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.
Having a solid brand identity is generally what gets people excited about buying stuff. Lets be honest. If you took the photos from 1,000 professional photographers and tossed them into a random pile very few would truly be unique and significantly more interesting than another’s, ex. large stock photo agency sites. However when you look through a photographer website that is branded effectively the viewing experience is vastly greater than viewing your average corporate stock photo agency website. Or to take another analogy, what makes you decide to buy one liquid hand soap product over another? Strip the labels from the bottle and they look pretty boring but attach a nicely designed label and then you feel an emotional connection to the brand.
How you develop your brand identity needs to carry over into all of your messaging from the way you write your blog to the way that photos are presented to the way you act in social media platforms like Twitter. If your photography blog is written like a glorified press release then who would want to read it? Certainly that is not the way to develop a loyal following. You want to portray yourself as having a personality not a robot. People respond best to those who come across as personable.
If you were to sum up your brand personality in one phrase what would it be? Edgy, cool, square, corporate, down to earth? Corporate is the worst in my opinion. That is just as bad as having none at all. Be consistent. Be human. If you want to have an edgy brand, then talk about the photos but use some modern slang here and there, find ways to name drop your favorite rock band if you feel that will help solidify your photography brand identity. When it comes to marketing you can’t just focus on the obvious, you have to think outside of the box.
Some photographers use a photo as their logo. Not a good decision. I don’t know of any successful brand that uses a photo as their logo. The reason is that a graphic illustration is much simpler and clean; and also translates well across any medium. You want to convey your brand personality as quickly as possible. I think editorial and commercial photographers are the worst at branding. They are so focused on doing what has worked for others in the past to where they neglect the fundamental basics to effective marketing. The photographers who tend to be best at branding are wedding photographers. They have to because they deal with the general public so they adopt mainstream marketing tactics. Even if you can’t stomach the idea of being a wedding photographer, you should really take a look at the successful ones and see how they are promoting themselves. It is a real eye-opener.
As for photographers in my genre, the ones who got it were Galen Rowell and Art Wolfe among others. It wasn’t just their images that propelled them to success, it was the manner in which they connected with their fans. Galen’s writing about his wild adventures made him famous. Art Wolfe’s work is all over the mainstream media. I’m sure both built businesses with stock imagery but they also realized there is a much bigger market out there in selling prints in galleries, doing workshops, writing, lecturing and being a visible personality. This allowed them to diversify. So rather than spend all day complaining about how stock photography has gone down the toilet, develop your own ideas and sell them. Don’t be content with just relying on others to market for you. You are a brand, not just a photographer. Photographers are a dime a dozen.