Friday, March 20, 2015

What is Branding Photography and why do I need it?

In past posts I’ve started to delve into the concept of branding.
I’ve defined branding, given examples of companies with a strong brand, started talking about personal branding, provided resources for starting to develop your own brand, and more.
So, now, let’s move to the next step… Creating a Visual Brand.

What is a Visual Brand?

Once you understand the core of “branding” – i.e. the internal values, beliefs, mission, vision and message for a company, or its identity – it’s easy to begin to understand the idea of the visual brand.

The visual brand is the visual identity of a business or a personality. The visual brand includes elements that visually represent and communicate the core brand (values, mission, what you do, etc.).

What are the tools of visual branding?

The two most commonly understood tools are graphic design and logos.
Think about it: when someone decides to start a business, what’s the first thing they tell you to do?
(Not usually figure out your brand ideals…)
“Oh!! You’re starting a business?? Get a logo!!” Says everyone’s best friend.
It’s true, a logo is one of the most basic tools of visual branding because it’s what is used most often to represent a business. However, without having a proper understanding of your own core brand, message, vision and target market, it’s really difficult to narrow down a look that accurately represents it.
Apart from logos, which I recommend having done by a professional graphic designer so you can avoid landing your company on this website, some of the basic elements of grapic design are color, shape, typography, layout/composition and photography.
That’s right, a graphic designer uses these different elements, in addition to information the client provides about brand ideals, target markets, etc. to determine the best “look” to match.
And yes, this brings us back to photography.

So, what is branding photography?

Branding photography is a set of photos that collectively conveys your brand identity.

That means, they are images that communicate what your company is, what it does, and what it stands for. Branding photography also can showcase a typical (or ideal) customer’s experience with the company.
Brand photos tell a story.
They connect instantly with your audience.
They connect faster than words.
Outstanding brand photos captivate attention and are memorable. They inspire trust, and eventually, buying.
Quality photography stands out in the sea of competition using dark, unclear, iPhone photos.

So, what kinds of photos qualify as branding photographs?

Like I said above, these images tell a story. They “paint a picture” of not only, literally, what you do, but also what you stand for as a company. They create a vibe.
That said – branding photos can range from portraits and headshots of executives to plated food on the table, to storytelling images of food preparation and people enjoying the atmosphere at a restaurant, to a makeup artist putting makeup on a client, detail photos of the makeup, a creator creating, details of the creation such as paint, a closeup of the painting, and even interiors and exteriors of a business, etc.
Look through this gallery for some visual examples.

How do photos tell a story or convey a belief?

If you’re not versed in photography, the answer to this is not very obvious.
Similar to graphic designers, photographers have different tools they can use to add meaning to a photograph. In particular, light, posing, moments, depth of field, camera angle, focal length, color/black and white, photo editing, etc.
Don’t get overwhelmed if you don’t know what any of that is. It’s ok. It’s actually not that important that you know what each of those things are and how they work.
What is important is that you recognize that these are all things a professional photographer knows about and understands, and can manipulate to craft photos that represent what you want to say.

Why do I need this?

Ok, I get it. It’s expensive to be in business. We’ve all got expenses. And we all try to cut corners where we can. I get it.
I might be biased, but photography is not the place to skimp in your business.
Why?

1. You can’t polish a terd.

I hate this phrase as much as the next person, but it’s true.
So, firstly, understand that if you’re going to hire a professional designer to create your marketing materials, an advertising agency to do your planning and media work, and advertise basically anywhere, you’ll basically be wasting your money if you send them low-quality content (photographs and copy) to fill the space.
Think about it, what’s the point of paying someone to create graphics or pay to put an ad in a publication or on a website if you’re not also going to invest in the content? It’s like selling gourmet foods made from low quality and/or frozen ingredients – it makes everyone question your integrity. Even the best graphic designer in the world can’t make something good out of a poor quality photo.
(Please learn that lesson from Amy’s Baking Company (featured on Kitchen Nightmares), who actually tried to pass off frozen raviolis as fresh and storebought baked goods as their own – it didn’t turn out too well for them when Gordon Ramsey called them out on national television. Sorry to rag on them again, but it’s true.)

Decorating low quality content with high quality design doesn’t fool anyone. In fact, people will likely be confused with the inconsistency in the brand and question the quality of service or product that you proide.

“Hm, this business’ pictures look weird. I can’t see what’s going on. What’s the point of this picture? It looks like they tried – and failed – to do it themselves. If they’re going to skimp on this, where else are they going to skimp?”

2. Make your graphic design work for you.

On the flip side, high quality photos are the corenerstone to, not only beautiful, but effective graphic design. You want your graphic design to pull people in, not turn them away. With quality branding photos, you give your designer something to build upon, rather than relying on graphics or stock images (which look the same as everyone else’s site who hasn’t hired a photographer, by the way).
Just remember the last time you looked a a website that had no photos, or a brochure that was all text. Did you enjoy that experience? Was it easy to comprehend immediately, without expending much engery or time?
You want your designs to express what you’re about and to capture people’s attention. You want people to have a good experience with it and not have to try hard to figure out what you’re trying to say. Branding photos allow your design to do that.

3. Break out of the Clutter: Stand Out and Be Remembered.

Let’s be honest. How many people out there do what you do? How many of them are in your market and do you compete with for business regularly? Probably a lot.
Now, how many of them are using photography?
These images are a strategy. They aren’t there just to look nice, but with consistency and quality, soon you’ll stand out from your competitors. Even the ones already using professional photos because you’ll have different images. You won’t look just like the ones who use stock, and you will be ahead of the ones who use nothing at all.
By virtue of standing out, you’ll be more easily remembered.
And being remembered is the key to effective marketing. Marketing that actually converts customers. It’s present enough that when a person needs what you have to offer, they think of you as the answer.

4. Inspire desire.

The same way that bad photos incite doubt, good photos incite confidence and desire. It’s instantaneous, too. It’s a feeling. It’s intuition.
Photos can create desire. They elicit feelings in the viewer.
Have you ever looked at a photo of food that looked so delicious that you actually felt hunger pangs?
How about all those wedding photos on Pinterest?
You bet people are imagining themselves in the photos. They are daydreaming and fantasizing about the experience.
These photos will help people feel connected to you. It will make them WANT to do business with you. They can inspire people to imagine the experience they’ll have with your business – from start to finish.
If you’re a restaurant, they might imagine the taste of the food on their tounge, the laughs they’ll have with their friends, the fullness when all is said and done.
If you’re a makeup artist, they might imagine how it’ll feel to get their makeup done, and how awesome they’ll look after it – the compliments they’ll get.
The point is, these photos allow them to begin to participate in your brand – even if it’s only in their heads for a bit.

5. Create your fans for life.

We already know that people do business with those they know, like and trust.
Other than referrals and personal experience to create that trust, high quality branding photos add to the trust and loyalty prospects and customers have for your business.
The images add value to your brand experience. They show people that you’re willing to invest in yourself and your reputation, which means you’re probably also willing to invest in the other areas of the business which are important and key to your offering.
And, once you’ve got their trust, continuing to show quality over time adds to the trust, desire and loyalty. It keeps them coming back and keeps them referring you out.

It works for personal brands too.

The beauty of this strategy, is that it works whether you’re a company with employees or an individual with a personal brand or network marketing business.
It’s obvious, hopefully now at least, why it is essential for a business like a restaurant or salon to do this. But it’s not just for them.
For example, if you’re a network marketing person, you might not be sure why this is important for you or how it would even apply.
Well, if you’re business is just part of a larger conversation that you’re creating (i.e. your brand), your photos will be about you, about the things you sell, portraits of your success stories, etc.
If you’re a health coach, your photos can be related to living a healthy lifestyle, showing you cooking healthy foods, pictures of the healthy foods you’re cooking, photos of you doing fitness activities, or portraits in fitness outfits, etc.
It all depends on what you’re trying to say. (And if you’re not sure, we can talk about it and brainstorm together.)

Are you ready to make this your marketing model?

If you’re clear on your brand and your message, and you’re ready to step up your photography, please contact me to share your ideas and get moving.
And of course, I hope you’ll share this post with anyone you know who might be curious about branding photography or be looking for a new strategy to grow their business this year.