How to Develop and Market your Brand

Lesson 3/6 - How do you Create A Brand


How to Develop and Market your Brand


Lesson Info

How do you Create A Brand

So, how do you create that kind of a brand? That's the question, and that's what we're gonna talk to you about today. And I'm so excited! 'Cause I love teaching this stuff to other photographers. Okay, so this is how you do it. So, if you wanna create that kind of a brand, that brand that inspires people, that is unique, that stands out, all those things that we just talked about, I believe, and I'm gonna even go further and say I know that there's really only one thing that you need to know to make that happen. Sounds easy, but it's harder than it sounds. You need to know what it is that you do. Alright? So, let me break that down for you. So, what do I mean by that? This is what I mean by that. As creators, we all have things that we are just naturally drawn to. Right? We all have unique perspectives, we all have unique personalities, we all have our own way that we see the world. And, honestly, that is why you can be out with a bunch of photographers. Like, if you've ever done a pho...

to walk, or you're at photo conference and you're shooting in a room full with 20 other photographers. That is why every single person in that group could be photographing the exact same thing and get something different, right? We all know that. And that is because there are no two people on the planet who have the exact same way of seeing something, or interpreting something, or feeling something. And that actually always kind of gives me goosebumps. I mean, think about that. No two people on the planet, there is nobody else in the entire world who can see and do things and interpret things the way that you do. Okay? But friends, this is where branding falls apart for so many people. Because instead of going into their business and instead of going into their art, and saying, this is my voice, this is what I do and putting that out there, what happens, is if you're just doing art for art, you're there. This is my creative expression, this is what I do. But for some reason, so often when we decide to go into business, we stop trusting that. And so instead of saying this is what I do, this is what I'm good at, check me out, we start looking around and being like, Well, what are they doing? Well, what should I do? Well, what do I think my clients want from me? And you get in that crazy what's trending, like, what's going on, right? Right, we've all done that! Raise your hand for me or say yes, if you're watching online, if you have ever gone to a conference, looked on Instagram, whatever, saw somebody else's work and thought, whoa, that is so good. And then kind of instantly felt bad about yourself. Same! (audience laughter) Okay, or if you've ever looked around, looked at your competition, seen somebody in your market, notice that they're really successful and then thought, gosh, maybe I should see what their pricing is, or what their model is and try to do that for myself and then maybe I will be successful, too. Has anybody ever felt that way? See, this is a safe place, you guys. We can all share together. (laughter) I have, too. And I'm actually gonna tell you a story about that. So, just to point this out. This is the photo that launched my career. So, this is an image I took in 2000. January, 2000, of my friend, Ginger, being very naked, and a little bit pregnant. And, so, this is 2000. We were right off the heels of the 90s and that beautiful Demi Moore shot by Annie Leibovitz. Remember, do you see my inspiration in the pose from that? That image that kind of launched the maternity industry, right? So my friend, Ginger, was having her first baby. She was the first one in our group to start having kids. And so I said, "Oh, Ginger, "we should totally take like "one of those Demi Moore kind of pictures." And she was like, "Yeah, let's do it!" So we did, and I took this. And she was the one who came to me and she was like, you know what, I really love this. And nobody else is doing this. You should offer this and see if you can get some clients and make some extra money. So, just so you know, in 2000, the maternity industry was not what it is today. There really wasn't a lot of people doing it. And so I thought, "Okay, that's actually a good idea." So, because at the time, when I was taking this photo, I was actually a public school teacher. And I was barely making it on my school, I mean, that's a whole nother conversation. But, I was that girl that would go out with her friends and everybody else is like drinking wine and being fancy and I'm like, I'll have the side salad and a glass of water, please. If you could put a lemon in that water, that'd be amazing. (audience laughter) So I was totally that girl. And so when Ginger was like, "You know what, maybe you could make "a little extra money "putting these pictures out there "and getting people to pay you for pictures." I was like, that's a really good idea. So that's what I did. I turned this photo and I made these kind of like adorable little postcards. And they had like my name and my contact information and like a quote from like The Little Prince, or something. People used to always do the quotes with their photos. So, I did that and I put them all over town. Every maternity store, every coffee store, every place I could possibly find in Seattle. I put these cards in. And miracle of miracle, people started calling me. So, within about a year and a half of taking this photo, I had enough clients that I thought, "Okay, I'm gonna go down to part-time teaching." That's great. Within three years of taking this photo, I was making enough money that I thought, "Okay, I think I'm gonna quit teaching." I'm gonna quit teaching and I'm gonna go into photography 100%. Okay, this is where the story gets really stupid. And I'm telling you this for a reason. So, bare in mind, at that point for three years, I had been branding myself. I didn't realize it. Branding myself as a maternity photography, right? I was getting newborns, because that's what happens. And families, I was building this portfolio. And I had clients and they were referring me and everything was going great. So guess what I did in when I quit my real job and launched myself a professional photographer. Does anybody wanna take a guess? Maybe you know. I launched myself as a wedding photographer. (laughter) And it gets worse! It's so embarrassing. Not just a wedding photographer. As a photojournalistic wedding photographer. Okay, so fun fact. In 2003, the only wedding I had been to, even, was my own. I had never shot a wedding. I wasn't even 100% sure what photojournalism was. But, this is why I did that. Is because I started looking around and I was meeting other photographers and all this stuff, and I realized that every other photographer that I met, who was successful, shot weddings. So everybody I saw that was making money shot weddings. And photojournalism was the trend at the time. So, I came onto the scene and I was like, I wanna make money! I wanna do this, I just quit my job, I was nervous about that. I guess I have to be a wedding photographer. And I guess I should probably shoot photojournalism because that's what people want. Which is hilarious if you know me. 'Cause I'm like one of those photographers that would like touch people's faces and turn them, so not photojournalism, anyway! So, that's what I did. And I gave it a good college try and I did it for a long time and I hated it. This is what almost ruined my career was making that decision. It was awful. Like, I would go to a wedding and see a woman in a beautiful white dress and feel sick to my stomach, which is totally not somebody you want at your wedding, by the way. It was a horrible decision, and it almost ruined my career. And it was all because I just didn't trust what I already did. And I was trying to do something that I thought I should do. I actually got a little emotional there for a minute. But you guys, this is the number one mistake that I see photographers make. And I see it over and over and over again. Is that we're trying to be something that we're not. And we think that by trying to be something that we're not, that's how we're gonna build a successful business. When in fact, the opposite is true. Do you need a tissue? We might need to pass around some tissues, Jim. So let's go back and think about what we know about brand. A good brand is instantly recognizable, right? A good brand is unique. A good brand is consistent, and a good brand is trustworthy. And guess what, you can't be any of those things if you're trying to do something that you're not supposed to do. If you're chasing trends, if you're doing what you think you should do, if you're thinking what you're doing what people want you to do, you're never gonna build a good brand. It's just not gonna happen. Always be a first-rate version of yourself instead of trying to be a second-rate version of somebody else, from Miss Judy Garland, who was pretty awesome! I always say she's my spirit animal. But, it's so true! It's so true, you guys. And this is so true. Especially when it comes to building your brand. And this is why. Because you cannot sell something that you don't believe in. You can't. If you're doing something because you think you should, or because it's on trend, or you think it's what the world wants from you, well, guess what? You're never gonna feel secure in that. You are always gonna feel like, uhh, uh, and your clients are gonna feel that and the whole thing is gonna fall apart. You can't do it. If you don't believe in what you do, nobody else is going to either. And then they're not gonna buy from you. And I know that sometimes that sounds kind of, woo woo, or whatever, but it is true. You have to love what you do and you have to be 100% behind it if you are going to make this work. Okay? So the one thing that you need to do build a solid brand, the one thing, it's only one, okay? You need to figure out what it is that you do and then you need to fearlessly do that. And I say fearlessly because it's a lot harder than it sounds. Alright, I know. Like I said, I'm not gonna just stand up here and lie to you and I'm not gonna stand up to you and just be like, follow your bliss and everything will be awesome, because it's not. Like, it's hard. Figuring out what it is that you do it takes work and it's scary. It's taking a risk. When you're living is your art, that's a vulnerable place. Because you're putting it out there to be judged all the time. And I get that, I really, really do. But let me tell you about what happened to me when I made that choice. So, I got to the point where I hated my job, I hated my camera, I hated everything about photography. And I decided, I can't do it anymore. I can't do this anymore, and I quit weddings, and guys, I like quit them. I called all my advertisers. I pulled all my advertising, I took everything off my website. It was terrifying. And to give you a little more perspective about how terrifying it was, at that point, I had newborn twins at home. We rely on my income. Like, it's not like, I'm just doing this for fun. Like, this is my job. I had newborn twins at home, and it was 2007. Which meant it was just in time for the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, okay? And that's when I rebranded, so awesome timing on my part. But, despite that, when I made that choice, when I decided to stop doing what I didn't wanna do anymore, and I just focused like a laser on my voice and what I do, my business started to get better. Even though I had two babies at home that I was full-time caring for, even though the world felt like it was falling apart, I grew my business. That was where I started. Couple of years later, I was like, I hate digital photography. Sorry, don't wanna offend. (laughs) But I was like, I hate it. I hate this process. I don't wanna do this anymore. I don't want to, I'm gonna go back to shooting film. Scary, right? It wasn't to be a hipster, believe me. And I started focusing on that. Got a little more niche. My business went like this, right? When I took it a step further and said, you know what, I really don't like shooting outside, it's cold. I don't like being cold. I don't like weather. (laughs) I'm only going to shoot inside, in my studio, and I got even more niche. So now I'm like, just do newborns, families, portraits, just shoot on film, just shoot in studio, and I don't even shoot newborns the way most people do. So the more niche I got, the more I just really focused on what it was that I do the stronger and stronger and stronger my business got. So, why? Why did that happen? That happens because for two reasons, really. First of all, when you focus on what it is that you do when you're brave enough to figure out what your voice is and focus on that, your work comes off as really authentic. And like really authentic, not like #authentic, but like, really true, you know? And people can feel that. People know when you're passionate about something. And that's good for your brand. The other thing that happens is when you can just focus and you stop thinking about what you should do and you stop thinking about what's on trend and you stop looking at what everybody else is doing and you just hone in on your voice and what you do, your work becomes 100% uniquely you. And that is how you create that unique brand. Because, remember, you're the only person in the world who can see or do things the way that you see or do things. So you should probably do that, okay? Creating that unique brand is really how you stand out. This is why I say like, I don't care, I don't wanna hear about how saturated the market is. I really don't, it doesn't matter. It has nothing to do with what you're doing. Like I said, I'm a newborn photographer in Seattle. There are a lot of newborn photographers in Seattle. And some of them are my good friends. And, it doesn't matter. It has nothing to do with me or my business. I know that what I do is the I'm the only Sandra Coan. I can come in and I can teach a room full of people to do exactly what I do and I do it all the time and it doesn't matter. Because, it's my voice, it's my passion, it's my point of view. It's my unique brand. And if you're true to that, it doesn't matter what anybody else is doing. It really doesn't. Okay? When you do what you do, you're gonna stand out, you're gonna be unique. When you're chasing what's on trend and you're doing what you think you should do, you're just gonna be one of many. Because there's a lot of people doing that. There's a lot of people trying to figure out what their clients want or doing what's on trend or doing what they think you should. And when you're one of many, you guys, you do not demand top dollar. Because the only thing clients have to pick from are pricing. So if you're one of many, if you're doing that, if you're playing that game, then you are attracting price shoppers. Also known as the worst kind of clients you could possibly have. You do not want that, right? This is why you get people who don't value what you do. This is why you get people who come in with a Pinterest board full of other people's work. Right, you don't want that. You wanna be special. Right? You wanna stand out! That's what you want. You want to instantly recognizable. You want people to be able to see your image and know right away that that is you. And you can only do that, it's only gonna happen for you if you figure out what it is that you do and then fearlessly do that. Okay, you with me? So now the next question is, okay awesome, but how do I do that? (laughter) 'Cause it's a lot harder than it sounds. Right? Well, first of all, you wanna start with the basics. You need to look at what it is that you love to shoot. What do you love to shoot? What would you do over and over and over again a thousand times and never get sick of it? Right? So true story, I got my first camera when I was like nine or ten. My dad bought it for me. It was like a little point-and-shoot Kodakky thing. And I'm not even kidding you. I would spend hours in my bedroom building these like little seamlesses out of my bedsheets. And I would swaddle my baby dolls and take them roll after roll after roll and god bless my parents, they developed that film. But, (laughs) alright you guys, this is basically what I do now. Only with real babies, most of the time. (laughs) That'd be super creepy. I'm like, so my niche is, I only photograph baby dolls. (laughs) On film, 'cause I'm fine art. (laughs) But, right, it's because I love that. That's obviously something I've been drawn to do for whatever reason I am pulled to do that. And I've been doing it since I first got a camera in my hand. And everybody has something like that in their lives. So sit down, ask yourself, what do you really love? Like, why are you doing this? Why did you ever pick up a camera in the first place? And then ask yourself what you're good at. What do people notice about you? I know in my own life, so many times it's taken other people seeing what I do and pointing it out to me before I can see it in myself. Which, you know. But like for example, it was my friend, Ginger, who was like, you should offer this to other people. When I was a photojournalist, shooting weddings, I used to get hired because I was really good at portraits. P.S, not photojournalism. But, if a wedding coordinator knew that they were gonna have this big family and they needed everybody lined up on the steps, you know, the three quarter, and get the camera, and all that, they hired me. Because, I'm a portrait photographer. That's what I do. That's what I'm good at. So, ask yourself what you're good at. So for me, what I have narrowed down, is that I photograph newborns, family, maternity, classic portraiture. I shoot it all on film, I shoot it all in studio. But, unlike a lot of studio work that's out there currently in my industry, I choose not to pose my babies. I don't do that. I like baby just being natural. And I just, I love it. That's my expression, that's what I wanna do. I also, like I said, I shoot in studio. And, I actually really love everybody looking at the camera. Which, I know is not cool, and it's not on trend and everybody is like, oh, I just want lifestyle natural, which is also super beautiful. But that's not my expression. If I were to like try to get people and be like, okay, kiss your wife's neck, or whatever, it would just be ridiculous. It's not what I do. I actually love everybody sitting in front of like a gray seamless and looking at the camera. And if I can get a baby looking at the camera, in that picture, I'm just like, ahh, amazing! That's what I do! I don't care if it's not cool. I really don't. I know that people make fun of this kind of photography, and I just, I don't care. Because, I love it, it's what I do. I shoot on film. And again, like I said, it's not because I'm trying to be cool. In fact, if you're in a room full of film photographers and you tell them that you're a newborn photographer, like you're cool factor goes (descending noise) like right away. I don't care, it doesn't matter to me. I think it's beautiful. I shoot film because I love the process of it. I love everything around it. And so that's what I do. That's me, that's my expression. I don't wanna try to ever be somebody else. What am I good at? Well, I'm a good portrait photographer. But I'm also like freakishly good with kids. Like, it's weird. I can get a naughty toddler to do whatever I want them to do. And I can get a baby to sleep in like minutes. For real, it's like a super power. Like, I always tell my husband that when I quit this photography thing I'm gonna like offer my services at this rad Grandma Doola. I'd be like, I'm just gonna come and put your baby to bed and I'm gonna dress like Mary Poppins or something. Just like, tuck the baby in and I'll just float out the door. But it's part of my super power. It's part of what I'm good at. It's what I do and I can bring that into my work. And, I can take all of those things and I put them all together. Clean, simple, no frills, no props. Films, studio, that's my brand. That's what I've become known for. And, my work stands out. Can you believe baby posed herself like that. She's like, would you like me to stand like this? (laughter) I'm like, that'd be lovely! Well, that's it, that's what I do. And my work stands out! Like I said, I'm a newborn photographer. There's a lot of other newborn photographers. It totally doesn't matter to me. I really don't care. I'm like go, go, you go girl. Be great. Because it's never gonna affect my business or what I do. The way I shoot, my approach, my style, but my fierce, crazy passion for it and how much I love it, it's all a part of my brand, and people can feel that. And that's what I give to my clients. Alright, so. What you do, whatever it is, is also 100% unique, it really is. There's no two people on the planet who can see or do things the exact same way. So your job is to go out and figure out what that is. Okay? Now listen, we know that a good brand is instantly recognizable. It's unique, it's consistent and it's trustworthy. We know those things. And you figure out that part of building a good brand by figuring out what it is that you do and fearlessly doing that. Okay, check, we got that part. Now, we also know, however, that a good brand knows and is connected to their client base. Makes people feel something, and inspires loyalty. So now the question is, how do you do that? You're wondering. Good, 'cause I'm about to tell you!

Class Description

There is no denying that a strong brand is key to building a strong business. But developing a brand is often confusing and hard. And knowing how to use it in your marketing is trickier still.

In this class, Sandra Coan will break it all down and show you how easy and powerful brand building can be. You will learn:

  • What a brand is and what a brand isn’t
  • The one thing you need to know to build a unique and instantly recognizable brand
  • How to use your brand to connect to clients, establish trust and build loyalty
  • How to build a solid marketing strategy that will set you apart


Sarit Krupka

Marketing and so much more! Sandra is an exceptionally talented and inspirational photographer. She puts herself and her experience out there to truly help you understand the market and succeed. In 90 minutes, she took me on a journey. I had a few "aha" moments. Thank you!

a Creativelive Student

This is one of my favourite classes of PhotoWeek 2017 where Sandra gives the reason 'why' we should pursue our passion, photography in this case, but otherwise too, a well-presented, highly motivating class that would leave most wanting to go out and do it.