I originally wrote this series of articles on another site ten years ago and wanted to update this for my own site. In addition to being a photographer, I have served in various marketing roles at advertising agencies, media and adventure travel companies since graduating from college. Since most photographers do not have a background in marketing I wanted to start sharing some of thoughts on the subject and hopefully help some people along the way.
I’ve heard numerous photographers state that once you are thought of as a source for cheap photos, it can be hard to shake that reputation. These photographers are generally referring to pricing and licensing decisions. There are many more ways that one can cheapen the value of their brand in the eye of the consumer and most of them are not even caused by deliberate reasons. This is not to be confused with deliberately targeting low-end markets.
An important thing to consider when establishing your brand value is where you sell yourself. Compare several pieces of art all done in a similar style. One being sold at Wal-Mart for $25, a Thomas Kincaid being sold at your local mall, and another displayed at a fine art institution. If they are all on the same playing field artistically, then what is the difference between them? It is the perceived value of the venue in which the art is being displayed. It is about prestige. There is a reason why Wal-Mart doesn’t do limited edition artwork. Because they could never get away with charging enough to make it a smart business decision so they opt for selling in quantity. Wal-Mart is seen as a place where you go to buy stuff for low prices. Whereas the gallery scene is more likely to engage in that practice to “drive up the value” of the artwork. They can do it because they created a perception of value that meets their objectives.
To put this into a photographer’s perspective: If you are trying to command premium fees for your work then posting your good images on sites like bottom-feeding sites like Shutterstock then that would probably be a waste of time for you, not to mention it could weaken the perceived value of your brand. The manner in which you present your work has to be appropriate for who your target audience is. We should be doing all we can to strengthen that relationship no matter what market we are targeting. It’s very difficult to achieve however and something that we should all consciously work to improve upon.
It only takes one mistake to make it all come crashing down though so we’ve got to be careful. Let’s say that you have a nicely designed website that is intended to add value to your brand. Great. But you hear that Google ads are a good way to monetize your website so one day you decide to paste Google Adsense all over your site. Well all the brand equity that you worked to build all goes out the window by doing that. Can you imagine someone seeing a Google Adsense ad for 750 photo downloads for $50 / month on the same page where a photographer is trying to sell $2,000 prints? What message are you sending to the user? If you have a classy website, but add one low-class element to it such as Google Adsense then what perception of value is the viewer left with? A mixed one at best. Certainly this is not the way to go if your goal is to maximize the value of your brand. This is not to say that Google ads aren’t a viable option, but you’ve got to ask yourself do the benefits of doing this outweigh all the negatives? Exactly what are the potential downfalls?
One thing I see a lot of photographers do to their detriment is revealing too much about themselves. (I do this too but family is essentially the story behind my work.) There is a fine line between establishing a personal connection with your audience versus maintaining a sense of professionalism. I see photographers all the time write about their PhD in Mathematics, their love of god, etc… it is all fine and dandy to have that in your life but it adds nothing of value to your photographic brand unless you specialize in college professor lifestyle photos or work with religious groups. If you can somehow tie in your personal background in a relevant fashion then it could work to your advantage such as how Ron Niebrugge did on his bio. Knowing that Ron has an MBA with a marketing emphasis adds something of value to potential clients because it says to them that if they have a business problem that requires photography then Ron might be able to help them solve it. But unfortunately, many other photographers approach their bio more like a diary than an asset to their marketing efforts. It is good to show some personality in your bio because so people can get an idea for how it might be like to work with you but it shouldn’t create a negative perception of you either.
So what is your target market and are you doing all you can to maximize your brand value while eliminating everything that could potentially weaken it?