Resolve

A collaborative online community that brings together photographers and creative professionals of every kind to find ways to keep photography relevant, respected, and profitable.

Have an idea for a post?

Want us to find an answer to your question? Interested in becoming a contributor?Email us

‹ Home

November 19th, 2009

Does your brand set you apart from the crowd?

Posted by Steve Coleman

There aren’t many photographers who are also branding consultants or art directors at a successful design firm. Since Steve Coleman is all three things, we thought he’d be the perfect person to help photographers understand and strategize their branding efforts. His first post explained exactly what a brand is (and isn’t). This one will help you define your brand attributes.
One of Peter Lik's "destination" galleries showcasing his landscape photography.

One of Peter Lik's "destination" galleries showcasing his landscape photography.

As I explained in my first post, a brand is not a logo or a website or a design. A brand is a promise, what people trust, feel, and believe you or your product to be. Branding is how you express that promise to people. Here’s some tips to help you define your brand — only then can you express it through branding.

First, your brand will ultimately be defined by other people, mostly your customers and potential customers. They will make up their minds about you and you will usually have to live with it. Your job in building your brand is to try and influence them before their minds are made up. It is easier when they don’t yet know you and harder when they do.

Therefore, your brand can not be just anything you want it to be. It needs to be based on some truth about you, as well as client needs. Otherwise your brand will be rejected as not credible. Your brand also needs to be flexible so that it can evolve as you or the market change over time.

For example, while Polaroid’s brand was successfully built around innovation in instant imaging, its brand become too closely associated with chemical imaging in the minds of consumers and has struggled to stay connected with people in a digital world.

“When they need what you’ve got, you want them to know exactly who to call.”

Second, be clear about what you need your brand to achieve at a strategic level. For most people this will be to set you apart from your competitors, to make you top of mind and memorable. By default, a brand should also say who you are not. A strong, healthy brand never tries to be all things to all people. Strategically your brand offers a way for clients and potential clients to quickly and easily categorize you. When they need what you’ve got, you want them to know exactly who to call. Ideally your brand should also make you look like the original or the best solution, making it hard for others to copy you.

Here are some great examples of photographers who have done this successfully.


Terry Richardson has one of the strongest brands I have ever seen. He has no logo and no real design to his website. Yet he stands out. He is unique, highly memorable. He shoots some of the world’s most famous people with a small, inexpensive digital camera. Why is his brand so strong? In a world full of smartly presented photographers who all look, shoot, and feel similar, Terry is distinctly different. (Check out the video, where Terry talks about his approach and his new Belvedere Vodka campaign.)

Another example is Australian landscape photographer Peter Lik. In a market saturated with great landscape photography, much of which never sells, Peter’s business generates more than $30,000,000 per year (US!!). Peter’s photography, while brilliant, is hardly the sole reason for his success. The essence of Peter Lik’s brand is the creation of a photographic experience. In particular, his galleries are must-see destinations. What you buy is not just a beautiful picture but a small part of everything that you experience in Peter’s world.

The critical third stage in defining your brand is determining what the attributes are that make up your brand. Attributes are like brand DNA. These are the tangible and intangible, emotional and functional characteristics that you and your business, product, or service are — or could credibly become. If expressed and managed correctly, these attributes become the reasons for people to trust and do business with you.

Here’s an example. I asked 10 people who know of Peter Lik to give me 20 words that describe what they believe him to be. I put every word, including those repeated, into Wordle, which creates a prioritized word cloud showing most-used bigger and least-used smaller. This this is a visual representation of Peter Lik’s brand attributes, according to these 10 people.

Picture 92

You’ll notice that the functional description of him as a “landscape photographer” is rated low. From a brand perspective, this is excellent because being a landscape photographer is just the cost of entry, it is not enough to define him as unique. Peter has purposefully built his brand around the attributes that help set him apart. That is how a strong brand works.

So, how do you determine your attributes? Here are eight questions that will help you find them. The depth and honesty to which you answer these question will determine the ultimate quality and strength of your brand. Other people’s input is also important, so also ask your friends, family, staff, and customers.

  1. Why do people buy products and services in your market?
    List the functional reasons (a record of my wedding, thank-you gifts for friends & family) as well as the emotional reasons (memories, a sense of family and belonging).
  2. What are people’s specific needs that influence their purchase?
    Needs can also be functional (photographer needs to have a good reputation, work weekdays, be affordable) or needs can be emotional (photographer needs to be trendy and hi-profile, I need to like him/her). People’s needs can be based on fear (my friend’s wedding pictures were awful, she was devastated) or on hope (I remember looking through my grandparents’ wedding album, I want to have the same thing for my grandchildren).
  3. How do you meet these needs?
    These can be functional or emotional, tangible or intangible. Try to break them down into things you share with your competitors and things that only you (or very few people) do.
  4. In what areas can you prove superior performance?
    What are you absolutely the best at?
  5. What special advantages do you have?
    (e.g. ownership, accreditations, endorsements, famous people you have shot)
  6. In what areas would you like to move into and specialize in?
    (e.g. video weddings or off-beat weddings)
  7. What do you and or your business stand for?
    Think about your values and beliefs and identify personal passions you have that might help you connect with customers.
  8. What is surprising, original, or memorable about you?
    (e.g. you drive around town in a specially painted bright pink VW beetle with white hubs… and always wear bright pink glasses.)

If you don’t have a list of 50 or more answers from the above questions, you need to dig deeper. From this list you can cull the attributes on which to build a strong, ownable brand. I’ll talk about how to do that in my next post.


11 Comments

  1. November 19th, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Carr Clifton

    Thanks for the information.
    I’ve been a professional landscape/nature photographer for thirty years and your view of Peter Lik is colored by attributes that have polluted the entire photographic community. Success is not always measured by money, especially in the arts. Yes, everyone needs to make a living – Peter Lik is a successful salesman, he is not an inspiration or an original artist.

  2. November 19th, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Steve Coleman

    Hello Carr…. I know of your work. I find your work wonderful and inspiring.
    I not sure what “view” has been “colored” that your refer to. My article is about branding and marketing. That is an area where Peter Lik has had great success. Is he the best landscape photographer or an original artist? Is money the only measure of success? I did not, and would never say that. Either way, they would be my value judgements and people can make up their own minds. In Peter Lik’s case many people are voting with their wallets. I like to think that the world is a big enough place that we can embrace, respect and honour photographers of all styles even if they are different to our own likes and beliefs. Who am I to say what is art?

    Cheers Steve

  3. November 19th, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    Rebecca Severson

    I’m SO THANKFUL I found this on Scott Anderson’s facebook feed today! So much valuable, critical info here. I really appreciate you sharing all of this! I’m getting ready to start working with a designer on my brand, so this is PERFECT timing for me.

  4. November 23rd, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Antony

    Steve,
    This is great. I love photography… sometimes I feel like I see the world through different eyes than my clients though.

    Maybe I’m just trying too hard to be all things to all people. The most exciting thing about what your saying is that maybe I should focus more on just being what I am.

    If more people who love my photography knew I was there and became customers I wouldn’t need to compromise. By compromising, I guess I’m just making it harder for people to know what I’m really all about.

    I know where you’re coming from with the whole concept of money. Its not what we’re all about
    but I have to eat so making money is a part of my life. It’s just one consideration that lives outside of ‘the art’. Being wealthy isn’t a measure of great are… but neither is being broke.

  5. November 29th, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    digital wedding album designing

    Great information.
    Thanks.

    Regards,
    http://www.sblgraphics.com/Album-design_service.aspx

  6. December 9th, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Rachelle Mee-Chapman

    Nicely stated, Steve. Thank you.

  7. December 10th, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    - Monthly Links We Loved

    […] Another great post on branding for photographers courtesy of liveBooks’ Resolve Blog: Does your brand set you apart from the crowd? […]

  8. January 11th, 2010 at 2:50 am

    myaggie2

    Steve,

    I always read blogs about branding because no matter how precise and specific the article I seem to still come away with only a vague understanding. You've hit home with me on several points. May I run them by you to see if I've understood correctly?

    I don't know if it qualifies as my brand, but a nickname stuck on me early in my career. I'm called the Grandma Moses of the American Southwest (http://www.aggiev.org).

    I was dubbed that because I do photographic art, which just means I do a lot of digital darkroom to make life look the way I see it, not the way the camera sees it, which in my world is called Aggie Logic.

    As for the attributes, I've become known as the writer/photographer who takes you to "secret places." (http://www.aggiev.org/aggielogic/what-is-aggie-lo… and takes you with me to those places via my virtual photo shoots. (http://www.aggiev.org/aggielogic/join_me_virtual_… and stories behind the pix (http://www.aggiev.org/aggielogic/story-behind-the

    None of this was really purposeful — it just evolved as I searched my own style(s).

    But this name (Grandmas Moses of the American Southwest) has become what people think of when they think of my work, before they think of my real name. I guess that makes it my brand. And I guess it does make my work stand out from other landscapers. Would you agree?

  9. January 11th, 2010 at 2:53 am

    myaggie2

    Steve, I always read blogs about branding because no matter how precise and specific the article I seem to still come away with only a vague understanding. You've hit home with me on several points. May I run them by you to see if I've understood correctly?

    I don't know if it qualifies as my brand, but a nickname stuck on me early in my career. I'm called the Grandma Moses of the American Southwest (http://www.aggiev.org).

    I was dubbed that because I do photographic art, which just means I do a lot of digital darkroom to make life look the way I see it, not the way the camera sees it, which in my world is called Aggie Logic.

    As for the attributes, I've become known as the writer/photographer who takes you to "secret places." (http://www.aggiev.org/aggielogic/what-is-aggie-lo… and takes you with me to those places via my virtual photo shoots. (http://www.aggiev.org/aggielogic/join_me_virtual_… and stories behind the pix (http://www.aggiev.org/aggielogic/story-behind-the

    None of this was really purposeful — it just evolved as I searched my own style(s).

    But this name (Grandmas Moses of the American Southwest) has become what people think of when they think of my work, before they think of my real name. I guess that makes it my brand. And I guess it does make my work stand out from other landscapers. Would you agree?

  10. January 14th, 2010 at 11:03 am

    Does your brand set you apart from the crowd? | RESOLVE — the …

    […] Here is the original post:  Does your brand set you apart from the crowd? | RESOLVE — the … […]

  11. January 20th, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Sarah

    I think Peter Lik's work is amazing! While the success of an artist or anyone for that matter should not solely be based upon their bottom line it is undeniable that Peter Lik has created a name and personal brand. He is respected the world over for his incredible work which, to me, is how you measure his success. I keep up with Peter's latest work through his blog. For those of you who are interested check it out: http://bit.ly/5zSy3F

Leave a reply




 

READY TO GET STARTED?

Pick your package. Pick your design.
No credit card required.

Start 14-day Free Trial
Compare packages

FREE EBOOK

Learn how to engage your audience and
build brand recognition across social
channels. Learn more...

Free eBook

Search Resolve

Search