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Building a brand as a content creator – in my eyes, it’s one of the only things that really separates the wheat from the chaff in this over-populated industry.
Once you’ve been making content for a few years and you’re starting to get good at it, it becomes harder and harder to set yourself apart at the higher levels.
For example, most travel photographers who have fired off like 100,000 shots over the last few years, at a base line, would be able to walk away from almost any location with at least a few pieces they know will engage their audience – they know their craft, their audience, and their industry well at that point.
At this level and above, the content is always good. Everything they create has a certain something, and you can tell they see the pursuit of their craft as a life long journey; one they’ve already spent a significant amount of time on.
But one of the things that really separates content creators at this level is their brand.
…if they have one.
Easy to see in some creators, difficult to see in others; but the premise is simple:
A brand is a promise you make to your audience.
To elaborate: when a person sees your logo, or your photo, or your video, or your website, or anything they know for a fact is created by you, they know what to expect
Before someone presses play on a YouTube video, if they know who it’s by, they probably know whether or not it’s worth their time watching. When people see an image made by a certain someone, they’ll spend an extra second looking at it because they know it’s been crafted with care and has a deeper meaning behind it. When people read the byline of an article, if they know the author’s work, they can trust that the length is worth the time.
Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room
You, your brand, is the promise you make to your audience. It’s building trust by constantly maintaining that promise. Usually, it’s one that insinuates a certain level of quality, for sure. But also it represents the aspirational value the person wants for themselves. You are a solution to a desire in their lives. What you’re about – your reputation – is the itch they’re wanting to scratch when they see your next piece.
So, it’s important. The art of content creation (especially as a job) is not just about creating things that are meaningful to yourself – you also have a responsibility to the ones that you’re serving – your audience – too.
Building a brand as a content creator
Which is why I always notice when I see someone who has spent the time not only honing their craft, but has also spent the time considering how their craft is delivered, consumed, and talked about.
The good news is that it’s never too late or too early to start building a brand as a content creator because it changes over time, and it all starts with the question:
What’s in it for the people I’m serving?
Put yourself in their shoes for a minute.
What do they get out of consuming your content? Is it inspiration? Places to go? Techniques? Insightful articles about something you’re into? Information? What value do you provide them?
Then, how does your content provide that value? The aim of the game here is to mix your own self-interests with the interests of others. In this way, you’re inherently making things of value, rather than just scratching your own itch.
Side note: Scratching your own itch is actually just fine – and most of the time if that’s all you care about then you probably don’t even need to worry about your audience or the idea of brand in that case. To each their own – but to those who want more, branding matters.
It’s at the intersection of these two things – similar to the intersection of art and commerce – which is where you want to play.
Spend most of your time here, thinking and introspecting about what you want to get out of your art and what value you can provide others. Then, distill it down, as clear as you can.
What’s the one liner?
If I were to ask you to explain your brand to me in one sentence, what would that be?
That’s the kind of clarity you need to boil down to. This is the essence of your brand.
Everything else from here on doesn’t matter as much as that one line. Everything in the rest of this article is icing on the cake.
Communicating the promise
Once you know where your art meets your people, you’ve got the foundation to be creative with how you communicate that value.
This might manifest itself in a logo or wordmark that people can visually anchor to: Think about the Apple logo. When you see that half-eaten apple sign plastered on a wall, you could probably already imagine what an Apple retail store in downtown New York might look like.
It might also manifest itself in visual identity: The way you choose to display your work. For example, if your branding as a photographer is all about inspiring people to go experience epic, minimal landscapes, you might design your website to be a spartan, white canvas with minimal artefacts and a restrained UI.
But if you’re an illustrator whose brand is all about teaching people how to create bright & vibrant pieces, your website, emails and other collateral would be completely different.
Another way your brand might manifest itself is through your messaging and tone of voice. Are you serious? Are you funny? Playful? Professional? Personal? Self-deprecating? Whatever style you decide to go for, you have the freedom to align that with what your brand promise might be.
Building a brand as a content creator isn’t actually that difficult.
If you were serious about it, you could spend some time every day for a week completely restructuring brand from top to bottom and building a good foundation.
The tough part is what happens next; consistently communicating it to the world.
This is where the rubber meets the road – where you get to see what your brand-to-audience-fit really is.
Constantly put yourself out there in a consistent manner, then get feedback. Is it working? Do things need tweaking? (they probably do). Are you perceived to be as professional as you thought you were? Are you as funny as you think you are?
Listen to your audience and pick up as much feedback as possible. Again, brand is something that needs changes throughout the entirety of your career, and it takes significant time to nail down, but if you get it right, you’ll stand out from even the best of them.