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Brand Marketing Lesson for Professional Creatives: Your Style vs Your Client's Brand

By
Ron Dawson
12
min read
Brand Marketing Lesson for Professional Creatives: Your Style vs Your Client's Brand

If you're a professional artist like a photographer, videographer, or filmmaker, chances are you first picked up a camera because you loved the craft. Then at some point you decided to turn that love of craft into a career. Inevitably, that means, you have to pay attention to terms like brand marketing and style.

I won't go into the details of what branding is. Suffice to say, your brand is the collective image and feelings your audience has of you. As a professional creative, a key part of your brand will be your personal style as an artist. And at some point in your career serving other clients in that profession, you will find that your style may not be 100% on par with a potential client's brand.

That's when you ask yourself the hard question: "Do I take this client?" Unless you're an artist with many years of experience and an irreproachable reputation that affords you the benefit to pick and choose which clients you take, chances are you'll take most (if not all) clients that are willing to pay you.

So in the case when you have such a client and you know your style may not jive with their brand, here are some important insights I've gleaned over my 2+ decades as a pro artist.

An early branding lesson

One of the first times I had an opportunity to learn how to balance my style with my client's brand was when I created a promotional film for Shawn Reeder Photography. Shawn is an amazing photographer specializing in the Yosemite and Sierra mountain region. He is one of those people who exudes an amazing sense of peace and generosity. He is Zen personified. It’s an undeniable and 100% sincere aspect of his personality. Shawn is real.

When Shawn first premiered this piece, it received unanimous praise. One of the proudest moments for me as the filmmaker was the number of comments about the film that were more about Shawn vs. the video itself. Naturally, there were comments praising the video too. But the overwhelming sentiment was how amazing a person Shawn is. One comment from his blog read:

“…it was the sincerity with which you shared your passion for Yosemite and photography that made this film top-notch.”

Not the cinematography. Not the cool color grading, or amazing depth of field shots—but Shawn’s passion and art authentically communicated. To me, that is a successful project. That comment, and others like it, got me thinking: when you create work for your clients, whose brand are you projecting? Yours, or theirs?

Striking the balance between your style and client's brand

One of the most difficult aspects of your job will be striking a balance between your signature or personal style as a professional artist, and authentically promoting the brand of your client. I’ve seen a number of promotional videos over the years where the style of the video itself is really all about the filmmaker, and less about the client. I know this because I might see five or six videos from a filmmaker for as many clients and they all look alike.

Now here’s the crutch. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. It comes down to who your client is. Let me explain.

If the the women’s antiperspirant/deodorant maker Secret hired Quentin Tarantino to direct their next commercial, my guess is it wouldn’t really do well to promote their feminine, soft brand. However, I bet Right Guard would see a huge spike in sales if QT directed one of their commercials.

If you’re a photographer or filmmaker with a very distinguishable style, and if you choose not to veer from that style when you create work for your clients, your client really only benefits if their brand is compatible with yours.

But you may ask, “Isn't it important to stand out and create a personal brand as an artist? How can I do that if I have to change it up for every video or photo shoot?”

That is an excellent question. I’m so glad you asked. I’m going to address that answer in two parts.

Part 1: B2B vs. B2C

The first thing to realize is that there’s a difference between a B2C studio and a B2B studio (I'm sticking with the photographer motif, but this is applicable to all professional creatives). A B2C (business to consumer) studio is one that primarily shoots weddings, family portraits, bar/bat mitzvahs, etc. If this is your primary market, you absolutely should develop a unique and signature look that makes you stand out. This is especially important if you are on the higher end of the pricing spectrum. A bride isn’t going to care if her photos or videos look like that of other clients you shot. In fact, that is precisely why she is hiring you, because she wants something like the other projects you’ve shot.

Stylish wedding photo
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

The same is true if you’re a filmmaker creating content for consumer consumption. Quentin Tarantino is a B2C filmmaker. People who go to his movies do so because they enjoy his style of filmmaking.

B2B (business to business) studios are those that primarily market to other businesses to help them market their businesses to their clients and customers. Yes, a client will hire you because they’ve seen and like your work; but in many cases, they don’t want the same thing you did for that other company. They want something that will help them stand out and be unique. They just need to trust that you can pull it off.

Selling Shawn

Honestly, I can’t take all the credit for this video being so authentically Shawn. It helps when you have a client who clearly understands his brand and is willing to speak up to ensure the final product represents it in every way. In my first draft, I got it about 90% there. But with Shawn’s input (along with the input of trusted friends), we made a few tweaks to arrive at this final rendition. The most notable ones were:

  • Removed a primal scream scene that I filmed. It was Shawn staring out over the valley, raising his hands in victory and yelling, “Glory!” Yeah. We got rid of that one pretty quick. (Shawn is a very soft-spoken soul.)
  • I originally titled the film “Glory Daze” and then changed it to just “Shawn Reeder: Yosemite & Sierra Photographer.” FYI, the whole “glory” thing originated from the fact that Shawn and his rock climbing buddies love to use the term “glory” to describe beautiful scenery, an epic climb, etc. (e.g. “Wow. Look at the view of the valley. Total glory.”)
  • Changed title font to be more bolded.
Shawn on mountain top
Yosemite photographer, filmmaker, and timelapse filmmaker Shawn Reeder.

B2C studios will tend to benefit greatly from putting their style first. B2B studios have a more complicated task at hand. Staying true to your style may be great for you, but it might not be all that great for your client if their brand is not compatible.

But, in a competitive world where standing out is vital for the survival of your business, how can you establish a unique look that will help you do that if every project you create looks and feels different? My first response to that question is, “Who said your work is the only thing that should stand out about your business?”

Part 2: Create a signature brand

As I mentioned earlier, for those of you doing B2B work, the quality and style of your artistry will absolutely have an impact on who hires you. That goes without saying. And in truth, it may be because of your signature style that a client hires you. Whether it’s because your style is compatible with their brand and they want you to help them communicate their message; or because your style clearly demonstrates a sense of experience and ability that instills confidence in the client that you can do something as amazing. But, in the end, a savvy client will still want you to communicate their brand, not yours.

So, in order to stand out as a studio, focus on creating a signature brand for your studio, so that your brand is what primarily makes you stand out. That brand is all-encompassing. It’s not just your work. It’s the whole experience of working with your studio. Your website. Your colors and logo. The way you answer the phone. How you pitch your proposals (I always send a nice, written, formal proposal). How you dress. How you collaborate with the client. Your customer service. All of these things (and more) contribute to your studio standing out. Prospects will see it when they interact with you and your site.

Conceive. Collaborate. Execute. Repeat.

The next aspect of your studio that will have a tremendous impact on your ability to stand out is ideas and execution. Does the work you do for your clients show a variety of ideas? Will the client be confident that you can conceive of something unique and great for them?

Are you collaborating with a team of people who can elevate your work. Do you surround yourself with people who can pick up the slack where you are weak. Collaboration also refers to how well you work with the client.

Are you and your team able to execute well on your ideas. It’s one thing to have a grandiose plan for a glorious shoot. It’s another thing to actually make it happen.

Last, do you have systems in place so that you can repeat what you’ve done. Do you have the same core group of artists you can turn to for the next gig, or do you have to recruit new people every time?

I was listening to an episode of Chase Jarvis Live between renown commercial photographers/filmmakers Chase Jarvis and Vincent Laforet and Chase commented that during a meeting with one of his clients, the issue of budget came up. The creative director turned to Chase to tell him, “Don’t worry Chase. We’ll come up with the money because we know you’ll make the ideas happen.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

Focus on Compatible Gigs

If you really would prefer to stick to your style of artistry, then purposefully go after jobs with brands compatible with your artistic sensibilities. I used to do commercial video work for all kinds of companies, but my focus was on NGOs, non-profits, worthy causes, personal profile films for artists and high profile individuals, or traditional companies looking to create inspirational films (e.g. employee motivational films, charitable films, etc.) It was the kind of work that gave me the most fulfillment and is best suited to my strengths as a storyteller.

Find and know your strengths, then market your business accordingly. There are enough companies out there looking for your style, you just have to do the extra work to find them.

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How UNUM can help your brand stand out

I would be remiss if I didn't chime in with how you can use UNUM and the community we've built to help you brand stand out. Using UNUM Spaces allows you to plan out your social media visuals in a way that makes it easy for you to have your most brand-identifying images stand out. Join the UNUM Creative Community to connect with other creators from whom you can learn a ton. Follow our series of case studies to learn how UNUM users like the micro brewery Crowns & Hops is standing out and making a difference. Operators are standing by (Just kidding. Click here to get your free account today and start standing out.)

[Header image by Alif Ngoylung on Unsplash]

November 2, 2021

About the author

Ron Dawson

Ron Dawson

Ron is a seasoned content marketer, filmmaker, podcaster, and published author with over 25 years of experience helping brands tell engaging stories. He serves as UNUM's director of content and managing editor of the Story Times blog.

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