By Michael Chan

What is the most important marketing question you can ask yourself? No doubt, ask a dozen photographers and you’ll get a dozen and a half different opinions. Here’s mine contribution to the pile: What makes my business remarkable

This seems like a naively simple question. But driving the question is the writing and research of two of today’s most influential marketing experts: Seth Godin (Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, All Marketers are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World, etc) and Dr. Jonah Berger (Contagious: Why Things Catch On). While Berger’s book is more deeply grounded in social science research, the two books come to very similar conclusions: successful businesses are remarkable businesses.

Let’s return to the original question: What makes my business remarkable?

The choice of the term, “remarkable” was by design. We can break it down into two parts, “remark-able.” Etymology and philology aside, something that is remarkable is something worth talking about–worth remarking on. As Godin emphasizes in Purple Cow and elsewhere, if you see a dairy cow, you probably aren’t getting too excited, especially if you live in an area inundated by them. They are just part of the landscape.

But, if you were to see a purple cow, you would probably stop the car, take a picture (maybe even a selfie), tweet about it, post images on Facebook and Instagram, and mention it to family and friends around the dinner table. A purple cow, Godin would argue, is not only worth noticing, but it is also worth talking about. It’s remark-able.

And so that’s the key question: What about my business is remarkable? Or, to use Berger’s medical metaphor, what about my business is “contagious”? What causes my clients to stop, watch, and remark to others? Do clients have such a bowled-over experience of your photography service or product that they are simply compelled to tell others about it? If the answer is, “no,” then there is work to be done.

For Godin, the opposite of remarkable is not “bad” or “mediocre.” The opposite of remarkable is “very good” (Godin, Purple Cow). The old adage goes, “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” For our purposes, don’t let the good be the enemy of the remarkable. People don’t pull over to take a self with a “very good” cow; they pull over to take a selfie with a “purple cow.”

But here’s the deal: Nobody can tell you how to make your business remarkable. Because what counts as “remarkable” is always context specific. It depends on the worldview, interests, identities, and motivations of your pool of clientele. What stories do your clientele tell themselves, and how does your product or service support, stimulate, or augment that narrative? (see especially Godin, All Marketers are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World).

So the road to remarkability begins not with doing, but with listening. As someone who is passionate about creating a remarkable business, I spend a significant amount of time asking questions like:

  • What do my clients value most in life, as evidenced by how they spend their time, money, and resources?
  • When they look in the mirror every day, what story do they tell themselves?
  • What do they think makes a good friend? Spouse? Parent? Boss? Employee?
  • What kinds of activities, purchases, lifestyles are most meaningful to your clients?
  • What do your clients believe about their world, their community, and their place in life?
  • To what physical and digital communities do they belong? Why?
  • What do they rave about most on social media?
  • What do they complain about?
  • What products or services get them excited in casual conversations?
  • What are the experiences, objects, or places that they cannot seem to stop talking about?

Taking significant time to ask questions like these can help our photography business become not only “very good,” but also “remarkable.”