A few months ago I wrote a two part article on branding for photographers. In this article I will continue with branding for photographers, and why you should keep your brands separated. The most common thing I see are wedding photographers combining their wedding work with their family, baby, senior, and even commercial work. While I completely understand the tendency to not only simplify your marketing, but also the concept that by showing your multiple talents you will increase your value to clients, combining genre's is one of the biggest things hurting the growth of your business.
The brief answer is that when you are building a brand, particularly for a new company, you must build an association with your brand, meaning your potential client must associate your brand with something in their minds. This is (in a very simplified manner) your brand identity. Brand Identity is a term I am sure many of you have heard, it is associated with the things we create like logos, advertisements, and brand collateral. These are the physical representation of our brand and their goal is to create an identity for the brand. I always tell my students not to design for the "what" of the brand but the "who." If you are interested in that concept of the what and the who of your brand and how a brand can be a "who," then I recommend reading the previous set of articles.
Making Clients Think of You First
At the end of the day, this is the goal. Making your potential clients think of you or remember you when they need your service. Fill in the blank here, you are at work and your boss says, "Hey I want a cup of coffee, why don't you and I walk down to ________ ?"
Now, be honest, what was the first thing that popped into your head when you were reading that? Was it something like, Starbucks, Caribou, or some other local coffee shop? Most people will fill in that blank with a coffee directed brand, while the reality is you can get a cup of coffee at almost any place that serves food.
Let's try again. You have decided to sell your home and self list, and the first thing you need is great pictures for the listing. You have an unlimited budget so you are going to hire _____________ ?
Who popped into your mind there? Was it Mike Kelley? Or if a name didn't pop into your head then what would you do first? Would you go and do a Google search for "photographer" or Google search for "commercial real estate photographer?" Maybe it wouldn't be those exact keywords but you get my point. We are going to immediately think of that particular photographer who we associate with that style or we are going to go out and search for that particular photographer within the genre we need.
Consumer's, that's you, me, and everyone else out there, think in quick simple terms. When we want a toy, we go to Toy's R Us. When we want coffee, we go to Starbucks. When we want sports gear, we go to the sports shop. When we need flowers, we go to the florist.
No one searches for "the guy who can do everything and just so happens to also do the thing I need right now".
The Laws of Contraction and Expansion
A lot of you guys are going to read this article and I would truly like to hear from someone out there who is a Hardee's fan. For those of you who don't know, Hardee's is a fast food company that serves everything from hamburgers, to chicken, to fish, to tacos, to burritos, and much more. I use them in many of my talks on branding and my point is usually, when you have your choice of fast food places you don't pick Hardee's. You want a hamburger? You go to Five Guys. You want a taco? You go to Taco Bell. You want chicken fingers? You go to Cane's (apologies so some of you out there, I understand some of these are regional but the point is universal).
The rules of Contraction and Expansion are pretty simple. The more products or services you offer, the weaker your brand becomes. The fewer products and services you offer, the stronger your brand. Actually it's even more severe than this. Customers want to associate one thing with your brand. Best Wedding Photographer, Cheapest Wedding Photographer, Elegant Family Portraits, Edgy Fashion; when someone wants that thing, they think of that brand, plain and simple. It's rough out there and in order to be the leanest and meanest brand we can be, we have to follow the law of contraction. Build a brand identity by being the brand that does that one thing so clients will quickly and consistently think of you.
In "The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding," Al and Laura Ries cite the examples of American Express and Levi Strauss. American Express decided at one point to expand its line by offering many different types of American Express Cards. The idea is of course, by giving customers more options and things that are specific to their needs and lifestyles, you become a more attractive brand. The reality is that American Express dropped its share in the market place from 27 percent, when they had only one card, to 18 percent. Levi Strauss also lost a significant share in the denim market, going from 31 percent of denim sales worldwide to 19 percent after they decided to expand and offer more cuts and styles of jeans.
McDonalds built its success on a menu that offered three food items, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and french fries.
Recently, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon had the owner and head chef of New York's "Mission Cantina" on the show. The story in short is their restaurant was failing and the chef who is highly creative was offering exciting and varying menu items on a regular basis. Well now the company is thriving, with lines out the door, and the key to its success (besides having an amazing product) is they only sell one thing – burritos. By following the rule of contraction, and selling only one thing, they have built and maintained a thriving brand identity.
Brand Strength and Profit are NOT the Same Thing
So lets say for arguments' sake that we now agree that when starting your new brand it is essential to only offer or sell one genre of photography. Now let's say you have been in business for 10 years doing wedding photography, and on the side you have been doing new born photography for your friends. And from your side new born photography, you are getting referral business left and right. By adding new born photography onto your existing site and adding that service, you will in all likely hood increase your revenue. You already have traffic coming into your site for wedding photography, so you are going to also get those eyes onto your new service. Also those same people who are getting married are also having babies, it seems like a no brainer.
This is where we really need to separate the idea's of brand strength and profit. By offering more services you are increasing your opportunity for profit but you are also weakening your brand strength. Now your brand is the wedding and new born brand. I know it sounds trite, but having customers think of two things instead of one when they think of you, will hurt your brand.
How far your brand can stretch before it breaks is proportional to how strong it was in the first place.
McDonalds sells a lot more than just hamburgers now. Their mega brand has been able to stretch and not break. Being the leader in their market has also allowed smaller brands like Burger King and Wendy's to offer more products while not losing ground in their market place (at least in respect to those few handful of top brands). But, I would argue that if these brands wouldn't have added to their menus, then other brands like Five Guys would never have been able to grow into national brands. Five Guys would have been smothered by the big dogs. I would also argue that if a brand like Wendy's would have kept their menu small then they would be much larger and stronger today. The problem is short term vs long term. In the short term, Wendy's would have lost millions in sales, but in the long term their brand strength would have allowed them to grab hold of some of the market place that McDonalds would have lost by diluting themselves.
How to Offer Multiple Services Without Losing Brand Strength
If Coca-Cola wants to make money by selling an Orange Soda they don't create Coke Orange. No, they make Fanta (or buy Fanta...). The point is, "The Coca-Cola Company" is still making the profit from Fanta sales, but their Coca-Cola Brand is also remaining strong.
I offer wedding photography, and I offer commercial photography, but in order for my clients, in particular my wedding clients, to associate me with the service they want, I have two brands. Nicoll's Wedding Photography is an elegant and modern wedding photography studio. LanceNicoll.com is a fashion driven commercial brand. My clients are very different people. I share to my clients that I shoot commercial work and that I teach photography in order to anchor myself in their minds as a knowledgeable photographer and in order to differentiate myself in another way within my market, but I don't put fashion or beauty pictures on my wedding site, and I definitely don't put wedding photos on my commercial site.
A couple of years ago, I had a portfolio review with fashion photographer David Leslie Anthony. He is the Fashion Editor for a magazine that I work with frequently, and he was nice enough to sit down with me. His review in short, "This is great but get these wedding photos off of here. Are you a fashion photographer or wedding photographer? You work is actually good, but I wouldn't hire you because I don't know who you are."
I literally had three wedding images in my book, all from commercial styled promotional shoots, here's is one of them.
I emailed him the next week with my updated book the only difference being I removed images, not added, and I was shortly hired for a job. Other jobs and inquiries also increased after cleaning up my site and keeping my message consistent.
You see, the problem is my brand is young and people don't know who I am, more so in my local market actually, so their is the tendency when someone see's a mixed message to say, "oh he's not really a ____ photographer." By showing less you build an association and a more trustable brand.
I also get asked to do headshots from time to time, especially with the growth of "Hollywood South." I now own several headshot related URL's and if I ever have the time I will put together a separate site and brand for that work, but I won't add headshots onto www.nicollsphoto.com or www.nicollswedding.com or www.lancenicoll.com - it will be its own entity. So when someone wants "Headshots in New Orleans", they will hire www.headshotsnola.com. One brand with one message equals quick brand association.
The one thing I haven't touched on, which I hope to get to in a follow up article, is the idea of brand consistency, which extends past just consistency within a singular brand, but also when one mega-brand has multiple brands, there should be an air of connection.