No pictures allowed

This is a guest post from Mitch Joel — President, Twist Image and author of Six Pixels of Separation. See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.

I once nearly got kicked out of a furniture store.

Apparently, I broke a very strict rule of “no photography” while looking to make my purchases. Do you understand why this rule is in place? I’m going to guess that it’s because a competitor can walk into the store, take a picture of a unique piece of furniture and soon be knocking it off? Could there be another reason? Maybe I can price compare? Take that picture over to a competitor and see if they have a similar piece (or the same one) for a lower price? Neither reason seems to make any sense, because the general sentiment of the statement “no photography” screams: “We don’t trust you!”

Pictures are not just used to rip people off.

Here’s the funny part: I was taking a picture of the price tag and dimensions because I didn’t have a pen on me and, between us friends, why bother writing it down when I can snap a picture of it? (Much in the same way that I take a picture of where my car is parked instead of writing down the section.)

There was a lesson here: The world has changed, and so long as brands hold on to these random and strange draconian rules, all is lost. What if I wanted to take a picture of a new couch because I bought it and I was very excited to share it with everyone I know on Facebook and Twitter? What if I was taking the picture to ask my friends on Twitter what they thought about it? What if I was price comparison shopping? I may be talking about and sharing my brand experience with hundreds (if not, thousands) of people who — based on my recommendation — may consider shopping there.

See, the feeling I got from the security guard (beyond the, “Hey, this ain’t my rule” type of vibe) was that I was doing something wrong — almost criminal. Up until that point, I was rather enthralled by my in-store experience. Now, I just have a bad taste in my mouth about the brand.

Taking a picture is worth it.

Let’s stop in-store picture takers. Let’s stop in-store price comparison shopping. Let’s block people from using Facebook at work. All of these sentiments (and more) point to trust. The funny (or not so funny) thing about trust is this: The more you let people do what they naturally want to do (like take pictures of furniture in a furniture store), the more trust you build. Yes, the retailer may be screwed by a handful of people, but instead they’re punishing everybody for the misgivings of a select and evil few.

Can you imagine the people at any major retail operation not allowing consumers to use their mobile devices in the store for fear that they may price compare? Imagine if you walked into an Apple store and they said, “No photography.”

What we’re going to do.

The problem with this blog post is that you are already converted. You already know the drill. You know how much technology has changed business and marketing. You’re a believer (even if you’re still a little skeptical). I turned to the security guard and said, “What’s the difference between writing down the dimensions and the price versus taking a picture of it?” His response was, “This is just my job and if I turn my back and you take the picture and I don’t see it, then it doesn’t matter.”

I felt bad. He was just doing his job. The problem with “just doing his job” is that the job doesn’t even make sense to him. Brands live and die by the people that represent them on the floor each and every day. If those people don’t understand or believe in the brand rules — and neither do your consumers — who do you really think is at fault here?

Final message: Let people take pictures of your products and services. Lots and lots of pictures (trust me on this one).

About Mitch Joel

Mitch Joel is President of Mirum — an award-winning Digital Marketing and Communications agency. He is also a blogger, podcaster, journalist, speaker, and the author of "Six Pixels of Separation" and "CTRL ALT Delete." Mitch is frequently called upon to be a subject matter expert for BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Marketing Magazine, Profit, Strategy, Money, The Globe & Mail, and many other media outlets.

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