Sunday, November 20, 2011

Black Box Marketing

Below is my response with an Internet Brands administrator regarding the EDU content I have on ModelMayhem. We've been discussing the effect of the negative responses on EDU to all the contributors' posts and changes going forward. For reference, many of my posts on MM EDU have been reprinted from this blog. None of them have been adapted for the MM audience. And at the heart of the LUCIMA blog lie personal philosophies, many of which are driving forces in my photography. And with the fledgling MM EDU not fully stating or understanding its own purpose and direction, there has been a disconnect between the content delivered and the feedback received. Below is the resulting discussion:

Great suggestions of articles from Melissa Rodwell's site. The first one is great. Very basic how-to article about technical information. Very informative. Difficult to argue otherwise. But regarding the second article, you and I both know that getting into a PhaseOne versus Hasselblad or Canon versus Nikon argument is opening a can of worms with the trolls on MM :)

I suppose it goes back to the impetus of blogging. I had never thought of using my blog as a vehicle for advertising the brand. Up until now it had been strictly for me to share my ideas and occasionally vent. The content was purely editorial and has been for since its inception. Early on, I had lots of technical posts but I've since I've moved away from how-to's and tutorials because that stuff doesn't interest me anymore. Of course as I look forward, I see that the blog must be integrated into the entire marketing machine and whether I like it or not, I must bring the blog's content and purpose in-line with marketing LUCIMA correctly.

But before I pollute it by spewing marketing madness let me for my own sake explain why I write editorially. Here's an example:

Terry Richardson is one of the most successful and famous photographers in the world. He shoots celebrities and for luxury brands all over the world like the shot below of the President. He's also one of the most controversial photographers ever.

Now for all intents and purposes Terry does not employ or display any spectacular technical prowess. In fact, quite the contrary Terry is known for his antics (such as shooting naked). For his lack of technical expertise, I used to hate this guy. "What a schmuck! The dude uses a pop-up flash or a disposable camera and calls it fashion!".

But once I got over his lack of technical abilities, I realized that his brilliance lay elsewhere. Namely in his ability to evoke emotion and unusual expressions and behaviors from his subjects. You see that picture of Barack above? That's a happy dude who's smiling and laughing pretty hard about something. How many photographers can get the President to reveal that kind of emotion?


At the highest level of this strange art is transcendence and escape from technical perfection. Something human, raw, elemental, and tangible. The stuff that memories and dreams are made of. That's the stuff that fuels what I blog about. It's the stuff that sets LUCIMA apart from the rest because I'm more than happy to share my philosophies because those are the things that drives me. And often when I talk about this stuff I'm talking about the "latest and greatest" of what I know. So yes it's 100% editorial and unfortunately leaves me exposed to being attacked.

Take the light-meter post for example, I'm arguing a philosophy of weaning photographers off mechanical over-dependency. I get that it's not everyone's cup of tea but IRAC or not that particular argument was fairly bulletproof. Is it up to "MM-bulletproof spec"? Definitely not. Hell, I don't think anything is. Trolls will be trolls. If you lend them your ear they'll tell you the sky isn't blue :)

Besides, as you mentioned before having everyone agree on one thing is boring... but with EDU's shift to "how-to's" and more knowledge/information-laden posts, readers will/should have no choice but to agree on the blog content... which reduces the lashback and hopefully increases MM's EDU traffic. But we both know that boring technical posts don't deliver optimal traffic so there must be a happy medium between pure editorial and pure informational.

But I have some thinking to do and perhaps some mental adjustments to make myself. Going forward I *should* ensure that my blog content considers first and foremost the best interest of the LUCIMA brand. But, let me admit to you that makes me sad on an fundamental level. Why? Because in the words of Tyler Durden "The things you own end up owning you". I left the corporate world with a bad taste in my mouth. I had had it with the bullshit politics and the "bottom-line". My training was in finance and business so yes I understand all that. But in my heart of hearts exists an underdog rebel (maybe even an artist) that is very much anti-establishment. So a large part of me (mostly the ego part) wants to say "F--- marketing, PR and the trolls on MM! The brand exists for me and not the other way around. Don't sell out to the bottom line Charles. Remember that your followers love you for who you are, because you tell it like it is. So don't give into the pressure to conform! You will regret this!"

But we both know that that kind of thinking can only go so far. Or could we go all the way? Because if I had done things the "right way", I'd have closed up shop long ago.

I employ a healthy dose of unorthodox practices in running the brand. Some of them are intentional. Some of them are not. All of them have repercussions. But that's the nature of being the chief executive. You have to make all the decisions whether or not you're well-informed and/or well-prepared. The question of branding and marketing is a constant one that I struggle with. It's all new to me. And as I mentioned before, my marketing/branding practices are often black-box experiments. Or maybe just a box of chocolates as Forrest Gump would say :)

But it's a great dilemma to have! Considering the alternative would be back at the cubicle of the accounting software firm.

There's time yet to talk about the changes going forward for EDU and my contribution to EDU! Thanks for sharing.

Cheers bud!


  1. Don't make any changes to your blog. :) Definitely don't make it more "PC" or generically-targeted or what have you. That's my vote anyway. I come here to read about your thoughts and your approach to your photography. Then again, maybe I'm not your target audience, I don't know. :)

    But anyway, I've been following edu-gate. The problem with your articles as I see it has been twofold. First, they are over the heads of a lot of the people reading. That can be easily seen by their comments, which contain much hilarity. Secondly, your articles are out of context. They make perfect sense here, on your personal blog. But as standalone educational pieces (which is how they were presented, whether intentionally or not) on a third-party website, with an audience who isn't aware that you wrote them for your blog, let alone being aware of the nature and point of view of your blog.... it was never going to go well.

    There are probably several options for what to do about it, but one I can think of is to make sure the content that goes to edu is edu-friendly. That means they make sense as standalone educational pieces, with the audience not knowing a thing about who you are and why you write. They are reading those pieces on an educational site, so they assume you wrote them as such. This could mean writing pieces that are meant for edu exclusively, or maybe writing occasional blog posts with the intent of it being posted in both places.

    Another option would be an adjustment on MM's side. They could start labeling editorial pieces as editorial, to distinguish them from informational "how-to" pieces.

    Of course, it's also possible MM edu is not even an appropriate venue for your content to begin with. However, I think if they call your pieces editorials (or viewpoints, or opinions, or whatever), then I think it could work. Again, it will still be way over the heads of a lot of people, but hopefully they'll get that they are not meant to be generic how-to pieces for a generic audience.

    Anyway, just this reader's opinion.

  2. Caleb, you're precisely my target audience. Here's why:

    1. You reminded me why I wrote this:

    And I wrote that post at the time because it dawned on me that some of the people that read this blog are incredibly insightful and intelligent. They might not be as far along their photography journeys as I am but they are some of the smartest people I know.

    2. You summed up the problem/disconnect with "EDU-gate" beautifully without having the inside knowledge of detailed discussions and conversations between myself and various advisers. (Incidentally I love that you coined that word). It makes me wonder why I didn't consult you regarding this issue!

    In all seriousness, the biggest flaw with EDU-gate was that I wasn't vigilant about the feedback. In fact, I purposely ignored the feedback and chalked it off as trolls being trolls when in fact there was an actual disconnect that you so insightfully described above.

    Shame on me. That should be a learning lesson I should talk about.

    And as far as this blog is concerned, I certainly need to give more thought to the purpose of the content. But one thing's for certain and that's "you can't teach an old dog new tricks". So chances are this blog isn't going to change in it's tone. That said, I will probably put some effort into creating some content that is more EDU-friendly.

    In fact as some insight into what I'm doing lately... I'm actually revamping my entire website. More emphasis will be given to this blogger site as an educational/editorial tool for presenting my thoughts, ideas, and teachings. So on that note there will be much more attention and efforts placed here going forward. If you look at my website now, I've redesigned it to incorporate blogger as a menu item so it's easily linked to my website (unlike before).

    Thank you Caleb!

  3. Haha well thank you. And you're welcome. Once in a while a smart thought does pass through my brain. :)

  4. "Don't lock eyes with them don't do it, it puts them on edge. It might put them into berserker mode and they'll come at you like a whirling dervish, all fists and tazers. You may be screaming no no no. But all they hear is “who wants a beatdown?"