This is a re-publishing of a post I originally wrote April 17, 2009. It still holds up today.
When I started this series, a few people made the point, “It doesn’t matter if my template website looks exactly like Joe Shmoe 3,000 miles away. The clients who hire me won’t see those other guys anyway.” Or, “My clients love my website, what does it matter if it looks like that other guys.”
This is what I like to call “Lazy Branding.” Yes, it is quite possible that many of your current clients have not seen the other guy’s website (or promo or blog or whatever it is that looks so much like yours). But, how many potential clients did you unknowingly lose because you blended in with everyone else? Maybe your site doesn’t necessarily scream “I copied Joe’s website,” but, if you’re one of two dozen websites a potential client has seen that all look alike, I don’t care how pretty they are, you’re blending in and you’re not standing out. You’re making it harder on yourself to book the clients you ARE getting.
So, here are my top 3 reasons you should make a point to differentiate yourself, even if you think no one is noticing.
1. People ARE Noticing: I think you’re fooling yourself if you believe that in this digi-flat world that just because a bride is in NYC she isn’t seeing your website even though you’re in CA. (And I’m using bride as an example because I know a lot of my blog readers serve the wedding industry. If you serve a corporate clientele, this applies even more to you). When a bride picks up that copy of Grace Ormonde, Martha Stewart, YWD, WedLuxe, whatever, do you think she’s just jumping to that section of the magazine with the vendors in her geographical area? Of course not. She’s reading it cover to cover to get ideas for her wedding. And chances are, she’ll look at a bunch of websites from vendors all over, even if she doesn’t intend to hire outside her area because she’s getting ideas; she’s looking all over the internet for inspiration. So, if you have the same website as the twenty other photographers/videographers she’s seen, once she DOES start narrowing in on vendors, you’re just going to blend in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard potential clients mention a video they saw somewhere, but couldn’t remember the name of the company or where they saw it because they all started to look alike.
2. You Need the Exercise: developing a unique brand is a necessary exercise every smart business person should go through. It forces you to focus and determine what you’re really about, which in turn will help drive your business decisions. The better you know what your brand is about, the better you can communicate to a potential client what sets you apart from the pack, and why they should hire you. If you’re lazy with your branding, you’ll revert to saying things like, “Well, you should hire us because we are very creative. We put our heart into everything we do.” Blech! Who isn’t creative? Who doesn’t put their heart into everything they do? If you can’t really set yourself apart, you’re losing business.
3. The World is Your Playground: if you’re in a service oriented business like photography or videography and you’re only looking to win clients in your geographic area, you’re missing out. I hear so many people lament about not being able to earn high fees in their city because they live in a small town. Yet there is example after example after example of visual artists I know who live in podunk towns or Timbuktu, and are getting top dollar. Why? Because they don’t see their market is as the 100 mile radius that surrounds them. The world is their playground. They shoot jobs in LA, NY, Seattle, TX, Mexico, wherever. So, in essence, you ARE competing with the guy 3,000 miles away. Just because you don’t go to his town, doesn’t mean he ain’t comin’ to yours. And if you’re not setting yourself apart, you may be losing work to that guy 3,000 miles away.
When we moved from Silicon Valley to a suburb of Atlanta, everyone asked me, “Aren’t you afraid of losing business.” And I was like, “No.” I have clients all over the country. I’ve built a network of trusted filmmakers in every major metro, so if a client can’t/won’t fly me out, I’ll hire a local shooter in that metro. If I had to rely on just clientele in one area, it would’ve limited our ability to pick up and move. That means those of you only focusing on your immediate geographic area aren’t just limiting your business, your limiting your lifestyle.
ADVICE FOR THOSE WHO DO GET TEMPLATE SITES
I’m not saying you can’t have a template site. Heck, this blog you’re reading is a template. But it’s not my primary launch point for my business. It’s a side tool I use to rant and rave and pretend like I know something. 😉 And it’s a template that I’ve never seen used. So, I think if you’re going to use a template site, keep these things in mind:
- Pick a template that’s rarely used.
- Invest in a pro to develop your logo and copy. (If you paid $100 for your website, use the money you saved to hire a brand consultant).
- Less is more. A clean simple site without a lot of bells and whistles forces your work to be the center of attention. And if you’re work can’t set you apart, you need more help than what this blog can offer. 🙂
I don’t get it – there are SO many good web developers and logo designers in every city – you can shop around, you can compare – We’ll drop 1500 on an “L” lens without thinking about it because we NEED it for our jobs, but a lot of us won’t bother hiring a real artist to design for us…it’s ironic that a lot of us are just as bad as the brides we complain about going to CraigsList for their photographer…For what it’s worth, we paid about 5k for our website and logo design. We went from about one inquiry a week to about 5. That’s easy math for me…
Keep up the great posts, Ron!
YES!!! Thanks for this post Ron. One thing that really annoys me and completely boggles my mind is photographers who also think they are designers. Now, I have a visual arts degree and my husband is also a graphic designer so I do have the knowledge, but so often I see other photographers who dont have that experience creating their own “logos” and template sites. It really irks me. Nine times out of ten the logo is just some font they picked out and called it their logo. eeeeekkkk. Hopefully this will make people realize the importance of hiring a professional!!!
Great post Ron, I agree with everything you said. With so many photographers in my market (DC/MD/VA) it’s increasingly important to be as unique as possible. Not just to compete, but to also help ourselves carve out our own niche in the market share here. As a result, I think we’d all be a little more successful. Not to mention how transient the DC region can be, people from out of town making their homes here, and having wedding guests from out of town. So when we market to the DC region, we have to understand that we’re also marketing ourselves to the world! I’m fortunate that I’m friends or acquainted with over a hundred photographers in my region so I can see what it’s looking like. We have a lot of work to do in this realm. Great post!
What a great post. I actually took your advice and am investing in a custom site, logo and blog to go with my new brand. It is a lot more than purchasing a template but I know now it is so important to invest in creating a strong brand. It is going to help my business grow in so many ways. Thanks Ron!
Andrew Hsu says
maybe your next post can be picking out some logos/brands that you think are unique and impactful. That would be a great post. (But no narcissism!!)
Jordan Boesch says
Thank you so much for doing this series. I’m working on branding my site and business right now and any help I can get it great. I don’t know how good I am at it, but I’m working on it!
Kristina Marshall says
Great perspective! Thanks for sharing! 🙂
Thanks everyone for the comments.
@steve – congrats on taking the step to redo everything. Your comment reminded me of one more benefit. Ideally, we should all be building our businesses to one day sell them. Whether or not you do, it’s wise to build it as if you might. That means building value. The more you create a unique brand, the more valuable your business will be. The branding you spend $5K on today might make you a million dollars ten years from now. The sky’s the limit.
M.J. Love says
Thanks for the post, I totally feel you on the unique identity of a website. Sometimes we photographers get it and sometimes we don’t. When I designed my website (I have a background in graphics and architecture), most photographers felt I was ludicrous for designing my site the way it is now. The purpose of my site is not to blend in with other gallery sites, but for potential clients to learn what it takes to capture great photographs and to contact Studio of Love for more information. Simple as that. The minute they call, thats when they experience the brand and feel the love.
Anywho, thanks and keep up the great posts.
Christine Lee Smith says
Okay, great point. Now the next question is how?
Reading your recent Tinker Bell post, I am not gifted at developing my brand. Where do I look for someone like that to help me professionally flesh it all out?
Ron Dawson says
@Christine: some companies to look into:
– F22 Branding: http://www.f22branding.com (there’s a waiting list. This is Kevin Swan’s consulting biz, and one of the Operation Brand Aid Dream Team).
– Elevation has a special photog program: http://www.yourelevation.com (ask for Gary Sikes)
– Red Door Creative: http://www.reddoorla.com/ (these are the guys the did Becker’s and Jessica Claire’s logos
– Matchstic: http://www.matchstic.com (local Atlantans here GA who do amazing work.)
Be prepared to invest a good amount, but in the long run, it’ll be worth it.