Branding for the Unbrandable with Laura Schumpert
It is 2014. I am running a successful wedding photography business. I have transitioned out of the “full time” job and am now supporting my family 100 percent with photography. It is what most of us dream of. When you make it, the serendipity is palpable. I followed all the rules from the masters and branded my business for success. I was in love with photographing people in love. Every bit of branding I put together was focused on my ideal bride looking for “her” photographer.
It all had paid off, and we were enjoying the rewards of our labor. I had never been happier or more fulfilled in every area of my life. My business is thriving, I am married to the man who completed my soul and I have a child who is my heartbeat. Every day, I think of how grateful I am for this delicately beautiful life we are living.
Then, on December 22, 2014, a distracted driver rear-ended our car as we were driving home from vacation. My husband and child were killed.
In the months that followed, the camera was the furthest thing from my mind. I could not comprehend the fact that I was still breathing, let alone that I had a business. I did not care about it anymore. Everything in my life was lost. Photography was just one more thing I could grieve and say good-bye to.
One night that was like so many others, I was drowning in survivor’s guilt. I had this intrusive image in my mind I could not shake. I picked up my camera and created this image. After making it, oddly, I felt better being able to see something that was so visceral to me at the time. Something else happened: For the first time in months, I actually enjoyed something. I enjoyed creating these surrealistic depictions of my emotions, and felt a twinge of excitement. I kept creating until, soon, I realized I had created a full series. I knew I could never share it. It broke all of my previous branding rules—but I also could not pretend that I was the same photographer people used to know. It was dishonest to myself and also the memory of my husband and son. I could not hide the fact that my life was irrevocably changed the minute I survived that crash.
I wanted to see what my photography peers thought of the images. I felt they would look at them more in a photographic sense versus the emotional response I would get from social media. I shared them in a couple of groups and entered them into a contest. The response was positive, and I ended up winning an award. This felt like my exit from wedding photography, which was welcome, since being around happy, loving couples was painful. My fine art began to take off. It was picked up for shows, exhibits and awards. My previous clientele began to notice what I was creating.
Then I realized I was sending art directors, agents and gallery owners to a website that was branded for a wedding photographer. I immediately knew it had to go; it was no longer relevant, and was a painful reminder of a life I no longer lived. There was no way around it: I had to rebrand, but how? I was lost and confused, and there was no rulebook on this subject. No one could tell me how to start over, how to dramatically transform my business.
First step, I knew I needed outside help. We are photographers, not designers. I strongly recommend not doing this on your own unless you are trained in graphic design. A skilled designer understands how every single element (font, color placement, etc.) affects another, and how to achieve your goal.
I found Tiffany Kelley, a photographer and graphic designer. Her work amazed me, and I knew I wanted her to be the designer for this project. I scheduled a consult and explained the difficult situation to her: My branding had to reflect my creative changes, and also distinguish me from the previous photography business I had built. This is where Tiffany shined. She had so little to go off of. On every questionnaire she sent me, I kept writing back, “I don’t know who I am or what I want anymore.” I was breaking the most basic branding rule—having a clear vision of what you want your business to represent—but I was lost in every avenue of my life. I was unbrandable.
Tiffany took charge. She had me complete some questionnaires and mood boards, and then started sending me samples. I started to see the new brand emerging, and was better able to help flesh out what I wanted it to represent. I was shocked by where it actually ended up. It emulates luxury and is clearly adaptable to any and all creative routes I choose. But at the same time, it is infused with emotion. We placed quotes and personalized messages from me to give the viewer a clear representation of me, the artist.
I was nervous about releasing my new branding on social media. Trying to brand what I felt was a hopeless, unbrandable situation, I had put my heart and authentic self into it, and there was no turning back. The response was phenomenal—from art directors, future brides, agents. My branding is now versatile. All of these people visit and inquire. My branding represents me as the new artist I have become.
I felt solid moving forward with my business once the rebranding was completed, and I pushed forward with my fine art. I began taking different projects in many creative fields. The joy of being a photographer blossomed once again. After immersing myself in these projects, I felt my love for wedding photography resurface, and began accepting clients. I now create wherever my heart leads me. I have dived into cinematography, fine art, writing and illustrating.
I continuously strive to provide the best wedding photography and service in my area. I have the freedom to be my truest self and let my business evolve. I know no matter what projects I choose, my brand represents me the artist, and not just one aspect of my work.
Branding is a unique and personal experience. No matter the situation or where your business is headed, there is hope, even when you feel lost in a sea of rules. Every now and then, rules should be challenged.
Three Tips for Creative Branding
- Hire a professional. There’s no getting around this. Unless you are trained in design, don’t attempt this on your own. A great designer’s work, talent and vision are worth every cent.
- Be 100 percent authentic. Before, when I was only a wedding photographer, it was taboo to post anything sad or unhappy on social media, and definitely not on your About page. But as I transitioned into more of an artist, I found that authenticity is what people respond to the most. I hold nothing back—not my love for my husband and child, and also not my grief. It bleeds into my work, and people instantly respond because the emotion is pure. There are enough people out there trying to be like everyone else, but there is no one else like you. When you embrace yourself and life (whether positive or negative) and are transparent, your viewers appreciate the honesty and feel like they know you personally.
Create mood boards. Make one for logos you like and one for logos you don’t like, along with color palettes and typography. Make a generic board where you pin anything and everything that grabs your attention. This can consist of your own work, fashion, cars, etc. Step back and take a look at it as an overview. You will start to see themes, colors and your personality begin to pop out.