We're all selling something and we're all being sold too. Everywhere. All of the time. But when it's our product, our opinion, our self image or our brand that we're selling, we often think that getting noticed is the goal. But getting noticed is the easy part. I can send an email today to thousands of people that will get noticed by hundreds of people (damn you, spam filters!)
But I was listening to an interview with author Seth Godin yesterday, and he made an interesting point. It's not about getting people to notice, it's about getting people to care. Why do you think those Christmas ads that tug at your heart strings are so effective? Why do you think that the detergent companies want to frighten you into believing your kitchen surfaces are a minefield of deadly bacteria? Why do charities try to guilt-trip you into handing over your hard-earned cash? They're trying to make you care.
And people who care engage, respond, and buy.
There are lots of ways that we can try to make people care, but the best techniques boil down to two categories - choosing your subject, or choosing your audience. Or a combination of the two.
Choosing your audience is straightforward. If you make tennis gear, target tennis players. If you're a sportswear photographer, target sports magazines, sportswear manufacturers, sports clubs. This is fine if you're a specialist, because your specialised work defines an audience who will care about what you do. Then you just need to do battle with all the other specialists in that area. And the best way to do that is to sprinkle a little bit of the next category into your work.
The second category is about choosing your theme or topic. This offers a spectrum of opportunity for people who are selling something.
You can align yourself with an issue. Dove soap embracing the body-positive movement. The makers of Velvet toilet tissue planting five million trees. Photographer Joey Lawrence putting himself in harm's way to shoot amazing portraits of the guerrilla fighters of Rakka, or another amazing photographer Tom Oldham, who has worked with many charities, such as Riders for Health, travelling the globe highlighting issues such as famine and disease. These are people and organisations tackling difficult subjects that people care about. And as a result, people care about their products, and their work.
But you don't have to fly to a war zone to make people care. You can choose something that you care about, that you're passionate about, a theme that you know hundreds of other people care about too. Top cyclewear maker (and one of my favourite clients) Milltag recently pulled off a huge scoop by collaborating with Andrew Ainsworth to design a line of jerseys. Ainsworth was the designer behind many of the costumes from the Star Wars movies, and when Milltag launched their Original Stormtrooper range, people cared.
Similarly, when photographer Steve Brown reimagined the last supper, Star Wars-style, it went viral.
Or maybe your fondest childhood memory is of playing with Lego. People love lego. Just google "Lego Photography" and you'll find hundreds of Lego projects by photographers, many of which have been hugely successful. Because people care about Lego. It has a warm place in their heart (apart from those people who might have trodden on some when they were young.)
Other ways to make people care are to be funny, or to be controversial (or both), or to use sex. Sadly, sex still sells, and if you look at any photographer who photographs scantily clad women you'll see they have huge followings (mainly teenage boys), but using sex, just like being controversial, is easy and lazy. As the saying goes "if your product was any good you wouldn't need sexism to sell it." And likewise, you can be as controversial as you like, but you'll end up offending as many people as you attract.
Humour is much harder. Funny isn't universal, and when brands mix funny with easy, it generally falls flat. To be genuinely funny is really difficult. So I'll leave that to the experts, and recommend choosing your audience, and choosing your subject.
Find what you care about, and do that. It'll be much more authentic, it will be made with love, and those people who also share your passion or your ethos will care about your work.