(Note: This article originally appeared in the September issue of the APA National Newsletter)
“If you were a car, what kind of car would you be?”
This isn’t some Barbra Walters parody but a serious question you should ask yourself. Why a car? Because car makers have devoted more resources to researching, crafting and promoting their brands than any other industry.
And the automotive industry not only has long track record of developing and communicating brands, they also have an equally long history of observing how well their customers’ experiences align with their carefully crafted brands. They can promote a car as being economical, reliable and sporty. But if the car doesn’t deliver on these claims then the brand, and most likely the car model, will fail. While business needs to consider the brand it projects, it must also be prepared to deliver on the promises its brand makes and monitor on how the brand is viewed by the target audience.
Simply put, your brand is your reputation. There are three factors that contribute to your brand. The first is the message you consciously communicate to your audience and how that information is presented. It’s the promise that you make. The second element is how well you deliver on that promise. If a cornerstone of your brand is “professionalism,” did you deliver on time and on budget? If your implicit promise is that you create truly innovative images, is that what you delivered? The third component of a brand is the most elusive. It’s how you’re perceived in the market; the reflection back from those who come in contact with you, your service and your work. Among art buyers, does the perception of your brand match the qualities you communicate and the service and images you ultimately deliver?
While it may seem odd to compare the branding of a commercial photographer with that of the metal, plastic and rubber that make up a car, from the customers’ perspective there are some clear parallels. A commercial photo shoot and an automobile are both relatively high-cost, high-profile purchases. Both have a “high touch” sales and service component that results in the delivery of a tangible product. For the art buyer, the process involves communicating their needs, getting a quote or estimate, working-out the details, collaborating on the shoot and selecting the images. For the car buyer the process entails receiving product information, learning about the available options, taking a test drive, negotiating a price and taking delivery. In these situations, both the photographer’s client and the car buyer will be asking themselves the same things: Is the process going smoothly? Am I being treated fairly and with respect? Do I trust the person I’m dealing with? Will I be happy with what I get?
There are also certain parallels with the physical products delivered by the photographer and the car dealer. Both the art buyer and the car buyer have, at a minimum, a very basic requirement that needs to be filled. The photo buyer needs an appropriate image for an ad and the automotive buyer needs a car that’s appropriate for their needs (i.e. a fuel-efficient car for long commutes, mini-van for a large family or 4-wheel drive for outdoor adventures). But they also both want something more. The art buyer wants an image that perfectly communicates the message of the ad campaign. The car buyer wants a car that’s reliable, satisfying to drive and perhaps makes a statement.
So what kind of car are you? What are your strengths? Why should someone buy (hire) you? And most importantly, what distinguishes you from the competition? Are you reliable but unspectacular like a Toyota or Honda? Smooth and upscale but pricey and predictable like a BMW or Audi? Exotic and exclusive, but expensive and high-maintenance like a Ferrari or Maserati? Economical but ordinary like a Chevy or a Saturn?
Brand images of cars permeate our culture to such a degree that we often take these carefully crafted brands for granted. But their ubiquity also makes them a useful lens through which to view our own brands. One of the most efficient ways for you to research how your brand is perceived in the marketplace is to call your clients or art buyer friends and ask them, “If I were a car, what kind of car would I be?”
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