Is it a myth?
Before you read this blog post, grab a cup of your favorite brew and make sure you have 10 minutes free...it's a bit of a long one!
Whilst not directly related to the content of this website, in a way it is and you will understand as I go along.
Really this post is about marketing - and can apply to any business, and any industry. Having been a photographer for 15 years, my references will be tied into that of course. I will be doing regular blogs about this subject, simply because the business side of things and human psychology, are a passion, and a fascination at the same time.
So..the Purple Cow.
A concept that is now many years old. It stuck in my head very, very early in my career. Seth Godin, he of the many a TED talk is the one who introduced this to the world back in 2003, and for this I thank him very much.
I have actually never read the book, never need to .
The book itself was the message - the first, self-published edition came packaged in a milk carton, the cover is purple and white, and the words are printed sideways. You can check it out here.
Essentially it stood out. And that, my dear readers, was the whole point - and this blog post could end right here, right now.
But it's not going to - we need to pull it apart and do a little analyzing.
As an aside, and my real life friends would tell you - this is my favorite thing to do - deep, heavy conversations, often about business or other very involved subjects. They normally have a glass of wine in their hand, and are comfortably nestled on my sofa, in preparation for such discussions. Only one or two I know last the distance, before completely glazing over.
But you know, this is my blog, and I'm going to be self indulgent here - so you can stay with me (quickly go and swap that tea for a glass of wine!) or you can get distracted by the constant pinging which is social media and your inbox.
This IS an important subject though, so I hope that you close down that inbox, your other tabs, and try and read this to the end. And I will try not to bore your stiff!
The message of this book is“Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable”.
But what exactly is REMARKABLE?
Is it “remarkable” as in “outstanding?
Or is it remarkable as in “worth remarking/commenting on”?
Actually it means different things at different points in the process.
Let me translate this into photography speak, based on my very own experiences.
When I started my business, some 15 years ago , in the UK, newborn photography just wasn’t a thing. Nor was maternity really.
It was rather easy to stand out back then, just by the virtue of offering something different, and unavailable elsewhere.
As the market changed and got flooded with more and more photographers, it understandably became less easy.
Now, with the market seemingly over saturated, just how do you stand out?
There are literally hundreds of super talented photographers out there, priced often at less than they should be, all showing off beautiful images.
So as a new or newish photographer what are you meant to do?
Many people talk about the USP - which is indeed important.
Let's, for argument sake say that you say your USP is the fact that you are a super caring, super fluffy, amazing photographer with your own purpose built studio, and you really look after your clients.
Whilst that sounds lovely - sadly, that is not a USP - there are many more out there who would say the same thing. And unless someone actually ends up having a shoot with you they won't get the pleasure of experiencing that.
YOU, your brand, the kind of the person you are, your values, your talent, the client experience you offer, they are all part of your USP, and even if you can pull out something more specific from that process it doesn’t change ONE thing…which is?
No one will get a chance to learn this about you - unless they notice you in the sea of others in the first place!
You can be as talented as you like, as wonderful as you like, but unless people know you exist and actually get TRIGGERED to get in touch, then it's not much use.
For more established photographers that's less of an issue, especially ones that get a lot of business from referrals and existing clients.
But for new people to the industry ( or even the ones that have been in the industry for a few years and are struggling) - just how do you get to the point where someone notices YOU?
I want you to sit back and visualise this...
Think about driving somewhere, where you pass the same point every day. So as per Seth's concept, say a field of cows. You don’t notice the cows every day because you drive past them every day, and there is nothing different about them. You get used to the cows.
You drive past the same bus stop every day, its part of your journey , nothing has changed. The same old grey bus stop.
You look out of the window on your daily train journey, you see the same view.
Now, one day, you drive past the same field and there she is, a PURPLE cow bang in the middle of the field.
At the bus stop there is a lady in a BRIGHT RED coat holding a balloon.
On your usual train route there is suddenly a NEW BRIGHT building that you haven’t seen before, or a BIG SIGN that says there is circus in town.
What happens? YOU NOTICE those things. Because they are different. And if they are different enough, you may REMARK on them.
You think - What he hell is a purple cow doing there? Where is that lady going with that balloon? A circus? Haven't seen one of those in a while, I may google this! The purple cow might sit in your mind for the rest of the day, and when you get to work you will tell your friends all about it. Or your partner when you get home.
Now think about Instagram feeds - packed full of beautiful imagery, we almost become desensitized to it, and simply expect to see lovely images everywhere.
But now and again something REALLY grabs your attention. When that happens - make a mental note.
WHAT was it about that image that made you look? Why did it stand out? What was your action following that - was it just a like, or a follow, or maybe you sent the image to a friend or tagged them in? Did you take the time to see if there was an associated website? Did you visit it?
Analyse your own behaviors and it will teach you things every day.
So what do you do? Do you build a coherent feed that looks super cool and all images are in a similar style and show consistency and a clear style?
Sure - you could do that, and many people are indeed successful with that approach.
Do you show only the work that you LOVE regardless of the current trends, knowing that there is someone out there for everyone? Sure, you could do that too.
All of this takes time, and it's not an overnight thing.
So what is the answer to all this? How do you make people notice YOU? And then choose YOU?
The actual answer to the second question is pretty complex.
This is because once you get past the first hurdle and your potential client has been stopped in their tracks and NOTICES you, then them CHOOSING you is entirely dependent on you.
From that point on you are completely in charge of the process, and you are in control - and many things from that point, will make the person decide if they are going to book you over someone else.
This could be as simple as how you deal with an enquiry, your manner on the phone, or the tone of your email. It could be as simple as your pricing or your website not loading quickly enough. But that's a separate post , and I digress.
This post is about the first question - it's about that little moment where someone stops in their tracks - that moment when YOU stand out in the crowd. You are NOTICED. And it triggers an action.
This may be due to an image you post that is completely against current trends.
It may be a personal project image that totally does not fit in your Instagram feed and stands like a sore thumb.
It could be that blog post you wrote that makes you come up in searches, that grabs someone's interest or even goes viral.
It could be that moment where someone comes across your business page where you are doing a FB live, and they decide they love you and get in touch.
It could be an amazing image that you went out of your way to create, especially to get noticed.
Or it could just be an exceptional image that has that certain "je ne sais quoi".
This list could go on - but essentially, it's about NOT blending in.
And once you become NOTICED ( remarked on), and someone gets in touch , only THEN you get a chance to show a bit of you.
What follows on, is the Purple Cow again - you have now been given a chance to show how remarkable you REALLY are, which is step two.
But being YOU , being different, standing out, being remarkable - it's something that should be with you all the way through your process.
If you do that, eventually you will get to a point where step one isn't as imperative ( although resting on your laurels is never a good idea), as you have built up a base of loyal clients that return again and again, and then refer you.
It's not enough to just be noticed, but it is essential to give you a chance to be chosen - you just need make sure that keep the momentum going once that happens.
So... what have I done personally?
Many, many things over the years. I remember when I started photography, I took a shine to colored backdrops, baby pinks , baby blues and all deep greens to begin with. So many people who were in the industry for years were shaking their heads, and I still remember a few silly comments.
But you know what ? I didn't care. I liked what I was doing, and that was that. My clients loved it to.
Wouldn't the world be boring if we were all the same? Walking to the beat of my own drum was the best thing I ever did for my career, and frankly, my sanity.
More recently, although getting new clients hasn't been a priority, I have to say I have noticed some pretty interesting trends.
Instagram, namely has been a great source of new enquiries. Check out my feed here ( a bit neglected recently) — do you see it being “coherent”? No.
I like to mix it up - I don't want my audience to get bored. My love is , and always has been, simple black and white images, ones that are raw, gritty, and show a true connection, whilst still flattering the subject.
That moment where a new mama holds her new baby boy, and breathes him in. That moment where a dad looks tenderly at a mum, and you see the love in his eyes. That moment of pure joy of feeling like a new little unit, a new family starting a journey. Little details, like soft light skimming a baby’s profile. Little toes and fingers, so tiny and perfect. Those precise moments are what I strive to capture, and what makes my heart sing.
But this is not what everyone wants. Not every person that comes to a photographer wants to be photographed, or feels comfortable letting go to that degree. Nor does everyone love this type of photography.
So what else do you see on my feed ? Simple baby images ? Yeah. Babies in props? Yeah. Occasional personal image? Tick.
Is it all done with intent? Sure. In my opinion, posting too many images on the same subject or looking similar, ends up being repetitive.
The viewer gets used to seeing the same type of thing, and whilst a "like” is nice for ones ego, it won’t necessarily make anyone take the next step.
Do I LOVE babies in props? Not really - I very much appreciate well done images, that look realistic (if they are composites) and that catch the eye , but I wouldn’t be my first choice if I had my baby photographed (and since she is 16 I think she may object !)
But I’m not my customer, so my opinion doesn’t matter. My reasoning is that whilst trends change , you have to identify what triggers people.
Most photographers are simplifying the way they work, and moving away from props altogether , to create more simple, and some say more honest images. Let's face it, those 3 + hours newborn sessions , especially when the baby is unsettled, are hard work, aren’t they?
The problem with that is if everyone is doing that, how do you continue to stand out? Because now feeds are full of beautifully simple consistent images.
My personal strategy is to mix things up, and show versatility. I am not looking for peer appreciation here - I am running a business.
I know that after a few strong black and whites its time to post a baby in an elaborate flower bed or similar. Something unusual or different to what others are doing.
That's when I notice an influx of enquiries. And once I posted a few ‘proppy” images, I jump back on the simplicity bandwagon.
I am equally comfortable with both and I want to deliver to my clients images that THEY want. And if a baby in a tree is what sparks their enquiry, or triggers them to get in touch, then great!
I can tell you now — 80% of my clients end up choosing the simple, emotive images images for their actual orders, with maybe an occasional prop image thrown in.
Many of my prop images recently have become composite images, and hence the launch of this website. I have so much fun building and creating the sets.
IN actual fact, I find that most of my clients are purists. But when I do my market research ( aka ask my new clients why they chose me), the answer often is one of the more “elaborate’ images on Instagram.
Not even because they liked them — more because they caught their eye, and then they took the time to look at the rest of my work.
Do you see what I am saying here? IT DOESN'T MATTER what caught their eye, the important thing is that something did. If the end result is a booking, then fab, the concept worked.
Digital backdrops have allowed me to really mix things up, and I think the opportunities they offer in regard to showing eye catching images are endless.
This trend may pass, especially as more and more people do the same, but that's ok. Grab opportunities whilst they are there, and change and adapt as you go along. That's the fun part of running your own business.
I have given Instagram as an example here, but this applies to Pinterest, Facebook, blog posts, tweets, your website - whatever rocks your boat.
And just because this strategy works for me, it doesn't mean it will work for you.
But please don't sit there and do nothing, moaning about the competition, and spend hours comparing yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy - and will get you precisely NOWHERE. Instead, spend that time thinking about what you can do to get yourself noticed, and DO IT.