Friday, March 24, 2017

Going Pro: Mastering the Marketing Language

I am not a master of marketing language.  I am an ardent student with a few powerful tools.  Plenty-o-folks have done this for longer, better, and more quickly than me.  But there aren't a lot of marketing resources that are written specifically for videographers and photographers.  Sure, the basic principles apply, but it's a difficult skill to learn, especially if you have to translate from one industry to another.  It's easy to understand the marketing concept that "Tide laundry detergent doesn't sell soap, they sell clean fresh clothes," but how does that translate to me?  I don't sell pictures I sell memories?  I think I just threw up in my mouth a little-- and I expect the reader has as well.

This post is a look at how to transliterate your unique characteristics (identified earlier) into compelling marketing language.  It builds off of the foundation of things that we've already discussed: identifying your client population (or niche), and identifying those unique characteristics.  Those characteristics, however, are about you. Marketing language is about them.  And that's the most important key to mastering the language.  The goal is to speak to their needs, their goals, and their concerns.  Visit their website:  Tide doesn't just sell bright-fresh-clean clothes, they sell convenience, they sell environmental responsibility.  Those are the needs, desires, and concerns of their buyers.

A common marketer's tool is a three-step spreadsheet that goes from product characteristic to brand tone to brand languageBrand Language, in this case, isn't just the words but the concepts and structure.  With concept and structure I'm referring to things like testimonials, statistics, bullet points, and images.  Since we're selling a combined product/service, I've tweaked my categories to be Brand Attribute, Brand Tone, and Looks Like.  (Just to be 100% clear, "brand attributes" are your unique characteristics.) For example, you want to project an image of your company as "vibrant."  What does does vibrant feel like?  What's the tone?  It can feel like many things, but you want customers to see you as positive, motivated, and inclusive.  That's your brand tone.  But you don't want to say, "we're a positive, motivated, and inclusive team."  You want them to feel those attributes when they visit your website.  So what do they look like?  Fun, original adjectives.  International examples. 

There's how the model looks in action:

So let's go back to that sickly idea of "selling memories."  Tide doesn't just say that they sell fresh clothes, they use words and concepts to convey that idea without having to be so direct.  You can convey the idea of selling memories by "capturing that special day" (weddings) or "documenting the moment" (events) or "they change so quickly" (baby).  Or more broadly-- "pictures you'll cherish for a lifetime."

Next post:  Put these skills to use on your website

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Going Pro: Delete the Distractions

Day 24

Started rehearsals for Second Wind’s next production, Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth.  I’m both a producer and an actor in the show. This means 18 hours a week dedicated to rehearsals and another 10 to production logistics.  On top of my 28 hour a week day job, this 56 hour work-week poses more obstacles to getting the company up and running.  Luckily, I don’t have kids (yet... seven months and counting down).  

How do I make time?  Well, for one I watch very little TV.  We don’t own one.  When I find myself surfing the net aimlessly, I re-direct myself towards accomplishing something, anything towards my goal.  And I’m drinking less.  Anyone frightened off?

Seriously, studies show that the “average” American spends 4.5 hours a day watching TV and 5 hours a day online or staring at their cell phone.  Over the course of 7 days we’ll devote almost a full work-week to our televisions, and another full work-week  to the internet for entertainment.  That’s two full time jobs we could devote to our production company without jeopardizing a meal, a date, or a conversation.

You can work two full-time jobs

in the amount of time you spend

on entertaining yourself

So how do you cut back on the consumption of all that sugary time-wasting?  Bit by bit.  Make a To-Do list and put it off to one side where it won't annoy you. That way you'll never "forget" what needs to be done when you've got a free moment.  Then look at your schedule. Take an hour of "open" time that would most likely be spent watching TV or surfing the net and dedicate it to one specific task on the list.  After a couple of days, add a second hour from your open schedule.  Practice clearing your desk of items-- unopened letters/bills, clutter-- at the end of each day.  Advice on how to use your time better can sound preachy real fast, I know, but your time is one of the greatest resources at your disposal. And you only get to use it once.

A quick summary of the other production activities over the past 24 days:

  • Joined Professional Photographers of America.  In truth, I should have done this six months ago when my workload as a photographer started to become consistent.  My primary interest was the insurance really—you’re constantly putting your equipment at risk.  Moreover, if you work on location, the routine is constantly changing, making accidents more likely.  I can’t say I’m thrilled with the high deduction for claims—making any single piece of equipment under $800 basically uninsured—but I hope it will be a good investment?
  • Continued to expand my database of potential clients.  To do this I looked at client list of a local consulting firm for strategic planning.  I identified non-profits on their list who’s activities were similar to my target group, and prioritized those organizations that had a prominent “Donate” button on their websites.  My video service, remember, is designed to help increase donations, so my best clients will have that as a priority.  Many non-profits also post their annual report in their About Us pages.  This often contains information on both their general budget and their fundraising budget.  Knowing this information makes it clear that I understand something about their needs, and gives me a sense of what I should charge.  

    Launched my video production web pages.  This is a big milestone for me:  even though it's not "finished," I can now respond to Craigslist and Thumbtack postings because I can refer them to my work.  For the time being, my video pages are a section of my photography website.  This may change in the future, but as long as I have limited examples of my video work I feel it's important to show my photography as supporting imagery.  The video section has three pages: a Home page with my examples; a Process page that explains how I work with clients; and a Contact page.  There are just six videos in my portfolio-- in other words, the bare minimum.   
    Next post: Mastering the marketing language

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Branded Content Videos

Branded content is a bit of an umbrella terms for the merger of brand marketing with other content-- either educational or entertainment.  Imagine a tutorial on a subjected related to your product, or short film that features your product, and you've found an example of content marketing.  It works because it either fulfills an immediate need (tutorial) or touches the viewer emotionally (film).

Branded content has taken off in the video world as digital media has become richer and technology has allowed viewers to circumnavigate traditional ads. In today's environment your audience has to want to watch your ad.  Gone our the days when ads are forced on them every 12 minutes.  If your business isn't doing content marketing-- or your video company producing it-- you are waay behind the curve.  Delve deeper, see examples, and learn more on Hurricane Images' company blog

Monday, March 20, 2017

Going Pro: Back to Front

We've been talking a lot about your "identity"-- as defined by your niche and the qualities that make up your competitive edge-- and that's fine. In this definition, Identity is both who you are and what you mean to your customers, so it's logical to refine those before exploring the basics of starting a company.  This post (which I'll keep as brief as possible) deals with what most artists find to be painful drudgery. But you can't get around it. 

"You want a flawless experience 

for your customers"

Twenty-five years of producing theatre taught me how manage the craziness of opening night.  Regardless of how well you plan, how much lead time you invest, or how competent your team, the final hours before curtain are controlled chaos.  You want the first experience for that first audience to be flawless-- not just the performances but the flow from doorstep to "lights up."  The mistakes that catch most new producers by surprise is the face that so many things are being done for the first time on Opening Night (or Preview, if you're lucky enough to have one):  the first time you put out the sign, the first box office, the first petty cash, first refreshments, seating, curtain speech.   Opening a business isn't so different.  You want a flawless business experience for your customers.

The technique I learned for managing those final hours before the first customer is to work from back to front.  The front is your doorstep... or the customer's first "awareness" of you.  In the theatre this was putting out the street sign that says OPEN.  But there's no point in having customers walk in the door unless you've cleaned the lobby, stocked the box office, etc.  So I would start with the back of the business and work forward.  In theater, the "back" is the seating area.  Then you've got the lobby.  Then the refreshment bar, the box office, the elevator, the street.

For a production company, the "front" might be your website (or maybe your contract).  Before worrying about those, you need to set up your back end. So what's back there?

  1. Business license
  2. Bank account
  3. Book keeping system
  4. "Office"
  5. Phone system
  6. Marketing Plan
  7. Video gear
  8. Contracts & paperwork
  9. Website

Have I forgotten anything?  Chime in?

Many of these items I'll discuss in depth later.  In the mean time, I'll dispatch the first two items quickly. You know what a business license and a bank account are, get them. The US Small Business Adminstration can link you to all the info we need to know about setting up a business in your county (most states require county-level registration).  Hopefully you can find your bank.  You'll need forms from your county to set up a business bank account.

Now, since I'm being completely truthful on this blog, I'll confess that I didn't get either of these in the first two years of working as a part-time photographer.  Or the first six months of working as a part-time videographer.  Even though I used the name Hurricane Images, I considered myself a private consultant (not a company) and used PayPal for processing credit cards and my own bank account for checks. (I'm not fond of PayPal's politics, so that may change in the future.)  Since I wasn't a "company" I skipped the business license.  My income started around $150 a month and grew over time to a whopping $500 a month as a part-timer, so I really didn't think it merited a license and an account.  I'm sure my county government sees it differently.  My strong recommendation to you is to knuckle down and get the tedious stuff out of the way immediately.  Two years ago when I started part-time, I wasn't committed to becoming a professional.  You are.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Going Pro: Reverberation

Day 11:
Our first sonogram.  We heard our baby’s heartbeat. I can’t tell you how awesome (and how frightening) that is.   All of one’s sense of responsibility reverberates in those frantic beats.  160 counts a minute, which (like my own heartbeat in this moment) is a little fast.

 (not my wife, by the way-- a shoot I did last year)


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Ikan Beholder 3-Axis Gimbal - 180 Review

There are few products I use regularly, and the Ikan Beholder 3-axis motorized gimbal is one of them.  Hurricane Images Inc. recently shot a Fremo EVO commercial with it, and it was put to extensive use in Jaz Danz’s music video for “Justify My Love.”  
EVO 2 for Amazon Echo Dot

I purchased the larger EC1 model, even though my camera is well below the specs of the cheaper DS1.  Essentially I wanted both the ability to attach heavier lenses and upgrade to a larger camera and the EC1 can balance a 4.5 pound rig.  I wanted my gimbal to be able to grow with my kit.  However, I’m not sure if it was worth the extra $350, so weigh your options carefully.

The wide handle base helps with balancing the Sony A7sii.  You can set it on a table and quickly adjust.  The knobs are easy to find and turn.  Most importantly it does an excellent job of keeping my footage steady.  The Beholder rarely jitters under stress.   I’ve yet to run out of battery, even on the EVO commercial in which used the Ikan exclusively for 4 hour shoots.  I don’t have an estimate on battery life because I’ve yet to run them down.

There are some limitations. It doesn’t work so well with larger lenses because you can’t slide the camera back far enough to find the center of gravity.  Also, you can’t charge the batteries and use the unit at the same time, even if you have a spare set of batteries.  You need to buy a separate battery charger.  The design of many of these motorized gimbals make it difficult to see the screen, but that’s not unique to the Ikan.

Having used it on roughly a dozen shoots, I've become aware of how the "feel" of gimbal/steady-cam footage differs from sliders.  Sliders have a precision that is mechanical in their otherworldly texture.  Gimbals feel more organic, like an otherworldly creature is behind the camera.  Handheld-- done properly, feels human.  $900 is a lot to spend on a piece of equipment, but this is one product I use constantly and it can drastically increase your game.  I've tried cheap, non-motorized equivalents, and they just aren't consistent enough to use on a professional set.  The Ikan Behold gimbal review... worth the money. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Going Pro: Everyone has their own unique... oh forget it.

Everyone has their own unique story?  Yeah.  Maybe.  Or not.  

I’m an entrepreneur.  I’m a Start Up.  These are the hot terms, the lingo kids speak.   Frankly, I’m a workman and when I want to get work done I look for other workpeople.  As the son of one of the few living geniuses in the music world, I know that art is sweat and calluses.  It’s a relentless commitment to the work.  

Do we all have a unique story?  Okay, the answer is “yes,” but I’d prefer we find a less silly way to ask the question.  Something befitting the work we want to accomplish.

 What is my competitive edge over the competition?  Isn’t that the real question?

Define what you do 

in terms of what they want

You’ve chosen your niche, right?  Now it's time to identify the competitive advantage you have over other videographers in your area.  These are the qualities you will highlight your website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube channel, and elevator speech.  The most important rule-- and I’ll repeat: most important rule-- of marketing is to define what you do in terms of what the customer wants and gets.  Which means you don’t talk about what you do or make.  You talk about what they get, based on what they want.  There are a billion good examples in marketing.  You don’t sell laundry detergent, you sell clean, fresh smelling clothes.  You don’t sell beer, you sell a good time (or a pretty girl).  Not eyeglasses but vision. Not carnival tickets but thrills. Not laptops but creativity.  Not... and on and on and on.

Your niche defines your competitors

In defining your niche, you’ve found your real competitors. Articulating what differentiates you from them can be the difference between (business) life or death in the beginning. So do two things:
1.       Go to 3 of your competitors' websites and make a list of the qualities and capabilities they highlight.  If they have testimonials looks at those, too.
2.       Make a list of your own (unique) qualities.  What makes you stand out?  Go beyond “cost”—you don’t want to be the cheapest forever

Here’s an example from one of my competitors:  They used the word “creative” 8 times on a page with barely 200 words of text.  They used the word “story” six times.” They push “concept development” as their strength. They highlight experience and team.  They provided case studies.  In testimonials, their customers used words like fresh, compelling, creativity, joy to work with, worth every penny.  The message is clear:  they make creative concepts that will tell your story; they make creative concepts that tell your story; the make creative concepts that will tell your story.  The making is worth every penny and fun.  The creative is fresh. The concepts are compelling.  They do it through story.
Here’s what I decided were the competitive advantages of Hurricane Images:
·         Personalized service.  I’ll meet with you before contracts or money is discussed
·         Is video new to you? We’ll guide you. We’re hands on, not canned.
·         We have extensive production experience
·         We scale services to fit your budget
·         We’re exceptional at creating compelling concepts and script development
·         We’ve created multi-award winning scripts
·         We provide on-camera coaching for clients going before the camera
·         We connect you to your customers and fan-base.

So what are the “wants” that my customers will get? I'm very geared towards customers who are making their first (professional) video.