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With the rapid change happening in the photography industry, we photographers are becoming part of a much larger, more competitive, more sophisticated global economy. Potential clients now have access to innumerable choices, and any photographer is now just one option in an overwhelming smorgasbord of photographic options. To compete in this economy, photographers need to have a new skill set that includes the ability to define, express, and manage their brand.
A well defined brand strategy can improve your profits, your reputation, and the likelihood you’ll be considered for future jobs. It may even effect whether your business succeeds or fails.
But I’m not here to convince you that you need a brand strategy, nor to tell you what it should be (I’ll discuss those another day). Rather, I want to take a step back and help you understand what a brand is. Unless you understand that, it will be difficult to ever build the most effective brand possible.
If we asked most people what a brand is, their answers would likely be tangible things like logos (the Nike swoosh) or colours (the red of a coke can) or words (BMW’s “The Ultimate Driving Machine”). Likewise, when people set out to build their brand, they usually focus on the same tangible things. “I need a brand” translates to “I need to build a ‘look’ or ‘style.’” While these are important elements or expressions of a brand, they are not the brand itself.
So what is a brand? A brand is a promise. It is whatever people think, feel, trust, and believe you, your business, or your product will give them if they buy from you. It exists inside people’s minds, out of your reach — yet it’s a big part of why they buy from you.
Logos, colours, fonts and words are simply how you try to convey your brand’s promise to people. Thus a “brand” is a promise and “branding” is all the tangible things you use to express that.
Confused? Let me give you an example. If you mention the name “Hasselblad” to photographers and ask them to describe the brand in a single word, you’ll get similar responses: expensive, quality, icon, fashionable, professional, reliable. Many photographers will express a deep desire to own one. That’s the sign of a great brand. But this deep desire to own a Hasselblad, and the positive way photographers describe the brand, does not come from a logo, website, or colour. It comes from a brand promise, which many photographers believe and which Hasselblad has spent decades cultivating.
What has helped make the Hasselblad brand so strong and effective? For starters, Hasselblad has clearly defined the promise it makes to customers. What’s more, it is a promise they make sure they keep. It is based on a truth about who Hasselblad is and what its customers need.
Does this mean that Hasselblad is the best camera of its kind? Not necessarily. In fact, successful brands are often not the “best” products in their category. But within its market, Hasselblad is one of the best at managing its brand. This has lead them to a better understanding of how to effectively express and communicate that brand to people. The result is that Hasselblad “owns” a position in the minds of a lot of people, which in turn has lead to success where other businesses have failed.
So why is this important? It’s important to understand that your brand is not decoration. It is communication. It’s important because your brand will become the platform from which you will position yourself and your business in the minds of potential customers. It’s important because what people think and feel and believe about you will influence their buying decisions. It’s important because you and your business need to live up to the promise your brand makes.
But before you put your brand to work for you, you need to define it and deeply understand it. Don’t race off and start designing a logo … stop and think.
So, what should your brand be? How do you build a brand? How do you manage your brand over time? And how do you find the best expressions of your brand so that it makes an impact in your market place?
I’ll answer those questions with a few more:
The most important thing to remember is that your brand cannot just be anything you want it to be — it needs to be credible and believable, it needs to be true.