I recently read a book that completely changed my perspective on marketing and gave me solid justifications for the way I have acted for nearly a decade, despite only anecdotal evidence for their efficacy. The book in question is “Alchemy: The Magic of Original Thinking in a World of Mind-Numbing Conformity” by Rory Sutherland and, as its name implies, is about thinking differently. There were many parts of this book (and his guest appearance on the Diary of a CEO podcast with Steven Bartlett) that highlighted a notion I had put a lot of thought into already.
When we assess anything we do in the business world — or even outside of it — we reach for analytics. Now, this could be deep insights from Google Analytics that will give us traffic sources to our blog pages, user retention, CTRs, and so on. However, it can also be as simple as how many likes a post got on Instagram. We all know these metrics aren’t perfect; a great image can perform poorly on social media for a multitude of reasons, and an average image can get picked up and get the adulation it doesn’t truly deserve. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty good indicator and on the balance of things, strong photographs will do better than weak ones. Likewise, if your blog posts aren’t doing well, it might be poor luck, or it might be indicative that something wasn’t quite right.
An area that is particularly cut and dry is when the direct result you desire is what you are tracking. For example, if you were running ads for a photography course you had created, the conversion rate (what percentage of the clicks led to a sale) is gospel. So, yet again, we can track the analytics of a venture and judge its success and worthiness as part of our workflow.
What about things that cannot be tracked though?
Untrackable but Not Un-Valuable
If the way we measure the success of our actions as photographers and videographers is by analytics, does that mean that actions that cannot reasonably be tracked are worthless? If not, how do we gauge their worth? Well, that’s tricky to answer, which is part of the problem. When you are presented with two methods of marketing your work and one way has a full suite of analytics at the end and the other has more or less nothing in the form of analytics, which would you choose? I would be drawn to the one I could measure, but in recent years, I grew curious about the other, intangible option.
There are many good examples of untrackable actions with high value. Take Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the World Cup: How could the good folk working on that account feedback truly accurate information? Sure, they can point at mentions on social media increasing, infer sales increases being a result of the tournament, and perhaps highlight a greater media presence, but it would still be difficult to assign a dollar value to an incredibly expensive marketing effort. This makes it far less attractive than split testing an ad campaign with a clear cost per click.
Sutherland’s go-to example of this type of action is Chanel’s efforts on things that aren’t selling perfume, such as art exhibitions and fashion shows. The actions aren’t intended to result in direct sales, but to further the brand’s image, make them more memorable, and build trust with their client base. This feels like an action only the blue chip companies can afford, but it translates all the way down. In many ways, when we minnow perform actions with no obvious, immediate return, it’s called “putting yourself out there”.
What are some examples of this in photography? Well, perhaps you are asked to judge a photography competition, speak at a school, or shoot a charity event — it’s possible none of these would pay you or result in immediate clients, and thus it’s hard to track their “returns”. This all sounds a bit utilitarian, but it needn’t be; be active, experiment, and don’t restrict yourself to only the things you can get stats from. If you’re looking for some inspiration on marketing actions that will not yield immediate results or money, but could positively impact your future, I would also suggest starting your own blog, hosting a free photography walk, giving away prints or digital files, partnering with companies, mentoring a new photographer, start a podcast, and conducting a giveaway. These suggestions are simply some I have experience with, however, and not an exhaustive list.
In my own working life, I noticed the lack of focus on intangible marketing efforts a few years ago and identified the reason as simply being unable to track the results. Last year I was asked to speak at an event and to chair a debate. It was unpaid and the audience wasn’t going to be enormous, but the caliber of guests was high — there were many senior people in the industry. I made a number of important connections that day, have had multiple enquiries, and several paid jobs, all stemming from that one event, but all of these fruits were months away. Sutherland also points out that these sorts of engagements build trust for a brand (in this case, you) as most people just out for a quick buck wouldn’t do these extra things.
It’s hard to run a business and not look at only the immediate monetary returns from your efforts. In fact, some of the intangible marketing efforts will still be centered around money, which can seem cynical. Nevertheless, a focus on the wider picture will reveal that not everything worth doing can be analyzed in the same way as a Google ad, and that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it; you could even put forward the case the intangibles are even more valuable as they will set you apart from the pack.
I am far from perfect in this regard, but I am working on integrating more intangible efforts into my business. What is the best example you have?