I have to be honest.
When I decided to leave my job as a project manager to pursue a new life as an underwater photographer and videographer, marketing was the last thing on my mind.
Probably not at all, in fact 🙂
Such trivialities were overshadowed by my excitement about finally escaping from my office cubicle.
Instead of worrying about marketing I was enthralled by the amazing idea of calling the ocean my office and spending my days diving instead of being trapped in a constant stream of boring meetings.
Marketing and business concerns took a back seat.
Luckily for me, I didn’t have to go looking for clients.
Every Monday, like clockwork, a new flock of excited faces presented themselves, fresh off the plane and ready to swim with the sharks.
Better yet, those people were a captive audience.
“Trapped” on a boat in the middle of the ocean, it was like shooting fish in a barrel when the time came to sell them a video at the end of the day.
No complaints there, and business was good.
But, it totally set me up for the shock of a lifetime.
When I moved to Memphis, the first thing I noticed was the lack of diving-related tourism.
While I love it as a natural spectacle, to a seasoned diver the Mississippi river resembles a flowing stream of heavily-used dishwater—not at all suited for diving.
I simply pivoted into the portrait and wedding business.
Which led to the aforementioned shock.
I’d never needed to learn much about marketing in the past.
And it showed.
My only saving grace was an ability to SEO the heck out of my website to attract a lot of people from Google.
Without my IT experience to make friends with the search engines, I would have sunk faster than a loose weight-belt.
If I had to try that approach today, I would be equally sunk.
Search engine optimization is undeniably a necessary tool, but it’s nowhere near as big as it used to be, and stellar results are much harder to achieve.
Unfocused Marketing Is Failed Marketing
In 2003, I was unaware of the concept of the “ideal client“.
To me, an ideal client was semantically the same as “any client”.
I didn’t understand that marketing was all about communication, and that we could focus and tune the message to appeal to the right people.
My view of marketing back then was limited to “getting my name out there.”
Obviously, I now know better.
Anyway, it wasn’t long before I noticed the undesirable side-effects of my shotgun approach to marketing.
Putting it bluntly, most of the people who ended up hiring me were a pain in the butt to work with.
They complained about everything, expected a massive discount, failed to show up on time (or at all) for meetings, made unreasonable additional requests during the photography session, wore the most inappropriate or mismatched clothes they could find, and generally made me rethink the whole idea of being a photographer.
But then I learned about “ideal clients” and how to aim my marketing like a laser at them, specifically.
Here’s a great quote from the folks at Brandwise about the most common reason for marketing failure:
The number 1 reason marketing fails is a lack of understanding of the audience or not having a target audience defined in the first place. This is the shotgun approach. We will shoot our message out to everyone and hopefully someone will be interested…
Yeah. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.
The end result is we cast too wide a net, often because we lack confidence in our ability to close as many clients as we’d like.
Thinking back over my early experiences, I found 5 symptoms you should look for in your own business that can tell you if your marketing is focused enough on the right people.
Here they are for you…
#1: Your Marketing Tries To Appeal To Everyone
Your ideal clients are individuals, each with their own personality, likes, and dislikes.
I don’t care how many people live within reach of your photography business, you can’t possibly hope to photograph them all, nor should you want to.
A number of them will never hire a professional photographer.
Many others prefer to hire someone with a different business model to the one you offer.
That’s okay too.
But, enough people will actually value the kind of work you focus on.
Those are the people you want to appeal to.
To do that, your marketing must communicate the details of your offering, and the benefits of the experience you provide, in a way that’s crystal clear.
If your marketing is too general, or lacks your personality, you only become part of the background noise.
You won’t stand out from the crowd, and you won’t get noticed.
Instead, craft your marketing as if you’re talking to one specific person who matches the profile of your ideal client.
#2: Your Brand Message Is Confused Or Diluted
A major problem I see with most photography websites is the lack of a clear brand message.
This is closely related to your deepest drives as a photographer.
What Simon Sinek famously refers to as your “why“.
It’s what gets you up in a morning.
It’s what inspires you to keep going despite the setbacks.
Your brand message should also go much deeper than simply, “I have a passion for photography”, or “I love creating portraits of people”.
Every photographer should be able to say those things.
Your “why”, when you find it, is unique to you.
It’s forged in the fires of your life experiences, challenges, and a need to serve others.
I hate to be the one to say this, but if you can’t come up with a brand message stronger than “I capture memories you’ll treasure for a lifetime” then you have a lot of work to do, or you should find something else to do for a living.
Even if there I do see a brand message, it often gets confused or diluted because the rest of the marketing is too generalized, disorganized, or easily dismissed by the people it’s intended to reach.
Again, you have to make a stand and allow your brand messaging to shine.
Doing so will it into a beacon for your ideal clients, attracting them to you.
The rest either won’t care, or will even be repelled by it.
Either way, it’s designed only to attract the people you most want to work with.
#3: You End Up Doing More Than Actually Needed
When your marketing consistently fails to work, guess what?
You end up having to do a heck of a lot more of it.
We call it the marketer’s hamster wheel for a reason.
Instead of creating a controlled flow of perfectly-tuned content to appeal to your ideal clients, you’re forced to churn out more and more of it in the hopes some of it will make an impact.
Classic shotgun marketing in action.
Of course, if you’re forced to spend waste your time and creative energy on last-minute promotions, specials, impromptu mini-sessions, and other variants of “emergency marketing”, you won’t have a lot left in the tank to devote to the real work.
In marketing, less really is more—especially if you focus on ramping up the quality.
#4: Too Much Focus On “What” You Do
There’s a common saying in marketing circles:
No one cares what you do unless they know how much you care…
In other words, do you know why you do what you do, how you do it, and the benefits of the experience enjoyed by the client?
I already alluded to this in #2, but there are also other undesirable results from this mistake.
The biggest one is that most photography websites focus on the “what”—aka, the photography.
They show off their work using galleries, fancy slideshows, or portfolio pages with barely a word about any of the images, or why they were created.
The same happens on photography blogs where I find post after post with nothing but a stream of photographs, one after another.
Shotgun marketing in action, yet again.
Remember this other important marketing truth:
Stories sell, facts (your photographs, in this instance) only tell…
#5: Wasted Time Talking To The Wrong People
One of the worst side-effects of misdirected marketing is the amount of time wasted talking to the wrong people.
This is time you can never get back.
I used to waste countless hours on the phone with folks who inevitably failed to become clients or, worse, turned into the wrong kind of client.
These folks can suck up your time and energy faster than a Dyson.
If you suffer from the same problem, it’s a sure sign you need to adapt your marketing to make your message clearer and to aim it at the right people.
Yes, you’ll get less phone calls when you target your message at the right people.
But, the success rate from the phone calls you do get will skyrocket.
The time you save can be put to other use, such as mastering your craft or producing more targeted marketing.