While he is not a photographer, Seth Godin has been a touchstone for many photographers as they make their way into the difficult to navigate shoals of self-employment. His latest book, Linchpin, is an impassioned treatise on why you matter, and how you can make a difference. We interviewed “America’s Greatest Marketer” aka author of the most popular marketing blog on the plant looking for a few nuggets of wisdom from the wise.
Digital Wedding Forum: How do we reconcile art and commerce? For the artist who also needs to be a businessperson, how do we keep one from overwhelming the other?
Seth Godin: I think the souvenirs of your art… the stuff you sell to make money… don’t have to be artistic. Souvenirs are things that people like to buy, and they are often a shadow of your work, not the work itself. Christo did a great job of this division. The art was wrapping a building. The souvenir is the print or the poster.
If you’re an accountant, your art might be the way you interact with people, the way you ask questions, the way you deal with fear. But what you sell is taxes.
DWF: You talk a lot about work that “matters”. Doing things that “matter.” What matters?
Seth: For me, stuff that matters has nothing much at all to do with the market. What matters is work you’re proud of.
DWF: It can be hard to be an artist (especially a self employed one, or one in a small company) when the bills need to be paid, and it’d be nice to think that everyone who is audacious is rewarded, but that isn’t always the case. Is there a balance that can be struck between the pursuit of art and the need to pay the rent?
Seth: I think some marketers reward art far more than others. Being an artistic oil wildcatter is a lousy way to make a living. Being an artistic worker on the pacemaker assembly line is silly. And making money as a poet is just too much of a long shot. So if making money is your goal, you need to make smart choices about your market and THEN figure out what your art is. Not the other way around.
DWF: What happens when we think we’re doing art, but it turns out that we’re doing plumbing? When we’ve carved out our niche and we get complacent, or we push to change the world, and then the world changes, and we find that there is no resistance. That we have become the status quo? Do we keep on, secure in our knowledge that we have changed things, or do we seek change simply for the sake of change?
Seth: You mean what do you do when you succeed in your art and establish a new standard? Set a new standard.
DWF: There’s a pair of lines in the Incredibles—voiced first by Dash, then repeated by Syndrome—that says if everyone is special, then nobody is. Are you worried that Linchpin is a call for everyone to be special? And is that a good or a bad thing in your view?
Seth: Everyone’s not going to read my book. Everyone doesn’t have the guts to do art. Everyone will give up long before you do. I’m not worried a bit about everyone. Just you.
DWF: Recently, Edelman released a report on trust, and one of the most shocking findings—to those of us who practice but may not study word of mouth—was that the number of people who say they trust in the word of a friend about a company has dropped from 45% in 2008 to 2010. This seems to be heading the wrong way. Why this erosion, or apparent erosion of trust in our friends?
Seth: The cause is people like Edelman! Companies that work hard to get people to pimp their friends, or trick them into doing so. It’s going to get worse, a lot worse, partly because our definition of friend is a lot broader than it used to be. When you have strangers for friends [on Facebook, Twitter, etc], it’s easy to not trust them, right?
DWF: How does a linchpin operate in a small business setting, often a company of one, as many self-employed photographers are? What are they “connecting”?
Seth: Photographers? They connect brides to grooms. They connect businesses to the community. They create digital interactions that scale, or they build a community of florists and caterers and others that can serve the community they’d like to serve.
DWF: Your concept of “emotional labour” really resonates, especially with what we shall call the traditional artists. In this case, the Wedding photographers. I know for me, I fall in love every time I go out to photograph someone, but that can be extremely hard on a person. Are we really meant to “labour” with our emotions? To riot ourselves to these places where we are vulnerable and open and yet not fear getting hurt?
Seth: Well, you don’t have to, but if you don’t, someone with the guts and drive to do so is going to be a better artist and a more attractive choice than you are. In my experience, you can stretch your emotions, but they bounce back.
DWF: It seems like everyone these days is hanging out their shingle as a wedding photographer, and you call for people to become artists. I know that you are not using the traditional definition of artist, but there’s lots of people out there who see the word and think it will involve paint and canvas or, more to the point, a camera. With hundreds and thousands of new photographers flooding the market, what’s going to happen to the market? It’s not like most of us are old guard; most wedding photographers grew up on Purple Cow and most are pursuing their own niche. What happens when everyone wants to be an artist, and the way they express that is to do the same thing?
Seth: When everyone has a camera, and everyone thinks they are a photographic artist, it’s clear that access to the device is not a scarce resource. If that’s all you’ve got, I’m not going to pay you. The art isn’t in the taking of the picture. The art is in what you do the other 21 hours in a day.
If you don’t like that, you should become an amateur and do what you love, but don’t expect to get paid for it!
DWF: What is the most important single thing a creative (wedding photog) could do right now to start getting more business?
Seth: Stop looking for more business! The most important thing is to reinvent what it is you sell and to overwhelm your current clients with the experience they encounter when they engage you. This is what word of mouth will come from. Not from better photos, not from a better brochure, not from a cheaper price.
DWF: If you were opening a photography business tomorrow in an area that was already saturated with competitors of all different talents, pricing and experience, what would you do to stand out?
Seth: I wouldn’t open a photography business.
See above. You’re not entitled to succeed when you are just like everyone else, even if you add a bit.
DWF: What would you do if, as soon as you did that, your competitors immediately began copying you?
Seth: I expect that. Take a look at business book covers since 2000. A lot of copying. Take a look at business blogs since 2003. A lot of copying. Take a look at powerpoints. A lot of copying,
That’s expected, and I’m flattered by it. Anyone who changes the game feels the same way. It’s part of the deal.
DWF: Is the top of your head naturally so smooth, or do you have to shave it?
Seth: Used to be artificial (an homage to my dad and then a marketing tool) and now, alas, it’s irreversible.Back Home