Branding is one of these code words that people use but often don’t realize the significance or meaning of it. Having a “studio brand.” What does that mean? How can it actually help your business? Is it really so important that you should spend money on it? These are all valid and debatable questions, so let’s look at some numbers. Macy’s spends more than 1 billion dollars a year on marketing, Walmart spends more than $570 million a year just on advertising, and Nike spends $270 million dollars annually on sponsorships.

You must be saying, “But Elle, how does that relate to me?”  You’re right, if you were Nike or had a  budget like Nike, then you probably wouldn’t be reading this post. Alternatively, I would say that there is much to learn from industry leaders regarding running even small budget businesses, both from their success and failure.

So clearly, every business is only as capable as its budget. But don’t be tempted to go into dept in order to create your brand. There are many things that can be done on a budget to build a unique, positive, and memorable brand in the eyes of current and potential clients and you better believe that this might be some of the most important work for your business.

1. Be Consistent: The most important thing is to know your audience and be consistent with your message. Whether your offering is a high end, budget conscious or something in the middle, make sure that the user experience is consistent.

Since Walmart doesn’t offer luxury, you will not find Cartier jewelry being offers at the retail locations although some of those who shop there can probably afford it- this is not consistent with their overall brand. On the other hand, if you take a bathroom break while shopping at Neman Marcus, you can count on fancy, luxurious  bathrooms with marble counters and couches to rest on. These fancy bathrooms continue to communicate to the clients exclusivity.

This is in no way to say that one is better than the other (since I suspect that Walmart revenue reports are significantly higher than Neman Marcus) but instead to remind you to be consistent.

Since for most photographers, their website is their branding environment- take care of. Make sure your website reflects recent work and communicates to the client that you are most likely to appeal to. While design is very important for visual appeal, make sure your copy, user interface and navigation, load times, and links convey your brand and message. Also make sure that your website and anything linked to it (shopping cart, slideshows, blog) maintain an easy and consistent user experience, this way, you will impress instead of overwhelm visitors.

2. Be Visible: While many photographers today spend thousands of dollars on equipment, often they do not put their money where their mouths are when it comes to branding. Being visible isn’t only advertising. it can be as simple as maintaining a consistent look and style throughout your interaction with current and potential clientsSoemthing as simple as colors create a strong association with a brand (ex. Target and white and red). Brand everything that leaves your studio; your website, your online galleries, your products, your emails, your business cards, even customize your packaging. The more branded interactions individuals are exposed to, the more likely they are to remember you in the long run as their photography needs come up. Don’t settle on saving a few pennies when printing a coffee table book if it promotes the book company instead of your studio. It will not be worth it. Your client will share this product with their friends and family, which essentially is more exposure to your brand (free viral marketing in this industry is a key).

3. What is Your Story? With 120,000 new photographers entering the market last year, you need to have a unique story. People love stories. They are interesting, engaging, and easy to remember and associate a brand with. People especially like Cinderella story.   For example, Apple started from 2 determined people in a garage and today is a leader in technology and design. This story makes us feel inspired.  Tell your client a story which is consistent with your message and represents your brand.  Are you an artist? A sucker for love? A family man? A mother of three? A commercial photographer? Are you a photojournalist? A fashion photographer?

Who you are will help you set yourself apart from the others and build your brand.

4. Reputation: Without a good reputation, you do not have a brand.  Be patient, even with the biggest bridezillas- this is a stressful event for them, but as you know when the dust clears, it all ends up working out.Make your customers happy so that they want to come back to you. This may be the most important thing in your company.

5. All that’s left to do is ADVERTISE: Now that you have your target audience in place, consistent message, and a story, you are ready to be revealed to the world,. You will be surprised how many people first advertise and only later consider their brand impression. Here lays your advantage as an entrepreneur. Many large corporation fail to create effective advertisement due to internal miscommunications but since most photographers are smaller businesses there is an opportunity for great success. This can be done in many ways (as you can refer to some ideas in my previous marketing posts) such as referral programs, SEO of your website, local bridal shows, partnerships with other vendors, and endless other creative ideas that you can come up with. A great advertising method that DigiLabs has employed are banner ads. These programs are mostly based on pay-per-click. While the clicks on these tend to be low, the repeating of the advertisement (even if not clicked) can have great results in brand awareness.

Whatever advertising route you go, the key is to repeat one simple, consistent and persuasive message over-and-over again. The only thing you got to remember is that as with everything else, your advertising must be consistent with your audience, experience, and brand.

I would love to hear some more ideas and thoughts from all those brand conscious photographers out there!

Goodbye until next time,