Time for some critical reflection: what really is the value of photography for brands? This will not be a promotional piece for my own photography, but more likely some openhearted soul searching.

Two meetings

I recently had two meetings that really helped me a lot in answering the question regarding the value of photography. The first was with my videographer buddy Mark Kwikkers, with whom I teamed up to shoot the Klean Kanteen stories last year. We got to the subject of what my work, or that of any visual creator, can help brands accomplish. I’ll get back to how we answered this momentarily – sorry about the cliffhanger.

More soul searching coming at you right here: What drives me in photographing athletes.

My second meeting was with Mathijs Visser of Happy Horizon in Eindhoven. Happy Horizon is a family of marketing agencies, focusing on activation, lead generation and online marketing, among other areas of expertise. Mathijs had given a talk at my co-working space in SX Eindhoven recently, and I was eager to get his take on the question that had been bugging me. What’s interesting about Mathijs’ agency, is that they focus on making results measurable. Campaigns need to have a return on investment, and that return is measured meticulously through a wide array of systems including social media’s advertising tools. But how does one measure the return on investment of a photograph, and therefore the value of photography?

Please feel free to substitute photography with any creative/visual discipline you like, including video and copywriting.

To measure or not to measure

Now the easy answer would be that yes, one can measure the value of photography. Marketers can easily do A/B testing of both offline and online campaigns and see which yielded the best return. The results will probably show that what’s generally considered a good photo will outperform a bad photo, but not by a whole lot. I feel that a photo’s stopping power will be far more important, in addition to whether it fits the campaign. There can even be some psychological and cultural factors involved.
But what if a photo (series) isn’t used in a specific campaign with a specific goal of conversion? Is there any quantifiable measure to determine the value of photography in that case? Personally, I feel that my photos are far more suited for building a brand. They generally aren’t key visuals, but instead show the hard work and characters of athletes. The only thing I’m trying to sell with my photos is the athlete’s dedication, and I like to work with brands who feel the same way. I now believe it is pointless for me to even try to measure the value of my work. I’m in the business of brand building through genuine storytelling with athletes through photography, not that of delivering immediate conversion of leads to sales.

The value of photography: building brand loyalty

So back to my talk with Mark, which helped me in an interesting way. I’d always been trying to define the value of photography through starting at the photograph. However, Mark helped me look at things from the top, from the brand that is. A brand’s long term goals will necessarily include sustainability of its business. Brands can accomplish this through brand loyalty of customers. Long term loyalty can be accomplished by marketing a brand’s core values, instead of focusing on its products. Sports brands, teams and sponsors can market their core values through their athletes. By letting the athlete’s hard work and character shine, the brand is basically telling consumers: these are the athletes we support, because they are a reflection of what we believe in ourselves. Well isn’t that a coincidence, this is exactly what I focus on.

Long story short, I found the answer to my question:

The value of (my) photography is that it helps strong brands build long term loyalty from their consumers, by showcasing their core values through capturing the hard work and characters of their athletes.