Are You a Commodity or a Brand?

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brookeBrooke from way back in the day… can you spot the ‘brand’ we were inspired by?

Why Thinking of Yourself as a Brand is More Important Than You Know

There are brands and there are commodities.

A brand is something or someone that people choose because of what they associate with the item – what intangibles that choice brings.

A commodity is something or someone that people choose because of price point or availability. Cheapest or easiest to get is what they go for.

A brand is not interchangeable, but a commodity is.

Cans of peas are commodities, Green Giant Peas are a brand. Some people will pay more for Green Giant Peas than any of the other brands. And if the store is out of Green Giant, they will happily take ANY of the others on the shelf – they are commodities.

Leica is a premium brand. Mention the name Leica and photographers instantly focus on excellence, vision, longevity and high value. Even people who are not photographers will perk up when they hear the word Leica.

There are dozens of other manufacturers of cameras – and each have their aficionados, but Leica can command high respect EVEN from the Canon, Nikon, Fuji, and Sony shooters who are also aficionados and fans of their own brands.

Looking for a premium bag, we may think Prada. There are other brands that we may think of, but Prada is Prada… and there is no substitute for that brand.

If we think about the bag as a commodity – not a premium, then almost any bag from any department store will do the job.
The Prada bag was not chosen ONLY because of its ability to hold things without them falling out. It was chosen because of what is associated to it, what makes it unique IS its brand uniqueness. It is better made, classier in style, more innovative or classic or whatever. It is a Brand that people associate with the bag.

The bag from the department store is utilitarian. It holds things without them falling out just fine. It comes with no other associations. One bag is totally interchangeable with another.

As a photographer, one of our most important part is our ‘brand’. If what we do is totally interchangeable with another photographer, or even a group of photographers, then the value becomes less, and the loyalty is simply not there.

Start to think of yourself as a total brand.

  • What you do.
  • How you do it… differently.
  • What values you bring.
  • What you value your own work to be.
  • How you deal with prospective clients.
  • What your visual strategy looks like (identity/graphics/website)
  • Does the visual strategy enhance your brand?
  • Will your clients be able to discern your value?
  • How do you deal with clients to introduce and enhance your brand?
  • How do your customers see your work – as a brand or a commodity? Don’t know? Ask.
  • If they see you as a commodity, how do you change that view?
  • If they see you as a brand, how do you enhance and engage that view?
  • Brand can include your images of course… that is a given
  • But also how you show the images: your portfolio, leave behinds, identity pieces
  • What your website looks like – Is it modern and cool, or a free crappola site
  • What your logo looks like. Is it professional? Does it speak to your brand?
  • Where you show your work. Do you have an office? Do you have a co-work space? Is it a local Starbucks?
  • What you wear when showing your work. Do you dress casually, formally, hip, classic, contemporary, eclectic?
  • What you wear when you are shooting. Does it match your work, how you showed your work, and what you think of the work?
  • What you wear… period. All three should match… and that gives you memorability.

Style, personal style, can go a long way toward building a brand.

It is why rockstars all look ridiculous… they do it to be remembered. It is why actors and actresses do outrageous things in public… to be remembered.

Do you have to do ridiculous and outrageous things while looking like a throwback to the Village People? OF COURSE NOT.

But you do have to maintain a style, a look, a personal brand that elevates your work from commodity status.

Here is the scary thing… if you are a commodity – an easily replaceable, easily interchangeable photographer – you will have a very tough time in a crowded market. It will come down to a buck cheaper or being the only one available that day. And that does not make for a career that builds.

A Brand photographer – YOU – is someone they want to work with because they want to work with you. Budgets are not a big deal (within reason) and the focus is on getting the best person (you) for their ad shoot, or brochure assignment. They WANT to work with YOU. You bring more to the experience than just great images. You bring integrity, values, wacky playfulness, serious classic styling, a relaxed working atmosphere, an intense working atmosphere… whatever it is that makes you – YOU.

Time for a personal assessment… look above at the list of statement / questions and answer them for yourself. Write them down. Answer them honestly and with no censorship – only you are going to see them.

Are you a brand or a commodity?

Knowing this will really help as you make decisions regarding your work, your fees and who you plan to work with as you begin to build your business.

Ideas on how to go from a commodity to a brand are plentiful, and I will offer some suggestions in the upcoming weeks.


 

ANNOUNCEMENT

I am very happy to announce that I will be working very closely with Robin Bramman on business branding and personal branding. We are planning on doing a workshop online for branding your photography business as well as yourself. It will be a free workshop for all of you LE folks, so watch for the announcement. Coming up soon. Visit Robin’s site for more on what she does for large corporations and entrepreneurs alike.

I will let Robin introduce herself here.

MEET-ROBIN-copy

“Hello, I am Robin, Lead Curator + Strategic Brand Partner at RobinBramman.com.

 

Think of me as your Brand Partner for your digital presence – with personal and business branding expertise, strategic planning skills, social media savvy, project management and group branding implementation insights, and straight-from-the-trenches entrepreneurial wisdom.

 

I’ve logged over 20+ years as a visionary strategist + interactive services project champion (translation: fine-tooth comb detail-wrangling for smooth-as-silk fully branded website launches). I am super collaborative and have a host of partners I call upon to take your brand from ZERO to launched.

 

Throughout my career, I’ve worn high-powered hats in corporate America in both healthcare and financial industries, owned + operated my own brick ‘n mortar clothing boutique, successfully flipped + sold real estate properties, and dropped it all to be a stay-at-home mom. I’m a big fan of personal evolution, breaking as many rules as possible, and building a POWER team to support your branding initiatives.

 

I hold advanced master branding certifications through Reach Communications Consulting, Inc. and am a part of an exclusive enterprise team that allows me to deliver comprehensive learning programs for individuals, group branding sessions and deliver personal branding keynote and corporate workshops in support of brand building for the organization.”


“In The Frame” is my weekly dispatch covering lots of tips and interesting points of view for emerging photographers. Some articles end up on Lighting Essentials, and some of them are only for my newsletter subscribers. No Spam, and we never give names to anyone.



Old Mama Dog – New Tricks…


“I am changing the direction of my photography as I shoot more film. Overall I hate my own results but I love the work itself. I’ve been all over the place trying to figure out what type of photographer I want to be when I grow up. As I get older I realize the small moments are just as powerful as the big ones. It’s been a long time since I’ve been a kid and yet I’ve never been more of a kid than right now.

So I’ll keep taking every kind of photograph like a kid in a candy store til the sugar high wears off, throw up or learn what kind is my favorite. Pretty sure it’s all about being human whether it’s in New York or my own little corner of the world.”
Virginia Smith


Big Ambitions? Where Do We Start?

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I want to ride a bike across the country. I want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.
I want to photograph the heartland… from an old Indian motorcycle… with a view camera.
I want to do a photo story on Ecuador and Peru and the percussionists of South America.
I want to be able to do the ‘Quick Step’ on the dance floor.

Big ambitions. Especially the dancing… LOL.

Where do we start? What is the first step?

We can all have big dreams and big plans, but the hardest thing we have to do is to break it down into the smaller chunks and then granularize it even more to a set of actions.

Do this.
Then this.
Then this.

We don’t set off one morning heading for a donut and a cup of coffee and figure, oh what the hell, let’s go ahead and walk all the way to the other side of the continent. Right?

Right?

Lately I have been thinking it is similar to building a body of work in photography. I am thinking that there needs to be as much planning in our work image wise as would be in an epic shoot of drummers in Peru.

And that planning should have the same structure as the planning of riding a bike across country. Where, when, contingency plans for snow and rain… life.

We have all ridden bikes before. I do it a lot these days. Grab the bike, head out the gate and think… where am I gonna go today. And it is usually within the neighborhood. My bike is not a road bike, it is a beach cruiser so it only has one speed… whatever I pedal.

So distance is measured by how much of a workout I am going to commit to, and what my time frame is.

Short little jaunts in the immediate neighborhood. Safe. No need for planning at even the granular scale. Ride away, turn around, ride home.

Photographically I have been doing the same thing. Safe, comfortable… out and back again imagery that works nicely and I enjoy.

Time to get uncomfortable again. To ride farther than I normally do.

Planning a photographic body of work, what I want to accomplish this year in images is a rather new endeavor for me. I have always been led by my instincts, the clients I had, and the fun of making images that I like.

Nothing wrong with that until it becomes less comfortable and less fun. And one looks back on a year of images and realizes there was no direction, no cohesiveness… no ‘body of work’ that can be discerned overall.

Glimmers of a direction, and some fine shots… but a disappointing year of work for me leads me to be more deliberate this year.

Deliberate… not sloppy, or crude, or slap-dashed, or semi-planned, or sorta-in-a-way… DELIBERATE.

This has been top of mind for me for the past six or seven weeks. I want to create images that are both deliberate in construction and as a collection – cohesive and tight and planned for reasons that can be articulated… even if just for me.

Where do I start? What comes next?

Identifying the problem was easy, and a bit painful… now it is time to set forth on the corrective path and the myriad roadblocks that usually hide in the mist are making themselves highly visible.

Old habits… die hard.

New habits are even harder to create when we are not certain how to proceed to begin with.

I have been planning a lot of new teaching materials, and teaching plans for this year. And not all are revolving around the technical aspects of photography. I am planning for some philosophical and artistic discussions, perhaps a workshop or meeting of the minds as well. That planning goes well for me… it is in my DNA to plan that sort of thing.

Now I find myself having to plan out my work as well. And I am struggling against forty years of discipline in a craft in order to break away and do something different… something without a different set of disciplines. Or at least a new set of challenges.

It is possibly one of the more challenging things I have done in a long time… well, I haven’t completely done it yet… still in the opening throes of it.

I know when I must start… today. Every day is today.

Every day is the opportunity for something new… now to find the courage to grab on to a corner of that fleeting opportunity and take it for a spin.

Just around the neighborhood… I can always turn around and go home. It’s safe.

And one day… I may just decide to keep on going.

I’ll keep you posted.