As a photographer working with businesses, I observe lots of elements every day that tell a story about people and their work. These observations as well as my own experiences running a business have taught me that stories need to be considered and moulded, or like our imaginations, will run wild and not always in the direction we want! Directing stories through words, pictures and actions is really what forms the basis of branding.
Here are a few points I’ve picked up along the way.
Kids love stories. So do adults who are just big kids at heart. Story-telling is a powerful marketing tool but it is also essential because our lives are made up of stories and stories are how we connect with others.
A story can be defined as:
an account of past events in someone’s life or in the development of something or the commercial prospects or circumstances of a particular company
(Oxford Dictionary http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/story)
When we are telling the story of a business we are developing story as in the first definition to enhance and grow the story as in the second. There are many ways we tell stories to others.
So what stories do we need to consider and actively develop to grow a business?
The ‘Me’ Story
This is the story of your personal brand. You may think this has nothing to do with your business but business is about people interacting, and this starts with who you are.
It seems as if this should evolve naturally as you share parts of who you are when working with staff, clients and prospects… but in fact it should be given careful consideration so that all your actions come from your purpose and goals. In telling your personal story, consider:
- Work history, skills and interests shared on Linked In
- Work samples, Mission Statement, testimonials shared on your website
- ‘About me’ web page or document; bio given to media
- Anything written by you or about you and published
- Photographs of you on your website, on Facebook, published in the media or elsewhere. Consider profile photos and photos at events and with others
- Your values and how/where they are portrayed and upheld e.g. with your team, with customers
- Your personal appearance, language you use, what you talk about, your attitude and behaviour in all interactions
The Team Story
The team story has a lot to do with the organisation’s culture: how team members interact together every day, and how they interact with their customers. This should be carefully considered, as everyone knows that a business’ most valuable asset is its people. Look at:
- The company’s Vision, Mission and Values: are they displayed, known and acted on every day, by everyone working there?
- How much team members are involved in decisions about how they will interact and the work they do
- Each team member’s personal appearance, language, content of conversation and behaviour where they are representing the company (don’t forget on social media too!)
- Photographs and text published anywhere, displaying individual or groups of team members
- A tricky one: gauging how happy people are in their work and within their team! Seek opportunities for honest feedback, sharing and brainstorming
The Product Story
Showing your products in the best light is an important part of your marketing story. Do not underestimate the visual sophistication of your audience!
Where your products are presented on display, online or in print, check for:
- products in top condition: as new, complete
- presentation/layout of products: professional and pleasing to the eye, creative or minimalistic/simple as suits your brand
- text is clear, suits your brand and uses the language of your target audience… and no errors!
- professional design of online/printed material
- professional photography: no unwanted shadow, blurry lines or pixels, well-framed, well-lit and with true colour
- models whose look suit your brand and look professional
- consistency across photographs, in pose, framing, lighting and background
The Service Story
Likewise, any materials or environments portraying your services and/or your level of customer service need consideration:
- documented systems and procedures in place for great customer service, and team trained in these
- clarity in breakdown and explanation of services and options your business provides: consider text and photography on your website, brochure or presentation
- again, professional design and photographs. With photography of services, you should aim for something that looks professional and is relevant to your business – if you can use your own people and customers so much the better! A photographer can also help you set up mock service scenes using models or extras to give you personalised ‘stock images’
The Fashion Story
This is a variation on the ‘product’ and ‘service’ stories for people in fashion/beauty retail or design, or in styling – for example, businesses working with clothing, shoes, jewellery, accessories, make-up, hair styling. A fashion story is the mood, emotion or dream-world you are creating and it’s THIS that sells fashion products. How do you create your fashion story?
- through fashion photography – not the same as catalogue photos. This is usually done on location and involves several models and garments in choreographed scenes that form the pages of your story. Through professional planning, direction and lighting, this fashion story can be your most effective sales and branding tool
- through key words and phrases to go with your photographs, evoking the same emotion and mood to direct your customer’s perceptions of your brand. If you’re stuck, check out any fashion magazine – go to the fashion spread (usually several pages for a story) and look at the words to go with the photographs
- Where do you show your fashion story? Across all your marketing: your website, newsletter, blog, Facebook page, brochures, posters in store… It should form the ‘look’ of your website especially on the home page where it grabs attention and sets a scene
Hopefully these tips have been helpful in thinking about the story your business tells. If it seems overwhelming, remember there are professional services out there to help you tackle the many layers of the branding process: marketing and social media people, graphic designers, photographers, personal stylists and more… many of us have built a network of such people and are only too happy to point you in the right direction or answer some questions.
I look forward to reading your story…