Why I don’t do the grope for attention thing

So you want to be “the one” in your market?

Be the top of the top?

The IT person?

Then you’ve gotta pick your corner of the universe and go hard, hard at it.

The market is full of people fighting for a little love. Clamoring for attention, hands raised, screaming “Pick me! Pick me!”

And with all those pictures and all those words floating through Facebook Feed Land similarity is almost a disease.

How’s a photographer supposed to stand out?

Now, before I go on, I want to address one nasty, pernicious little rumor that flies around in the photography industry that the pictures don’t matter. That it’s all about the business.

This is a load of garbage. I think it’s something that’s attractive to people who don’t really like pictures all that much. It’s like saying the food at a restaurant doesn’t matter.

“But McDonald’s!”

Well…if you consider McDonald’s a restaurant. Or food. Let’s pretend it’s both for the moment.

McDonald’s doesn’t prove the fact that food doesn’t matter. It proves that you need to offer the right food for the right target. And that there are all sorts of measures of better.

It might be speed. It might be health. It might be flavor. It might be innovation. But in whatever arena you choose to compete in, you had better crush it.

So we’re back to picking your corner.

I remember a brilliant little gem of a speech I gave in high school. Once I settled down from the stupor of realizing I was going to have to speak in public.

OK, speaking in front of a class of 30 other teens in a classroom isn’t exactly public speaking, but as far as I was concerned, I was giving my inaugural speech (Inaugural, as a side note, is what I consider to be a very funny sounding word. Try saying it slow ten times.).

Anyway, I didn’t know what to talk about, so a friend of mine suggested Reverse Discrimination in the UC system.

Excellent. Done.

But…wait. How about just Discrimination at UCs?

Yeah. “It’s bigger! It’s better!” I thought to myself.

Wait. What about Discrimination in America? “Yes! Even more meat!”

Until finally, I realized, that I was destined to tackle the mother of all topics racial: Racism across the World. In 3 minutes.

Genius.

Apparently, my English teacher thought so, too. Boom! Got a C-.

See what just happened here?

I had a nicely-focused topic that would appeal to a specific type of person interested in a specific type of information, and I watered it down to something so painfully broad, it had all the appeal of dirt.

And that’s exactly what happens in most of the photo industry. Lots of water. Lots of dirt. Not enough difference.

Spend a day sifting through pictures in your market. Read all the blog posts out there. Then do the opposite.

You make it to the top by hitting your client square between the eyes.

But contrary to common convention, you don’t do that by being better than everyone else in every way. No one can do that.

You do it by having a very specific point of view that other people don’t. Specific points of view appeal to specific people, which lets you dominate a part of the market. And that’s what you really need.

All sorts of legendary photographers haven taken fundamentally crappy photos. But they were glorious, beautiful, crappy photos that other people didn’t dare to show, leaving them with no competition. Meanwhile, the world is littered with forgotten artists who have done incredibly skilled, but fundamentally similar versions of the same.

Now, I’m not saying anything flies. But that’s a topic for another day.

For now, the fewer the alternatives there are to your photos, the more powerful you become. After all, why would people pay you more, if you were replaceable? Me-too gets you thrown into the middle of the pit to fight for the scraps.

Do you want to let others set the terms for you? Or do you want to set them yourself?

It’s all a matter of picking your corner.

—Spencer Lum

P.S. Yep. Want Engines is coming out soon, and I’ll show you exactly how to set your own terms and turn words, pictures, and design into powerful weapons of attraction. Yes. Weapons. And powerful.

Thinking about it? Get the free marketing and branding pre-launch course by signing up here:

ground-glass.com/newsletter_want/

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