Tuesday, March 6, 2012
R&D versus Marketing
I cringed when I watched the episode of West Coast Customs that featured the Hewlett Packard car. It was a Lincoln Navigator or a Cadillac Escalade (or something similar) that was decked out with practically every HP technology, gadget, or device that HP makes/sells.
Why? The moment I saw that they brought the marketing team (head of marketing or anyone in marketing for that matter), I knew it was going to be "all show and no go" as we used to say in the motorsports world.
The result was a decked-out Navigator (I'm glad I'm getting it wrong) with all the sorry HP devices, gadgets and technology piled into that thing with no practical application whatsoever. Then again what did you expect out of West Coast Customs? They build great custom cars but they have no idea how to make that kind of technology really work together. IIRC they involved some of the HP marketing guys during the design of the car let's be honest, do you really think the marketing guys know how their own technologies really work? Or how to lay them out intelligently and usefully in a vehicle?
Reminded me about the amount of fluff I see from photographers. Lots of guys spending more time on their twitter and Facebook accounts than they are actually shooting. Too much time peddling the same ole' warez and not enough time researching and developing new skills, products, and/or services.
These are the same guys that are whining about how they're making less money now that new photographers are willing to shoot agency tests for free. Or how digital photography isn't really "photography" or that Photoshop is "cheating".
That's actually not an issue of fluff (because the dinosaurs have actual, albeit outdated, skills) but rather an issue with their inability to reinvent themselves. So the problem is simply that they haven't performed enough R&D to stay ahead of the industry curve.
I don't know if there is a saying out there like this (I would check but I'm on an airplane), but if not I guess I coined a new one: Those who can, do. Those who can't, do marketing.
It's a question of marketing versus R&D, or in this case product differentiation.
And the reality is that marketing and R&D are interwoven because the underlying theme is really "perception versus reality". And we all know that perception affects reality and reality affects perception.
As it applies to the photography game, most of our differentiation is in our ability to produce certain imagery. The imagery is comprised of many variables such as model selection, model interaction, styling, location access, makeup, shooting styles, editing, etc. Combined with brand value consisting of variables such as clientele, reputation, tear sheets, affiliations/associations, networks, agencies, etc. And that is the foundation of "product differentiation" in photography.
For example, I differentiate myself based on the quality of models, the genre of fashion (currently fashion nudity), genre of photography (both video and photo), styling (what clothes? LOL), retouching, emotional element of my imagery, presentation and the ability to teach what I know. My brand value is built upon my connections to the modeling agencies and agents, talents, appearances in publications, and affiliation with other strong brands such as Calumet and New York Film Academy. The "X-factor" that isn't a part of the aforementioned "equation" is one's ability to develop. Whether it's new styles, skills, or new associations/connections... ability to evolve is the X-factor. And as we speak I'm adding podcasting to the repertoire and I am ever evolving in my photography and retouching styles.
That's what makes the LUCIMA brand different.
These are tangible differences and not perceived differences. The Teen Vogue and Seventeen tear sheets are real. The teaching position at NYFA is real. But the translation into brand value is "perceived". In fact, how all of these differentiating variables actually translate into value is a matter of perception. And it's super complicated because that perception is built upon other perceptions; such as the perception of the brand value of Teen Vogue, Seventeen, and NYFA.
Lots of that translation/conversion rests on education and knowledge of who you are, what you do and how you do it. You could be the best photographer in the world but if no one hears about you, do you actually make a sound? That's where marketing comes in. And here's where I explain why marketing is important and how to do it right.
Marketing is not blasting irrelevant nonsense on Facebook and twitter. It's not about what you ate for breakfast or that you just saw Jay Z and Kanye in a Bentley on Rodeo Drive. Marketing should be spent informing your potential clients who you are, what you do, and how you do it. For example, it behooves me to educate my clients how my Hasselblad H3DII-31 could affect the quality of the resulting images . It behooves me to put up a testimonial page on my website to educate potential workshop students on the growth and development of previous workshop students. How their photography has grown in leaps and bounds with real images demonstrating results before and after. It behooves me to inform my potential model clients how my images have helped previous model clients get signed by modeling agencies. It behooves me to simply explain to the fashion industry that I'm not your average photographer. That I'm systematically coherent and logically sound in everything that I do because of my previous business and education experiences. And that these experiences govern everything from the way I plan a shoot to the way I teach a workshop. It behooves me to educate potential clients on how much time I spend in pre-production, production, and post-production during video shoot and how my photo and video experience can inform you of important considerations prior to shooting, thus ensuring the success of your video shoot.
That's the type of content that you should be marketing. That's substance. Not fluff.
When and where you market yourself are important consider as well. Facebook and twitter are great for staying on people's minds but they're horrible for any marketing education and information. That's where blogging comes into play for me. It's a way to really flesh out half-baked ideas and really explain the inner-workings behind any idea, image, action, etc. And that's just the tip of web marketing because there's your website, Google SEO, forums, etc. Then there's paid advertisement which I won't even get into. And no, this post is not meant to cover all the marketing vehicles but rather to outline the idea of good marketing versus bad marketing. One type of marketing I do poorly is going to events and meeting people of importance and introducing to them the LUCIMA brand. I don't shake enough hands to have the opportunity to actively tell them how I am different from other photographers.
There are many examples of bad marketing. Some of which I've seen. Some of which I'm guilty of.
An example of bad marketing is what I call "constantly shaking hands with the unemployed". If you're looking for a job, it doesn't help that you're constantly meeting and greeting people who are themselves unemployed. This also calls into question the issue of association. Not only do you not want to associate yourself with the unemployed but you also don't want to associate yourself with people with poor brand value and/or bad reputations (which is why a bunch of advertisers and channels dropped Rush Limbaugh after he called that girl a slut). If you find yourself surrounded by controversial brands or simply people that are on the down-tick, you might want to reconsider your associations and how these associations might influence the public perception of your brand.
Which is why I avoid the nonsense on Facebook. If you've got time to hang out all day on Facebook you're probably not shooting much. I mean, what do potential clients think when they see you on Facebook and twitter all day? Probably that you're not working much. And if you're not working much, why the hell would they hire you? Potential clients want to associate themselves with photographers that are on the rise, not those that are stagnating or declining in value. You know those photographers that are on the cover of Vogue or shooting the big-name campaigns? They're not on hanging out on Facebook all day. And if it seems like they are, it's just their marketing/PR person facebooking and tweeting for them.
At the end of the day it's a fine line between perception and reality. Just remember that you can only moderate perception to a certain extent. Without actual improvements in product differentiation your photography brand can not sustain a long-term increase in value. Hell, without actual improvements in product differentiation, you've really got nothing to market. So balance the R&D with the marketing and you should see sustainable long-term growth.