How to Use a Big-Brand Strategy as a Beginner Photographer

If you take a look back at Ikea's marketing catalog used to showcase their new products and looks for the season, there was a time where they decided to use images displaying only the products and Ikea-styled sets with no human intervention or interaction. At one stage these images were computer generated and rendered to make a simulated environment look as perfect and clinical as possible.

These images almost looked too clean with no misplaced elements or imperfections. But, with the 2016 catalog of Dubai they decided to bring it back to something people will respond with. Photographs, rather than simulated CGI, of people actually living in and using the products. Cloths lying around on a table, and people at work in the kitchen, messy, like it is in reality.

Ikea took it one step further by designing a set where visitors to the store could sit down at a table. When arriving at the catalog stand to pick one up in store, you could now have an image taken of you and your friends which was then printed and made into a cover of the catalog you wanted to pick up. Now you have a catalog with a picture of you and your friends on the cover to take home with you and page through.

From a marketing perspective, this is an excellent way to give a campaign legs. Meaning, it is something that can go viral and have a much better response than the CGI-modeled catalog. The booklet could now most likely end up on a coffee table at home where family members and friends will pick it up and see your picture on the cover. And now this catalog became part of a story, something to tell others about. This is great from Ikea's branding perspective. People are talking about it so you have word-of-mouth marketing. It's a picture of you, so it is visually interesting and it's tangible. The magazine is picked up and paged through. It's interesting.

With that said, when paging through the booklet, most of the printed images were now photographs of people living in the Ikea-designed spaces. Adding the human effect made it imperfectly perfect; The perfect setting, with the not-so-perfect person making messy food or reading a newspaper on a couch with the pages all spread out over the seat. 

This approach is one that I find can be very successful for photographers. How can I use this idea and make it work for my photography brand and company? I don't have a storefront or catalog that people can page through. I don't have products. What I do have are people who inspire me living in my city and a certain skill I want to pursue as my career. People who can be seen as opinion leaders, movers, and shakers. 

Being a photographer, I have photographs as proof that I produce quality work. So, it's about what images I take that shows others the strength in a good portrait, and hopefully makes them want to get a portrait taken by me too. The strategy is to put the opinion leaders in my group of friends, as well as people who inspire me in town on a list, get in contact with them with a phone call, email, or Facebook message, and set up dates to shoot a portrait of them. It's surely possible even if I have never met them in person. Social media plays an important role today, and most people want to present themselves professionally, and do it with depth. There's nothing better than a good portrait. This is my marketing campaign, so it's crucial to do it well.

I'm thinking of it as business cards going viral. I'm not putting watermarks on the images. The aim is to do it so well that people ask them who took the photos. This is a way to entrench your name and personal brand as photographer, especially if this opinion leader or inspiring individual mentions your name, thanking you for the portraits through their social networks.

I am fortunate to be in the fashion industry where I shoot, but I also assist and do lighting for large fashion campaigns. I get to share studios with stylists, make-up artists, and studio owners. These creative teams all promote themselves with work they produce. What will strengthen their reach is to have a great profile picture. So the stylists can style themselves for the shoot and the make-up artists can make-up themselves for the portraits.

I have shot landscapes, cityscapes, estates, and products for advertising. I've learned that the one photograph that gets the best reactions are those of a person, a character in their own right. These images also get shared most because people react mostly with images they identify with and have an emotional response to.

Portraiture doesn't need to be the photography genre you want to pursue, but it's a great way to build a personal brand and get yourself known by people. If you can take great portraits, people notice. Everyone wants to be portrayed in a certain way. Give them portraits that, when they look at them, will feel great about for having and sharing. Portraits are empowering, both for the person being photographed, and for the people seeing these photos of the person. It creates an impression of that person and can elevate them psychologically and professionally, and for this reason it's the best way to learn interaction with your model, client, or talent.  

The best bet for creating an impression in your city or town is to get out a pen and paper, write down your list, and connect with the people. Get shooting, and share these images with them in a professional way. Email at best. And once they use it in their social media, only then share it on your own feeds, and only then tag them. That way, they give you a thumbs up, meaning they like your work and they are willing to share it.

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1 Comment

Bob Bell's picture

Good stuff Wouter, given me some good ideas :)