Photographer Branding

- - Marketing

I’ve always been a bit branding agnostic when it comes to photographers and marketing. While I enjoy a nice typeface and smart color palette I’ve also witnessed photographers dumping tons of cash on die cut business cards/letterheads and intricately designed logos when they really need to be spending time, money and effort on shoots that will give their photography an identity. I’ve always felt that as long as it’s not offensive, it really has no effect, but if it gives you confidence then it’s well worth the money. I’ve seen Art Directors fawning over marketing material a handful of times, but you really need some serious design chops to get to that level.

Heather Morton Art buyer has a nice piece on branding (here) where Art Buyer Leila Courey of Leo Burnett, Toronto has the same sentiment:

I don’t mind if photographers want to bling out their promos for extra attention as long as the quality of the work goes along with it. What I don’t dig, is photographers spending what looks like a ton of money on business cards, expensive promos or portfolios meanwhile they really need to spend more time crafting their work.

Heather goes on with an in-depth look at emerging photographer Michael Clinard’s branding journey.

Also, the Black Star Rising blog has a piece today on branding entitled “you are a brand start acting like one.

I feel like photographers can really get caught up in tinkering with all the marketing material and periphery that goes along with being a professional photographer because, let’s be honest, it’s quite difficult to “improve your craft” and a lot easier to improve your letterhead.

There Are 32 Comments On This Article.

  1. Agreed – It was true then and truer now. There is definitely a hierarchy regarding marketing dollars and ad spending. Create a triangle with work quality at the bottom and “bling” at the top. Collateral material that is too flashy for the content will always look inauthentic in my opinion and these days, authenticity is at the very base of the triangle.

    • @Chris Schultz, On the contrary, updating your brand can be quite expensive where improving your craft requires more time and effort than it does money. That’s the issue I think. Improving one’s craft takes time, determination, effort, but updating your brand can be done quickly and with less effort. Years of hard work and determination to improve my portfolio vs. a little bit of mula to (seemingly) improve my portfolio. Instant gratification wins every time.

      • @Ryan Gibson, Touche. However, they are both very expensive. Having done graphic design and web work before photography, I guess I’m a little biased.

        Re-branding, or tweaking, is much cheaper than calling in favors to do a handful of $15,000 shoots on the cheap. And that’s just for one or two new shots that “improve the craft”.

        I’d bet most of us “emerging” photographers can admit to wishing we had more production value in our books. That’s what I was getting at.

        Either way it’s tough.

        • @Chris Schultz, “I’d bet most of us “emerging” photographers can admit to wishing we had more production value in our books” – Can’t say I don’t agree with that. I guess the lesson here is that you have to have a balance – good images presented well. Agreed, either way it’s tough.

      • @Gordon Stillman,

        I beg to differ.

        That’s the same mindset that designers say when purchasing istockphotos. “I’d rather pocket the money than spend 10K on a photographer.” And look what’s happened to assignment photography. It’s on life support.

        Jim Erickson is a great example of what good branding can do for a photographer. http://www.jimerickson.com He’s a household name (in the advertising world).

        Jim has spent a fortune on advertising and design. He’s also frequently asked to bid on half million dollar jobs. Sounds like a good investment to me.

        Photography is a business just like any other creative profession. Investing in your brand from the beginning based on authenticity will accelerate your growth. A good designer will help you take that 10K and turn into a 100K.

        That’s a lot of new photo gear.

        • Gordon Stillman

          @Jeffrey Harrington,
          It all depends on where you are, I’d rather have a 5D Mk2 and two L lenses over nice letterhead, but i’d rather have nice letterhead over the 1Ds Mark III and a 400mm F2.8.

  2. The guy on HMAB has done a good job with his branding, but really needs to work on his craft IMO.

  3. Totally agree with Bruce, spend the money on building quality work and when you’ve built that base, jazz up your marketing. It’s the principles of Seth Godin’s book ‘Meatball Sundae’; if you’re marketing is out of sync with the product then it’s like putting whip cream on a meatball.

  4. I always find photographers with logos really, really annoying. 99% of the time, the logos look like bad clip art and I’ll never understand the fascination with middle-American modernist corporate identity.

    In the end, it’s a better promotion for the illustrator/graphic designer than it is for the photographer.

    It says a lot to me that the Richard Avedon Foundation uses a livebooks site.

    He was one of the most influential and original photographers in recent times and the only branding on his site is his name in American Gothic, no logos, no bells, no whistles.

    ‘Nuff said.

  5. I agree that photographers should spend a lot of their time honing/perfecting their craft. After all, if you are a photographer who wishes to make money, what you produce is generally what will pay off.

    Heather Morton’s post was a great read and Michael Clinard’s branding process, I think, is great for any photographer who is thinking about going through a similar process.

    What I gathered from Heather’s post is that “Branding” is a full-range/umbrella concept. It isn’t about just about spending gobs of money on a logo or a fancy letterpress business card with die cuts or printing thousands of promotional pieces with metallic ink. It is very much communicating message; not just looks.

    “Branding” includes the following (in no particular order):
    + Consistency: Logo (whether a logotype or one with an icon; a logo doesn’t have to be fancy to “work”), website, letterhead, cards, etc. Remember, promoting your brand isn’t exclusive to just art directors, picture editors and/or art buyers. You may come in contact with the CEO of a company or need to sell photographs directly to joe public.
    + You: Your personality; the way you answer the phone; the way you write your emails; how your write your blog posts; whether you choose to send a thank you card, etc.
    + Your photos. I agree: If your photos are weak, you need to consult with a picture editor or art director or consultant to address the weaknesses and bring it up to par.

    I think all of this also depends on your audience. Identify Target Market = target audience = target efforts. An editorial photographer is going to approach things much differently than a wedding photographer or a fine art photographer. What you choose to include in your portfolio, websites, email newsletters, etc is the content that makes up your brand/business.

    Whether or not a photographer responds favorably to Michael’s work (or his logo) is not relevant unless he is seeking work from other photographers. If art buyers and art directors are responding well to his investment, then more power to him.

    • @Deb Pang Davis, Branding is the sum total of your customer’s experience across all contact points with your product or service. Nuff said.

      It’s a financial balancing act until you reach your first million – but even then ….

  6. I think it’s important that we thank Michael Clinard for sharing his branding process with us. It’s great to get an in-depth perspective into an emerging photographer trying to establish their “brand”. While I agree that it should go without saying that a photographer’s work is the ultimate judging point, it’s very important to have a consistent look to accompany it. Michael, keep up the good work.

  7. I have been following/reading about this ‘Branding’ thing for years now. I am not sure the concept is new in any way. Haven’t smart savvy photographers/businesses for the most part tried to present a consistent face to the public.

    I think when you are a brand like Nike; yes you need a style book so the Logo goes in the right place and up the right way on your massive range of products, adverts etc etc. But as a photographer is it really that complicated? Shouldn’t the work do the talking?

    I am inclined to a very simple and cost effective approach.

    I print a few of my current favorite shots as single images as mini prints 5 1/2″ x 4″ from my local mini lab as my business card. Its just a print with my Name (Brand/Logo !~) Email, Phone #, Web Address. I do it all in the poor mans Helvetica, Arial!

    The Mini Print Cards have a white border w Arial text, the folio prints have a white border, the web site has a white border and Arial text. Hey presto, brand consistency and I can change my card every time I come up with a hot new shot.

    OK it’s not going to work for everyone but it seems to be working for me.

  8. A Brand is not a Logo….

    I would encourage photographers to shift their mindset from seeing their brand as being a logo or a design. Thats like saying I buy a BMW car because of its logo, brochure or web site. The reason I might buy a BMW is a very complex set of tangible and intangible, emotional and functional things which all go into making up their brand promise. I also see a lot of photographers wasting a lot of money on designing their ‘Brand’ when in fact they all they are doing is creating a pretty picture which may or may not have any connection with their real brand at all. I’m a photographer and a brand consultant, which is an unusual combination. Here’s a few things I have written which might be of interest:

    http://blog.livebooks.com/2009/09/do-you-have-a-brand-or-do-you-just-have-a-logo/

    and

    http://blog.livebooks.com/2009/11/does-your-brand-set-you-apart-from-the-crowd/

  9. Our founder, Bill Cramer, who’s an editorial and commercial photographer, was recently asked to speak for the APA on branding and marketing photography.

    Part of his suggestions for branding was creating a recognizable and cohesive body of work, in addition to the logos/fonts/Pantone colors. Ie. it’s important to look at the photography itself as a key part of a photographer’s brand. We blogged about his talk, as well: http://www.wonderfulmachine.com/blog/?p=1126

  10. I have said it for years and will most happily say it again. Dont even think of buying a data base, spending dollars on branding or worrying about whether you should go email or direct mail unless you have a body of work (not just a group of images) but a body of work to sell. Photographers are the only group of business people other than new home builders who consistently go to market without a total product to sell.
    The assignment buyer has so many options for photo and are asking photographers show them bodies of work built around their (photographers)talent. Take the time effort energy and money it demands to build a solid representation of what you shoot and your visual approach
    to your subject.THEN build the branding and your marketing and selling tools. How can you brand if you are not branding from your vision? Your visual message? The days of asking a graphic designer to just “whip up a logo for letterhead and a business card “are way over. Every assignment is given based on your visual message to your buyers and their need for that vision on their project.No vision? No solid body of work that expresses your value? No work period.
    When you are 3/4 of the way thru building a body of work, you will have enough visual info to begin the branding process and can then develop print book housing ,web site blog and and all of ad and marketing tools you can build your brand as it will be developed around and from your vision.
    So forget the new RED that will get you the new video work to replace the print your not getting, (unless of course you’ve done this work and are prepared to create a whole new video reel) get reintroduced to who you really are as a talent. Work with an art director buddy, a consultant and begin to discover what your visual integrity looks,Who are you ? Then begin the work of building a solid body of work that shows buyer what you are, what you shoot and your visual approach. Only after this work is 3/4 finshed should you seek to brand your business.

    • @selina maitreya, as an extension to what Selina is saying… remember that your BRAND is not a logo or a web site or a letterhead. Your brand is what potential clients believe that you can do for them. Your BRANDING is how you capture that promise in items you might use for marketing and selling. See more in my links posted above.