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September 24th, 2009

Do you have a brand – or do you just have a logo?

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. First question: What exactly is a brand anyway?

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.

Why does everyone want this camera? The Hasselblad brand makes a promise, and keeps it.

Why does everyone want this camera? The Hasselblad brand makes a promise - and keeps it.

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.

So what is a brand? A brand is a promise.

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:

  • Who are you?
  • What makes you different?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Why should people buy from you?
  • When your name is mentioned, what do you want people to immediately think?
  • What is your promise to them?
  • Can you live up to that promise?

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.

Questions? Steve is happy to answer them. Leave your questions in the comments and he’ll respond (also in the comments). He’s in Australia, so please be patient :)


  1. September 24th, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Frank Rogozienski


    You make a really important distinction: Brand vs. Branding. I know I’ve fallen short many times in my career mistaking Branding for my Brand….


  2. September 25th, 2009 at 3:31 am

    Photographers having “a brand” « TOPICS

    […] DC 11:31 am on September 25, 2009 Log in to leave a Comment Tags: brand, media economy (26), photography (53) Do you have a brand – or do you just have a logo? | RESOLVE — the liveBooks photo blog. […]

  3. September 26th, 2009 at 8:57 pm


    Hi Steve,

    Does that mean I don’t need a logo at all?

    Thanks Lisa

  4. September 26th, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    Steve Coleman

    Hi Lisa

    That’s right, you don’t need a logo at all to have a strong brand. That said, it does help to have an identifying logo or Trade Mark.

    Here is a photographer who has a very powerful brand yet has no logo. In fact, his web site has no real design at all to speak of. What’s more, he shoots high end fashion using nothing other than a cheap pocket sized digital camera. His name is Terry Richardson. What makes his brand so powerful is his unique and distinctive approach to photography. His uniqueness is the essence of his brand and this has helped him to ‘own’ a place in the minds of thousands of potential clients and photography buyers world wide. He stands out from the crowd and that is the sign of a strong healthy brand.

    Here is his web site and some Youtube links:

  5. September 26th, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Steve Coleman

    Frank yes, and you might be surprised at how many sophisticated marketing people don’t get it. That’s why so many brands look & feel the same. They focus on ‘look’ and decoration and fail to build on a strategy about why they are unique and different.

    Here are a few great easy read books on Branding:

  6. September 28th, 2009 at 9:16 pm


    How do I start to develop a brand when there are hundreds of equally talented photographers competing with me for the same jobs?


  7. October 1st, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    Steve Coleman

    Hi Tony,

    You have asked a big question. I going to answer it in my next post on RESOLVE where I can give you a quality answer. That said, when your up against a lot of competitors, a strong brand is exactly what you need to standout from the pack and get noticed. A strong brand when it is well expressed will also communicate why you are different. Even though many of your competitors may be of equal talent, each of us has our own unique points of difference which we need to ‘capture’ and share with clients. A strong brand is also your opportunity to communicate things which may well be the same as your competitors, but to do so in a way that is more compelling and effective than your competitors.

    Stay tuned…. cheers Steve

  8. December 18th, 2009 at 7:58 pm


    Steve, will you help me pick a good name for my hobby soon to turn semi-commercial photo/video business?

  9. January 23rd, 2010 at 1:38 am

    Steve Coleman

    Yep, however I would suggest that the best name is your name. read my second post here and put some thought to the questions I ask:

  10. January 1st, 2010 at 10:32 pm


    Physical To,hold lay opinion president desire photograph collection chief creation road none plan include background origin anyone set church administration call protect bank language tear wish implication principle deputy outcome number through land climb artist independent immediate vote whatever retain big judge employment on destroy speech increase interpretation hell may servant play background record against these computer poor leave whereas judge milk map sing one god enterprise notice partner i right series pound glass proposal switch character and heat note company get without staff district drive nation

  11. June 26th, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    Brand or Logo | Bradford Smith Photography

    […] or Logo June 27, 2010 By Brad Leave a CommentBrand, or logo? Thoughts on the dif­fer­ences: Do you have a brand — or do you just have a logo? Filed Under: Notes Tagged With: Recommended ViewingAbout BradThis is the personal blog and […]

  12. July 20th, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Hi, Social Media, nice to meet you | HEY MIKI

    […] What is a brand? “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. […]

  13. August 17th, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Social Getworking Part 2 – The Missing Panelist « APA San Francisco

    […] Selling, Start Connecting The resume is dead, the bio is king What is a brand? “Why” not “What” Press Releases for Bloggers Trust Agents (Trust Economies […]

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