Marketing & Branding: Mastering Key Business Concepts by Lori McNee

What is Branding?

2015 Photographer's MarketWhat is branding? And how is it different from marketing? If you’re uncertain about the difference between these two key business terms or how they apply to your art or photography business, you’re not alone. In her 2015 Photographer’s Market article “Market & Branding,” Lori McNee covers the ins and outs of marketing and branding for photographers, including marketing and branding tips and advice on how to rebrand. Read an excerpt from the marketing and branding article below, or read the complete article in the 2015 Photographer’s Market or on

Keep creating and good luck!

Marketing & Branding: Mastering Key Business Concepts by Lori McNee

The buzzwords marketing and branding can be intimidating for many photographers, sending shudders down the spines of seasoned professionals. For many creatives, anything that draws their attention away from valuable studio time is an annoyance at best. Nevertheless, making the leap from a novice or hobbyist to a professional photographer requires smart business sense, which includes a balance of good marketing and branding skills.

It is important to acknowledge marketing and branding as necessary evils in today’s economy. Creatives who embrace these invaluable business concepts will have a foothold above the rest. Understanding the difference between marketing and branding, and employing both of them will help you improve the potential of your photography business.

It is essential to note that marketing and branding are used interchangeably and, quite often, incorrectly. There is a gap in understanding, and many people in both small and large businesses get the concepts mixed up.

Once understood, the two distinct functions of marketing and branding can work together to achieve a specific goal. To help you better understand, I will condense each business term down to its fundamental nature. Let’s start with the more important of the two, branding.

What Is Branding?

what is branding

Similar to marking livestock, branding is a technique used to identify the owner: you.

Branding is who you are or who the world thinks you are. Every time a prospect or a potential customer makes contact with you in person, print, virally, or by other means, he is formulating an opinion of you as a brand.

Maintaining your brand should be a top priority because your brand is you. It’s what matters in a first impression, it’s what counts on a sale, and it’s what keeps customers and collectors coming back for more. Your brand will become the powerful foundation for your marketing efforts.

Over the years, we have seen brands that are in the news for both good and bad reasons. We have watched brands rise and fall. We should take heed from the lessons learned while watching household names such as Lance Armstrong, Penn State, Tiger Woods, and Arnold Schwarzenegger damage their brand equity.
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The point here is to remember that, much like a reputation, building a solid brand takes a lot of time and care to create, and only minutes to crumble.

Much like an athlete or actor, a photographer’s brand relies predominantly on performance. Artists/photographers must perform, produce, and continue to create, inspire and grow. We idolize the most talented artists, just like we do sports and movie stars. We want to be like them.

So how do you build your brand? We’ll get to this later, but first let’s discuss marketing and how it works together with your brand.

What Is Marketing?

Kneeland Gallery invitation for Lori McNee and Greg Woodard show

This invitation from Kneeland Gallery is an example of marketing. It communicates a specific message to a target audience, inciting them to action.

Marketing is showing the world what you do (your product). Marketing is how you reach your target market through advertising, promotions, and public relations.

Marketing communicates the value of your photography, craft, or service to your customers and collectors for the purpose of selling that product or service. Your marketing strategy must ensure that your branding message addresses your consumers’ needs.

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Marketing and Branding Symbiosis

In the current economy, art is not an impulse purchase. Art collectors are savvy and generally make calculated purchases. Consumers and collectors do not buy what you sell; they buy what has value to them. They buy you, your brand. Believing in you, liking you and your story gives them confidence in their purchase. They are actually buying a piece of you and taking you, your brand, and your story home with them. See how this all ties together?

Marketing contributes to your brand, but the brand is bigger than any marketing endeavor. The brand is what remains after your marketing efforts have left the room, studio, or gallery. Your brand will be the image associated with your product that sticks in the minds of your potential collectors or clients.
Your marketing may convince your collector to buy a certain photograph, but it’s your brand that will help determine whether your product will actually sell, and if the collector is to become a repeat customer.
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Marketing Without Brand Awareness

A common mistake artistic entrepreneurs make is using the external functions of marketing without understanding the powerful internal functions of branding. These hardworking creatives try to build their photography businesses exclusively through marketing without doing the internal branding work. Yet it is the branding that is necessary to fascinate and attract the buyers to their marketing campaigns.
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Next time you plan to spend money on marketing, make sure your external marketing message supports your brand, so, when the potential collector comes into experience it, your brand is walking its talk.

Refocusing on Branding

If your marketing efforts have fallen flat, slow down, stop marketing, and start branding. Brand specialist Suzanne Tulien offers this analogy on her website

“Take a moment to think about your business brand as a Hollywood movie. Your marketing efforts are the SCRIPT and your branding is the role of the ACTORS. A good script (a good marketing campaign) can be a total bust if the actors (your brand) cannot pull it off consistently, memorably, and with full-on believability. So, no matter how good the script, if your actors cannot be trusted, believed, and are not memorable, you’ve just wasted a lot of production expenses!”

Building your brand is the foundation for your photography business. Creating an authentic, meaningful brand story that your customers can connect and engage with at a deeper level is what will help sell your photography.

Valuable Brand-Building Tips

Lori McNee profile picture

A lot of thought went into my profile picture.

So now you have a better grasp of marketing and branding and how you can work them together to help grow your photography business. The next step is to begin building your brand.

Remember the simple definition of branding is “who you are or who the world thinks you are.” This is a liberating definition! Now is your chance to create or re-create yourself, but keep in mind—authenticity is key.

Who are you?
How do you want the world to view you?
What are your interests?
Who is your market?
How do you want to hang out with in your photography niche?

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If you’re already a working photographer, you may need to consider rebuilding your brand. This is called “rebranding,” and it’s a good option for many established artists, especially those with stagnant or slipping sales. If collectors and customers are not connecting to your brand anymore, it might be time for rebranding.

Ask yourself, would rebranding solve these problems? Rally your current brand enthusiast through your social media channels and newsletter. Share your ideas and ask for feedback. Be authentic and make your supporters part of your creative process.
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Once you have a clear, authentic brand identity formulated, feel your brand, believe your brand, and be your brand. Your customers will believe you, too. After that, marketing will be a breeze and your collectors will want to take a piece of you home with them—and your story lives on!

Lori McNee is a professional artist who specializes in still life and landscape oil paintings. She is an exhibiting member of Oil Painters of America, Plein Air Painters of Idaho, serves on the Plein Air Magazine Board of Advisors, and is an Ambassador Artist to Royal Talens. As the owner of, Lori blogs about fine art tips, marketing, and social media advice for the aspiring and professional artist. As a social media influencer, Lori ranks as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women on Twitter, has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and named a TwitterPowerhouse by The Huffington Post. She is a keynote speaker, has been a talk show host for Plum TV, writes for F+W, a Content + eCommerce Company publications including The Artist’s Magazine, Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market, and Photographer’s Market. She also contributed to Zero to 100,000: Social Media Tips & Tricks for Small Businesses.


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