Branding For Photographers, Is It a Bit Out Control?
Branding, I believe, has become a rampant snake oil piece of advice from many “teaching” photographers, who truly do not have much to teach, but need something to give the perception that they do. To me, it seems like something they can proclaim as vitally important, but no results can really be quantified from the efforts. This allows them to seem like they are giving advice, but do not have to be accountable for it.
I think for many photographers they, on a very basic level, understand branding and do see the importance of it. I think it is hard to start up a business and not hear someone preach the words of “branding or die” and tell you that you MUST hire a professional for that aspect of your business. People start to shop around and see how expensive it is and, I think they do one of two things. 1: Drop some major coin and hire a person or firm to do it for them (which I don’t think is needed and that money could be better spent elsewhere for the business) or 2: Get discouraged and just forgo any sort of branding because they can’t afford it and since they are told they can’t possibly do it on their own, say screw it and give up.
Why I Think Branding Can Be More Of A “Feel” Than A Full Scale Expensive Venture
I disagree with this crazy high end, full-scale branding sentiment. I think we need a cohesive, polished and thoroughly complete “feel” to our business, but do not need to pay unrelenting amounts of cash to get our own custom tailored “branding campaign.” This “feel” can be considered branding, but I think that denotes certain connotations of a big level sort of budget to it. It is why I use the word feel. The people who pedal branding cite companies like McDonalds, Coke, Target, Starbucks, etc. as examples, but let’s not kid ourselves, folks…It is very unlikely we will be on that level in our career. However, if you get to that level, you are welcome to throw these words out the window and hire a firm for your branding, because at that point, it would probably be prudent and advantageous to do so.
If you remove the “logo” from the equation, what you are left with is a cohesive feel to each of these businesses that runs through out the company, no matter the interaction or touch point you have with it. Starbucks has a fairly modern and richness to their brand, with super friendly and utmost top tier customer service (or so they are supposed to, but there is always an exception to every rule) where you can get a great coffee or some similar concoction pretty much anyway you want it. If you look at it, it’s actually a pretty simple concept t0 pick up on.
I hear all the time people saying, “You need to have a killer logo and top notch branding,” but do we really? Look at local businesses that you LOVE or frequent? Do you think they have a top level highly paid firm putting their “branding” together or someone who designed their logo for $3k? I know in my neck of the woods, that is not the case. Does it really matter to you if they didn’t pay someone thousands to develop their brand? Would you stop shopping or visiting there? I am going to venture a guess and say no…because in reality, it does not really matter on a local scale. So why should we as local photographers feel the incessant need to pay massive sums to have top level branding?
Where To Even Begin?
I believe this can be achieved by doing some homework and researching what makes a good logo and brand. There are numerous resources on the Internet that will break this stuff down for you to understand. You can begin to glean bits and pieces and apply them to your business. I would also,spend some time on Amazon looking at logo design books and branding books and buy some of them. You can find used ones for under $10, combining 4 or 5 of those with the vastness and unending knowledge on the information highway will get you to a pretty good place of understanding.
What you will learn are things like: simple logos that look good in black and white as well as color. The logo needs to be “readable” on a tiny scale and also a massive scale. You shouldn’t have more than 3 colors as it becomes a bit too much. Starting here will lead you into more in-depth topics on the subject, which will lead to how to pick colors that fit together well, what typeface actually says, text layout, etc.
The Most Important Things To Consider For Your Branding
Here are the things that I think are most important for your business and your foray into branding:
It needs to be simple and not busy. It needs to be scalable from small to large. The logo will go onto business cards and potentially to a large scale (maybe for advertising or promotion somewhere). It won’t always be in color, so it needs to be “readable” in color and black & white. Take some time to google top designed logo awards (yes, that is a real thing), best designed logos, etc. Also, take some time with your logo. Don’t just find a cool font, type your business name, and call it day. Pay close attention to the logos that received awards and see how polished and refined they are.
However, do not think you will be at that level; you are just gleaning the basics of what makes them good and stand out. This should help you not just throw your name in a creative font, but refine it a bit more. Look up videos on how people create logos in the various programs that are available to do so.
The Overall Feel
You need to do some thinking on how you want to be perceived and who you are as person as well as a photographer. Do you want to be seen as a whimsical sort of brand and photographer? Or maybe very corporate, simple and clean? A bit in your face? I would actually look at your work…is it soft and a bit muted or maybe it’s extremely bold. Go beyond your work, look at the clothes you wear (are they super colorful or earth tones, modern or traditional, simple or layered?), look at what you choose to put in your house, etc.
These things are very good indications of how your brand should probably be represented and created. If your work is bold, should your really have some pastel colors with a “floaty” or sort of whispy logo and type face? I would say not, I would say that the colors should be bold and bright and the font should be thick and have a bit of an “in your face” attitude.
They need to reflect you and your work…similar to the statement above. However, you need to do some research on how colors interact with each other…there has been vast documentation and research on this topic. Some colors work well together and some don’t. Some colors are perceived and registers in a person’s mind as pleasing or not so pleasing; they may not really notice it, but it does.
Colors have been researched to signify certain perception amongst majority of people (red = courage, power, etc. & purple = royalty, mystery, etc). To help pick a few different colors, look into color harmonies, color theory, complimentary colors, cool vs. warm colors, etc. Once you start to research that stuff, you will see what I mean. These colors then need to follow through your entire brand and branding effort. They need to be consistent and unwavering whenever possible. They need to be on your site, your business cards, your stationary, your emails, your thank you cards, basically anywhere and on anything your client will ever see.
Doing some research on typeface is more in-depth than you might you think. There are tons of theory and documentation on types of typeface and what they actually portray. While you might think this seems to be going a little too far, I do think it is a very important aspect to branding. The typeface needs to be throughout your entire branding as well.
My recommendation is to find a couple different typefaces that are similar, but slightly different and use them in different areas of your brand. With the exception of one of them needs to look like a fairly common type face that will be easily found across the gamut of predetermined templates that you will come across (a pre-built website, letters that you will type to customer, emails, etc). This way, it will allow your brand to translate and be recognized, even when you are forced to use something that you cannot have complete control over.
For the love of all that is holy, PLEASE, PLEASE make sure they are easily readable. I see this all too often: someone finds a cool font and does EVERYTHING in it and it is not readable. It also needs to be scalable like the logo…tiny or big, it needs to be able to be easily read. Research serif vs. sans-serif, bold type face, skinny type face, etc. Again, once your start looking, it will become more evident.
Please understand that I am not implying by doing the things above, you will turn into a branding expert. I just think branding is not something that should really be such a high level of concern for most photographers and not something they should sink thousands and thousands into. Your clients just want to see a consistency in your branding. Something that is polished and professional, seems well thought out, and does match who you are as photographer and your work. So, please do some research, experiment with ideas, spend some time and see what you come up with.
I think with the info above and what you learn from your research, you can come up with something that looks professional, will impress clients, and most of all, save you some major money.
As always, please let me know your thoughts in the comments, share your successes or failures, and please share the article with anyone you know. I very much appreciate everyone who takes the time to read my ramblings…