August 11, 2011

Pancake Session: Cultivating Brand Power

This week’s Pancake Session was supposed to be about our off camera one-light set up, but we have something in the works for you guys so we’re going to bump that out one week. :) Instead, this week we’re going to take it back to the business side and talk about brand power.

Yesterday we had the pleasure of guest speaking on the Sallee Nordstrom “Turn the Key” Tour, and we opened up the day talking about Cultivating Brand Power. Ok great, so what is brand power and why should you care about it?

Well first, let’s be clear on what brand power is not….which is that it is not just the logo design and color selection that goes into branding. Yes, that process is very important and can play a large role in a company’s overall brand power, but they are not one in the same. Because real brand power ultimately comes down to how you make your customers feel.

But I even want to bump that one step further and say that it’s not just as simple as you do something nice for your clients and therefore they feel happy. It’s so much deeper than that. The purest, most powerful form of brand power is when your customers are so connected to you as a brand that they start to feel something about themselves in virtue of being one of your customers. And pretty much all of us have brands like that in our lives. We definitely do.

Any of you starbucks drinkers out there will know exactly what I’m talking about. It kind of becomes part of your identity. :) You know how it feels to walk down the street holding that cardboard cup of caramel cider awesomeness, and you can’t possibly imagine life would ever feel the same holding styrofoam from Dunkin Donuts instead. You Mac fanatics can relate. Owning and being loyal to Apple products becomes a part of who you are. A part of how you see yourself. It’s the whole reason the I’m a Mac/I’m a PC commercials were so successful. And, as any of you Whole Foods devotees know, when you walk out carrying that reusable bag full good, wholesome food you just feel like you’re building a better life for your family versus how you feel walking out of any other regular, run of the mill, mass-market grocery store.

Brand. Power.

And what we know is that when you have that kind of brand power with a company there is a fierce, unwavering loyalty there. I would never choose Dunkin Donuts if there is a Starbucks anywhere within a twenty mile radius of us. We would never replace our Mini with a Toyota (please don’t get me wrong, I know there are a lot of people who have that kind of brand power with Toyota. We’re just not one of them.) And Justin might actually drop dead if he ever found a Dell on our door step. And when your customers are loyal like that to you too, all of the other competition and what anyone else is doing starts to fade away.

Until you are only competing with yourself. And now we’re talking about something really powerful.

So how do you go about cultivating that? I’ve come up with my top 5 tips for getting you started, and then we’ll take it from there. :)

1. The most powerful brand is YOU. Make it count.
As Justin & I have evolved in our brand from Imagine Imagine (no, I’m not making that up) to Justin Marantz Photography to just plain ole Justin & Mary (no last name, kind of like Madonna), the more personal we made our brand the more fiercely loyal our clients became. The more we put our faces out there, the more we wrote about our lives… the more our clients felt like they already knew us. The more connected they felt to us. And the more they felt like we were something they wanted to be invested in.

I know that can be so hard to do, especially the being on the other side of the camera part. Or it may feel like you have absolutely nothing interesting going on in your life to write about. But the irony of it is, it is exactly those things that as you’re writing them you think to yourself “who could possibly care about this,” that will connect people to you the most. We wrote about doing dishes in our about page. And even as I was writing it, I was thinking to myself “WHO CARES??” Three years later, “You Wash, I’ll Dry” is pretty much synonymous with our brand.

2.Never miss an opportunity to make it personal

Once we started to realize the power of making it personal, we realized we were letting a lot of opportunities to make it personal pass us by. For example, we were just putting up matter of fact status updates on facebook & twitter (“going to the gym” “buying groceries for dinner”) instead of using that as a way to put our quirky sense of humor or the way we see the world out there. If we had been featured somewhere, we were just throwing up a “hey we were featured here” blog post instead of writing something that might help people feel like they know us better. We knew that it was going to take about 20% more work on our part to make that happen, but we also knew that margin was best possible investment of our time. Because it was that thin line of difference that would start to separate us from everyone else. So now we’re looking at every branch of our brand from social media to our blog to our meeting space, to make sure they are as personal as they can be.

3. Don’t cast a wide net: be unapologetically You.

Companies with real brand power don’t waste any time watering themselves down to capture larger and larger shares of the market. Instead, they exclusively target that very specific, fiercely loyal subset of customers who love them just as they are. So your run of the mill brands are like Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding. “Love me, choose me, let me make you happy.” While companies with real brand power are more like Popeye. I am what I am. Love me or hate me, take me or leave me, but this is who I am. And the people who love me will love me without fail. Do you want to see that in action? Apple Computer has about an 11% share of the market, and yet they are teetering on being named the most valuable company in the world and currently have more cash than the federal government (ok, ok so maybe that last part’s not so hard :). But the point is, never underestimate the power of a small group of fiercely loyal customers who love you just as you are.

4. Know what it is that you want your clients to feel. And make sure that’s what you stand for.

Take the time to actually write down what it is that you want your clients to feel about themselves in virtue of hiring you. Be as specific as you can. Don’t just write romantic, write “Romantic in that John Cusack holding up a boom box sort of way.” Now make sure that’s actually what you stand for. Like we talked about recently, we want our clients to feel like we will take what might seem to the rest of the world as just an ordinary moment and show it for the epic love story it really is. Because we believe there are no ordinary moments. But if we say that, and then are tweeting or blogging about how it’s only the grand gestures that really count or that ordinary moments are so boring, then we don’t really stand for what we want our clients to feel. It isn’t authentic. And if it isn’t authentic, it’s not going to work. Period. Because people will see through that every time.

5. Be grateful for the people who love you just as you are. Because they make it possible for who you’re going to become.

This one pretty much speaks for itself. To all of our clients who have loved like that for us, who have shown us what it is to be fiercely loyal, you rock our world. Hard. And we are grateful for you every single day.

  1. Emilia Jane

    This hits home! And is all so good to hear. As I am going through the branding process now, I can only make it me! Love me or hate me, at least you’ll feel strongly, right :-) Your posts are a daily inspiration. Much love!

  2. Susannah

    this came at the perfect time. thank you!

  3. Chelsea McGowan

    As much as I wish this blog post had been around 4 years ago, to save us from having to learn it the hard way, I’m also SO grateful for the lessons that came with learning it the hard way. Being able to read this entry and think, "Yep!" "Got it!" "Nailed That" is pretty awesome. :) Four years ago, you’d have had a hard time explaining to me that turning down jobs was going to be best for our business… but oh man. We’re happy with our small, pit-bull-loyal corner of the market, and wouldn’t have it any other way!

  4. Jessica

    This is exactly what I needed RIGHT NOW! I can never be reminded of this enough! Thank you for being so inspiring all of the time.

  5. Kristin Nicole

    Adore this post, thank you for being so open and honest.

  6. Alison

    Such perfect timing! I am working on my brand so very hard and my husband is starting another business venture (non photography). I am pretty sure he is sick of hearing me talk about what I have learned from you, but is it a HUGE thing to understand and do! We will both be in Boston in a couple of weeks to get an in person dose:) Thank you!

  7. Suzanne Larocque

    Enjoyed your presentation at Turn the Key yesterday, and speaking with you both. Love the concept of "love marks" and have been thinking about it ever since yesterday. Thanks for planting the seed!

  8. Irina

    wow… I love you guys! So much good stuff coming from your blog (and your heart) – always! Your posts are always such an inspiration. Thank you Justin & Mary! :)

  9. Christine Donovan

    Thank you both so much for sharing these little bits of glory with us. I love everything that is Justin and Mary, and I guess, you could say, that you are, to me, like my mac, and my cup of starbucks… so,I can only imagine how your customer/clients feel!!

  10. Christa Hann

    Since this spring when I started writing for me and for the people who "get me" for me I’ve had more positive feedback on my blog than I ever have in all the years I’ve been blogging….it’s startling how ‘true’ what you’re saying is :)

  11. Denise

    LOVE this! I’ve heard a lot of this before (mostly from reading Lovemarks), but you spelled it out in a way that was SO relatable and make it actually sound possible! Love J&M! Thanks so much :-)

  12. Abby Grace

    I’m still struggling with the part about only taking on clients that want YOU and who fit the specific type of bride/client I’m going after. I’m dying to get out of the corporate world (seriously- I feel like it’s crushing my soul to sit in an office 8 hrs a day), and so I’m struggling to not just take every Tom, Dick or Harry that comes my way. Some days are a bigger struggle than others- today is one of those days. Thanks for the encouragement :)

  13. Stacey Trottier

    It was great seeing both of you and hearing you speak!!

  14. Lyn Ismael-Bennett

    This is why I love you guys…very well written and informative. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Noa

    If I nod my head in agreement any more, I’ll get a stiff neck! This is exactly how I try to attract my ideal client. I don’t want to be everyone’s photographer…. And when I meet up for pre-consultation its as much of a interview for them as it is for me! I found early on that powerful brand will bring me the ideal client, which results in amazing sessions. Its constantly in a state of work, but reading this is JUST the encouragement I need at this point. Thank you for being so awesome, as always!!

    xoxo Noa

  16. Stephanie

    Perfect post! We can learn about lighting next week. :) This is very encouraging. I’m only in the beginning stages of even THINKING about branding and the whole idea of actually doing this photography thing is terrifying. But if your brand is all you, and it’s powerful, of course the right kind of clients will be drawn to you. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Catie Ronquillo

    Love your tips! And you guys! Y’all are my favorite Nikon-shooting, Mini-driving, Apple-lovin’, Starbucks-drinkin’ power couple from New England. :) Thanks for always always sharing. THAT is certainly a part of your brand power! Also, to be totally random, when I heard "brand power" something made me want to shout out "PUPPY POWER" like from the Pound Puppies. HAHAHAA. :)

  18. Sandra Fazzino Photography

    MmmemYum. Had your pancakes for a late afternoon snack and they hit the spot. Thank you, Justin & Mary! I like what you’re cookin’. xx

  19. Jackie Lamas

    like always, fantastic advice! love your pancake session posts!

  20. naomi chokr

    awesome post!!!! i love it!!!

  21. Jessie Emeric

    i can’t get enough of you guys! Seriously, right now, we are re-branding and so much of what you guys have shared has lead us to where we are now. thank you.

  22. Shannon Rosan

    Thank you for showing us in every way that it is better to be unapologetically – YOU … Than to try to be like everyone else. Thank you for the amazing advice :)

  23. Ashley Terry

    This is just what I needed to read today! It was one of those days when you’re full of doubts…you know what I mean…but this post just brought me back to reality and back to business. Thank you!

  24. Amelia Renee

    this is EXACTLY what I needed to read! I just spent a week with Jessica Shae learning from her, and branding for the first time ever. (Eeeek!) This adds on to what she taught me, and now I am super pumped to be completely ME! :)

  25. Regina Marie

    It’s so funny. Not that long ago, you actually found me, what a blessing that turned out to be… it’s like you’re my photography angel come to tell me to wake the hell up and get on it! I’m more grateful then I can express…

    And this post is, once again, just what I needed! You’re amazing, plain and simple.

  26. Ray

    Awesome post. I’m not a photographer, but I love to read from your words of wisdom. You guys need your own show! Pronto. ;o) Or a great book deal.

  27. Brooke Summer Photography

    Being that personal is hard for me some days… it’s a work in progress though. This is some great advice, thank you for sharing!

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