If you’re married did you walk into a bar, approach the first person to catch your eye and ask them to marry you, without at least buying them a drink and getting to know them better?
At least I hope not 🙂
The point is we can’t build meaningful relationships at random, or in the same way we shop for, let’s say, a bag of sugar.
While we can buy good sugar almost anywhere, there’s no “Spouses R Us” megastore (yes, I know we have online dating sites, but I’m sure most normal people don’t rush into marriage from those either).
Of course, we don’t usually need a deep relationship with any particular brand of sugar in order to buy stuff to sweeten our morning coffee.
But a positive and healthy relationship with the person who makes the effort to get up at 6am to brew coffee for us is more than useful, unless we want to risk having it land in our lap instead…
Why Are Relationships Important In Marketing?
One simple reason…
Because people prefer to do business with people they know, like, and trust—not just faceless businesses with no personality.
This is especially true when it comes to marketing your photography services, and the new game of marketing for photographers is all about building and nurturing great relationships with your prospective clients.
You are NOT a cheap brand of sugar no one cares about as long as you make their coffee taste nice!
Remember the word “relationship”—etch it in big shiny letters onto the screen of your mind because it’s critical to your future success.
In other words, your photography is not just a commodity.
I’m sure you would agree that it’s a premium service and a set of products where the experience of creation and the personal interaction with your clients are at least as important as the end result.
As I’ve said already, a lot hinges on how much people know, like, and trust you.
And, just like the love you share with your spouse, the important elements of trust and familiarity don’t happen overnight.
The Case For Relationship Building
Here’s an obvious fact, often overlooked even by experienced photographers:
The vast majority of people who visit your photography website, or interact with your marketing, are not ready to hire you, or buy your prints, at that exact moment even if they fit the profile of your ideal client…
Think about it for a moment.
Most of the people who encounter your marketing are in a state other than “ready to buy right now”.
And they’re certainly not going to sit around on your website until they are ready.
Instead, they’ll leave, go about their daily business, and forget you ever existed.
At some future time, when they finally do need to book someone, they need to do it right then.
In which case, they’ll head back to Google in search of a photographer, only to take a different path and land on some other website instead of yours, with the good chance they’ll hire them instead of you.
Does this mean the other photographer they chose is more skilled than you, or a better fit for that specific client?
No, probably not.
Sadly, even though we’ve all gotten a new client through such means at one time or another, serendipity doesn’t happen enough to sustain a real business.
The truth is, your competitor just got lucky in one of those rare “hey, someone actually booked me after looking at my website” moments. These can make them believe the illusion that “things are starting to look up…”
But, lucky or not, they gained a customer who should have been yours.
And losing customers hurts if you’re already financially stretched, right?
It probably hurts even more when you realize you were at least partially responsible for sending them away to begin with!
What could you possibly have done differently to reduce the chances of losing the client?
The same thing we do with everyone else who’s important to us:
Build A Meaningful Relationship!
This is the foundation for the lead-generation model, which has been used successfully for many years in the offline sales world.
Remember the saying, “it’s not what you know, but who you know…”?
Relationships have been badly neglected in online marketing until recently, when Google’s constant changes finally made it clear that relying on search engines alone for visitors is no longer a viable business model.
Social media didn’t exactly race to the rescue either, preferring instead (and rightly so, given the incredible volume of content passing through social channels) to use paid advertising as a content filter.
Now, more than ever before, it’s painfully obvious that you must do everything in your power to nurture and retain every single website visitor who fits the profile of your ideal clients, or risk losing them forever among the noise that’s your competition.
To keep these potential clients in the loop until they’re ready to book or buy from you requires a lead-generation system optimized to be as effective as possible in supplying you with leads you can have a real-world conversation with.
In fact, many of the photographers I talk to during coaching sessions tell me they have no trouble actually getting people to book with them IF they can just get them into a sales conversation.
But, like a marriage, it’s going to take more than one date to get them there.
Take Your Prospects Out On Multiple Dates
If it takes more than one exposure to your business to get someone to become a lead, how can you best promote your website and blog content to entice more of your prospects to return?
You interact with them on multiple occasions by providing them with a stream (but not a torrent) of engaging content.
Obviously, the goal is to encourage as many of your website visitors as possible to return to your website in the future—as often as necessary to help them feel comfortable enough to take the relationship to the next level.
As well as promoting your website to first-time visitors, you also need to promote your content to encourage them to return multiple times.
While still immensely useful, search engine optimization (SEO) is not the right tool to generate repeated visits, although so many people seem to rely heavily on Google in this area.
However, there are a couple of marketing tools you can use for this:
- Promotion via social media…
- Promotion via email…
Promotion Via Social Media
You can use social media to let your fans and followers know whenever you have new content to share with them.
For example, it could be a new blog post or other useful resource on your website.
The problem with this approach is it depends on your audience actually seeing your updates at the time you post them.
I’m sure you’ve already noticed that Facebook is afflicted with the problem of your business page updates being missed entirely by as many as 96% of your fans.
When it comes to Twitter, tweets have a very short half-life, meaning they quickly get buried in the deluge of other tweets—on average, a tweet sees most of its lifetime clicks in the first 18 minutes after being posted. Not great for reaching all your followers, right?
Unfortunately, most photographers rely heavily on social media as their main promotion channel, meaning their efforts go largely unnoticed—what a waste of time and energy!
By the way, I’m not suggesting that social media doesn’t work, or you should avoid using it.
What I am saying is that the social channels are not the ideal vehicle for promotion.
For example, here’s what well-known marketing expert Seth Godin said in an interview with Hugh MacLeod from Gapingvoid:
I just looked at the stats for my course. 22% of the traffic came from my blog. 74% came from email and RSS. 4% came from social media.
I think showing up in a trusted way, regularly, is priceless.
4% of his sales came from social media—not very useful, right? The “trusted way” he refers to is not social media, as you’ll see in a moment.
However, we shouldn’t discount social media promotion altogether since it is very useful for nurturing relationships and creating a sense of accessibility and conversation about you and your photography brand.
Promotion Via Email
Going back to Seth Godin’s quote, the “trusted way” he referred to is, of course, email marketing.
Are you using email as part of your marketing and lead-generation system?
If not, you’re missing out on the most effective channel available for getting your ideal prospects and customer to revisit your website.
It’s true, email marketing does have something of a bad reputation, and it’s tempting to think of it as sleazy or to imagine that people will view your emails as spam.
Yes, there’s a lot of spam zipping around the Internet, and I get more than enough of it every day myself, but I obviously don’t treat every email I get as spam.
It all depends on how valuable and interesting those emails are, and the kind of relationship I have with the sender.
The fact is, email still represents the most productive marketing channel—beating social media hands down in terms of lead-generation and sales.
It’s also a personal marketing method, and it’s as close to a 1-to-1 marketing method you can get.
For instance, every email you send is targeted directly to ONE person, and your emails are read by ONE person at a time. You can’t get much more personal than that in marketing, especially if you write your emails as if you were speaking to a specific ideal client.
Then, of course, email has a higher actual reach, when compared to social media.
Even if your email open rate is only 25% (and I know you can do much better), compare that to a measly 4% of Facebook fans seeing your updates—it’s at least SIX times better than just posting on Facebook and has a longer shelf-life too.
Email Marketing Is Perfect For Prospects Who Aren’t Ready
I hope you’re paying close attention at this point because the success of your entire lead-generation system hinges on how well you can communicate with your potential photography clients via email.
And, one of the most compelling reasons to adopt an email marketing program is what I said at the beginning—most people who visit your website for the 1st time aren’t ready to hire you or buy from you right there and then—a KEY factor in your marketing, so it’s certainly worth repeating!
Remember, unless you have an effective way to convert visitors into leads on their first visit, you’ll likely never see them again, so it’s vital to have some way to get them onto your email marketing list in order to grow and nurture the relationship over time until they are ready!