The Branding of Your Vision with Sal Cincotta
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Photographers understand that competition is hitting us everywhere we turn. I have some bad news for you. This isn’t going to change any time soon. Welcome to being a business owner. For too long, photographers enjoyed this artificial barrier to entry. Photography was hard. It was complicated. This gave us an advantage in the marketplace. We were able to have a mini-monopoly of sorts, with artificially high prices.
Well, those days are gone. Today, everyone is a photographer. Camera and lighting manufacturers have made it their mission to make everyone a photographer, to create as many customers as they can.
I don’t really care. The more the merrier, I say. We have the greatest job in the world. Every day I realize how lucky I am to wake up and do what I love. Don’t you? Shouldn’t everyone enjoy photography?
With that being said, we can’t just roll over and give up. We are businesspeople first and foremost, and we need to understand how to stand out and how to compete.
Your vision is your number-one competitive advantage. Not your gear, not your fancy camera strap or your quirky logo or company name. You and your work. When someone lands on your site, they are drawn in by your imagery. Next, your personality comes into play. You nail those two things, and you will book the job.
So, what does this all mean? How do you translate any of this into something actionable? Let’s get started.
Do something unique.
Be unique. If your work looks the same as every other photographer’s, why would I pay you a premium for your services? It makes no damn sense. You make these buying decisions every day at the grocery store, the car lot, hotels and restaurants.
Consumer behavior is the same regardless of the category. Think like a consumer. I can’t tell you how to be unique, but I can say it’s about making your work stand out. Are you a photojournalist? Are you a studio photographer? Whatever your style is, make sure it stands out.
Love or hate my style, but one thing is for sure: It’s unique and recognizable. This gives me incredible recognition in the wedding and senior communities. That is empowering to me and my business. Invest the time to create a unique body of work, and you will start to see people come to you for your vision. When that happens, they won’t be haggling with you over $500. I guarantee it.
The worst thing you can do for your business and career is to be all over the place creatively as you find yourself. If you want your clients to see the value in what you do, you have to be consistent. Would you pay more for a steakhouse dinner if every time you visited your steak came out differently? Have you ever heard anyone rave, “OMG, it’s amazing, it’s a surprise every time we go”? No. People want consistency.
That consistency starts with the way you shoot, light, edit, pose and create an image. All these things matter. It’s in the way you present these to your clients. Sure, I shoot every aspect of the wedding day, but I don’t show shoe pictures on my site’s portfolio. Why would I? That’s not why people book me. If you go to my portfolio, you will see a consistent set of images. There is no confusion in what I offer. I do large environmental portraits. That’s why people come to me.
I am consistent in the way I shoot, the way I edit and the way I present these images to my clients and in all my marketing. I am not trying to position myself as everything to everyone.
Show what you want to deliver.
This is Common Sense 101. If all that a car dealership showed on its lot were a bunch of white cars, guess what they would attract and sell? People who are primarily interested in white cars.
So, why in the world do you show every single type of shot on the planet on your website and in your studio? It makes no sense. I can never wrap my mind around this when I see it. Who are you? I often ask my students. Our clients are not that smart. They are easily confused about photography. Don’t add to their confusion.
Be clear on who you are and what you offer. If you like emotional and soft images, then show emotional and soft images. If you like big dramatic photography, show big dramatic photography. This is how you train your clients and potential clients on what you offer and what to expect from you. There is then no confusion after the event when you show them your final results. Everyone should be happy.
Explain your work to your clients.
Clients are not photographers, and usually aren’t artists. They either like your work or not. It speaks to them or it doesn’t. It is binary. We tend to overthink the whole thing. No, the client’s not going notice that your white balance is off by 100 points. No one knows and no one cares. Sure, as professionals, we can see all the subtleties of our work—composition, leading lines, rule of thirds—but the layman has zero clue.
If you have done your job and created something unique and consistent, invest some time in educating your clients on what they are seeing and experiencing in your work.
Sound crazy? Well, don’t tell that to a wine sommelier who explains the wine process and taste across your palate, or how the wine perfectly complements the flavor profile the chef has created. See my point? If what you do is unique in any way, shape or form, it is ignorant to expect our clients to immediately pick up on that. They won’t. It’s almost impossible. Every once in a while, I am pleasantly surprised by a client who walks in and says, “I love the way you incorporate architectural elements into your photographs.” What? I love you!
Explain to your clients what you do and why you do it. Explain how you see these images being displayed in their homes or in an album. Invest in their education—it will go a long way. This can be done face to face or on your website. Find a way to dummy down what you do and put it into lay terms. Clients appreciate it. I know I love when a chef explains to me why he chose the ingredients he did, and what I should expect to taste. It makes it all the more enjoyable.
Offer products that showcase your work the way it should be showcased.
When it’s all said and done, people have to do something with all this incredible art you have created for them. Have you ever made something so gorgeous that it needed to be huge somewhere in their home, only to have the client come back and order an 8×10? You are not alone. Many of us face this challenge day in and day out. The solution is to follow the steps above for starters, but then finish what you started.
What do I mean by that? First, stop handing over digital files. To assume your clients know what to do is ridiculous. Clients are not interior decorators. Clients are not artists. They don’t understand color theory. They don’t understand that you can’t zoom in 300 percent on your image and print it as a 30×40. You are the expert. Be the expert.
Showing clients products that match my vision and style of photography helps the sales session and helps complete the cycle of the experience for them. For example, I shoot large, dramatic, very modern-looking art for my clients. I would never present this in an 8×10 white ivory frame in my studio. Instead, I show these images in large metals and acrylics in my studio that are 20×30 and larger.
I am the expert. You are the expert. Act like an expert. Show your clients how these images they trusted you to create should be displayed. Tell them what they want. How else will they know? If they don’t follow your expert advice, you both lose. The client won’t be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor in the way that you envisioned, and word of mouth won’t be quite as good as it should.
Hold your clients’ hands. Tell them and show them what they want. That is how you build a unique brand that stands out.