In the video world, particularly on the event video side, branding is one of the most challenging areas for many studios. Part of the problem is identity. You can't create a brand until you know who you are and what makes you and your business remarkable. In this article, we'll cover some of the key areas video producers and any small business owners can focus on in order to make quick and substantial changes in their approach to branding.
The Branding Experience
What is the experience that your clients have when they work with you? Have you ever thought through that experience from start to finish?
In his book, The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary, Dr. Joseph Michelli talks about touchpoints. Touchpoints are the various points in your business that a prospect or a client will encounter when doing business with you, from their first visit to your website to their first email inquiry and your response to that inquiry to their initial phone contact with you or your staff to the
in-studio consultation to the experience you have on the shoot to the way you deliver the final product (packaging, presentation, extras, etc.).
All these different touchpoints are the experience-builders that clients will have when they are dealing with you. It's important for you to look at every touchpoint in your business and make sure that it maximizes the desired brand experience you want to create for your client.
Perhaps the most efficient way to create a distinctive brand is to hire a professional. Unless you come from a design, branding, or marketing background, there are many elements that go into a brand, and you probably don't have the experience that a professional branding consultant would. A consultant will bring expertise in market demographics, psychographics, how people respond to colors and shapes, what is currently in vogue and what is not, and the difference between art (aesthetic and subjective) and design (functional and purposeful).
All these elements go into creating a brand that will speak to your prospects. Hiring a professional who has experience dealing with these components will be a valuable investment in your business. The value proposition is similar to the pitch you make to clients for your video services: The investment will appreciate in value. Done right, it will stand the test of time. Done wrong, it will leave you constantly changing and tweaking what you've done, which essentially causes you to start over every time in building brand recognition and value.
That said, we do understand the reality that small businesses may not be able to invest in a solid branding or design company. It's not unheard of to spend $5,000-$20,000 on a branding experience, from websites to cards to creating a positioning statement and logo (Figure 1, below). Even at the $5,000 level, there are many small businesses that don't have the financial wherewithal to make that happen.
So now the question becomes, "What can I do now?"
First, do your homework. Identify the kind of client that you want to attract and the kind of companies that you know are successfully attracting that type of client. If you're in the wedding and event world and you're looking to attract a high-end bride, find local photographers, coordinators, or florists who are successfully reaching that bride and look at their branding. Look at their websites, collateral, and position statements. See if you can have lunch with one of them and talk with them about the touchpoints that they go through.
(Note that there are some companies that are successful despite their branding, rather than because of it, so you want to make sure that you are talking with someone who is successful in their business and their field and also has a strong sense of branding.)
Second, there are workshops and seminars held throughout the year that have professionals who address the issue of branding. You may not have five grand or more to spend on a branding campaign, but maybe you do have $750 or even $1,000 to spend in a one or two-day workshop with a vendor who has expertise in that field.
Third, do market research. One assignment Ron gives to his business coaching clients is to have them go to the mall and look at companies who are reaching the kind of demographic his coaching clients want to reach. He has them look at their logo and typeface designs and the experiences that they are creating in their stores for the clients that they want to serve. It seems like a simple assignment, but it gives you an idea of what that clientele expects and will be looking for.
Fourth, read. As Charles Jones said, "You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read." Too many small business owners don't take advantage of the vast wealth of knowledge on every topic imaginable. Branding is no different.
Do a search for some of the bestselling branding books, buy some, and set aside reading time. If you're reading this article, you're already one of a unique group of go-getters, willing to invest in your learning and education. Your business will be transformed because of the investment of time. Don't like reading? Get audio or video versions of popular books. There really is no longer any excuse not to get the information that is so widely available. Start with Seth Godin's Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable (Figure 2, below). As Godin explains in the book, "You're either a Purple Cow or you're not. You're either remarkable or you're invisible. Make your choice."
Leaving a Mark
Once you've got the differentiation part down, you'll start leaving a trail of "lovemarks," as Kevin Roberts describes in Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands. Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi, shows that by building respect and inspiring love, businesses can change the world. Wouldn't you like your business to do that? More than just paying the bills, wouldn't you like to change the world, your industry, and the world of your client? Companies that get it right don't just have loyal followings, they have fanatic followings.
One of those most popular lovemarks in the world of technology is Apple, Inc. It consistently posts record increases in profit, even when competitors are posting losses. They are definitely high-end in the technology field. You can get a network computer for a few hundred dollars, but if you get something with similar capability from Apple, you will spend at least three times that. And people are willing to pay because of the love that they have for the brand.
These fanatical fan bases support the companies with powerful word of mouth. Customers become evangelists. Think about the battles of Mac versus PC on popular video discussion boards. People are passionate and willing to defend the brands they love. That emotional connection people make with your brand will differentiate you from every competitor in your marketplace.
While you may have heard or read about some of these ideas before, are you doing them? Have you taken action on the things you know would make a difference in your brand experience and, likewise, in your bottom line?
Here are seven things you can do today to start leaving your mark:
- Deliver quality. Don't let anything out the door that isn't up to the highest standards possible. If it's going to be late because it doesn't meet QA standards, let the client know. Chances are they'll be thrilled you are going to such great lengths to give them an exceptional product.
- Offer service. Even though you're busy and your email box is overflowing, take the time to respond to requests with consideration. Remember that you're building relationships and creating fans. That won't happen if you ignore legitimate requests.
- Build (or rebuild) trust. If you're late on a project, communicate clearly with the client without excuse. Give them a new deadline you can meet and make that deadline no matter what. Keep your word and commitments by under-promising and over-delivering. It's better to say that you will have a turnaround time of two months and deliver in six weeks than it is to say that you will have a turnaround time of four weeks and deliver in six weeks. Set an expectation and then exceed that expectation.
- Be honest. Mistakes happen. Equipment malfunctions. Audio gets garbled. Tapes get lost. It's a reality of doing business after any amount of time. Expect it. Be prepared for it. Be honest about it with your client.
- Be open. If you haven't been asking for honest feedback from your clients, now is the time to start. Send a survey in exchange for a gift card. Ask the hard questions that you're afraid of getting answers to. Find out where you really stand. Knowing the truth of how you are perceived is the beginning of setting your business on a new path.
- Educate and inform. Offer your clients and prospects relevant and timely information through your blog. Post links to articles, special deals, and items of interest to them. Give them something for nothing. Share your knowledge. The more you give, the more you'll get back. It's a principle that never changes.
- Create a community. Use social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and newsletters to keep in contact with your client base. Connect them to you with timely information and connect them to each other with common ideas and solutions to their problems.
Creating a Website that Exemplifies Your Branding
So let's talk about some of the things that make up your branding experience. However, remember that these things by themselves are not your brand; they're aspects of your brand. Each one needs to communicate a consistent message about who your company is and what it is all about.
We'll start with websites because your website is often the first touchpoint that your prospect has when they come across your business. Since much searching for your service will be done online, at work, the way you present your portfolio and brand online is extremely important. This is something that Ron has written extensively about on his blog at bladeronner.com.
Your website must stand out as being something that communicates a unique brand. When prospects visit your website, you don't want them to have the feeling that they've been there before because your website looks like every other website they've seen.
We understand that, due to financial limitations, you may not have the resources for a professionally designed website. In that case, you may be inclined to opt for a template site. If you do decide to go the template route, choose a template that is not the most popular. Usually, sites that have templates will have dozens, if not hundreds, to choose from. You'll find, particularly if you've done research online, that a few of those templates seem to be the most popular. Templates themselves aren't bad; it depends on how much energy you put into customizing it.
However, if you do have the financial capability to invest in a website designer, then that is something that can be very beneficial. With respect to branding, the biggest advantage of a custom site is its uniqueness and the ability to create it in such a way that it fits your needs.
Showit Sites, created by photographer and speaker David Jay, is a website creation service that allows you to easily publish a dynamic, media-rich website with no coding (Figure 3, below). It's an ideal blending of the two options, an effective combination of template-based and professionally designed.
Showit Sites gives you the flexibility and freedom to completely change your site any time, custom design your pages, and set yourself apart from your competition (Figure 4, below). You can download a free trial at www. showitfast.com/#/showit-sites. Mention our book, ReFocus, and get two months free when you sign up for one year.
When looking at the creation of your website, remember to consider design and functionality. Some of the things that diminish the effectiveness of a website are being too hard to navigate, being too cluttered, or being designed in such a way that the user experience is negative. Simplicity, simple navigation, adequate white space, colors, and shapes consistent with your brand are all important considerations.
We highly suggest looking at other websites from companies in other industries. For example, Apple is a good site to look at because it is very clean and has a lot of white space. You can see the minimal use of words and text and the focus on the graphics because that's what draws people in and catches their eye. Look outside of the photo and video world and see what companies in other industries are doing on their sites, whether they are graphic designers, computer companies, or even bookstores.
Which websites draw your attention? Which do you enjoy visiting and return to again and again? Draw some lessons from those sites instead of limiting yourself to the sites of other videographers or people in your industry or vicinity.
Back in the early days of Cinematic Studios, Inc., we actually made it a point not to look at other videographers' sites. The main reason was because we felt that so many of them were not targeting their market correctly. They had pictures of the videographer smiling in his tuxedo with the camera on his shoulder or had images of camera gear spinning. Intuitively, we knew that these sites were not designed to attract the market clientele we were going after, which in our case was high-end brides.
The inspiration that we got early on was from photographers who were designing their sites like online fashion magazines, in terms of the photos they used and the way they wrote the copy. You never saw a picture of a Hasselblad, a Canon telephoto lens, or anything of that sort on a photographer's website. It was always stunning imagery telling the story.
When you're adding images to your site, don't feel like you always have to use video stills. Feel free to work with local or non-local photographers. On our first website, when our focus was high-end wedding videography, we made a point to only have video stills on our website. We felt that our work was just as good as photographers' work, and there was no reason why we shouldn't have video stills instead of photos.
As we worked on reaching a higher-end clientele, we received feedback from other designers who said that our video grabs were poor quality relative to the full size that we were blowing them up to on the site. It was at that point we reached out to photographers in our network.
This worked for two reasons. We had clean, crisp images from photographers to improve the aesthetic of our site. And we communicated to our prospects what type of vendors we worked with. If they saw their photographer's photos on our site, it built a level of trust in their mind that we were on par with that vendor and gave us credibility by association. It doesn't take away from your art as a filmmaker or video producer when you have photographs as opposed to video stills. Prospects will still see your portfolio and your work, but it will be the photographs (and the branding they help to create) that draw them in.
Business cards are another aspect of the branding experience that you provide to clients. And again, you need to ask yourself, "What kind of client am I going after?" If you're going after a luxurious, high-end client, then you need a business card that suggests that.
If you're going after a high-end client that has an eye for design and quality and then you give them a flimsy, cheap business card-or, worse yet, you hand them a business card that you created from one of those perforated sheets of stock that you get from an office supply store-that will send the wrong message about who you are and the quality of service you offer.
If you've seen the movie Hitch, you'll remember Will Smith's distinct black business card. It set him apart and differentiated his service and company. How could you adapt that idea for your own business cards?
Back in our first year in the business, I (Ron) met Philadelphia-based EventDV 25 honoree Tim Sudall (www.videoone.tv). I was in line with him at WEVA Expo and was sharing with him my business cards which I had created from those perforated office supply store cards printed on my inkjet printer.
He made a point to tell me that the quality wasn't there and that I needed to go out and get a business card that reflected the quality of the business that I was trying to put forth. With regard to business cards, it didn't really have to be that expensive either, and he gave me some resources that I could pursue.
That's exactly what I did, and I have never looked back.
A similar event happened when I met four-time EventDV 25 honoree Trisha Von Lanken (www.vonweddingfilms.com) for the first time, just after she gave a presentation. I was new to the business and was excited to meet her and give her a demo DVD of my work to get her feedback on my videos. The DVD I gave her was packaged in one of those cheap plastic slim CD cases. She immediately told me that the packaging didn't work. If I wanted to grab the high-end bride, she said, that wasn't going to happen if I gave her a DVD in a cheap, plastic case. (It's funny how I had a knack for getting feedback on things I didn't ask for. But I'm so thankful I did.)
When I got back to our studio, we immediately started work on putting our DVDs in custom made cards. It made a huge difference in the way we presented ourselves. From there we moved to traditional cases and designed custom covers that looked like real movies. Our clients loved them, and it fit the brand we were selling, which was about having the experience of starring in your own movie (Figure 5, below).
As we became more educated in branding and the importance of standing out, one thing we decided to do was to move away from using traditional Amaray cases for our DVDs. Instead, we purchased tin cases that had clear covers. They looked and felt like film cans. They were round and had a cool, retro look, which fit perfectly with the fun, creative style that the Cinematic Studios brand represented.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and our colleague and friend, Joshua Smith of Cinematic Bride (www.cine maticbride.com), created an entire company around this need for inspired packaging. Loktah (www.loktah.com) is a natural media packaging company, "inspired by the natural beauty of the earth, featuring products that recall the planet's majestic form" (Figure 6, below).
It was Smith's desire to be creative and present something different to his clients that forced him to undertake this venture. In his search, he found that there was a need within the video and photographic industry, and he aimed to meet that need with Loktah.
This packaging solution won't fit every brand, but it is a clear example of how being tuned in to your brand will force you to get creative with every aspect of your business and every touchpoint for your clients.
Think about creative ways in which your final presentation can be used to communicate and continue to advertise your company even when the product is sitting on your client's coffee table or shelf.
Having a consistent look and feel throughout your website that matches your collateral (business cards, stationery, brochures) and continues through your packaging is critical. All these elements contribute to the brand that reaches the client that you want.
Branding isn't just for studios pursuing high-end clients either.
Even if you're going after volume and clients who are more budget conscious, that does not mean that you can ignore branding. In many ways, it is just as important on the low end because you are going to be dealing with clients who are easily moved by price, so you need to have something that they can grab on to and develop an affinity for. If you're competing on price, it is going to be harder for you to stand out in the crowd because people can always undercut you. So having a unique brand is going to be that much more important for you.
Whether you're going after a high-end clientele or a more budget-conscious customer, your brand and the branding experience that you provide can make or break your company and determine your impact on everyone who encounters you.
If you haven't already figured it out, a running theme in this article has been experience. Above everything else, experience will determine how a client or prospect interprets your brand. As mentioned previously, one of the best books written about the client experience is Dr. Joseph Michelli's The Starbucks Experience.
We had an opportunity to see Michelli speak at an event that we filmed in January 2009. During the event, he talked about how raw coffee beans cost about four cents per cup. But by adding hot water and filtering those coffee beans through a thin sheet of paper, you can sell it for one dollar per cup. If you package it right, you could sell it in the store for two dollars a cup. But if you add an experience to it-say, sitting in a nice lounge area with good music, good food, good smell, and the opportunity to get online and do some work-you can sell those coffee beans for four dollars per cup.
Starbucks is a great example of what can be done when a brand really focuses on the experience. However distinctive you consider the coffee itself, it's the experience that engulfs the tasting. It's not just the coffee but the relaxing and inviting experiences that typify the Starbucks experience.
So, with all that in mind, what experience do you give your clients? When they see your logo, are they drawn to it or repelled by it? When they enter your studio, are they blasted with rock music and the smell of leftovers for lunch? Or are you deliberate with the music you choose and the smells that you allow your visitors to experience when they enter your place of business? Is there an inviting atmosphere with comfortable chairs, inviting decor, and a customer-focused staff?
Is it just about the experience? Of course not. You need to deliver a great product too. But the difference between creating an unforgettable experience and just delivering the product is the difference between four cents a cup and four dollars a cup.
Which would you prefer?
The material in this article is excerpted from ReFocus: Cutting-Edge Strategies to Evolve Your Video Business by Ron Dawson and Tasra Dawson. Copyright © 2010. Used with permission of Pearson Education, Inc. and Peachpit Press. The book will be published July 20, 2009. To order ReFocus from Amazon.com, click here.
Ron & Tasra Dawson (info at daredreamer.net) are co-founders of Dare Dreamer Media (formerly Cinematic Studios), a new media marketing agency. Accomplished writers and award-winning producers, speakers, video business coaches, and instructors, Ron and Tasra are authors of the forthcoming Peachpit Press book, ReFocus: Cutting-Edge Strategies to Evolve Your Business. Ron is a two-time EventDV 25 honoree. They live in a suburb of Atlanta.