By: Sheri Rosenberg
Hello, friends. Spring is springing in NYC and it’s a beautiful thing. And perhaps it’s a cliché, but Spring is the perfect time to think about rebirth, reinvention, and retooling whatever needs fixing.
So something top of mind for those of us in marketing communications industries is the notion of personal branding. I’d argue it should be top of mind for everyone in any kind of business, but we talk about it more because it’s a powerful tool for anyone looking to craft influence in a very crowded world.
I’ve also been flummoxed of late by how powerful photography has become as a tool for communication of late. And though many of you raise an eyeball at Instagram for creating Instacelebrities out of less than professional photographers, it’s much deeper than that. Photography is quickly becoming a force in a world that thinks in 140 characters or less. I can imagine a day in the very near-future where photography and image driven communications become the modern day version of hieroglyphics- think symbols and signs conveyed by the camera that do the talking not through words, but through pictures. I remember as a child being fascinated in school by the cavemen and the discovery of the Lascaux Caves (yea, weird kid)- there was something about that system of language through symbols that most likely started my lifelong fascination with the visual arts. Now more than ever, photographers have an opportunity to not only make art or sell products or report the news, but tell stories and reach audiences like never before.
If you’ve been following the election cycle, you’ve no doubt seen one of the most potent messages to Donald Trump, from the influencer behind Humans of New York. Brandon Stanton. He wrote an open letter to the Republican front-runner, asking him to stop the “violence and prejudice”- you can read it here. Regardless of whom you support in this election (and whether you are a fan of Stanton’s instafame as a photographer), this post went viral and was shared more than one million times, making Mr. Stanton an influencer and thought leader for our time. To me, he is the quintessential personal brand- because his currency is humanity, and showing all of us, well, all of us. He speaks for us because he has shown us the common man, woman, and child with great success. That’s the secret sauce of personal branding- using your influence and unique DNA to connect with consumers, potential clients, and the world at large.
But back to our world of commercial photography and the art of the personal brand. I’ve often thought about how photographers can influence art producers and creative to work with them, and collaborate. The days of portfolio breakfasts seem to be going the way of the dinosaur- nobody has time, nobody eats carbs, and nobody can think of what’s next when it comes to getting their work in front of potential clients. So how to connect in a world where everyone has ADD and even less time, but still searching high and low for connection and that awesome share factor?
I have some thoughts on how a sound personal branding strategy can help you get there- with nary a bagel in sight:
Influence. I’m not saying everyone wants to talk politics, nor should you. What I am saying is take cues from HONY and think of ways to get more eyeballs on your work- whatever you shoot, become a “must view” on Instagram by creating imagery that’s highly sharable- ways to do that? Besides taking amazing and iconic photos, show people a life through pictures- whether it’s photos of your local community, or outtakes from a shoot that feel candid and insider.
Integrate. As a personal brand, all of your marketing materials must be aligned- in such an image driven business, it’s never been more important that everything counts- make sure your logo and all other promotional materials have an integrated feel, from your Instagram feed to your portfolio cover to your personal website to your blog.
Authenticate. This is a big one. If you read a lot about what’s happening in business and how it applies to culture, everyone is seeking authenticity- that’s what’s so powerful about Humans of New York. It’s real. Even if your work is less about real people and more about high concept of fantasy, you have to find ways to show your true self in your work. If you have sat in agency brainstorms as I have for the past few years, the big takeaway is this- clients want “real”. So think about sharing your true self with the world.
Collaborate. This is an extension of authenticity, but being collaborative and a real problem solver will go far for your personal brand. More and more, photographers are being asked to present treatments for projects- go the extra mile and show your creativity, technical chops, and production value. Never has this been more important.
Create experiences. Another way to boost your brand is to create experiences- from taking people to lunch at your favorite Vietnamese hole in the wall to having parties and pop up galleries, experience is a way to connect with people craving something face to face. Incidentally, creating experiences onset has huge importance. There are photographers I will never forget not just because they take amazing photos, but they make the onset experience super fun and memorable. From thinking outside the box when it comes to catering to creating great playlists for the studio to thinking about what crew would be best to travel with, all of these things create experiences that will be noticed and not forgotten.
Build relationships. Despite our feelings of disconnection, it’s more important than ever to reach out and connect with old clients, friends, and colleagues while looking for new ones. Building your network by good old-fashioned outreach is still a big part of a sound personal brand.
Socialize. This one is a given but social media has to be a big part of your personal branding efforts. From branded Facebook pages to Instagram to Snapchat, social gives juice to your personal brand and boosts your influence. Full stop.
Know your tribe. It’s impossible to be something for everyone. Know what your audience loves about your work and give it to them in spades- and create hyper-targeted marketing to hone in on the right audience for your imagery. In this world of influence is king, it’s less important to have a million followers on Instagram and more important to have a smaller tribe that hangs on your every photo and can’t wait to see what’s next. Target, target, target.
Give to get. We all know millenials are infamous for only wanting to engage with brands that do good things for the world. Your brand is no exception. If you are involved with causes and charities, make that a part of your strategy. Create awareness for your passions and things you care about and share them with a larger audience. Donate your work to auctions and get involved with local and national level good works- being socially responsible goes very far in this world gone mad. Incidentally, pro bono work is still an amazing way to get acclaim- often the projects are super creative and win awards, so make sure to get involved. Find out which agencies or firms represent your favorite charities and reach out to offer a hand, or better yet, a camera.
Be an original. This one seems to be in no brainer territory, but really- you have to find ways to be original when sharing your work. Whether it’s a personal project you want to spotlight or a series you’re doing on late night eating, find a way to connect with photography fans and set your brand apart.
In the world of personal branding, we’ve all got a story to tell. I’ m looking forward to seeing all of yours come to life- across my inbox, in person, and on my Instagram feed. (Incidentally, if you ever want to chat about your brand, my door is always open. One of my offers for 2016 to boost my very own personal brand is working with you on yours.)