Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Product Marketing

Today, a wild left turn from musing on Time, Culture, and Photography. There will be more that theme, um, as soon as I figure out what if anything I have more to say on the subject. Hold tight, but don't hold your breath, m'kay?

I occasionally, which is to say far too often, learn that it's "important" for photographers to "be on" this platform or that one. Flickr was it, way back when in an entirely imaginary past, instagram is it now even though it sucks and is terrible for photographers, etc etc. Nobody ever says why photographers need to be on the platform, or which photographers, or any of that.

If you're farming Likes, I guess, whatever. Churn out some crowd-pleasing oversaturated shit, sign up for all the platforms, and follow a few 1000 people, and run around Liking all their candy-colored bullshit. It ain't rocket science, it's just a job, and a remarkably pointless job. If you're me and doing things for your own amusement and a few friends, it matters even less. Sign up for no platforms, or all of them, and shitpost to your heart's content I guess.

The tacit assumption, I think, is that "photographers" are those who are trying to run some sort of photography business, though. So let's whittle the world down to "photographers who want to run a successful photography business."

The first, second, and third pieces of advice here are: lol, don't.

But if you really got to, let's dig in. No, I have not run a photography practice for money, that's insane, and no you can't have my resume. Use google and stalk me, like a normal person. There are two critical concepts you need to get your head around here.

The first concept is the whole product. What do you want to do in your business? Head shots! Great. NO THAT'S NOT A PRODUCT FUCK YOU.

A "whole product" is the thing you actually want to sell, wrapped up in a lot of other shit that makes it easy to buy, and easy to use. It fills in all the gaps your customer is going to stumble over. Head shots is fine, but: do I come to you, or do you come to my studio? Are we doing backdrops, or environmental stuff? Are we doing one at a time, or are we running a team past the camera one after another? Are we doing actors who have free time, and maybe odd hours, or are we doing corporate executives whose lives are scheduled in 15 minute increments?

The "whole product" offering is "head shots" with all the customer's questions answered. If you're on-site, and doing environmental backgrounds, you're scouting a week in advance, right? If you're on-site with a backdrop, you need such and such space, with such and such power, and so on, right? And it will take such long to set up, such long to tear down, and you can do one portrait every so-and-so many minutes. These things all matter. Get it sorted. Write it all down in the brochure. You can have more than one whole product offering, but let's stick to one.

The second concept is the target market. A target market is a bunch of potential buyers who share the same key buying criteria — they all buy the thing you're selling for more or less the same reasons; and they form a community, they talk to one another.

Maybe they're price sensitive and need a lot of headshots, so they're looking for speed and low-cost. Or maybe the opposite. Or maybe they're individuals who just need headshots of themselves (actors and models) but they need it every year, and they need 3 different looks each time.

This sounds a bit like the stuff that goes into a whole product, doesn't it? This is not an accident, pay attention and keep reading.

The fact that they have the same buying criteria means that they'll all respond to the same story, the same sales pitch, in roughly the same way. The fact that they are a community means that you can put yourself in front of all of them at the same time. Do they have a trade magazine, or a conference? Do they hang out in the same facebook groups, or under the same hashtags? Well, find out, and now you know where to position yourself and your marketing materials. Maybe you buy ads, maybe you just show up and offer knowledgeable, polite, low-key input. The venue you're looking at will determine how to approach it.

So that's product marketing in a nutshell. Your whole product is tuned to the needs of your target market, and the marketing messages is aimed directly at the buying criteria of your target market. Boom. It's all dynamic, of course, you test, you tweak, you learn. Nothing is every as simple as that, but this is the underlying structure.

So, do photographers "need to be on instagram?" Fuck no, god damn it. That's like saying "photographers need to be on planet Earth" anyways. Maybe, maybe, your target market community reaches into instagram. Maybe not. If it's "on" instagram, it's probably "on" a small set of hashtags on instagram, not "instagram" broadly construed.

Figure out what you want to do. Design a whole product. Figure out who wants to buy that, why they buy, and where they are. Realize that your whole product is shit nobody wants to buy, and change it to something else. Go around and around on this for a while, and somewhere in there you will learn not "what platform photographers need to be on" which is bullshit, but rather what platform you need to be on, and how you need to be messaging around your whole product.

None of this shit is rocket science, there are books and books and jesus christ more books and probably blogs and vlogs and wikis on this, but nobody seems to know it except the product marketing professionals at successful companies. More people stumble across this shit by dumb luck than ever learn it in an organized fashion.

It is, nevertheless, a real discipline, and entirely learnable. It's not even hard.


  1. Your post is right on when someone wants to run a photography business. They need to advertise the product, which is "capacity to produce head shots" (whatever) and for that instagram is not really needed.
    Today, however, most people one would see on the net are not running a photography business, they are running an influencer business. It was very clear last photokina that *this* is what the show is about.
    An influencer needs to be on social media (obviously!) and his or her customers are the product manufacturers or sellers. They are the ones paying the advertising money to the influencer. To be successful one has to demonstrate that the advertising budget will be well spent, that is that one has a large number of "followers" who will more or less blindly click and buy the product presented as worth buying by the influencer.
    Ideally, one would have brainless followers with a high credit rating.

    1. GET A HAIRCUT, AND GET A REAL JOB! (h/t George Thorogood)

      What's real sad is institutions of higher student debt and meaningless credentials beating themselves up over the serial failure of their marks. Duh.

    2. Well, sure. But I think most photographers who are thinking about the question are focused on a photography business, rather than on becoming influencers? My remarks are anyways directed to the former, and not the latter!

    3. Well... What confused me is that you wrote "I occasionally, which is to say far too often, learn that it's "important" for photographers to "be on" this platform or that one".

      You learned that from "people" (corporations, actually) whose business objective is to find hordes of photographers to produce content for free. Or hordes of videographers, actually. Video is better adapted to their needs.

      Then, I was also confused because you address the other people reading this advice (to be on social media) as if they were actually running a photography business. They aren’t and they don’t even have a chance. Basically this advice is a scam, just like the scam which promises that one can work from home and make 4 figures. If it worked, it would not be advertised.

      So, basically we agree. It is just that you are not addressing people who run a photography business. It so happens that I met some people running a photography business and they all have ONE thing in common: they are paid in advance. Artists get a grant or a residency, commercial photographers get a project and a budget. THEN, they press the shutter release. Nobody is running a photography business by producing photographs and, afterwards, expecting customers to come and buy the pictures. The people who appear to do that derive their main income from other means (courses, often).

      If someone is planning to run a photography business, I believe that the vast majority of photographers today live from product photography. We are buying more and more stuff online and it needs pictures. The people doing that are backordered months in advance. We never needed more pictures than today.

    4. Basically I was reacting to a bunch of social media blather from the usual suspects about whether "everyone" should move away from instagram and start doing whatever the hell it is they hope to do on twitter.

      I may be over-reading the blather, but my sense was that they were saying "instagram sucks for your audience-finding needs, twitter is where it's at" where audience-finding is understood, and left kind of open-ended.

      It could be "a business", or it could be "successful artist" or it could be "amateur photographer gaining followers while learning new methods" and so on.

      To be honest, it's not clear that any of these mooks have any clear goals whatsoever, but insofar as they DO aspire to run a photography business, the move from instagram to twitter is not functional, because it's not driven by anything except "buzz" generated by know-nothings.

      Often amiable, friendly, know-nothings, to be sure.

      My remarks above were specifically intended to address the "I want to have a photography business" people but could probably be retasked to "I want to be a successful artist" but otherwise there's little to be gleaned beyond "figure out what the hell you're trying to do before adopting 'solutions'"

    5. You both are conflating, 'I want a photography income' with 'I want to have a photography business.' The twitter [IG, etc.] mob you are referring to don't want to get their hands dirty or do any work, no. They want likes, baddie-bashing -- and financial security.

    6. You're not wrong. There is a pretty decent school of yahoos who feel, basically, that they should be paid to tweet this great material.

      Technically they're offering consulting services ("I will repeat my tweets, rephrased, to you personally in a Zoom meeting") or bespoke writing ("I will write you a foreword or essay made up of my tweets, rephrased, for your book that nobody wants") or teaching ("I will repeat my tweets, rephrased, to groups of people in a Zoom meeting") but basically they want to be paid to blather their ideologically driven ignorance.

      Whst's peculiar is that, while chummy with one another, they somehow fail to perceive what a commodity their offering is. I could retain any of these people and get essentially the same result. This drives the price down to the cost of production, i.e. $0.

  2. "conversations between imagemakers"

    'How can I make money?'

    'I dunno.'

  3. I have never been on Flickr or Instagram and I'm pretty sure I don't influence anyone much. Oh well.

  4. I went back to instagram when I decided to do a zine, so friends and family could see what I was doing. I don’t blog much and no one follows it even when I do. I also use it to follow local artists and galleries. Contrary to your and Dan Milnor’s opinions about the platform, it can be used without it using you.

    1. I think instagram and the rest of them are dangerously seductive, but sure, you can use them for specific purposes without getting sucked in. You can even use them for your photography business, if you identify which parts of it your target market are in!

      Milnor's pretty down on it, though. I don't think he sees any value, and is more worried about the seduction than I am.