I met the inimitable Robin from The Brand Clinic earlier this year in Melbourne. The Brand Clinic specialise finding solutions in branding, marketing, sales and distribution for their clients in the food and beverage sectors, but primarily in the wine industry. We are both busy establishing our businesses in Melbourne, (she was from Perth) and realised over a coffee one day that we were very much on the same page about branding.
What is branding anyway? Isn’t it just a logo or a label?
Actually, no. Branding speaks to why you are in business. Your logo or label will just be the visual representation of that concept. Branding tells your audience what makes your business unique and why they should do business with you. There’s a book that I always recommend on this subject, it’s called Start With Why by Simon Sinek. One fascinating fact that came from this book is that why you are in business, ie, the vibe, the feeling, the mood, the energy, the heart, the deep down reason why you get out of bed every morning…your why, your emotions, resides in a part of your brain where there is no language. So we find it hard to articulate why we are in business, and inevitably end up focusing on what we do instead. That’s why so many businesses fail to connect with their audience on the question of why they are in business, and therefore, why customers should do business with them. If you can get to the why in your business, then you are so much more likely to connect with your audience, and inspire them to do business with you. Branding is like, your hook.
As challenging as it is to articulate, all is not lost. Because while you’re up to your eyeballs in it and can’t see it, for some people like me and Robin, it’s very apparent. We have an innate ability to feel the situation, the elements, the personalities, the vibe. It can be articulted, and further to that, visual solutions can be found to express it.
Enter exhibit A – Medhurst Wines
Medhurst Wines are in the Yarra Valley and have been working with Robin on distribution and sales matters, not branding. Robin and I wanted an opportunity to work together and we approached Medhurst Wines to see if we could work with their business as a test case. I had a preliminary chat with Matt the winemaker before shooting, which came after a chat I’d had with Robin. Matt talked all about the landscape, the setting of the vineyard, the modern architecture, the high quality they produce – he talked more or less about what they do. Robin’s take on it was quite different. She talked about the business as a whole.
She said: ‘they’re young, modern, contemporary, big, bold, punchy, minimalist, cruisy, chilled, edgy, new, approachable, relaxed. They have a complete commitment to fine winemaking, but are not caught up in old world techniques, rather they use modern technology. The site is very unique in the region, and they make different wines at different places on the site.’
Can you see the difference? Matt talked about what they do, whereas Robin tapped into why they do it. She gave me a list of adjectives a mile long. Now I had something to work with.
So when it comes time to shoot, I can begin with the end in mind. I’m remembering those key phrases, the why, and looking for indicators of that in my style and chosen moments of shooting. The imagery must speak to the brand, and the personalities behind it. Of course, some images will purely be just about the buildings, or the physical landscape, there’s no escaping that because we are capturing a vineyard. But the full story is articulated when you bring in the humans that work on the landscape, and in the buildings, that get their hands dirty, that start work at 6am during harvest…
On the day I captured 500 frames over a 5 hour period. These images were not then just thrown up in an online gallery for the client to view and select from. Where would they begin? They would probably have trouble with that. So the next step (several hours) is to massage, mould and edit the collection down to a tight visual collection that succinctly assembles all the elements I experienced on the day – the personalities, the sculptures, the buildings, the cellar door, the landscape, the roses and vegetable patch, the harvest, smoko, the machinery shed, the winemaker. Further to that, adding the appropriate look and feel to the colours, tones, contrast (tecchy, photoshoppy stuff) to get the images to come to life in the way that will match with the key phrases Robin expressed. For every adjective there is a photographic treatment and styling to match. So the language of your business is not just verbal, it is also visual. The results are not accidental, they are precise and deliberate. This is the art of photographing the brand of a business. I created a collection of 61 images that, to Robin’s and my assessment, tell the complete Medhurst Wines brand story. It’s a bit like making a cake – you start with the big picture vision of what you want to create, you assemble the ingredients, you bake the cake, you put the icing and decoration on the top. The collection is the cake.
Your collection becomes your image tool box. Individual images will serve different purposes at different times. For example, if a magazine is writing an article on modern architecture, then you’ll have an image to submit. If a newspaper is doing a story on dogs on farms, then you’ll have an image for that. If the Yarra Valley Wine Association are putting together a Yarra Valley cellar door wine tour experience package, then you’ll have an image from the cellar door to submit. For each of these scenarios, there is an image in the toolbox to use that is consistent and speaks to your brand as a whole.
It’s a known fact now that there are many different ways that people find information on websites. Some people like to sit back and be entertained, and multimedia is where it’s heading. An embedded video on your homepage can be the perfect tool for expressing your brand story. You’ll notice in the example here with Medhurst that the individual images are presented chronologically, ie , in the order in which they were shot. But the video compilation is different – the image order is assembled according to the story we want to tell and to sit with the music, which is also carefully selected to match with the contemporary Medhurst brand messaging.
Anyway, enough information, onto the collection and video!
The stunning first light and mist on the dam.
The dam was dry for years during the drought.
Punchy, clean lines.
Graphic designers love empty spaces in images so they can place their text.
It’s what we call negative space in the biz.
Medhurst currently feature the red shed on the front page of their website.
I was interested to see where it actually fitted on site.
It’s a landmark to look out for from the road.
It conveniently matches the accent of red that they use on their website.
But the signage – very interesting design: bold, modern.
So I shot it square with the business name clearly planted dead centre (the hero).
Now a different take, more funky, angular and graphic.
This has personal significance to the owners, Robyn and Ross.
Throughout the day everybody spoke highly of Robyn and her personal contributions to the site.
But at this early stage I had very little to go on.
I had noticed this rose and thought it was a beautiful fit with the textured fence.
Not normally something you see at a vineyard.
Again, that punchy red colour.
Modern sculptures are dotted around the site.
They offer a different dimension to the personality of this vineyard.
I didn’t focus too much on them, but a couple of images that accent this element are appropriate.
I work organically, so this means I capture things naturally as they happen.
The tractor was heading down the road, so I nabbed it in action.
Don’t yet know what this building is for…but…wow.
It lunges out from the landscape so it needed composition to express that.
Heading up the road towards the cellar door.
Gum trees are everywhere here.
And onto harvest.
That’s Ross, the owner.
How’s the light!?
The dogs, they get excited too!
I jumped on the truck while they worked down the rows.
It’s fast work, no mucking around.
The cliché image that speaks the least to the Medhurst brand.
But still, it’s always handy to have such an image in the toolbox.
OK, enough on the energy and key moments of picking.
Onto the rest of the site.
The sun was rising.
By now it was about 8:45am, so just enough time to capture the lay of the land.
I love the nets that are delicately draped to protect the fruit.
And discovering the beauty of the place, the light, the atmosphere.
Rows of vines – we’ve all seen it.
But like the grapes, it’s still handy to have one or two like this.
In particular this works because of the sense of expansiveness, and the integration of the site into the bush landscape.
OK then onto the winery itself, where all the picked grapes go through their processes.
Visually this is the hardest to work with.
How do you make machines look interesting and fit with the brand message?
Look for the brand.
I saw that red hose snaking it’s way through the scene and remembered the red shed and the red accent in their branding.
The visual link is there – done.
Figures in such spaces also form interesting images.
That’s Matt, the winemaker, jack of all trades in this place as is usually the case with winemakers.
This is Julian.
He represents the next generation of winemakers.
He’s keen, energetic, listens to instruction and is passionate about winemaking.
Winemaking is so scientific.
One image that talks about their use of modern wine making practices, it’s enough.
Right, back to it boys.
The clean, bright, industrial image of the processing area itself.
It’s deliberate to have an image here with no-one in it.
This is the cellar door in contemporary styling.
It’s very modern with the chalkboard style presentation.
You see this a lot in Melbourne at the moment too.
It’s so often that people speak with their hands when they’re passionate about what they do.
A little quirky shot here – tuna on bread for smoko?
Ok, whatever floats your boat Julian!
Again, another clean, spatial image that picks up an element of the place.
The barrel with a massive tyre propped up alongside it.
To these guys it’s just a standard thing, but to outsiders, it tells a mini-story.
Energy, laughter, a little insight to what goes on behind the scenes.
Morning tea is a serious business!
Oh lordy, Maizie.
The newest addition to the property.
Dogs have that way of melting our hearts.
One, two, three, everybody – awwwwww!
A spectacular view from up high.
And Robyn’s vegetable and flower garden.
The roses have been handed down in the family.
Another perspective on the physical landscape.
This image is for the visitors.
When you drive up towards the cellar door, you come to a fork in the road.
You’ll see this and know to head left.
Successful business portraits are always about the person feeling a connection to the space they are being photographed in.
I loved the modern, space-agey form of the massive vats in the processing area.
I took this, then asked Matt if he was keen to have a portrait taken there.
Yep, he said, looks good to me.
And he’s gone.
You’ve gotta be quick.
One last clean, sharp capture on my way out.
I had heard a lot by this stage about the buildings, their architectural design and how they fitted with the landscape.
The tractor wasn’t planned but brings the image to whole new level.
And the cellar door one last time too.
The angular roof and the bright sky – very optimistic and inspiring.
The question of ‘who is Medhurst?’ is answered in the video. A series of images unfold at the beginning, one at a time, seemingly unrelated but all shot at the same place. The viewer is taken through the discovery of Medhurst and is left with an invitation to take part. The music is catchy, funky, twangy, it works.
I love doing this work. It’s such an amazing challenge. Undoubtedly, the process is most successful when the business knows who they are and why they do what they do. If they don’t, then it works best when they work with someone like Robin, a brand manager, who can help them articulate their points of difference. Then I can gather that information, find the appropriate visual solutions to their specific brand message, and neatly package it up in the form of their image collection and an optional video.