So you’re in business, now what?

By Eva Holliday – Zen Studios LA Marketing your business can be a fickle friend. It is adopted to help your business grow and prosper, but often it is doused in confusing and cluttered information. Many consumers are distracted by extra information and give-up quickly if they do not believe in your business’ message. Story […]

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By Eva Holliday – Zen Studios LA

Marketing your business can be a fickle friend. It is adopted to help your business grow and prosper, but often it is doused in confusing and cluttered information. Many consumers are distracted by extra information and give-up quickly if they do not believe in your business’ message. Story Brand Framework, developed by Donald Miller in his book Building a Story Brand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, has proven to be one of the best marketing tools available to both new and seasoned business owners. In his book, Donald discusses why most business marketing fails and how to combat the “noise”. Miller explains his formula for marketing in terms of what makes good copy writing and how to effectively utilize it to grow your business, but it doesn’t relate to marketing tools such as headshots. Here at Zen Studios LA we understand headshots and we have successfully integrated Miller’s marketing strategy into our business. We want to bring this information to you in a way that creatives and corporate business professionals can understand and utilize it for themselves. Our mission is to provide you with the best corporate headshots that truly represent who you are, so that you can start marketing yourself clearly in the industry. In this post we’ll discuss why most marketing fails and how you can successfully develop a new strategy for growing your career and your brand through words and amazing headshots. We’re coming to you with this information because we want your dreams to come true, we want to see you succeed. It is our sincere hope that this series of blogs posts brings your business a new and prosperous year!


Essentially marketing is communicating with your current or potential customers, but most marketing fails because it is too complicated. Using a story formula for marketing your brand and products puts everything your business offers in order so that the brain doesn’t have to work as hard to understand what you’re selling. If we look to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (see Figure 1) we know that mankind is concerned with five fundamental aspects of necessity: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem and finally self-actualization. These aspects of life are primal, and for the most part subconscious, so it is within human nature to seek out primitive information which fulfills the need to survive and thrive. Any information that surpasses the customer’s aspirational goal or their need to survive is confusing, excessive, and discarded by the brain. On average the human brain processes over a million pieces of information a day, so only that which serves our need to survive remains. Fun fact: processing information requires the brain to burn calories! This processing absorbs energy and inhibits our ability to survive. We call this an “overriding function”, it is a survival mechanism, so the more you ask the customer to process the less they will absorb.

Figure 1: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Imagine that you ask the customer to run on a treadmill while you explain your message or give your pitch. How long will the customer last before they stop listening to you? Not long! If your marketing strategy and message are not clearly, simply defined then it will not deliver the desired outcome. An enemy to your business is “NOISE”! This is marketing that has become cluttered and confusing with too many words. The human brain is wired to receive the largest reward by exerting the least amount of energy. If your business information is too “noisy”, or cluttered with extra words, then the thousands of dollars you’ve shelled out to graphic designers and web developers is irrelevant. The more words you put in your marketing the faster you’ll drive your customers to your competitor’s brand. It is important to understand that what we think we’re saying and what our customers are hearing are not the same thing. The goal of marketing is to describe the brand in such a way that the customer hears what you have to offer – that’s where they purchase.

Marketing campaigns fail when we do not put ourselves in our customers shoes. Every person on the planet wants to be your top priority when they are exchanging their hard-earned money for your services. It is natural to assume every single customer care more about their story than yours. They want to be the hero, not your brand. Since marketing is effective communication with your customers then the obvious solution to noisy marketing is clarity. If your customers cannot tell what your business is about in 5 seconds, then you should rephrase your message or mission statement so that anyone unrelated to your field can understand easily what it is that you have to offer.


The problem with marketing comes from the way we talk about the product. The antithesis to “noisy” marketing comes from good sales copy as well as the relationship between story, behavior, and marketing. Story-branding is a concrete, formulated concept which has been used for centuries as a sense making device to capture the undivided attention of an audience. Story Branding provides you with practical steps to being seen and heard as well as giving an understanding to the customer of why they must engage your brand. A story will identify a necessary ambition, finds challenges that keep us from achieving that ambition, and provides a plan to conquer those challenges. To apply this to marketing one must define elements as they relate to a brand (you are writing a map for distracted customers). Fancy websites don’t sell your brand, but words do. Clarifying your message in a way that customers listen and putting their story above your own you can create specific, measurable marketing practices that drive your business forward and double your revenue year after year. Above all a clarified message helps create quality websites, incredible keynotes, emails that get opened, and sales letters that people respond too.

You should always be working to market your brand through a story framework making it simple and predictable, like when you go to the movies. Just like a screenwriter, if you produce a story which does not include the formula for clear communication then you’ll never work again. A formula is the summation of your best practices. The entertainment industry has already proved to us that stories sell, so it makes sense to answer the who, what, when, where, why, and how questions first and foremost. The best story branding should mirror a well-worn path in the human brain and position your products along this path. Always remember that clarity is key; “If you confuse, you lose”. If your customers do not understand the given circumstances of your business, then they will move on to another brand. Answer the following questions to better understand the simple and easy communication necessary to begin building the connection between customers and products for your Story Brand Framework:

  • What does the customer want?
  • What problem are we helping them solve?
  • What will life look like after they choose our brand?


While words and good sales copy drive customers from your marketing tools to purchase what most people don’t realize is that the key to great writing is what you don’t say. A great headshot is the best way to distinguish yourself from your market competitors. End of story. Whether you’re an actor, realtor, author, or corporate, small business professional then odds are you have received new business or an increase in sales from utilizing a marketable headshot. The purpose of the headshot is to convey to the customer a clear and concise message of who YOU are and what YOU are capable of. A headshot tells your story through your picture and they say a photo is worth a thousand words. Utilizing a headshot gives you a leg-up on the competition because it gives the customer more information with less work to do. Remember you are trying to sell yourself with your brand; it is your job to personify your message and bring it to your session while the photographer’s job is to capture that message in the simplest way possible.

Your message is your story and it must be simple, repeatable and relevant in order to be profitable. A rule of thumb for any marketing strategy is that it should be compelling to the market and provide talking points on what is being offered to the customer. If your headshot doesn’t make your customers ask the important questions, then odds are you have not done the work to understand yourself or your message. This is the number one reason people do not book work with a headshot: they’re trying to sell a product they either do not have or do not understand. The number one thing to remember when marketing your business or preparing for new headshots is that no one pays attention to confusion: simplicity is key. For example, no one wants to see how similar you look to Angelina Jolie if your type is girl-next-door. Stick to who you are, and you will sell. As we stated before under the section “Why is my marketing failing?”, your customers or the people you want to cast you, do not care about “noise”. The average casting call receives hundreds to thousands of submissions, and no one in that industry has the time or energy to figure out who you are. That’s your message and ergo your job.

As you can see the rules of marketing that apply to good sales copy also apply to your headshots, and how you convey yourself. If you’re in a business where headshots are necessary marketing tools, then remember to keep it simple and BE YOURSELF! You’re a business and a customer rolled into one, so it’s important to choose a photographer whose message and products aligns with your own. Your friend and their Canon might be a great option, but it’s important to remember that people in the industry have many years of experience and amateurism sticks out like a sore thumb. If you want to be a business professional that uses a headshot then you must take the time to do your market research, so that you can provide your customers with the absolute best product you have available.

*Information courtesy of the audiobook Building a Story Brand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller.

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