Being fiscally successful as a photographer requires more then just taking great pictures. Branding, marketing, and promoting are huge aspects of the business of photography. One of the first steps photographers often take when starting their business is designing a logo, but this can often be a mistake. Before designing a logo, photographers or really any business should carefully develop and create their brand identity. In this post, we will look at the multi-stepped process of developing and designing a photography brand.
The difference between a logo and a brand
A logo is simply a visual element. It's the mark, text, or mark and text that visually represent your business. A brand is much more then that. A brand is what the logo, hopefully, represents. A brand goes past just an image and text and becomes a personality. A brand connects emotionally with the customer; It has values, a purpose, and a mission. A brand is something that people can get behind, believe in, and trust. All too often when designing a logo we ask, "What do I want my logo to look like?" when we should be asking "Who is my brand?" It's the "who" not the "what" we need to focus on.
Step 1: Self-Analyze
The first step in the branding process is to sort out who your brand is. Ask yourself key questions about your business and be honest about the answers. Examples:
- What is the purpose of my business?
- What are my short-term goals?
- What are my long-term goals?
- What products or services do I offer?
- What does my business do differently than others in the same field?
- Who is my target customer?
- Who is my competition?
Don't stop here. As you begin to go through and answer these questions, you will undoubtedly come up with other bits of information that you think are key and essential to why you are doing this as well as who and what your company is. Write it all down. The more information you can come up with, the better. Think of your business as a person who you are creating and whom no one else knows besides yourself. What information identifies who that person is and who you want that person to be?
Step 2: Mood Board and Word List
For this article, I'll be using my wedding photography brand, Nicoll's Wedding Photography, as the case study/example. The mood board and word list are basically the same thing in that they both serve the same purpose of representing the characteristics of your brand. The difference is simply that the mood board is visual and the word list is written. The mood board is a quick collection of images that represent the feel of your brand. So if you're a wedding photographer, it doesn't mean you would find images of photographers shooting weddings and clients signing contracts, it's much less literal than that. A mood board captures the essence of your brand through imagery, so it may include textures, expressions, colors, and so on. It aims to accomplish exactly as the name states, to capture the "mood" of your brand. The word list does the same but with words. When creating your word list, don't put too much though into it. It should be quick and off the cuff. Write or type every word that comes to mind when thinking about your brand. They don't even need to make sense. Again, you are trying to capture the mood and essence of your brand through a list of words.
A word list for my wedding photography brand may look like this:
Classic - Elegant - Diamond - Cheer - Laugh - Smile - Love - Veil - Clean - Precise - Graceful - High-End - Couture - Timeless - Sweeping - Emotion - Life-Long - Platinum - Black and White - Trust - Peaceful - Solace
I created this word list as I was writing this article in about 30 seconds. I recommend setting a number, maybe 50 or 100 words, and doing this exercise 3 or 4 times until you hit your mark. My first run was 22 words so I might do this a couple more times to complete my list. The idea now is that when you go back and read through your list, you will experience who your brand is. You will feel and identify the personality of your brand. The mood boards would again do the same, visually give a feeling of who your brand is and how it makes you, or more importantly your target audience, feel.
Step 3a: Market Research
A true in-depth branding would include separate market research and a competitive audit. Actual market research would include understanding the market as a whole. In keeping with our example of Nicoll's Wedding Photography, market research would include answering questions like:
- How many weddings take place in New Orleans each year?
- How many local brides/weddings?
- How many incoming destination brides/wedding?
- How many brides hire a wedding planner?
- What is the average cost of a wedding in New Orleans?
- What on average do brides spend on photography?
- How many wedding photographers are there in New Orleans?
This can go on and on, and very well should. More detailed information, like the price points of the other photographers and how many exist at each price point, is all key information as you explore your market. You also need to consider exactly who your market it. When developing my brand for Nicoll's Wedding Photography, I decided to focus on my local market of New Orleans. I could have possibly decided focus on being a national brand or a destination brand, and that would involve a separate set of market research.
Step 3b: Competitive Audit
A Quick Note: All of the photographers included here gave me permission to do so, big thanks to all of them.
The reason I listed these as 3a and 3b is that really I think the market research is something most of us photographers are going to skip. I also think it's a matter of opinion if that's right or wrong. Obviously doing research and understanding your market as much as possible is a good move, but the reality is that the data may be daunting. Look, there are a ton of weddings in New Orleans each year, but there are two tons of wedding photographers. So to some degree, I have to throw the market research out the window and just decide that I love this. I'm going to do this anyways regardless of what the research tells me, and I am just going to create a kick-ass brand with a kick-ass product and rise above the numbers and statistics. I honestly believe that if you are becoming a photographer so you can quit your day job, you're in trouble, but if you are becoming a photographer because you love it, then you may have a good shot of being able to quit your job.
Doing an in-depth analysis of every wedding photographer in New Orleans would take forever and is very unnecessary. I've already decided that there are two tons of wedding photographers out there so I'm not competing with all of them, I'm competing with the ones on the top. To be more specific, you're are also in more direct competition with brands that are targeting a similar client. Remember Step 1, when you decided who your target market is. You're not going after every client, trust me you don't want every client. You are going after a certain client, largely based off of their taste, budget, and expectations. So I need to do a competitive audit of the other wedding photographers who are also after the same client, or more importantly, the brands that my bride will compare me to.
For my own competitive audit, I would need to include more than just the four photographers/brands I have included here. When I do a quick scan of the wedding photography landscape, I would say there are about 30 competitive brands out there, and probably 10 to 15 of those are to some degree in direct competition with my target audience. Note that there's going to be some overlap with your target clientele — when I say some degree, I mean that maybe my target clients overlap by 30 percent with Brand A but may overlap 100 percent with Brand B. Let's take a brief look at the four wedding photographers I have listed here:
- Mark Eric - Visually represented by golden glitter graphics and a red-lip favicon, giving a very specific and intentionally directed brand message. Mark Eric Photography targets a higher-end client.
- Studio Tran - Represented by a bold typographic logo mark, Studio Tran's brand casts a wider net of clientele with more universal appeal. The Studio uniquely features three lead photographers and three permanent photographer assistants.
- Dark Roux Photography - The only one of the four to use a brand name that is not also the photographer's name. Dark Roux features photographers Jamie and Heather Schneider. The logo mark aims to give a strong sense of personality and individuality, as does the brand.
- Maile Lani - Visually represented by a type-only mark, the choice of color and font give a brief intro into the style and personality of the photographer. Maile Lani's photography also separates itself with the use of both digital and film photography.
This all leads to possibly the most important step in this process: Align and Separate.
In Part 2 of this article, we will look at the meaning of "align and separate." We will also look at putting our research into action as we continue to develop our brand and design our logo.