’t see the one perfect image – they see 19 that aren’t.
These days, there are plenty of photographers out there who can take a decent shot. Who would hire a photographer without being sure of what style of images they are going to shoot? By showing consistency in your work, you reduce this risk. And consistency in your work is about owning something, making that something yours. The product or subject may change, but the same overall spirit is there – because it’s on-brand.
Now that you’ve defined your brand and made sure it’s consistent throughout your work, ask yourself: Is there a target audience that relates to your brand? Ultimately, this is why we brand. We want the viewer to make an emotional connection to our work. Advertising is all about evoking emotions – products don’t sell themselves.
A strong brand reflects a targeted group’s desires, aspirations, and ideals. Strong brands are actually seen as part of that targeted group, not just something purchased every now and then. Is McDonald’s just a restaurant, or a magical place for 6-year-olds? Is Nike about casual wear, or how professional athletes gear up when they perform?
As a photographer, you have a gift for communication. With one single image, you can make a statement about first-time parenthood, or recapture the magic of childhood, or make an ordinary Joe seem like the planet’s biggest badass. Achieving success in photography is about connecting with the right people, at the right time.
So, find your brand. Then find the clients that not only like what you’re doing, but they also need it – because your brand is the best way to communicate their ideas.
Karen D'Silva is one of today's most influential creatives in the commercial photography community. She founded Karen DSilva Creative Services, a trend, marketing and research company designed to help photographers understand the marketplace, find where their images fit, and profile and market to clients who share the same photographic vision. She is also currently a Creative Consultant at Agency Access.
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