Early in 2008, I was introduced to the photography world by my good friend, Justine Ungaro. Upon hearing that I was a brand designer and seeing my work she exclaimed, “You should do this for photographers.” To which I responded, “How many photographers can there be?” Two years later, after attending a few conventions, I realized there are quite a few of you…and your industry is growing. Which is why the PartnerCon message of “differentiation” is very sound marketing advice indeed.

Being a designer in a sea of photographers, at PartnerCon, I spent quite a bit of time listening and watching. I could not believe how transparent photographers are with their businesses. I was so enthralled by how supportive and generous you are with the information and tactics you have used to become successful. You refer work to each other, which naturally builds a strong network. Many of you intrinsically know how powerful you can be as a unit vs individuals, creating forums and large networking events, where you can hold your vendors accountable. Word can spread quickly and a recommendation from another photographer can be as good as gold. The design community can learn a lot from your camaraderie. Great job!

You shared your workflow, your life’s work, your pricing structures, your marketing tactics, your SEO secrets, your lighting and posing lessons and above all your passion. I heard creative solutions to many of the challenges you face as entrepreneurs and studio owners. I heard time and time again from the amazing people I met, “I love what I do”. This always made me smile. With each photographer I met, with each story I heard, my mind would start noting what makes you different and unique. I had many conversations about what I saw from an outsider’s perspective. Your strengths, your personalities, your experience, the service you provide, your target audience, your photography. Essentially, your brand.

Yet, your marketing efforts are where many of you are going it alone, not following through, or sending mixed messages. Some are just following the exact recipe for success that other (more successful or experienced) photographers have used.

I was surprised by how many of you did not have business cards or were extremely apologetic when handing them to me. “I’ve been waiting for x,y, z to print a really expensive card.” Or “This doesn’t represent me, I haven’t been able to afford (insert brand designer here)”. On the other hand a few of you handed me several different cards for one studio, with a completely different looks on each.

Here are a few very simple steps to branding and marketing. You can take them and create your own DIY solutions that can be very effective. If you hire a designer with a strong plan and direction in place you will pay less for their services and have much better results.

1) Find your forte, your “unique selling proposition”. What do you do that no one else does? Do you specialize in pet photography? Have pet treats imprinted with your studios name or logo. Leave them at local pet shops. The more specific your field of expertise, the more you can charge for your services. (read the E-Myth for more information about this)

2) Figure out who your target audience is. Knowing who you are talking to helps create your voice. Don’t be afraid to be specific and exclusive. Is it pet owners in your town? Hold a pet beauty pageant, with a reception afterward. Make it an annual community event. Get the word out by handing out invitations at your local dog park.

3) Be Memorable (and that doesn’t necessarily mean expensive). If one person had taken my palm and written their web address in sharpie, or stamped my hand with a self-inking stamp, they would have stood out heads and shoulders from everyone else. Total cost $2-10. Memorability? Priceless.

4) Be Consistent- have one cohesive message and stick with it. That is your brand. You were brave enough to hang your shingle and be an entrepreneur in one of the toughest economic times in history. Make sure your message reflects your bravado. Make certain every marketing avenue carries that consistent voice. Don’t split your studio into many different identities. You just dilute it. They should all fall under the same umbrella. Starbucks now sells sandwiches, they did not come up with a completely separate identity in case people where hungry. One clear message, for coffee or Paninis…retail is in the details.

5) Stand behind your brand. Don’t be apologetic about it. Don’t weaken it with conflicting ideas or designs. Don’t try and please everyone with it. Be bold, be you, and don’t make excuses. Your clients will react to your confidence, you will be able to be a better salesperson.

6) Dedicate at least 25% of your time to marketing. That could be email newsletters, social media, marketing pieces, updating your blog, contacting past clients. Try and do one activity a day to market your business.

7) Use the Community. I would encourage you to use the same sense of community to create marketing and brand building think tanks for each other. Have a gathering, where you analyze each other’s work, your client experience, your brand. Bring in an outside design or marketing expert, everyone split the cost if there is some small charge. Have them lead the brainstorming like a marketing therapy group. Help each other create your own individual marketing plans. Get together once a month to make sure you are sticking to your marketing plan and keep each other’s cohesiveness in check.

8) Don’t follow someone else’s marketing plan to brand your studio. This is just as much a part of your expression as your photography. It doesn’t need to be expensive, but it does need to be unique to you. Market your individuality, but support each other as a group. A really wonderful, encouraging and generous group, that I was so thrilled to be a part of. Thank you!

Written by Ellen Petty

Ellen Petty is the Head Brandslinger at Identity Kitchen, a marketing and design studio specializing in photographers. She and her business partner Marty Thornley just launched a new line of affordable all-in-one WordPress portfolio sites designed specifically for professional photographers at PhotographyBlogSites.com.

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