CASE STUDY:
Transforming a Photography Side Hustle into a Picturesque, Professional Brand

Transforming a Photography Side Hustle into a Picturesque, Professional Brand

Launch date
January 31, 2020
Services
Brand Strategy || Identity Design || Website Design || UX Design || Copywriting || Audience Development Strategy

The Mission

Michael Thomas originally approached me looking for creative ideas on how to take his photography business and passion for African American history to the next level. He wanted to raise awareness of his photography work, particularly in the Atlanta area, and earn more placements for his shots in galleries, museums, and magazines.

In order to aid the growth of Michael Thomas’ brand awareness and audience, I recommended a one-time, comprehensive brand development project. The project fell into a few main phases:

  • Develop a cohesive personal brand for Michael Thomas as a “storyteller with a why”
  • Turn www.mwtphotography.com into a unique modern platform that will take his personal brand from concept to tangible reality and provide a hub for creative and business endeavors
  • Implement a custom Audience Development Strategy to connect the dots between every medium and get the most impact out of every story told and piece of content created

The Project

In close collaboration with Michael Thomas, I developed a cohesive Brand Identity for his business. We staked out his positioning, messaging strategy, and the visual identity of the brand, before summing them up into a beautiful, unforgettable custom website. We then created a strategic plan for the path forward to ensure he got the maximum impact out of these powerful new assets.

The Impact

In the 3 months since Michael’s new website went live:

  • The rate of inquiries received through his website have more than tripled
  • He’s sold more photographs through the website than he did through the entire lifetime of his previous site
  • He’s grown his email list by 43%
  • He’s been hired for his first product photography project
  • He’s had images selected for inclusion in multiple Art Shows around the Atlanta area

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case
study

“ 

I approached Carter because I wanted a more effective, personalized and professional home for my photography business. Initially, my biggest concern was that he might not truly see or appreciate what makes my photography unique—but that hesitation dissipated after our very first meeting.”

Reinventing an Unstructured Brand

When Michael Thomas came to me, I was fascinated by his work and inspired by his obvious passion for his community. But his presence online simply didn’t do the man, or the images, justice. And he knew it.

Michael’s existing website looked outdated and generic, as do most websites built with a DIY web builder.  The aesthetic was inconsistent and it was sometimes very difficult to read the text. As he was allowing a pre-built template to decide how his work would be showcased, rather than having his work dictate the website’s structure and design, his photography and writings were not receiving the level of appreciation they deserved.

Perhaps the biggest problem on his website that its UX did a poor job of emphasizing target Call-to-Actions, meaning that, it wasn’t very clear what exactly you were supposed to do on the site as a visitor.  As a result, he was having trouble driving sales of his calendars and building an email list.

But the first step in creating a cohesive digital platform is to create a cohesive brand identity. An identity that was larger than just himself or the content he creates.  We sat down for a brand identity consultation to dive deeper into his work, his process, his audience, and his “why”.


Check out a few screencaps of his old site below.



“ 

Carter is a vision maker. He engaged me, challenged me, and dove into my vision to help me visualize my goals on a tangible level.”

Calculating an Identity

After our kick-off brand workshop, I got to work unifying all the different elements that defined who he is, what he does, and why he does it. It was clear from our conversations that Michael views his work as a means unto an end, rather than an end itself. Above all, he seeks to bring people together with real human stories that challenge their worldview. Photography is just his preferred method of doing so.

As I reviewed and analyzed my notes from our Discovery Sessions, there were a group of 10-15 core emotional descriptors that came up continuously throughout the conversation. I carefully collected these into a separate place away from my general notes.


With the aid of my trusty whiteboard and thesaurus, I spun these core emotional descriptors out into a web of more than 100, before categorizing them and beginning to cut, one by one. Eventually, I came down to the 6 descriptors that perfectly encapsulated the emotional components

Personality

  • Passionate
  • Empathic
  • Sincere
  • Thoughtful
  • Vulnerable
  • Optimistic

I helped Michael profile his audience. We developed user stories, defined the shared characteristics of the audience, and developed an emotional profile to define what his audience is seeking and emotionally receiving when they interact with his brand.

Key to developing a powerful brand is to uncover the motivation to choose a particular brand or product at the emotional level. Once this discovery is made, the messaging strategy can be built around showing customers that the brand of product delivers the emotional benefits they seek.


What is our Audience seeking?

  • A more significant connection with their community
  • Escape from a solitary/disconnected existence
  • Authenticity
  • Thought-provoking perspectives
  • Heightened understanding of the human experience
  • Overall awareness of their surroundings, beauty, understanding ‘Be Present”


What does our Audience feel when they find the above?

  • A sense of belonging
  • Empathy
  • An appreciation for their own story: both privileges and struggles
  • Reflective
  • Introspective
  • Hope for the future
  • Personal growth (emotionally)


After carefully calculating the overlap between Michael’s goals for his work and his Audience’s needs, the path forward began to slowly materialize. I met with Michael to discuss a pivot away from identifying the brand solely as “Michael Thomas Photography” to create a more significant emotional connection with customers based around the tangible ways his brand manifests.  My proposal for the brand’s new positioning: “The Stories of Us, by Michael Thomas.”



“ 

Context is vital. Perspective is more powerful than preconceptions. Stories can change lives for the better. That’s why we decided on The Stories Of Us.”

A Storyteller's Story

The Stories of Us is a project by Atlanta-based photographer and visual storyteller Michael Thomas. The Stories of Us challenges preconceptions and biases by sharing the untold and neglected stories from our society. We illustrate humanity and cultural identity around the Atlanta area by immersing people into little moments that speak unto a broader picture.

Context is vital. Perspective is more powerful than preconceptions. Stories can change lives for the better.

After making the decision on Michael’s new positioning, I got to work on his messaging and communications strategy. Based on our new discoveries, we decided that authenticity and personal connection were essential to how the brand should communicate with its fans and customers. I recommended the use of singular first-person POV as often as possible when writing, to create the impression that we are speaking directly and personally to the reader. Then I developed the mission statement, a collection of key brand phrases, and a personality word cloud.

I also developed a stylescape for his brand, including moodboard, brand fonts, iconography, and color palette (seen below). The goal for each of these was to visually reinforce the core tenets of his messaging, as seen in the above word cloud. We settled on this specific color palette to reflect the shades of skin color seen throughout the African American community, an integral part of Michael’s “why”.



For the new website, our goal was to use his photography, his writing, and the target CTA’s to drive the design decisions. We wanted to make sure every target CTA was achievable within 2 clicks of the homepage, maximum. The most important thing for Michael was ease of use. He wanted to be able to quickly upload new photographs and blog posts without having to worry about formatting or sizing. So I created a custom Content Management System (CMS) on the back-end to help.

This site was totally custom and built completely from scratch, without using any templates or themes. Michael and I both couldn’t be happier with the results.


Lastly, I worked with Michael to develop a strategy on how best to utilize this new platform to build his audience. We devised individual strategies for his Instagram, blog, email list, personal Facebook, and in-person lectures. The goal was to build him a path to get the maximum impact from his new branding and website.

“ 

I would absolutely recommend Carter’s services to any entrepreneur or creative. He is a true artist and understands how to highlight strengths and create visions. I’m excited whenever people see my new site and am sure many will want to engage Carter to create their own visions.”

A Brave New Chapter

In the 3 months since Michael’s new website went live:

  • The rate of inquiries received through his website have more than tripled
  • He’s sold more photographs through the website than he did through the entire lifetime of his previous site
  • He’s grown his email list by 43%
  • He’s been hired for his first product photography project
  • He’s had images selected for inclusion in multiple Art Shows around the Atlanta area


In retrospect, I had a lot of fun working on this project. Michael was enthusiastic and had plenty of ideas, but also understood when it was best to allow my process to guide us. I really enjoyed and appreciated the amount of creative freedom given to me when coming up with the strategy for and design of each area on the site.  

This was my first time working with a photographer and I relished the unique challenge of showcasing visual art in an interesting and creative way. Looking back, my favorite part of the site is definitely the navigation style on the home page. With the ability to swipe back and forth along the bottom menu, and have each page open and slide into view dynamically without ever loading a new url, this website really feels more like an app at times than a traditional .com.

If you enjoyed reading about the design and strategy process of this project and would like to talk about how I can help take YOUR brand to the next level, feel free to reach out to me here.

-CF



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