Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life examples of the good, the bad, and sometimes wild, in marketing.

Julia: Marketing in the Wild friends, I’m so excited to introduce you to my new friend, Amy Lawson. She is going to tell us about herself and then we’re going to get into talking about branded photography, which is one of my favorite things. I think in a different world or a different universe, I would have loved to be a photographer. I even bought a fancy camera once as if a fancy camera could make me a photographer. And unfortunately, it did not. So Amy, tell us about yourself, where you’re located, your business, a little bit about you. 

Amy: Hi! Thank you so much for having me on the podcast. I’m really excited to talk about brand photography with you. My name is Amy. I am a brand photographer and I’m based in Madison, Wisconsin, where I have a studio. But I do travel and I’ve worked with clients in Chicago and New England, just depending on where people are. So I love to travel as well. 

You had mentioned sharing a fun fact and I’m really, really bad at coming up with those, but I will tell you I was home educated, K through 12. We didn’t have television. My parents were very much, “Why would we have television when you could read a book or go out in the woods?” which is totally awesome. And I was probably much the better for it, but my husband has had to explain sports to me from square one. Like drawing pictures on paper to explain football and baseball to me. And I still have really dumb questions about both of those sports, but I can usually hold my own in a conversation, you know, 10 years in.

Julia: This is a total side note now because I was not home educated, but I grew up in South America for 18 years. So I got to college and felt like I missed out on 18 years of pop culture. I don’t know if you had that experience where you were like, “I’m sorry, who’s Katy Perry?” And so it was just really interesting. The things you miss when you’re doing life differently.

Amy: I really understand that. And actually, my college experience was fairly sheltered also. So it was actually not until I got out of college, then I was like, what is this culture thing?

Julia: Yeah. It’s so interesting when you do life differently, you just ended up learning different things. And so how cool. So that being said, how did you get into photography? Tell us about your story. 

Amy: Well, when you don’t have television, you have to come up with a lot of hobbies to keep yourself busy. I did a lot of reading as a child. I loved books. I still love to read. I read voraciously. So I’ve always been kind of obsessed with storytelling. And as a teenager, that was through scrapbooking. It was really, really trendy at the time. So I started scrapbooking, realized we didn’t have a lot of great photos. And so I got a camera cause I was like, well, I’m going to go take them now. 

And so I just kinda, you know, did photography for fun. I was like, I don’t know how to make money from this, but it’s fun. But I also kind of picked up the entrepreneurial bug as a kid, as well. So my very first business was selling spider plants to a local florist, raising little spider plant babies and walking into the florist and saying, “Here, will you buy these for a dollar?” And I wish I had that confidence as an adult. I was in third grade. And my poor mother had to come with me and probably wanted to be anywhere else on earth.

Julia: Right, like I don’t want to see my child rejected, but that is so cool. I also have spider plants, but they never grow babies cause I don’t take care of them well enough. But we can talk about that offline. But anyway, so that’s how you got into the business. So when did you decide to make photography your business?

Amy: So in 2015, we’d been married for a couple of years. We’d started to make some friends in Madison. And I was like, you know, I’d love to capture family stories for my friends. Maybe get into weddings a little bit. So I kind of dabbled in both of those things, but as I was learning how to actually start my own business, I got really into the business side of things and not like the accounting side of things, but like running a business and working, especially loved marketing and the concept of how do you get people to buy from you and different techniques for that, different technologies in the online space. 

And I realized that I was really obsessed with small business and talking with other business owners, people who understood what I was going through learning all those things. And so that kind of took me into brand photography. I don’t write down dates. I should have written down dates a couple of years ago. Probably in 2018, I started realizing that brand photography was really where I wanted to go with that. Because as an introvert, I need to be able to be extra connected to my clients as far as what we talk about and what I’m working with. So that was kind of a natural transition from the other stuff I was doing.

Julia: That’s awesome. So are you exclusively doing brand photography now?

Amy: I am. I will second shoot the occasional wedding and do whatever people ask me to do. As I get busier with brand photography, that will not be a thing anymore.

Julia: But that’s really what your focus is. That’s awesome. So now that we’ve thrown the word around a bit, can you help us define what is brand photography? If somebody in our audience has never heard of it before, how would you describe it?

Amy: Branded photography, brand photography, personal brand photography is another trendy term that’s thrown around a lot. All of those terms also tend to get confused with traditional headshots and product photography and commercial photography. A lot of those words mean a lot of things to different people. So I’m going to define it the way I’m going to talk about it and the way I think that most people think of it.

So when we’re talking about commercial photography, we’re talking about, I would say more like companies where you recognize their name. Commonly recognized companies, they’re going to go straight commercial photography, product photography. When you go on Amazon, there’s an image of the product, that’s product photography.

And then you have headshots, which, you know, your LinkedIn profile, your business card profile if people actually use those anymore. I know they do it in a lot of industries. I tend to not. But anyway, profile photos is what I would put headshots in that category. And then brand photography, it does vary a lot by industry, brand photography looks different for every business, but it expands on that basic headshot to magnify the company’s brand, to tell a story about that company, to capture the personality of the owner or owners. These images tend to be more like lifestyle images or day-in-the-life type images where the subject isn’t looking at the camera, they’re doing something that’s related to their field or related to how they work with their clients.

Brand photos really offer another way to give your audience a peek behind the curtain or to feel like they’re getting a peek behind the curtain. There’s kind of a subset of business owners that it works really well for. So when you’re using these images with a very personal brand strategy, where you’re also connecting with your audience in other ways on social media or showing your face regularly, is especially effective for solopreneurs and small business owners who take a really personal approach to marketing, or have like a small number of employees where you can kind of get to know everyone or you’re interacting with everyone during the process. So those are kind of like the types of businesses who are best served by the type of photography I’m talking about. 

Julia: Yeah. This is the best explanation I’ve ever heard of branded photography ever. Because we do social media, we build websites for people. We love using branded photography because then we don’t have to use stock photos and you actually get pictures of the business owner or maybe it’s like a staged interaction with a client. You can just do so much more with it. And so I love branded photography and I love your explanation of it. So you touched a bit on this, why do you think branded photography matters? You touched a little bit on it being like a way to connect with people. Any other thoughts? 

Amy: So it used to be that a traditional headshot was enough, right? That was all you needed. You needed an “about me” photo on her website, maybe a LinkedIn profile, once LinkedIn became a thing. This didn’t use to be a thing because businesses of this size, they weren’t on the internet because the internet wasn’t a thing.

But now there’s this massive online space where visuals are everything. And just one photo is not going to cut it anymore. I was actually on your website before this call and I was reading through your services and I loved what you were saying about four different things that good branding can do for you. And what I noticed, when you’re talking about branding as a whole, three out of those four things are things that photography can help with. So those things, helping your customer recognize you. Photos of your face are great for that! Photos of your business around the internet, making your profile the same on all of your different places online, that’s really great way to create recognition. Establishing trust and creating loyalty.

You know, Ryann said in one of your podcast episodes that social media is an icebreaker. I love her way of explaining that because it really, really is. It can’t be an icebreaker if you don’t show your face. And yes, you can be showing up in stories, but then also your posts need to show your face, too.

Julia: Or if you don’t show up with your face, it’s like an icebreaker for what? Like what’s the point?

Amy: Yeah, so you’re just like slapping photos of your product up there or your service and I’m like, I don’t know who this person is. Right. And a little side note there. I post all these pretty pictures on my Instagram and I’m the photographer. 95% of the time, the photos that get the most engagement, if I look at my top nine or my top twelve for the year, are photos of my face. 

Julia: Oh, totally. 

Amy: That human connection, the human connection is so important. It actually gives me hope for humanity, right? Connection is so important. So those, and then like setting your business apart from your competitor. A lot of times, when you’re looking at, you know, a business for marketing or you’re looking at a graphic design company, a lot of the time, the brand and the person behind the brand is what sets that business apart and makes you want to work with them or not work with them. And so photos can be a part of an awesome brand. 

Julia: Totally. I find myself, lately, like when you need like a single service provider or like a solopreneur, whether it be like a photographer or I was looking at photography recently because we’re having a baby soon, and so I was like, do we want, do we want like a birth photographer? Do we want newborn pictures? And when you’re looking for a solopreneur or somebody like that, you really want to connect with a person, or at least I do. And so if you don’t see them like you can see a beautiful portfolio on their website, or you can see a beautiful portfolio on Instagram, but if you don’t see the actual person, then you start wondering, well, is this a person real? Who are they? And even big companies we want to know, are we talking to a machine or are we talking to a person? So I think branded photography is like a perfect bridge to knowing who we’re talking to. 

Amy: So I love that you brought up newborn and birth photography because that’s a really good example, especially for someone who’s going to be coming in your house or literally watching you give birth, you want to know who they are and feel like you know them. 

Julia: Yes, totally, totally. And I think those are really intimate moments, but I think there’s other moments that maybe you’re trying to hire a house cleaner. Does the house cleaner have pictures of them or is it just like this giant company? Whatever it might be. I think people more and more want to know the faces behind what they’re buying. So sweet. So as a professional brand photographer, when a client hires you, what are you looking to capture?

Amy: So of course it’s going to depend on the brand, but the goal is always to tell a story about the business that not only aligns with their brand but actually amplifies it. Something that I started saying is good brand photography should magnify, not muddle, your brand. Especially online when there’s so much noise online already. As I started working with business owners, I realized that planning and the beginning part of the process was like the most important thing for making sure that the images they received at the end of the process made sense with their brand and where they were using their images online and the way they were connecting with their customers and potential customers.

So I set up this whole planning process where I send them an online workbook and they go through questions about their brand, not just about like their colors, but you know, who they’re serving, where they show up online, things like that. And then it goes through different sections about, okay, let’s talk about outfits, here are some tips and tricks. Do you have questions for me? Where do you love to shop? And then I send them an actual shoot plan.

And this year I’m adding a new step to the process where we actually have to do a video call to go over that shoot plan so that there’s not this, “Okay, I’m going to show up and have my photo taken. I don’t really know what’s going on.” Or I show up and go, “Hi, nice to meet you. Tell me about your business before we take photos.” There needs to be a plan so that we can actually use time wisely, make most of their investment, and actually get images that make sense. I think when sometimes when you say brand photography, you get like the traditional coffee shop idea, the coffee shop entrepreneur vibe, which makes sense for some brands, but like, for instance for my brand, absolutely makes no sense. I’m an introvert. I’m a homebody. I do not like coffee shops. I go there if I absolutely have to. It would make no sense for my business. So asking questions like that ahead of time is a huge part of the process.

Julia: Yeah. One of my colleagues had a brand photography session recently, and one of my favorite photos that came from it was her on a Zoom video call because honestly, we used to do work in coffee shops. No longer. But we do Zoom calls all day, every day. And so she just had this beautiful, which is so silly to say, “It was a beautiful Zoom picture,” but it was like a picture of her on Zoom and I was like, that’s perfect because that’s exactly what she does all day.

Amy: A very accurate depiction of not only what she’s doing all day, but what the client sees from her.

Julia: For sure. So can you give us an example of how a client of yours or how a client could use their brand photos in their marketing? We’ve talked a little bit about social media. What are some other ways they could use it?

Amy: Yes. So I have a couple of examples because every business is going to use them differently. Like you said, depending on where they are. I work with a marketer for interior design. She is a marketer for interior designers, specifically, that’s her niche. So she has a podcast so she needed a podcast cover. She has an extensive website and store, so you can see her images kind of through, not just on her About Me but images on our homepage of her working and then, you know, a headshot facing the camera in her About Me. But they’re kind of sprinkled throughout her website and then she also uses them on her Instagram sprinkled throughout. She is very good sprinkling her brand photos and then mixing some on-brand stock photography in between. And that helps her get a little more out of her images that way. 

And then another client is a realtor, which is a bit different because you’re working with local clients. You’re working more in person with people. They actually have, the client I’m thinking of, has a physical printed client guide, which is so cool. I love how they take such good care of their clients and really work to educate them. And part of that education is they give them a beautiful brochure that has like these tips for the buying or selling process. I think they actually have two separate guides. But they have their brand photos throughout that guide. So it’s really professional, the printed material with their photos on them, which I love, they showed it to me at their last session. And I was like, I love that, it’s beautiful! But then they also have some images throughout their Instagram, too. 

Julia: Yeah, for sure. So I’m hearing if we’re thinking about like marketing in the wild, branded photography in the wild, where it would show up, I’m hearing social media, websites, print material, really it could show up anywhere that you might need an image.

Amy: Yeah. And if you’re selling, I’ve seen a lot of online coaches, so I have a client who’s a coach. And so, if she’s like running ads or something, she’s going to use those images on Facebook or Instagram or wherever, podcasts covers, things like that. So really anywhere online and even in print.

Julia: For sure. This is awesome. We’re big, big fans of branded photography, both for ourselves and obviously for our clients, because it makes our life easier. I can tell you, all our listeners, from a marketing perspective, if you can supply your marketing agency or your marketing director or whoever it is with branded photography, they will love you more because then they don’t have to resort to using stock photography for everything.

Amy: One of the first questions in my little brand guide that I send out is, are you working with a designer? At least I want to know that up front. A question for you, as you’re designing a brand, do you want the photographer to reach out to you for input, or do you prefer to just send a brand board and have photos sent? From your end, what do you prefer the process to look like?

Julia: That’s a great question. We love being involved, and actually, one of the things that we’ll often do for our social media clients is say, here’s a shot list. Like if you are taking photos with a photographer, here’s a shot list of things that we would love to use, knowing that the photographer may have totally different plans. And so it’s not like we’re like demanding it. We’re just like, “Hey client, here are some ideas.” And sometimes we’ll even put a Pinterest board together for them. And even we’ve had chances to collaborate with the photographers and say, “Hey, this is what we could use practically. Can you make that happen?”

And sometimes there are some photographers that are more willing to work with marketing agencies than others. And that is totally understandable. But in our minds, if we can collaborate with a photographer, the client wins because then you get more for their investment on both sides. 

Amy: I love that because I feel like it does. And I was kind of hoping to hear that because I love the idea of working with, if they’re working with someone on their website, instead of blindly kind of going at, like, this is what I think that they’re kind of looking for versus if we can actually collaborate on it, then the client is the winner because they’re getting images that really match really well with their website and their marketing goals. 

Julia: Yeah. Especially for websites, we’ll even be like, “…and this has to be horizontal. Can you please make this horizontal?” Landscape, that’s like the more appropriate word. Because sometimes our clients will go and they’ll get professional photos taken, but maybe the photographer prefers portraits or does not have like a huge variety of directions. And so then that makes it really challenging for us because we have, our design team has to be really careful. 

Amy: I have come to understand that because I have a separate workbook that I send to returning clients because we’ve already done a lot of the background work. So I kind of build on that and say, okay, what worked really well last time? What didn’t work last time? And one person gave me feedback that they used more horizontal images than anything, than portrait. So ever since then, I’ve put on my shot list, let’s get at least one horizontal header type image. And we’ll do that for each set that we do so that they have one that either, you know, it’s got some blank space so they can add text or even blink enough space to where you could extend the side if you needed to or crop top and bottom. Or Facebook headers and things like that. That is a type of image regularly utilized. 

Julia: Totally. Well, all this to say, Amy, I hope we get to collaborate on a client together someday. 

Amy: That would be so awesome. 

Julia: But yeah, again, listeners, I think this is just a really cool conversation for people to listen in on because you’re hearing from a photographer and a marketer who really want to serve our clients the best as possible. And like you as a listener and a business owner, you get to choose who you work with. Obviously, we love working with people and we love working with our listeners, but regardless, you should know the right questions to ask and you should know the right photos to ask for because sometimes we don’t know; we don’t know what we don’t know. And something that somebody might not know is when do they know if they’re ready for branded photography? What would be your thought on that, Amy? 

Amy: So when you’re ready to grow your online presence or you’re feeling held back from creating content or feeling overwhelmed with content creation because you don’t have images to put with them, that is a really good time. Or let’s say you just raised your prices and you need to either be more personal in your brand or create more trust and connection, along with that increase in prices is a really great indicator.

It can be kind of hard to directly correlate financial ROI with brand photography, just because it’s put into a lot of different parts of your marketing, but it’s not like “This ad performed this way.” That’s not necessarily, I mean, I guess you can A/B test an ad or something with a different photo, but you know what I mean? It’s hard. 

I would say the biggest tangible benefit of brand photography is frustration and time saved on marketing assets and having marketing assets that you can use with images. That’s the biggest, tangible benefit along with sometimes business owners will feel more confident or more professional because they know they have really great images that represent them well online, and that can give them an extra boost of confidence that is actually, while that’s still kind of like a feely thing, if you know what I mean, that can still be a really huge business benefit, even if I can’t like stick a dollar amount benefit on it. 

So I just want to throw that in there just because I think as business owners, we have to think about ROI. But anyway, all that to say, as far as when you know you’re ready, I frequently have clients come to me when they’re past ready. So whether they should have had them a long time ago or they need them like next week, or like “My website is going to be launched in a week and I don’t have images!” which I guess isn’t really a thing because you kind of need them before that…hire a brand photographer before you have all those little details worked out. 

As long as you know, if you have a good understanding of your brand and in general, what it stands for, who your ideal client is, as long as you have those things in place, let’s say you have someone working on a new website for you and they’ve sent you like a mood board or like initial colors or an initial sketch of everything, that is a really great time to reach out to a brand photographer and get them connected if you’re working with an agency, get them connected with the agency, just so that the process can be happening along that lines. Because if you wait too long, first of all, if you’re hiring a good brand photographer, they should help walk you through the planning process so you don’t need to have everything figured out before you hire someone. And that gives you guys, that gives you and your photographer time to plan, which is only going to help you in the end. Like a rushed planning process is just going to impact you. So it’s worth it to go ahead and get it on the calendar.

I know some people feel like being photographed is like going to the dentist. And I totally understand that because I don’t, especially as women, a lot of times we don’t like being photographed. We really hate being in front of the camera and I get that because I’m one of them, but also, you got to do it. And the sooner you start the process, the easier it will be and the more beneficial it will be for your business. 

Julia: For sure. And I think that the planning process is so crucial because these are images that you might be able to use for years to come. We still use some of our very original branded photography and we’ve had maybe three or four shoots since then, in the four years that we’ve been in business, but we still go back to some of those originals because they were good.

And so I think that that’s where it makes sure you have a good plan because then, even if you can’t calculate a hard ROI, the fact that you can use them forever is like a really good, fairly good selling point too. 

Amy: Yeah, we still use a mix of images that I’ve had for a while. And one thing I will note is that I put a lot of focus on the planning process. Some brand photographers, depending on who they typically work with, they will recommend a creative director for you to hire or a stylist for you to hire outside of that because they are at a place where they can just photograph and they want a creative director to come in. And if you can do all of that, that’s awesome. 

I just focus on the planning process because most of my clients aren’t in a place where they can hire a stylist or a creative director and a photographer and the list goes on. They’re not at that point yet. And so most of my clients they’re just hiring me. And so I take on the planning process and make that part of what I offer so that they’re still getting intentional images 

Julia: For sure. That’s a great note, too. Sweet. Well, Amy, thanks for joining us. If people want to check your work out or connect with you, where can people find you? 

Amy: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. It’s been so fun chatting about this. I love chatting about marketing and photography. Instagram is my happy place. I’m pretty much only on there. My handle is @amylynn_creative. Don’t even get me started on why I don’t have the handle without the underscore. And then my website is amylynncreative.com.Julia: Awesome. Awesome. Well, Amy, thank you again. Listeners, friends, I hope you take a minute to go check out Amy and her work. And remember that if you don’t live in Madison, Wisconsin, she does travel. And from your favorite social media marketing agency, AKA us, get some branded photography. It’ll be worth it. All right, we’ll talk to you guys next week. Bye!