So, I have avoided the topic of photography for quite a while in Working with Dog because, frankly, I am bias! I am was a commercial pet photographer for over a decade and many of our members come from the pet photography universe. However, the more I teach, write about, consult on and tangle with pet brands, the more loudly and clearly I feel like I need to champion the role of imagery in building a brand. Not just any images mind you, great ones. The kind that get under your skin… the kind that make you smile without realizing it… the kind that make you long to step inside them and live.
This subject is serious and I’m going to give it to you straight. I want you to reap the multitude of rewards that imagery can offer your business and brand so I’m going to be brutally honest. If you’re a petpreneur who has never really thought about or invest in photography for your business or product, I just ask that you approach this theme with an open mind.
Let’s face it. If your photography sucks, you’re leaving money on the table. If your imagery is bad, boring, bland, unprofessional or just ‘good enough’ it is not working for you the way it could be. Chances are, this is you. Most of the businesses I meet have pretty blah imagery. But don’t worry, by the end of this month you’ll be an expert and I promise you won’t have to spend a fortune to make some serious upgrades (and returns) in this department.
Let’s start with some definitions: By imagery I mean both photography and video.
By photography I mean:
- Product Photography: the clean shopping cart stuff with the white background
- Lifestyle Photography: the images showing the product in context in ‘real life’ – in use, at home, in nature, with pets and people etc.
Why should I care?
Great question, I love to start with the why of things. Here are 5 big reasons (I could have written 1000) that you should care about the quality and efficacy of your imagery:
- Relationship Building
- Brand Building
- Emotional Impact
Would you book a hotel you hadn’t seen any photos of? Would you even remotely consider buying a product off amazon if it had no product image? How would you feel if the photo was kind of crappy and there were no reviews – you’d be sceptical, right?
Hubspot.com shares, “Eye-tracking studies show internet readers pay close attention to information-carrying images. In fact, when the images are relevant, readers spend more time looking at the images than they do reading text on the page.”
Humans rely heavily on visual data to make decisions and if your imagery is non-existent, mediocre or just plan bad – you’re definitely helping people make decisions that are not good for your business!
2. Relationship Building
One important element we will touch on repeatedly in this series is the importance of authenticity in your imagery. Generic stock images simply do NOT build relationships or impact your people enough to be valuable. They’re filler. They’re pretty worthless, actually.
Smartinsights.com suggests, “when it comes to choosing optimal imagery for a website [don’t] use stock photos – they look cheap and everyone knows they are stock photos. In fact a study which tracked website user’s eye movements found that images considered important and scrutinised were those of real people and products, not stock photos.”
You probably don’t need a study to tell you this, you know because you’re a consumer and you know what moves you is not the too-perfect shots of the fake happy family. We want to see the humanity behind the corporate entities we buy from. We want reasons to believe what they say in their marketing, and those reasons are usually confirmed for us by imagery. We want to see the team, the facility, the process, the real story. Give the people what they want!
3. Brand Building:
Imagery is one of the most powerful tools for brand building. More than your logo, more than your copy, more than your product claims, imagery catches attention and instantly reinforces what your brand stands for in a way that no other medium can. This is a critical part of both defining and reinforcing your brand value. Why does brand value matter – well, no reason really – other than your total viability as a business:
Forbes.com reported that after investing in an in-depth analysis, Wall Street giant Credit Suisse determined that ‘brand value’ does actually represent a genuine, tangible competitive advantage;
The Credit Suisse report says: ‘Companies that focus on brand building consistently generate outsize, long-term growth, profitability and return’.
Allen Adamson for Forbes.com adds “A brand becomes a worthwhile investment only when it is built and maintained using the rules of Branding 101:
- Stand for something consumers will find different from that of your competitors.
- Make sure this difference is something that people care about and will make their lives better in some significant way.
- Stay ahead of the pack in identifying ways to stay relevant to people’s lives.
Easier said than done, which is why the CreditSuisse list was limited to ‘27 great brands of tomorrow,’ not hundreds.”
How do I do all of that?
Well you can start by reading my book the Million Dollar Dog Brand (available on Amazon or free PDF for you here) and trust me when I say, photography plays a momentous role in communicating the passion of that #milliondollardogbrand to your customers. Like or not, your images are saying SOMETHING about you – do you know what it is? Is it helping or hurting you?
4. Emotional Impact:
Marketing is all about impacting the behaviour of your ideal customer (see #1 below). The easiest way to impact human behaviour is to make them FEEL SOMETHING. Simply put, imagery give us the feels quickly and deeply.
90% of the information sent to the brain is visual, 93% of all human communication is visual and the brain processes images 60,000 times faster than it does text.
Want to sell more? Stop telling and start showing! Which leads us to…
All of the above basically leads to one all-important thing for your business: revenue! On the journey through your sales funnel from stranger to buyer, there are a series of ‘conversions’ a potential customer will go through. These conversions happen when you successfully impact a person’s behaviour, causing them to click, like, give you their email, comment etc. Hopefully eventually one or more of those conversions will be a transaction where they give you money!
Several case studies have proven that imagery can dramatically impact conversions. One study by vwo.com found that simply changing an image on a webpage increased conversions by over 40% (tested with 11,000 visitors to each version of webpage). If that’s not the most compelling reason to care about your photography, I don’t know what is!
So, What’s the Point?
The point is that your imagery shouldn’t just be an acceptable likeness of your product. The miracle of photography is that when it’s great it stirs desire, trust and powerful aspirations of the lifestyle your brand represents. The point is that only great imagery drives sales, so don’t settle for less!
How Do I Get Great Imagery?
The reality you’re not going to like, is that most people aren’t great photographers. No matter how cheap (or free) your neighbour, sister’s boyfriend or work colleague who ‘dabbles’ in photography is – the likelihood of the imagery they create for you adding any value to your business is bleak. There are basically two routes to getting great imagery:
- Become a great photographer/videographer yourself
- Hire a great photographer/videographer
Over this month I will be sharing with you ways to get great imagery will include resources for both of these options – going DIY and working with a pro.
But keep in mind, when I say ‘great photographer’ I mean a skilled and savvy image creator who is capable of consistently creating great imagery that accomplishes all of the 5 points listed above. That doesn’t just require technical skill, decent equipment and experience, it also requires TIME, a resource most of us petpreneurs are pretty short on. It also requires a strong objectivity that allows you to distance yourself from your brand and the imagery enough to not get emotionally attached and really see it for the tool that it is. For all of these reasons, it’s my professional recommendation that it is in your best interest to hire a professional.
Hiring a Photographer
As with most things, the more sophisticated and busy you get as a business, and the more experienced and in-demand a photographer gets – the more money becomes less important than time and results. You’ll experience a WIDE range of pricing options, bid processes and conversations – some photographers will quote you a flat fee, some will quote you a long list of creative fees, expenses to be reimbursed and then licensing on top. Keep in mind, nearly every photographer is happy for you take the lead on what you’re willing to spend, and if it’s remotely realistic, find a package or option that will fit your budget, or refer you to someone else who may be able to help.
Here’s are two facts you need to know:
- Photography does not have to be the most expensive part of your marketing budget.
- Photography can be the single most effective tool to instantly connect with your buyer emotionally (as discussed above).
Investing in and properly utilizing exceptional lifestyle images of your product, services, team and/or process will yield spectacular returns. So, when hiring a photographer, first decide what kind of impact you want your photos to have on your audience, and then pick an artist whose portfolio makes you feel that way. Do not just go with the cheapest or nearest or most available – if the images aren’t impactful, you might as well not bother. Let me repeat – the idea is NOT just to create an acceptable likeness of your product, place or person – the miracle of photography is when it stirs desire, trust and aspirations of the lifestyle your brand represents. Only great photography drives sales, so don’t settle for less.
Commercial Pet Photographers
If you’re a budget-conscious small business, there two types of photographers I recommend hiring for your pet business:
- Animal Photographers: Do not underestimate how hard it is to wrangle multiple dogs ‘on set’ (don’t get me started on cats) and get them to look natural, not posed, while making your product, place or team the real hero of the image. This is a very honed skill-set that is unique to pet-exclusive photographers and in my opinion, if you don’t have the desire or budget to hire handlers, trainers and professional animal models – this is the way to go.
- Lifestyle Photographers: If your brand revolves around a product or service and your photography will include a lot of humans, then photographers like wedding, family and photo-documentary style shooters can be great. Masters of natural-like human posing and most importantly, styling. These photographers are no stranger to long days of shooting and have enough through-the-lens scrutiny to ensure the ‘scene’ looks fresh, real and desirable. If pets will play a slightly less ‘front and center role’ – lifestyle photographers (especially wedding photographers) may be great for the gig.
Want help finding a pet photographer you can trust?
Well you’re in luck! This group is full of pet photographers who I would whole-heartedly recommend and there are tons more our there, all over the world, who I would be happy to help you find.
As we move through this theme there will be more resources to match-make brands and image makers, so stay tuned 🙂
How Much Does it Cost?
Of course the question of budget is front-and-center in any discussion about photography. Here’s the one thing I want you to know: You CAN afford to get great photos for your brand. You definitely can. Who you can afford, and how many shots you can afford are up for discussion – but it’s DEFINIETLY an investment worth making as soon as possible for all the reasons discussed above.
Here’s a general outline based on what I’ve seen in the US + UK photography market:
Starting Budget: 500
This is probably the minimum-spend to realistically get solid results. You can get a few high-res photos from a reasonably experienced photographer who hasn’t done much commercial work but has a great eye and consistently produces lovely images. If you find this person and love them, hang on tight and use them as often as you can to keep these great rates as they get more experienced and known. This is a great starter package to get, at a minimum, a great emotive shot of you and/or your product.
Great Budget: 1000-2000
If you can set aside between 1000-2000 you can no-doubt get bit of a library of excellent quality images that can be used in everything from your instagram to your catalogue. These images will probably come from an experienced pet or lifestyle photographer who will shoot for a half-day or full day, possibly in multiple locations to give you a wide variety of delicious images of products, people and places (don’t forget the delicious detail shots!) At this level you may have some negotiations re: who is responsible for finding locations, models and organizing the day- so know what you’d prefer before you enter negotiations. Also, at this level you may be expected to compensate models (with cash or products) or pay to use certain locations.
Amazing budget: 2500-10,000+
For this kind of spend, you’re talking superior quality, supreme organization and professionalism. Possibly professional models, animal handlers, assistants, product managers and more. If you’re hoping to incorporate high-quality video production as well as stills, you’re going to be more in this price range to account for equipment rental, sound considerations and added crew. At this level, a chunk of what you’ll be paying for and negotiating, is licensing.
A Word About Licensing & Copyright
Contrary to popular assumption, when you hire a photographer to shoot for you, you do not own the copyright to the images unless they sign a ‘work for hire’ agreement (which most professionals won’t do) or they sell you the copyright to the work for an additional fee. In nearly all cases, what you’re getting, whether you’ve negotiated specific usage or the artist has granted you something like ‘Licensing for all uses, in all media, in perpetuity’ (which basically means use it for whatever you want, forever), is permission to use the images in the way that was discussed at the time of purchase.
In 99% of cases, you don’t really need to OWN the copyright… all that would mean is that the photographer couldn’t claim to have created the images at all, and couldn’t show them in their professional portfolio. What you do want and need, is a license to use them how and when you need to be able to make a return on your investment. Just make sure you’re clear on how, where and for how long you can use the images you’re paying for, before you pay the photographer or sign the contract.
Understand that most of a professional commercial photographer’s money is made in the licensing (not the creating) of images you will use to create profit in your company. Think of it like royalties – when an author creates a book that a publisher profits from, they get paid a royalty. Licensing is the same thing, but up-front instead of over time. If you go buy from a stock site like Getty, it’s licensing that you’re paying to use that photo. The industry norms are changing fast in this regard, but it’s good to understand the concept of licensing if you’re going to be a buyer of images.
I know this is a lot to take in, especially with everything else you’ve got going on in your business. Photography often just gets pushed to the back-burner because it seems ‘too big’ ‘too expensive’ and ‘less essential’ than many of the other day-to-day demands. I totally understand this phenomenon – I get it. But what I also know based on over a decade of experience with both solopreneurs and billion-dollar brands is that photography IS essential. If you’re trying to create a sustainable competitive advantage by building a brand, it is one of the most critical pieces of your revenue-generating puzzle. So, roll up your sleeves and give yourself the next few months to wrap your head around it, save up a photography budget, and then take action. By the end of this month you’ll be ready!