What I see in the bigger picture.

Part 3:When the Winds of Change blew hard, Kodak changed course

If the previous two posts took the wind out of your sails, please don’t get discouraged. As the owner of a small business, you’re in a relatively light and nimble vessel compared to some of your suppliers who are steering veritable ocean liners. For a light-hearted view of a photo business of enormous proportions (Kodak) forced to make enormous course corrections in the face of this industry’s sea change, check out:


Part 2:When Winds of Change blow hard, check your navigation skills.

What do you do when a technological innovation is brewing that’s seemingly unrelated to digital imaging skills? For example, faster and cheaper broadband access and 5MP camera phones. When with a click of the Send button, it’s super-fast and cheap to share what you’ve shot– with anyone who cares to look–you can see that storm cloud of UGC (user-generated content) for marketing images is not far behind.

With the winds blowing strong from both of those directions, how does a photographer avoid capsizing their career? Analyze the horizon. Learn from those who are adept at reading the ‘weather.’ Get expert advice. Learn to predict and anticipate what tack will be needed to change your approach. For example analyze what you’re doing now that could be expanded into a viable niche or new service offering.

By making adjustments in what they’re offering, photographers can pull away from the pack of pro-sumers whose Flickr-minded image-pricing is continuing to erode the perceived value of the skills possessed by professional photographers the world over.

Reading the horizon means asking yourself: “What is it that I can do that can’t be possibly ever be done by an amateur with a 10MP pocket camera?” If you can’t answer that, it’s like trying to sail toward your destination without knowing which way the wind is blowing.

When you learn to scan the horizon for the multiple aspects of technology–not just imaging tech– that can affect your photo world, you will be ready to survive the next big storm of disruptive technology. The most important skill sailors and photographers can have is to adapt to rapidly changing conditions. As on the sea, hot air alone (i.e. whining about the changes) doesn’t get you where you want to go; actions must be taken to harness that power. If you’re flexible and willing to learn new business skills, you’ll soon discover you can still happily and safely arrive at your destination.

Remember….it’s not the ship that gets the sailor safely to the shore. Nor is it the equipment that makes a photographer; it’s the eyes, the intuition, and the willingness to change course, that get both to safe harbor.

Smooth sailing, oh, talented sailors!

Part 1:When Winds of Change blow hard, you might want to check your navigation skills.

Comparing your photo career to a ship upon the sea is probably a way-overworked metaphor but begging your forgiveness, I’ll set sail on a cliche-ridden sea; it’s still a good analogy when thinking about plotting the course of your photo business. [my apologies in advance to the expert sailors among my readers for my technical mistakes]

In my long career of working with professional advertising photographers I’ve always noticed that there are two types of people who set out: those with a clear destination in mind, and those who seem headed out for a pleasure cruise with no particular destination in mind. As it’s been said, if you don’t care where you’re going, then it doesn’t much matter which way you go or what map you use. However, if you do have a goal in mind then you’d better have an accurate map– and the skills to get yourself back on track if, and when, you are blown off course.

In this article I’m going to address the skills that the “sailors” who actually have a destination need to use on the sea of photo success; skills that will serve them no matter how choppy the economic seas…and yes, this economic climate is one whopper of a storm.

Those of us who sailed through the recessions of the late 1970s and early 1990s have the perspective of having survived what, at the time, seemed to be career-killing storms. Sailing through those recession storms taught us a lot about what you need to survive when things start to look really choppy. Survivors of those turbulent times learned that a keen analysis of the situation, flexibility, and a willingness to adjust course, is what got them through it.

Any sailor knows that the wind can change quite suddenly and unexpectedly–just like the photo business did with the advent of digital imaging. By analyzing the wind–noticing where it’s coming from and how fast it’s moving–the skipper can change the ship’s angle to the wind to maximize the speed and direction they’re sailing. By making adjustments in response to the changing environment, arrival at the destination can sometimes be faster than if they’d followed their original course.

By changing their tactical approach i.e. trimming the sails to maximize the angle and direction, they still achieved the intended result. Similarly, the wise photo/sailor who early on adopted a digital imaging work flow found that clients could be served more rapidly. In addition, images could be digitally tweaked to perfection in pre- and post-production–both of which were new value-added services which clients loved.

But those who adopt the new–and now critical– skills of integrating memorable branding across all customer touch points, really have the skills necessary to navigate these turbulent times. The destination achieved: strengthening of existing client relationships, more business, and new opportunities.

It’s stating the obvious to chronicle what happened to those photo “sailors” who failed to see–or chose to stay the same course–when the first big tech storm blew across our industry. Those who made no adjustments to their course (e.g. by clinging to the argument that “film had superior tonal range and repro size capability”) got washed away as the inevitable technological advances provided digital files now superseding the tonal range of film. Today’s able sailors knew how to tack when it came to the digital imaging storm; they’re set for that weather condition.

But then the wind suddenly shifted again: faster and better camera chip technology, put 10MP cameras in the hands of consumers for less than $500. And some of those consumers are responsible for their company’s marketing images. What angle do you have to take in that wind?

Report from the ad tech conference in Chicago

Last summer I attended one of those geeky tech conferences I love to attend–along with several hundred other attendees curious to hear advance notice about the “next big thing” in online marketing.

Most people were there from the major corporations’ marketing departments. They were in search of the elusive killer app that will bring an even greater ROI in their online marketing efforts.

First I should report on last year to give you some perspective on this year’s trends:Last year’s hot topic was Social Media (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc.) and how to best gain a presence and hopefully a new customer from that cyber space presence. UGM (User Generated Media) was just starting to show up on the radar. The UGM created for FritoLay’s Super Bowl spot was not yet created.

Now we are in the era of multiple streams of UGM. Do a search on YouTube for just about any brand you can name, and you’ll find something there.

This year’s seminars focused on how best to serve the person who’s using a search engine to find a product or service. Giving the most relevant search results are part of a good branding strategy.

We’ve all probably experienced clicking on a search result on Google and wondering how the heck that page was even related to what we’re searching for. It’s especially frustrating when a site visitor arrives at a site and has to click several more times to get to what they’re looking for. This user experience does not a happy customer make.

Imagine that you’ve done the research and you know you want a certain model of scanner. You type in the make and model into Google and you’re given several results with that model listed. You click on the top link and end up being taken to a page with copiers, printers, inks, accessories, etc. When you’re pressed for time and ready to buy that result is probably not going to make you feel as warm and fuzzy towards that vendor as arriving at a page with just the right info when you’re actually in the mood to buy.

Let’s say you get tired of trying to find the item on the first site and click on the second search result. And it takes you right to a page about that item with all the info you need. One click arrival path. Which vendor gets your business–and perhaps your repeat business.

The overall good news for consumers is meeting our needs with relevant when we arrive at a search engine is now the hot new marketing strategy. The marketing folks call it Search Engine Conversion strategies.

Is your site invisible to cutting-edge web surfers?

Are you invisible at the cutting edge?

Can the Mac-based “early adopters” (i.e., those communication industry trend setters who others soon follow) review your web site??

If you’ve an all-Flash web site… you’re invisible on the iPhone.

It’s been almost a month since the incredible frenzy surrounding the release of Apple’s iPhone monopolized the media reports.

You may now have one, covet one, or care less about the whole subject.

But no matter which camp you’re in, there’s one thing about the iPhone you have to be aware of: the current version of the iPhone does NOT support Flash. Yep. According to Steve’s Jobs vague answer regarding the subject of Flash support, he said that Apple “may do so in the future”. With the next upgrade of the iPhone software, I suspect that they will. But right now all-Flash sites don’t display in the phone’s web browser.

What this means is that if you have an all-Flash site (something I’ve been campaigning against for years), all those award-winning, cutting edge designers and art directors–you know, the ones who tend to be early adopters of all things Apple, and who have hordes of people following their every creative move–will not be able to see your site while they’re web surfing and showing off their iPhone to anyone who sees it in their hands.

Can you imagine what your web traffic logs would have reported this month if your site was one of the visible sites that the iPhone-owning designer had bookmarked?

If you’ve seen anyone with an iPhone in the last few weeks, then you know what kind of attention it gets from curious onlookers. How many of those iPhone owners creative community business contacts and friends could have seen your site in that impressive show-and-tell session? What pass along “wow factor” could have been yours that day?

And further consider if your page had been optimized for mobile devices… how better would that have been?!? Some people in the photo business spend time considering these marketing technology issues. Because they know that no matter how great someone’s images are, if they’re not viewable to a potential client anywhere, anytime, on any device, a potential sale can be lost to someone who is. Our clients and their clients are thinking about this marketing message delivery stuff. Are you?

Next week I’m off to another one of those geeky technology conferences I love to attend; I’ll be bringing back more news from the bleeding edge of internet marketing.

Another blow to commercial photo biz came today

The NY Times reported today been a release of yet another microstock site. No doubt this will further drive down what clients expect to pay for an image. Today, Corbis announced the release of SnapVillage a new site which allows amateurs and semi-pros to sell their images for $1-$50.

The rate SnapVillage pays the photographer? 30% of each image sold. So when buyer pays a maximun of $50 for an image, the photographer would receive a whopping $15. Once you reach $10 in royalties owed, you would be paid on the last day of the following month.

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