As human beings, we all are passionate about a few things or at least that is what I would like to believe. Be it reading books or listening to music or playing a sport, we all have that one thing we are crazy about and we pursue it with unrelenting zeal. The mere act of pursuing our passion and going through its motions often gives us immense satisfaction irrespective of the outcome. The smarter ones amongst us convert their passion into their profession and end up living immensely happy and satisfying lives, while the rest of us try and pursue our passions every now and then when time permits.
Fortunately for me, building strong brands is something I have been passionately pursuing for over a decade, and it was on this journey that I discovered I had a passion for photographing wildlife as well.
Initially, I was surprised too and didn’t give much thought to it as I was happy doing the things I loved. It was only during a particularly difficult assignment that I was able to “connect the dots” and appreciate the striking similarities between the two. So ladies and gentlemen, buckle your seat belts and hold on to your hats as we embark on our safari through my bumpy observations.
#1 One thing that takes your sleep away
No-no-no. I am not referring to nightmares, snoring partners, mosquitoes, anxiety, stress or any of those unsavoury things. Instead, I am referring to that one thing that keeps you awake all night in a good way.
Be it a consumer problem that you keep thinking of or that one wildlife shot you dream about, both passions require a target to help you channelise your energies.
Also, setting a challenging target makes you feel more energised and creative while you work towards attaining it. I realised this on my unsuccessful quest to photograph the rare Red Panda in Sikkim and again on another similar failed attempt to catch a glimpse of the Snow Leopard in Ladakh. Compared to all my other trips till then, I had never felt more energised and more creative than on these two.
Try it the next time you are choosing the consumer problem your brand needs to solve and see the rush of energy and creativity in your work and that of your team’s.
#2 No shortcuts
Be it brand building or wildlife photography, there are absolutely no shortcuts to attaining the final result. You have to go through the process and any shortcut you take could be to your or your brand’s detriment.
To share a leaf out of my many misadventures, I was super starry-eyed when I had just begun my tryst with wildlife photography. I used to almost revere some wildlife photographers for their ability to get head-on images of birds of prey flying towards them, looking all glorious with their talons out and beaks open and I ended up joining one of their expensive ‘boot camps’. Here I learnt they were using baits to lure these birds who were captured from the wild and had been domesticated for this very purpose. That very moment, I lost all respect for them and their work and regretted attending their boot camp as it took away all the joy and love I felt while attempting to capture these subjects in the wild.
Similarly, on our journey to build strong brands, we may at times get enamoured by the prospect of using a renowned celebrity to build our brand quickly. However, we must realize that celebrities are brands in themselves, and they carry the risk of making mistakes that may damage your brand’s reputation more than it damages theirs.
Case in point, the Nepotism triggered outrage against Alia Bhatt in August 2020 resulted in a boycott of brands she endorses like PhonePe, Garnier, MakeMyTrip while the trailer of her movie Sadak 2 became the most disliked trailer on YouTube, garnering over 12 Million thumbs-down.
Let us instead take a cue from some of the biggest global brands like Apple and Amazon who have built their equity without such short-cuts.
#3 Immersion is key
When you set your aspirations to photograph a certain species it pays to immerse yourself in understanding their life and environment. Learn all there is to learn about their behaviour, their sleep cycles, their breeding cycles, when they are at their absolute best during the year. Also, try and understand the natural habitat they live in, the predators or competitors they are up against, the types of trees that dominate the landscape, interesting features like lakes, rivers, abandoned palaces, etc. for you to leverage. Speak to other wildlife enthusiasts and forest guides who are interested in your subject: when was the last time someone spotted it, how frequently can one spot that subject in a particular area, does it have a defined territory it patrols or breeding ground it roosts in, how dense is its prey base, etc.
All this information will help you improve your chances of success. It will help you decide when to time your trip as per the best natural conditions, what type of gear to pack as per the terrain, at which spot you are more likely to see it, etc.
Similarly, to build a strong brand, we must first immerse ourselves in understanding the lives of our consumers, their pain points, their beliefs, motivations and triggers for their behaviour. Also, a fair understanding of their society, culture and aspirations allows us to narrow down on the brand promises we should and should not make. Reading up case studies of brands solving a similar consumer problem and learning how your competitor brands are attempting to do the same will inform a lot of decisions we make down the line.
Strong global brands like Nike, Colgate and Dove spend a disproportionate amount of time on understanding their consumers’ lives, and the culture they share before they work on developing a solution.
#4 It is both an art and a science
Wildlife photography is about capturing that split second when natural light and animal behaviour come together to create an emotional image. Sounds easy, isn’t it?
However the real beauty lies in the fact that none of us can dictate how Mother Nature should behave at any given moment, we cannot set the weather as per our liking, nor can we choose the intensity of the cloud cover, or the angle of the sun’s rays, nor can we instruct any of the wild animals to pose in a certain way or to do a particular thing.
What we could and often do is attempt to master the science of photography i.e. nail the holy trinity of exposure, shutter speed and ISO as per the ambient light. Choose the right camera lens for the job. Stabilise it using a bean-bag or tripod. Use a remote shutter release to reduce vibration due to mirror slap. Post this, we dabble with the art of photography. i.e. using the rules of composition to pre-frame our shot, positioning ourselves in a manner that allows for the best possible foreground, background and optimal amount of habitat around our subject, deciding to either zoom in or zoom out depending on what we are trying to highlight.
After all this, when we review our day’s work, we often curse ourselves for either not removing the lens cap or not holding our breath to counter the adrenaline rush while taking the shot or for zooming in too close and butchering the subject or for blowing out the highlights due to improper metering. I hold the dubious distinction of doing all these and some more, which I feel too embarrassed to admit in public.
Similarly, brand building is both a science as well as an art. While the must-haves like consumer problem, relevant brand promise, functional benefit, emotional benefit, brand messaging, brand values, collaterals, font, logo, tagline, etc. are critical building blocks and belong to the science of brand building, in knowing how, when and how much to play up a particular brand asset in relation to the other lies the art of brand building.
#5 Patience is the key to success
Wildlife photography is 1% Inspiration and 99% Perspiration – quite literally. Other than the excitement of capturing your most sought after subject and spending days, weeks and, sometimes, even months reading up and planning your trip, what you end up doing 99% of the time is just waiting. Once you reach your desired spot and pre-compose your frame to the best of your abilities, all you can do after that is just wait. And that is what you do. Quietly and patiently you wait, in the water, in the mud, in the swamps, under the scorching sun, in the snow, with a heart full of faith in your abilities, you wait for that special moment when your subject will enter your pre-visualised frame and you will capture a reflection of the same for posterity. And once in a while, Mother Nature rewards you for your efforts. All the patience, the waiting, the doubting, the faith, the efforts all get rewarded with a sight which can never be replicated, a sight which overawes you with its raw natural beauty to such an extent that you let out a silent prayer thanking the Almighty for having blessed you with the gift of sight, for having made you capable of appreciating a fraction of His creations, for having blessed you with the mental, physical and financial means to be able to pursue such a passion with vigour.
Despite all the bias for speed and quick turnarounds, brand building too requires a healthy dose of patience. Once a pressing consumer problem has been uncovered, a relevant brand promise has been crafted, a distinctive communication campaign developed, paid, owned and earned media vehicles shortlisted and once a brand campaign is launched, all we can do is wait. We wait for the campaign to build up reach, we wait for it to build up recall, with a heart full of faith in our abilities, we wait for our target consumers to get exposed to our campaign. There are tense moments, too; at times there are high decibel competitor campaigns that have launched with us, sometimes news events or natural phenomenon drive consumer attention away from our message. And just like it happens in the wilderness, sometimes we are bountifully rewarded for our efforts. Our campaign finds appeal amongst our target consumers, they actively share and promote it amongst their circle of friends and relatives, our brand gains disproportionate mindshare, our product starts flying off the shelves, sometimes our efforts are also recognised by our peers in the industry, sometimes our efforts win awards, become case studies, are used as benchmarks that others attempt to better.
With this, ladies and gentlemen, we come to the end of our wild safari through my bumpy observations. While this was my humble attempt to identify and share some key observations, I am sure each of us could draw similar parallels between the passions we actively pursue and our day to day lives. In case some of you are equally passionate about wildlife photography, do send in your observations and we would be happy to add them to this list. I sincerely hope you all enjoyed reading this article and didn’t resort to pulling out your hair like I did while putting these observations together.
Until next time, when we explore ‘Sourdough’ bread making and brand building, au revoir.
Note: All the photographs in this article have been captured by me across my many wildlife photography sojourns.