Many photographers, as well as other creative professionals, operate under the assumption that talent alone will carry them through their careers. While this may be true for a lucky few, I wouldn’t suggest you count on it.
Today’s photography customers — from corporate clients to individuals — have a lot of choices. Too many choices, in fact. Buyers simply don’t have the time or inclination to filter and weigh all their options when choosing a photographer.
Not only that, but many clients don’t have the eye to distinguish good work from great work, particularly based on a review of an online portfolio. At a glance, they see lots of photographers offering what appear to be similar quality and results.
That’s why clients choose trust over talent in selecting a photographer. Which makes branding your business more important than ever.
Branding for Trust
Much has been said and written about branding — but ultimately, a brand is a person’s gut feeling about you or your business. Your brand isn’t what you say it is on your Web site or business cards; it’s what other people say it is.
Your clients ultimately forge your brand. When they are selecting photography services, they will ask themselves (consciously or unconsciously) a range of questions, from “What is this person promising me?” to “Will I get what I am promised?” — and even “What would people think of me if I (or my product, etc.) were shot by this photographer?”
Your role in creating your brand is to make it easier for clients to answer these questions — by being clear and consistent in what you promise and what you deliver. Just like people, brands have personalities and characters, and like people they can create relationships.
Four Elements of Perception
The brand perception is molded from four essential elements: positioning, clarity, consistency, and trust.
- Positioning. One of the most important functions of the brand is to position yourself relative to competitors. Your customers should know what makes your brand special in the same way that your friends and family know what makes you special.
- Clarity. Most of us don’t like it when people are wishy-washy, and the same is true of clients and brands. How can you expect to communicate a clear message to clients if you’re not sure what that message is?
- Consistency. Even worse than being wishy-washy is having strong opinions but constantly changing your mind. Even if people like you, they’ll begin to take you less seriously. Same for brands.
- Trust: Trust is the intersection of reliability and satisfaction. It’s where you want your brand to be.
Two Kinds of Values
Building trust is about communicating values that your clients can connect to. Clients look for two types of values:
- Threshold values. These are the values that underpin the very existence of the brand. Unless these values are delivered time again without fail, the brand will not last. For example, threshold values can be your artistic vision and integrity and your commitment to your clients.
- Differentiating values. These are those values that set you apart from the competition, giving you an edge in marketing your services. For example, differentiating values can be your absolute commitment to deadlines, your unique understanding of particular types of assignments, or your mastery of technology to better serve clients.
In today’s fiercely competitive economy, more photographers are crossing over to shoot different genres, styles and subject matter. This makes it more important than ever for you to know your values — and to hold true to them.
Start by asking yourself these questions:
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Why does it matter?
By exploring and answering these questions, no matter what direction or tangent you go in, you will be touching on the issues that really matter to your customers. At the same time, you will be filtering out all the non-essential trappings that you have tagged onto your brand — often without realizing it.