Living Your Brand with Blair Phillips
Branding has many different definitions, meanings and interpretations. In my several years in the photography industry, there have been two really important meanings in branding for me: It establishes a continuing significance in the marketplace and creates customer loyalty. The way you brand your company can sometimes be more important than your images. If you brand yourself and your company in a way that allows people to connect with you emotionally, they will fall in love with you and not just your work.
Finding your brand should come easily. Your brand is a reflection of who you are, your style, values, goals and outlook on life. Ask family, friends and even strangers to look at your portfolio. Ask them for words that come to mind that explain what they feel. The emotions they feel should inform your branding.
Once you establish your brand, the work has just begun. Take the direction that you want your branding to follow. Build a wall down both sides of the path that will help you maintain that direction. A business without consistency may be operating on borrowed time. Brand consistency is important all the way through your business. You have to be just as good delivering the final product as you do taking the first phone call.
Survey your business and personality. If you find weak areas, pass those tasks along to someone else. It may not seem you can afford it, but not doing so may actually cost you more in the long run. If you establish procedures and systems with the many aspects of your branding, consistency will follow. Brand identity crisis happens when you begin to create customer loyalty but push them away with inconsistencies.
Social media has made it so easy to gain new clients, as well as remain connected with existing ones. There are so many types of social media that it may feel impossible to keep everything updated. Many believe that your clients need to see only the business side of your life. I could not disagree more. People look at your page because they are curious about you and your life. Most photography pages are nothing but posts and images of and about their subject matter. That is all well and good for people to get a sense of your photography style, but falls short of the most important piece. That missing piece is a glimpse into your personal life.
You may be posting only what you want people to know. Share things about activities you do during your free time. If you are a family person, make occasional posts that show that. If you are an animal lover, music buff, hunter or car enthusiast, it helps people connect with you in a much deeper way when you share those things. I spend all my free time with my wife and children. When you view my social media pages, that becomes obvious.
A lack of comments or likes doesn’t mean you have no audience. There are tons of people who look but never interact. I want people to thumb through all the images of things I do while not at work. That feeling in my images reflects my branding.
Put your company’s name on stuff. The shirts we have printed fit our style. We go to a department store and look for blank shirts that have style, tailored to fit, and that we will actually wear. Once you find them, get them in bulk online. Find a screen printer that is willing to work with you in small quantities. We have had great success with the popular Dri-FIT shirts. I wear them on a daily basis, and everywhere I go, people ask if they can buy one. Obviously they cost me more than the bulky, uncomfortable basic t-shirt.
I am not concerned with making a profit on our shirts. I figure if I can at least cover my cost, we all win. We have our branding on newborn onesies that we give to our youngest clients. That helps make our brand recognizable as well as create customer loyalty. Sometimes I give away a handful of branded shirts. I had several requests from the waitstaff at a restaurant in my town. All of them were begging me for a shirt. I made a deal that if they promised to wear it to work at least once a week, I would fix them up. The servers are helping my brand. They love the material and the way they fit. When thinking of branding any product to sell or pass out in the community, spend a little extra to ensure everything is reflective of your brand.
Self-employment can be one of the most rewarding and toughest things you experience. When you are branding your business, you are outfitting your business, pouring a part of yourself and your lifestyle into it. Think of it as decorating a house. You will decorate and furnish that house with things that fit your style. Make your business a direct extension of your values, style, ethics and things you find appealing.
The more you allow your brand to find you and organically come together, the more successful your business will be. If you live your brand, it will come naturally. This way you will never be in pursuit of something that does not come naturally. The more natural something is, the easier it is to repeat and build on.
Once you establish your brand, the work isn’t over. Maintaining your brand requires awareness of the needs and wants of consumers. Spend some time away from the camera and computer each month to survey any weaknesses in your branding. If you identify weakness, put an attainable goal together that allows you an opportunity for correction. In order to build your brand, you have to live your brand.