A respected, world-renowned businessman once asked me: â€œWhat do you want to be known for?â€
And to me, itâ€™s the most compelling question one can ask themselves. What do you want to be known for? How would you describe your own signature style?
All of our clients have emotional needs or desires they want fulfilled. Some many want A European luxury car… A Rolex…A trip to Paris … A life insurance policy… A Louis Vuitton handbag… A family portrait.
These are all distinctly different purchases, but very much the same. Whether itâ€™s the size, its beneficial features, its aesthetics, the experience, or their lifeâ€™s passions, the common denominator among all these purchases is that they fulfill some emotional desire.
The key here is desire. Our clients donâ€™t need to have a Rolex or a family portrait. Needs and wants are two very different things. They don’t need to have a photo of their son overlooking a pond. They want to have a portrait hanging on their wall. For me, Iâ€™m not selling a portrait of their son today, I’m making a piece of art to be cherished for decades and passed down for generations. Why do so many of our would-be clients price-shop?
Simply put, people apply logic to these â€œemotional purchasesâ€ when they cannot see a discernible difference between two products. This is what economists would call a commodity. Which is something produced and/or sold by many different companies and appears uniform in quality between companies that produce it. You simply cannot tell the difference between one companyâ€™s product and another. Weâ€™ve all know that if youâ€™re product is a commodity it is the kiss of death in business. Harvard Business School recommends three things to delay commoditization: innovate, bundle and segment. (source study: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5830.html).
How can we innovate and exceed our clients expectations? That is the easiest solution in our industry.
How do we better meet our clients needs and set ourselves apart in this saturated industry? How do you compete in a value-driven world? In our industry, clients donâ€™t know the difference between good and great photos. Consumers have redefined quality from â€œgoodâ€ to â€œgood enoughâ€ shifting to Sears and Picture People. Value retailers have almost doubled their share in the last decade. Itâ€™s commoditization. McKinseyâ€™s Global Institute has recently concluded that retailers are plagued by low consumer confidence and have experienced a shift to â€œvalueâ€ retailers. (source study: click here)
So why, my friends, is this economics lesson relevant to us as artists? In a value-driven world, people think more carefully and rationally about their purchases. And as a result, we need to differentiate to stand out in a crowded market. One of the easiest and perhaps most artistically fulfilling ways to set ourselves apart is by creating a signature style.
Create a product that doesnâ€™t exist with your art. Your signature style will propel your value.
To start, you may need to shift how you define â€œvalueâ€ for yourself. That is an epiphany that truly changed my life and my business last year. I attended countless workshops and heard the masters speak about creating a unique style. What I discovered when I did create my unique style was profound.
Creating a unique style equals unique clients.
What? Unique clients? You may be curious what that means. For me, creating a unique style, attracted â€œuniqueâ€ clients who loved and valued my work.
Pondering this, I realized I had been approaching my work as a commodity. After all, everyone needs their memories preserved and I provided thatâ€”for a price. But so was every other photographer!
When I shifted my definition of value from â€œLet me create a portrait they will hopefully buy and treasureâ€ ….to: â€œLet me create a non-existent â€˜productâ€™ that makes people experience their memories differentlyâ€, my career as a photographer soared. It put the power in my hands to â€œcontrol valueâ€, rather than having someone do a â€œvaluationâ€ of me.
If you find yourself negotiating with clients and justifying your prices, consider the same advice masters preached to me: set yourself apart by creating a unique style!
My journey to discover a signature style:
As a newbie trying to compose, expose and pose properly, creating a unique style was last on my list. But, I knew it was an essential component for growing my business and setting myself apart. About a year ago, I took a hard look at my entire portfolio. I drove for miles, thinking about myself, my style. Some of my best discoveries and realizations occurred when I was alone with my thoughts in my car. In the end, I asked myself questions where the almighty earned dollar could not be part of the answer.
What moved me? …emotionally and aesthetically?
What did I love to shoot?
What kind of clients did I want?
What would I shoot if I could only shoot one kind of portrait?
It was an easy exercise actually, because the answer was VISUALLY right in front of me. All my favorite images were those that were emotional, a little risky, they honored timelessness, had big impact and high drama. They werenâ€™t portraits with saturated jovial colors with people looking in camera smiling. They were just the opposite. And when I looked at these portraits, I realized, thatâ€™s who I am as a person, too! I took it further than that. I started a personal project. More importantly, I started shooting for me. The result solidified my signature style with this first project below.
If youâ€™d like to learn how I created this image please click here.
My journey to re-brand my business:
I took a leap and re-branded myself last winter. I redesigned my website, blog and logo and took classes on Photoshop and Corel Painter. Very few photographers in my area have a similar style and few clients want this style of photography. I offered a higher end product and service by creating a niche. But I couldnâ€™t have done it without the help of business consultant extraordinaire Sally Sargood, . She helped me restructure and re-brand my business and the outcome exceeded my expectations.
Suddenly, after spending the first two years of my business fielding calls from clients who were price shopping, I had a totally different client. This is one of the things I have enjoyed the most, my new target market. With weddings, I now attract higher end, slightly older and more confident brides. Rarely do I attract younger brides who follow the latest trends. She is a classic, timeless bride who is established, knows what she wants and is willing to pay for it. This illustration shows the shift in my work, hence the better client.
In my portrait business, there was a similar shift in family demographics; but Iâ€™ll admit the initial reaction to my work was confusion. Were they photographs? Paintings? How does Natalie create these? To overcome this hurdle, I hired international award winning cinematographer Adam Forgione from Pennylane Productions to document my process. This video allowed prospective clients to peek into my life to see what I do and how I do it. Education was key, and the phone calls flowed steadily.
My style is not defined just by my shooting, composition and editing. I weave my style across my brand. I keep it personal, keep the champagne flowing, serve European delicacies, offer fine art image â€˜unveiling’sâ€™ to my clients…because that old world hospitality is a facet of my style. It created a 360-degree brand experience. And thatâ€™s no commodity!
How do you discover and launch your signature style?
How can you create your unique style? How do you know when youâ€™re ready? Iâ€™ve got good news…Your style is there, waiting for you to discover! Itâ€™s within you, your DNA.
Look at what colors, tones, texture you like; how you decorate; what you wear or wish you could wear; what moves you to laughter, tears or empathy; how do you treat people, how do you expect them to treat you? Itâ€™s all the makeup of your style. Youâ€™ll find, much like I did, that your artâ€™s qualities will be a direct reflection of yourself. Take this and infuse these qualities into every facet of your work… how you shoot, edit, deliver, and service clients. Make your DNA your brand.
Resist the urge to look at other peopleâ€™s work for inspiration or differentiation. Sure you can admire it, or study it, or even envy it, but it will never be yours. Because itâ€™s a direct product of who THEY are. Itâ€™s just a distraction if you focus outward. Focus inward. Start an introspective journey to greatness. Create something non-existent.
Introspection does not come easily to everyone, I am often reminded.
A photographer friend once shared a cool exercise that helped her look at her work objectively:
Take your 5 of your top images and put a Post-It note on the back. Then pass it round- robin to a group of 6-8 people, asking each to write ONE word/per image that describes the â€œStyleâ€ (mysterious, moody, emotional, high drama, old-world) ….If you see a common thread of words that emerge across all the images, congratulations youâ€™ve got yourself a signature style!
As a friend once asked me, I now ask: What do YOU want to be known for?
See more of Natalie’s gorgeoues work on her website!