Long before I achieved my boyhood dream of applying storytelling principles to engage B2B lead generation marketers at an enterprise level through content, I was a newspaper photographer. I kept doing it as a hobby after I left the paper, with varying degrees of passion.
My interest skyrocketed when I moved to the Bay Area. For someone with a love of photography and a healthy appreciation for the absurd, being in San Francisco is like being a kid at an all-you-can-eat, ice-cream-and-waffles buffet at Disneyland on the first day of summer vacation.
This past weekend I attended a workshop led by Eric Kim, considered one of the most influential street photographers working today. Despite the fact that I’ve been taking pictures for 30 years and marketing for more than 20, I was struck by the lessons that apply equally well to B2B marketing and photography. (Don’t worry, it’s more than “create a corporate Instagram account.”)
1. Nobody cares about your content but you.
I shot this photo Saturday. On Sunday, we reviewed and critiqued one another’s work. Every time I showed this photo to someone, I had to explain why I thought it was good.
“Look. Her jacket looks like a watermelon. Get it?!”
If you have to explain why it’s good, it’s not a good. No matter how much you love your company’s product, your latest campaign or your new ebook, no one cares. They will only notice it, look at it, share it and (is this too much to hope for?) enjoy it if it says something to them.
2. Create something people will come back to.
There’s a store in the Mission that sells Mexican wrestler masks. I shot a photo there several months ago, but didn’t think it worked. Saturday, I camped out in front of that store waiting for something to happen. I took dozens of shots, including half a dozen that made me, I don’t know, grin. Here’s one:
Nobody really liked it but me. For one thing, the light wasn’t very good, so the image is kind of flat and unexciting. But more important, there’s nothing really memorable going on. It’s a throwaway. A quick laugh (if I’m lucky). There’s nothing wrong with a quick laugh, but others in the class showed photos I didn’t want to stop looking at. Really good photos do that; they stick in your head and draw you back.
What kind of content can you create that your audience will return to over and over? Can you create something they’ll use, that will make their lives easier? HubSpot is a master of that. They create PowerPoint templates you can modify and use yourself, for everything from building marketing personas to creating content plans to making a presentation to your boss to explain why you want to sign up for HubSpot. What can you create that’s worth bookmarking?
3. It’s not that hard to make your work better.
Eric gave some pretty simple advice at the start of the workshop: If you want to make better photos, take a look at photographers whose work you admire. What do you like about them? What do you dislike about your own photos? Do more of the stuff you like and less of the stuff you don’t.
That may sound simple, even simplistic, but a lot of B2B marketers never stop to think about the direction they want to take their message and their content, and how to make it better. We’re all in such a rush to produce content, implement campaigns, drive leads and “optimize” that we don’t stop to see if what we’re doing is actually any good (which is different than effective).
4. Learn from the masters, but don’t copy them.
Nearly everyone who takes photos for art or a hobby sets out to capture something new and unique. That’s probably not possible anymore. That doesn’t mean you can’t create something worthwhile and memorable and beautiful and unique to your experience. But the stories you’re trying to tell have been told. Learn from the people who do it really well. See how they approached a challenge. You may see something that helps you in your own work, but at the very least, you won’t copy someone unintentionally and look clueless, or worse, shady.
5. Push yourself until it’s uncomfortable.
I’ve taken two workshops with Eric. The first concentrated on street portraiture in San Francisco’s Mission district. Some of the people in the Mission can look pretty intimidating, but we quickly learned two things: It’s harder to find people to say no to a photo than it is to say yes, if you approach them respectfully in a friendly way and tell them what you’re doing.
Second, if you push yourself to do something uncomfortable, it feels like a much bigger accomplishment, and you’re far more likely to get something really good.
It’s easy to write a blog post about your product. It’s harder to write a blog post about the ROI of your product. It’s easy to write about why you think you’re product is better. It’s harder to get a customer to say it for you. Obviously we all have deadlines to meet, but think about how you can push a little harder to make something really valuable.
6. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
If you take pictures every day, your eye gets used to picking out interesting compositions and juxtapositions. You find yourself looking around more, imagining how a scene will develop, and moving to where you want to be when it happens to capture the right moment. Sharing content in a business context is very similar; If you do it every day, you start to notice pieces of cool and useful information and thinking about how you might share them. The more you do it, the easier (and better) it will get.
7. Learn your territory. Keep working it.
I have a tendency as a photographer to snap one photo and move on. While many of my favorite photographers have taken many enduring photos that way, this method leaves a lot to happenstance. If you’re just “running and gunning,” you’re not seeing the whole scene, looking at the background and the edges of the frame or thinking about color or composition. I learned in the workshop that one way to increase the chances of getting a good photo is by finding a spot worth photographing, getting to know it and waiting to see what happens.
For instance, an ice-skating rink has materialized in Union Square. When I saw it, there were a handful of people skating with various degrees of comfort and ability. I didn’t see much worth photographing, and I was at a funny angle with limited options to move. But I waited and eventually got something I like.
If you’re a B2B marketer, you have an area of knowledge and influence and expertise. If you define that area, learn as much as you can and keep your eyes open, you’ll see the opportunities when they happen. If you write a blog post or an ebook on a particular topic, that doesn’t mean you can’t revisit it later. Keep coming back to your territory and see what changes and what develops.
All photos by me, obviously