Selecting a Style: Part 2 Be the Specialist.
Please note, for those of you who did not bother to read part 1 of this series, but for whatever reason, you are reading part 2. Guilt? By way of explanation, this series is written in two voices. The first, my corporate brand voice. The second, designated in parenthesis and italics, is my Tourettes kicking in. In other words, what I’m really thinking, but can’t quite write in my corporate blog for fear of upsetting the more ‘conservative’ (boring) among us. In this case, boring is not italicized because it is in the middle of an italic sentence. (Duh. Remember English 101? No? Were you stoned?)
Style. Travel in style. Work in style. I live a certain “lifestyle.” I freaking love style.
What pops in your brain when you read that? Clothes? Shoes? The fact that my family has two daddies? (Well, I’m not really a daddy.) Or, does your brain go to “brand”? Have you read my previous blog posts? Have we met? Have I worked for you? Have you worked for me? How does it all fit together?
When you think of me, what do you think of? Be honest! (Don’t say the obvious: Brad Pitt good looks, highly muscular chest, and impeccable grooming…) Do you think of my professional trips to Mexico and bribing the policia federales to keep my rental car out of “car jail”? (Blog post) My vacation trip to Rome, and trying to figure out exactly when you tip your butler at the St. Regis? (Blog post or perhaps live story) Or, do you think of a particular photo I may have posted from a job? One of my new rants? Or, have we met? Perhaps very close Facebook friends? No? Not ringing a bell? (HELLO! I’m not sure I like Facebook.)
As I wrote in the overview for this series, Part 1, working as a photographer means you develop your own, personal and professional brand. That brand becomes the style people think of when they think of you — everything from what your web site looks like to what car you drive to a shoot. Every part of what you do, as a business owner, feeds into your brand. For good, or for bad, everything builds.
While certain style changes are continuously updated, it’s your core values that remain constant and steadfast. (Did I write that? “Constant and steadfast?” Really? WTF!? I get more corporate every day. Next I’ll be parting my hair on the side.) Your core values are the building blocks of what you do, and no matter how you grow the business, no matter what services you add or subtract, no matter what template change you make to your web site, your core values should hold.
(Values always makes me think of Fox News. Why, I don’t know. Maybe it’s that Republican brand thing. Have you ever noticed how many laxative commercials are on Fox News? TOURETTES! )
What are core values? For me, it’s the definition of what we (as a company) do. We are high profile professional event photographers; a photo production company. We work for corporate clients throughout the United States and internationally. We provide a high-end photo experience, but with a “rock and roll” edge that’s dynamic and energized.
When business slows down, as it always does, you might be tempted to tweak those core values. “Hmmm…” you think, “perhaps I should shoot a wedding.”
Ohhhhhhh, smack. Dangle, dangle, dangle. That wedding gig dangling in front of you during a slow spot in your calendar is like a donut dancing in front of Rosanne Barr. Your mouth waters. Drool drips down onto your chin, then slides onto one pectoral (man boob) before splattering unceremoniously onto your shoe. (Remember my great pecs?)
“I could shoot just one….” you think, “just one little wedding. Who would know? It’s good money. Why not….”
Here’s the thing. If you are a wedding photographer — if that is your brand — great. It’s obvious you should be taking that dangling donut. But if you do what I do — high profile corporate events — how does accepting that job affect your brand? Does a corporate event planner for, let’s pick a company — Samsung — think “wow, I should hire that guy, look what a great job he did on Karen and Kim’s wedding!” (Heather Has Two Mommies is my go to book.)
Doubt it. If, on the other hand, the work you are showing is relevant to Samsung — let’s say, for Asus, Apple, Motorola, whatever — then it’s an entirely different conversation, isn’t it?
On the other hand, if you are a wedding event photographer, and Nancy and Lolla call you to shoot their wedding, what good is it to show off work you did for Samsung? How is that pertinent?
Your specialty becomes a big part of your brand. The more you specialize, the smaller your potential market — but the more likely you are to be seen as an expert in what you do.
When you are seen as an expert? Well, how many competitors do you actually have? (Two: yourself and your alternate ego.)
Who commands more money: the expert specialist or the general practitioner? With a few exceptions, it’s the expert who grabs up the premium rate.
Question: can a general practitioner do as good a job as the expert specialist? Well….let’s try an example.
What happens if you suddenly grow a strange horn in your forehead? Right in the center, like a unicorn? Who do you go see? Your family doctor, or a craniologist? Your family doctor might be perfectly fine for hacking the thing off and grinding down the stump. The craniologist has probably seen THOUSANDS of unicorn horns growing out of peoples skulls, and would know, that — if he amputates the magic horn — your penius will fall off. The general practitioner doesn’t know that, because he’s never seen a unicorn horn growing out of a skull. But a craniologist has. It’s common place. (I, of course, am a craniologist on the side.)
So, step one in building your brand is to specialize and become an expert in what you do. Never vary from your core value of what your business does. Define it, then let everything you do flow from that definition. (Let your competitors sniff around for any job that will come their way, like hookers on the corner. ‘Hi, baaaby! Aren’t YOU cute?’)
Southwest Airlines is my favorite example. (Not of hookers.) They started with flight attendants in go-go boots and serving shots of whiskey between local hops in Texas. The idea was a low cost, low frills airline that was fun and less uptight than, say…American Airlines. Southwest has grown into the largest domestic airline in the United States. American was just taken over by US Air (there’s a match made in hell). The driving force behind Southwest’s growth? Tweaking everything they do to better fit their core values. When the “cattle call” didn’t work for “open seating”? They changed to the current system of assigning boarding positions based on check in times (with a few exceptions). When they planned expansion routes? They picked airports underserved in major cities and created a point to point route plan instead of a hub and spoke system. The result? Airline travel is completely different, today, with more airlines adopting (stealing) Southwest’s ideas. When I was in Honduras a few years ago, I flew Taca, a South American Airline. Do you know their systems mirrors Southwest? (Blatant copying.)
Even United (who I fly internationally) has been encouraging flight attendants to loosen up and have fun. (If that uptight CEO can do it….)
You became a photographer because of a love of photography. Or maybe it was an easy credit in college and you fell into it, whatever. Now, here you are. Take a hard look at your business. Is it defined? Are you a specialist? Or, are you one of 8,000 local photographers competing for 1,000 local jobs? (I have my Tourettes totally under control. I did NOT put the adjective I wanted before ‘jobs’! Blow! Blow!)
Bottom line: Define your market before the market defines you. The rant will continue. (Oh, yippee!)