Today, a few tangential thoughts on photography and the overall state of marketing strategy these days. Yes, I’ve done a lot of this kind of work extensively in my previous life as a consultant, but guess what: most of it is really common sense. And sometimes it can be very difficult to see the wood from the trees if you’ve been lost in the forest for too long. I’ll start with two thoughts:
Have some stones and
Social media metrics are not an indicator of fiscal success.
This principles apply equally to both sides of the negotiating table.
There have been several rather disturbing trends I’ve noticed in the last six months or so while undertaking commercial assignments, and observing the photography blogosphere in general. Firstly, common sense appears to now be uncommon. Secondly, there’s a general lack of self-confidence. Thirdly, spirals of death have taken over. It isn’t exactly new, but the obsession with collecting likes, favourites, shares etc. makes no sense whatsoever. Yes, popularity and visibility are good things – but doing that purely for the sake of collecting higher statistics has zero bottom line on your sales whatsoever; in fact, it might well have the opposite effect and be damaging instead as you deploy resources to the wrong areas. Popularity is broadly correlated to commercial success: I agree. But I disagree that it is a hard and fast rule. The Bugatti Veryron, I’m sure has millions of likes. But they still only sold a few hundred. Even if they made millions, and took economies of scale into account, they still wouldn’t sell that many more. Toilet paper, or rice brands probably have very few likes, but they shift by the boatload. See my point?
Then there’s the fear: there has to be some motivation for a client to change creatives; maybe they want a new look, or maybe they weren’t happy with the previous agency/ photographer, or maybe they have a new product that requires a different presentation. But what I don’t understand is when a client isn’t at all happy, then proceeds to rehire the same agency. Doing the same thing again is not going to give a different result. Yes, there’s some inertia and something to be said for second chances, but if the disconnect or level of dissatisfaction is that high, questions must be asked. Similarly, continually changing agencies in an attempt at playing them off against each other to shave slivers off the price is not good either: something has to give, and you can bet there’s a hard point after which we simply cannot do anything cheaper because input costs are fixed.
And here the lack of confidence comes in: photographers who don’t believe in their work, and the value of their work, enough to say ‘this is my price and my value, and I’m holding at this level; clients who are afraid to take risks because they don’t want to upset their bosses; agencies who give in to the most ridiculous demands only to find that it’s unsustainable because the expectation of continual discounts has been set, and they go out of business shortly afterwards. I’ve never had a successful negotiation with a seller before where I’ve said “let me try it for a week and see if I like it, then I’ll pay you; when I make you an offer you should be grateful I’m willing to take it off your hands; and beyond that, I really like your product, but I’m only able to pay 50% of what you are asking.” Yet this happens all the time in the creative industry; what results is mediocrity all around.
Here’s my logic: if you’re trying to sell the same thing to the same audience, repetition is fine. If you’re trying to sell something new to the same audience, or the same thing to a new audience, or a new thing to a new audience – then you have no choice but to break with your historical conventions, take a risk, and do something different. Whatever it is you have to say or show simply cannot stand out from the competition if it looks the same as everything else! If you lack the imagination to figure out how to best present it, then trust the expertise of the photographer or agency to guide you. Your job is to pick which of the creatives best matches your corporate culture and who best understands your product and your target audience. Unless you want a different presentation – and your organisation is ready to accept that – there’s no point in hiring a luxury goods specialist to do a mass market canned food ad, or a studio-pack-shot-conveyor-belt to shoot a hundred million dollar yacht. Specialization exists for a reason.
And then we come to the Spiral of Death. Your product sales are flagging; you clearly need to do something differently. But you don’t have the confidence to say ‘we’ll try it’, nor are you willing to take the financial risk; if anything, a failing product needs even more ad spend than one that is successful to bridge the consumer education gap. Pulling up is very, very difficult because it requires both significant investment and the acknowledgement of the decision makers that past activities have not worked. The risk level is high and egos are involved; that’s a recipe for disaster.
The role of the creative in the modern business world is not just that of an executor or skill-based specialist; we must bring a bit more to the table from a strategic point of view to help craft visuals that go beyond simple presentation, and are also in line with your business intentions. We do our very best to push that further and bring new ideas to the table. Understanding the psychology of the consumer and applying that where possible is the key. This role should be symbiotic. We as the creatives bring expertise and an objective outsider’s perspective. I’ve had long term clients – five, six engagements – who still try to nickel and dime me on every quotation. I don’t budge. They accept in the end anyway because they can’t find anybody else who can deliver what they want. But a whole lot of bad karma could certainly be spared by avoiding ‘the dance’. The client-creative role is a partnership, not a one-time deep-discount negotiation: we want to help you to be successful so we be rewarded for that success in return. All that we ask is that you have a little trust in us and confidence in your decision to bring us in – there’s no point if you intend to carry on as before and not make the most of our skills. MT
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