Get your Photo business back on track with this Blue Ocean Strategy

When I read W Chan Kim’s and Renee Mauborgne’s book “Blue Ocean Strategy” light bulbs went off in my head. They NAILED IT.

This is a good read and you can get it at

They don’t talk about the photography business, but business in general. But believe me when I say as far as running your portrait studio goes, this can be the difference between success and failure for you.

The basic concept behind the title is this. As a given market becomes more crowded, competitors start to discount. In fact it becomes cutthroat. Hence the term red ocean. It’s all the competitors bleeding out. Our goal is to move our business out of the red ocean into the clear clean blue ocean where there is no competition for our services.

Seems simple doesn’t it? But how the heck do we do that? Let’s look at how many of us think as we start to grow our businesses. We often start by checking out the local competition for pricing and samples. We set our prices just below theirs so we think we’ll gain market share and then increase our prices once we’re successful. But that in itself is a recipe for disaster and one of the biggest reasons why so many photographers fail in the first three years.

We also look to other photographers for artistic inspiration. We see images we like and try to learn how do to that. How to turn out the same work that they’re doing and we’re charging even less for it. So there we have it. We just put ourselves squarely in the red ocean.

The trick is to redefine a new market for us to swim in. The book gives several great examples of businesses you know and love and how they created uncontested market space and made the competition irrelevant. Cirque du Soleil is one of the first stories they tell. You have to read that one for a great lesson in business planning.

I got two very important lessons from this book and I want to share them with you.

1) Redefine the products we offer to make the competition irrelevant

2) Review our marketing principles and beware of the trap of conventional customer care

Let me explain.

My first point is about our products and services. If we forever look to our competitors to see what they’re doing and then do the same we’re in trouble. So we want to develop our own style that leaves them in the dust. If you saw our presentation  from Travis Gadsby on getting out of comfort zone you’ll know what I mean and how Travis pushes himself.

But an even better example is a photographer from Toronto I just met a few weeks ago. Maggie Habieda Nowakowski stunned me with her work. A style and grace to her images that reach into the heart. And when I saw for myself how she does this the thought running through my mind was – oh my god – I can’t do that! She is so far beyond where I am it’s scary. And needless to say – she’s rockin it. Clearly she’s swimming in a blue ocean. I have a video presentation about her and it's in our Media Library. You watch her do the art I’m talking about.

And there are many others. Ben Shirk, Warne Noyce, and dozens of others are finding success while most are wondering what hit them.

My second point is about marketing and a pitfall to a common marketing concept we all use I never thought of before. Most marketers teach about building your customer database and marketing to them. After all we all know it’s easier to sell to an existing customer than it is to find new customers. The problem with that strategy is that it leads to a finer and finer product line as photographers strive to redefine themselves for what their existing customers want. The more intense the competition, the more we narrow our offerings.

Blue ocean strategy defines a different way of thinking about customers. In fact instead of thinking about customers, they should spend their time thinking about non-customers and instead of thinking about customer differences, they need to think about powerful commonalities in what buyers value. This allows us to reach beyond existing demand and unlock a new mass of customers that did not exist before. This is what these successful photographers I name have done.

It all comes back to basics. If you’re photography sucks – fix it. But not by copying your competition. Look for sources of inspiration that drive you in new directions. Get out of your comfort zone and learn new tricks. Then, reach out to new markets. Find a fresh group of customers that can and will spend good money on something they can’t get anywhere else. People want to be unique. They don’t want the same as everyone else.

Tap that!



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