Recently a few photographer friends and I have been thinking about creative professionals who procrastinate in building their business and portfolio because they are focused on creating the perfect marketing materials. I immediately recognized this thought pattern as one of the issues that regularly plagues creative professionals, branding identity crisis.
Over my career I've had the privilege of developing marketing strategies for a variety of well known products and I can say confidently there is no such thing as the perfect logo, web site, brochure, or marketing copy. Even large corporations change and evolve the face of their brand over time. Creative professionals often get mired in this belief that without custom designed web sites, bios, business cards, logos and other perfectly polished marketing materials they aren't a true business or they aren't professional enough.
This just simply isn't true.
Leave your brand identity crisis behind and embrace the value you create. You are your brand.
Your brand is your unique mark, it is what you bring to the table, that piece of who you are that makes everyone else recognize your work. It is what you create, the value you contribute to others. This isn't limited either to something material, it can be a pleasant experience for people who interact with you or your business. It could be well connected conversation or your style of writing and the insight it brings to a topic. It could possibly be your creative work and the undeniable style that is unique to you.
For example a photographer's brand identity isn't necessarily all of their marketing materials. It is their photographs, creative eye, the way they connect to a subject, and interact with others---the true heart of their brand. People are commissioned because of the value they can add, it's up to you to demonstrate that value. For a writer this may be their voice, the way they handle assignments, their professionalism in handing deadlines and the networking connections they've established. A painter or a graphic designer may have a unique aesthetic look to their work, or possibly a thematic approach to their work which resonates with a particular audience.
But maybe you feel that isn't enough and you would like some consistency in how you present yourself and this makes sense. You should always strive to present yourself in a professional way. If you've identified what you bring to the table then presenting that in the best way possible elevates that message. But don't confuse the template with that message. Who are you and how you add value through your work gets the spotlight. If you haven't identified your value, or built a portfolio then focusing on marketing materials is putting the cart before the horse.
Another way of thinking about this is to think about a material product. When I've worked for companies in the past the successful products added a value or fit a need that existed. The product solved a problem, or gave people a reason to connect with each other. Once the value of something is established you can present it in a professional way, but without it you just have empty packaging.
Solving the identity crisis, things to consider:
- Does your work have a visual signature? Have you developed your own unique style and vision?
- When clients compliment you, what do you hear the most? Are you easy to work with? Punctual with deadlines? Is your work of extremely high quality?
- Have you created work that is exclusive and people feel privileged to work with you? Do they feel better about themselves because of their connection to you?
- Do you provide an opportunity for people to connect on a mutually shared interest?
- Have you fostered a community with established thought-leadership on a subject that is relevant today?
- Are you connecting with others in a more meaningful way through your work or your actions?
- Is your work bringing value to others, does it solve a problem, connect people, raise the bar, or improve their lives in some way?
The important thing to remember is that the face of your brand identity can evolve over time, but don't let the development of marketing materials take your focus away from developing the core value you generate. Waiting to connect with others until you have the perfect marketing piece can keep you sidelined indefinitely. Start asking yourself different questions and you'll feel more confident about your work and the brand you want to create. Impressive branding and marketing materials are built upon a solid foundation of value and strategy. Your marketing materials will change---don't let them stand in the way of your progress.