What makes a brand?

On Branding Myself

I don't want to be distilled into one sentence.

I have been trying to make myself a website for years now, to showcase photographs and write a blog. I am struggling to find out what the problem is, and I think the main one is that I don't have a brand, a USP, a cohesive strategy for what I am trying to achieve. I take photos and I write. I take photos mostly of landscapes and mostly the sea/hills. In part this is because I live in Oban on the west coast of Scotland and partly because I feel comfortable with composing a photo in the outdoors. This isn't the only kind of photography I enjoy but it is what I am known for - I am a landscape photographer.

In many ways this makes life easy - landscapes are popular, people like them, I have a never ending source for my creativity, I only have to step outside my door and I see trees and sky and hills, and a short walk brings me to the sea. I can incorporate them into my job which is a website designer making websites mainly for the tourism industry, and I can use them to showcase the beautiful places I see, and sometimes even get paid for doing so. Scotland is a very popular holiday destination and I enjoy giving people an up to date representation of places I visit, even if it's raining. I try to find new less popular views of Scotland because I fear the feeding frenzy of the now iconic places to go and photograph; social media is full of them and while I understand it I try not to add too much to it because these places are now becoming cliches which is quite sad.

Oban
Sunset Oban Bay

So I have a strong view on this, but it isn't the whole story.

A great many people now set up social media accounts and travel around and write about it, and that's great but I wonder what I can contribute to this cacophony? What would make me any different? It's getting harder to go to new places and show new things; everyone is an island bagger or has some challenge they are setting themselves. I'm not criticising this I just don't know how to fit in.

I was chatting to a friend the other day, someone who has a very strong brand, and he was advising me to find 'me in a sentence'. I have thought long and hard about this and I don't want that, I don't want to be distilled into one sentence.  So here are some things about me:

What should I put first? Does one thing outweigh another? Perhaps it depends who's looking.

Me on Ben Lui
On the summit of Ben Lui, out of my comfort zone!

So here goes, in no particular order, in my fifties. Had to pause to write that first. How important is age? When you're in your fifties (I'm 53 at present) it doesn't seem all that important but you still worry it might put people off. What is marketed to people in their 50s or above? Travel certainly but possibly more sedate travel, menopause stuff, comfy practical clothes, yet I feel fitter than I did when I was in my twenties and thirties, and am much more likely to go off camping or cycling or swimming and that is true for lots of the older people I know. Perhaps brands worry that if they show older people using or wearing their products then it will put off younger people, or maybe even older people who don't identify as older! I know one outdoor clothing brand were recently looking for models for their clothing and the maximum age was 45. I do understand this - marketing is a complicated process and brands need to find people to fit, to have the right 'look', but they also need to show a cross section of the community without it being shoehorned in as a token gesture to satisfy the zeitgeist.

Bog Cotton
Bog cotton on the Ganavan headland

I'm a photographer. Again I had to pause before I wrote that because anyone can be a photographer these days and social media has definitely made that possible. I think this is a good thing, because taking photos is so cheap and easy you  really have the opportunity to hone your craft - I have improved massively since having a smart phone with a good camera. However because  anyone can call themselves a photographer it is again hard to stand out - what makes me any better than anyone else? Why should people hire me for a job? To address this slightly I did invest in a pretty decent camera and now shoot in RAW and edit my photos in Capture One Pro but I still have so much to learn, and while I am learning I am not writing my blog... And I still am probably first and foremost an iPhone photographer and there is nothing wrong with that!

Camping Ben Cruachan
Summer Solstice Solo Summit Camp Stob Daimh

I am outdoorsy. Not too much of a pause before writing that one - I love being outdoors; I love walking, camping, cycling and swimming all year round. I am reasonably fit, I walked the St Cuthburt's Way with my dad a few years ago, but I am not one for setting myself big goals or challenges. Again recently it seems there is a proliferation of events designed to catch the imagination of people of all levels of fitness and ability. This is great! I have done a few 10ks and some organised swims and they made me train a bit harder and get a bit fitter but generally I am happy just aiming for a slight improvement. Is this to my detriment? I know brands like someone with a challenge to overcome whether it's paddleboarding across to Ireland or swimming all the channels of the world or running barefoot from Lands End to John O'Groats, but do I need to find something like that to make me interesting? I have over the years thought I would like to do something very difficult, walking from Oban to St Just in Cornwall is one of my ideas which I have been half thinking about for ages, but walking out of Oban always worries me as there is no coast path and the main road out is awful haha! So I compare myself to these super humans and think what's so special about me and my outdoorsy trips to an island by ferry or a long walk up some steep hills!

Daisy Flora Hazel
Flora, me, Daisy and Hazel

I am a mum. I am a mum to Daisy and Flora, but they have both grown up and left home (although Flora has come home temporarily during the pandemic) so my mum duties are a lot fewer than they used to be. I get on very well with both my daughters and they are my main link to people in their twenties, so I can check with them to see if people in their fifties are still relevant and I think they would say yes! I'm not sure if they would be put off by older people modelling things that might appeal to them though... I do have things to say about parenting but I don't think that would be part of my brand apart from when I can get them to come on trips with me to create content that might be popular for a younger audience....

Writing. I would not call myself a writer but I can write. I don't know how well, and hopefully the more I do the better I will get at it. It is certainly a service I would like to offer to prospective clients - I did get one job because of my captions on Instagram, so that made me feel I must be doing something right. I can write on a very large number of topics partly because I read a lot and partly because I am in my fifties and partly because I am a human and I think a lot!

InstagramSocial Media. I find myself in an interesting position in that I have accummulated a large Instagram following. I love Instagram, it is my social media of choice. I unwittingly found myself joining Instagram at a time when they had a 'Suggested Users List' where they put ordinary people (who Instagram thought were contributing positively to an online community) onto a list for two weeks which meant that you gained thousands of new followers. This varied from person to person but I got to 68k. Then a year later I was put on the list again and gained another 100k. This was an incredible opportunity but it does come with its downsides which most of those who went on the list will agree with. The vast majority of the new followers were spam bots and robots and ghost followers and Instagram rightly decided it needed to clear these away, so the trickle of unfollows always outstrips the trickle of new followers making it very hard to grow your account. Watching your followers constantly fall month by month could be quite disheartening but actually you do just get used to it, and wonder if it will stop at any point! I did get a boost of another 2k recently when Apple featured my photos taken on my iphone on their account and in their stories.

Many people will be aware that Instagram uses very complicated algorithms as to who will see your post and in what order it will be placed in the news feed, and what posts you will see from others. Even if you have a very small number of followers  you can still get huge engagement on your photos if Instagram shows them to a wider audience. Even on my large account I can see massive differences in how many people see my photos and how many of those actually follow me. But basically my Instagram account @loosemooose has to be a huge part of my brand as it is pretty successful. I specialise in photos of Scotland and especially around Oban where I live, and I try to write interesting and engaging captions without patronising people with inane questions. My Facebook and Twitter accounts are practically non existent but I realise that anyone successful at social media these days needs to use all the social media channels and have a blog. Which brings me back to my initial ponderings.

Tarbat Ness Lighthouse
Me at Tarbat Ness Lighthouse after finishing my cycle from Oban up the Great Glen fault line

I was reading recently about microinfluencers and how they can seen as more authentic than people with a large following. Authenticity is definitely one of the buzz words of the current time and all I can say is I am completely authentic - I am a reasonably unremarkable person who has a good eye for a photo and can string a sentence together. I have a job and a wee house in Oban and yet I am also @loosemooose, twice Instagram suggested user and I have never bought or used any spam bots for likes, follows or engagement. The most remarkable thing about me is that I am me and I have been for 53 years and will be all my life. So I must get on with it and stop making excuses...

Update! If you are reading this I did get on with it and stopped making excuses and I MADE MY WEBSITE!

Header photo credit and thanks:
Photo of me at the waterfall by Calum Maclean
Photo of me on the snowy hill by Andy Spink

Also, thanks for my 'brand name' of Lucy's Rambles by Gordon Cook... I'm not sure if I would have got here without it!

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