Here’s a quick question for you:
Who are you actually marketing your photography to? Is it the right people—the ones who need and love what you can do for them through the magic of your camera? Or, are you accidentally aiming your marketing materials at the person you see in the bathroom mirror first thing in a morning?
You might think you know the answer, because it seems so obvious.
I mean, who would deliberately market their own photography to themselves?
Doing so doesn’t sound like a smart business move, does it?
Well, as it turns out, we’ve all done it.
Yes, we’ve all fallen prey to the incorrect assumption that our clients are just like us. Because we’re locked inside our own heads, it’s easy to imagine they think and behave in the same ways we do about certain things.
But when our marketing falls on deaf ears, or we fail to close a sale, we wind up all confused and thrown off track by the harsh reality of it.
Surely, it can’t be our photography or what we have to offer? It must be something else!
So we look around for the usual suspects we can pin the blame on:
- The poor state of the economy…
- The unique and peculiar mix of people in our local community…
- The cheaper photographers stealing our clients with their lure of lower prices…
- The tendency for people to accept lower standards as “good enough”…
- The failure of people to “get” the value of what we’re offering…
I hate to break it to you, but those are nothing more than excuses. We use them to avoid facing the truth that it’s our fault—more specifically, the fault of our marketing which is too often based on false assumptions.
- The economy might be shaky right now, but it’s in pretty good shape compared to 7 years ago.
- The people in your community are not some unique sub-species who refuse to spend money or suffer a mass-allergy to professional photography.
- The cheaper photographers might be stealing your clients, but only because you let them.
- Human nature will accept lower standards as “good enough”, especially when such things are as close to them as a smartphone, unless we help them to see otherwise.
- Finally, how is anyone supposed to “get” what you have to offer when all they can see from you is a slideshow, a few galleries, and a contact me form?
The Culprit Is Closer Than You Think
Who Are You Actually Marketing Your Photography To?
Are you accidentally marketing your photography to yourself instead of your ideal clients? Here's how to identify and reach the right people...
Clearly, the place you should be looking is the bathroom mirror—there you will find the face of the real culprit.
The person looking back at you is the one who falsely believes everyone else conforms to your values and beliefs, especially the ones about all those icky business things like marketing copy, salespeople, pricing, and the non-existent superpower of photography to sell itself.
Yet, these assumptions are difficult to shake off because we’re hard-wired to think this way.
It’s the direct result of what psychologists call the “false-consensus bias”.
In simple terms, this is our natural tendency to imagine everyone thinks and behaves the same way we do. This belief also has the effect of increasing our own self-worth because we have a need to fit in with the crowd and be liked by others.
Want some examples of how this shows up in your photography business?
Okay, here are three of them for you:
- You dislike any website where you can’t immediately find prices, so you assume your ideal clients will feel the same way about your website. Therefore, you try to overcome this by making your prices easily accessible instead of presenting them only when the time is right for you and the client.
- You believe your photographs are your best sales tools, so you assume your potential clients will be wowed by the power of your photography through slideshows and endless galleries. Because you believe so strongly in the power of photography to tell stories, you assume your prospects will instinctively understand those stories in all their detail and fall in love with what you do.
- You have an ugly picture in your mind of the typical pushy salesperson and you find the whole process sleazy and uncomfortable. If you assume your prospects feel the same way, you’ll do everything you can to avoid any form of sales, and you even tone down the text and calls to action on your website to avoid it being seen as too sales-oriented. Ironically, you’ll also want to delegate as much of the sales process to your website as you can to avoid having to sell face-to-face.
There are a lot more examples, but you get the idea.
Your Photography Clients Are On The Outside Looking In
You might even be feeling quite uncomfortable and conflicted right now, and I guarantee your mind is throwing up all kinds of objections to what I just said.
But it’s all true, nonetheless, and can be summed up quite neatly in one sentence:
The person in the mirror isn’t your client, it’s the person looking at you through the window…
Failure to understand this can have devastating effects on your business.
The Nightmare Of A Failing Photography Business
If you recall, in the previous article we looked at the challenge of sinking into obscurity and having your photographic work being seen as mediocre.
The fallout from such a situation creates a lot of stress and worry. Not to mention anxiety over where the next paying client will come from. The lack of subjects to put in front of your camera can lead to poor judgment about pricing, sleepless nights, and poorly-conceived emergency marketing.
Few things can be worse for a professional photographer than knee-jerk marketing that falls flat on its face.
In some cases, an ailing business can also create non-supportive spouses who lose faith in the photographer’s ability to make good on their continual promises that “it will all work out in the end…”
There are not many things more sad to me than seeing a photographer’s passion and talent get squashed beneath the boot of a controlling and non-supportive partner—something I see far too often.
A Simple Formula For Success
If you remember, I mentioned a simple formula to rescue your photography business from such a disaster:
Photographic excellence + Unmatched professionalism + Marketing mastery = Famously amazing
The first one, photographic excellence, is something all of us should be working on, regardless of how long we’ve been in the business. After all, photographic skills, camera techniques and post-processing Photoshop tricks are all things we can easily learn.
The second element, unmatched professionalism, does require a shift in attitude and approach, but revolves around the simple idea of giving your clients the best possible experience, and then some. It’s not rocket science, and anyone can work at improvements in this area without having to be told what to do because it should be a natural result of your passion for photography.
It’s the third part of the equation, marketing mastery, which is causing more than its fair of problems for people.
Bad Marketing = A Business On Life-Support
Every day photographers complain about how hard marketing is and how they feel like they’re stumbling around in the dark. Marketing is obviously something we have to do, but too many photographers are fighting for their professional lives just to get themselves noticed by the people who will go on to hire them.
But help is out there, and freely available for the most part.
In fact, the amount of information available about how to market a business is staggering.
Regardless of what kind of marketing you’re stuck on, there are probably hundreds of articles or resources to explain how you can make it work for you.
Surely then, it’s a simple case of learning what needs to be done and then putting it into practice, right?
Well, not so fast!
The problem, as I’m sure you already know, is the sheer volume and diversity of the information.
Not only is there a lot to wade through, much of it is either outdated or directly contradicts what others have to say on the topic. To make matters worse, it can be difficult to decide who is right and who is wrong.
No wonder photographers are confused by it all!
I used to feel the same way when I started out, and the constant feeling of being overwhelmed was a real buzz-kill and caused major disruption in the normal running of my business.
After a year or so of feeling like I had a head full of angry wasps, I decided enough was enough.
Something needed to be done!
Let’s Get Back To Marketing Basics
After a good amount of head-scratching and more than a few late nights, I came up with a simple solution based on something one of my high-school math teachers once taught me:
The key to solving any problem is to go back to first principles to find the fundamental foundation for a solution.
The only thing math and marketing had in common were the first two letters, but I wondered if the same idea could help sort out all this marketing nonsense.
Surprisingly, it does!
By going back to basic proven marketing principles and strategies where the focus is on human nature and natural behavior, we have a readymade BS filter through which we can pass all the information we want to evaluate.
What we’re trying to learn will either agree with those principles, or go against them, making our job of identifying the better strategies so much easier.
Now, that said, there are always going to be outliers.
Learn The Rules—Then Break Them
Those are the ideas which appear to fly in the face of our fundamental principles but do, in actual fact, work for some reason. For those, we must rely on practical evidence and test results to guide us, but these are (at least for the most part) usually more advanced strategies and tactics best left until you’ve mastered the basics.
In other words, just like in photography itself, learn the rules first and then learn how to intelligently break them later.
What’s The Goal Of Your Marketing?
In my opinion, the most important of these fundamental principles concerns the simple goal of your marketing, which can be summarized like this:
The goal of marketing is not to mean something to ourselves. The goal of marketing is to have it mean something to the people we’re meant to serve…
The observant among you will notice I paraphrased a quote by Simon Sinek there, the well-known author of Start With Why, and my apologies, Simon, if you’re reading, but I think it sums it all up very well 🙂
So this leaves the big question of how to create marketing that means something to your potential clients?
How To Create Marketing That Means Something
The first thing to do is make sure you know who in the world it is you’re talking to.
If you don’t know who your ideal clients are, where they live, who they socialize with, where they eat, work, and play, or the role great photography fulfills in their lives, how will you know what to say to them, or how to say it?
Get in touch with some of your favorite clients, or people you would love to work with, and try to learn as much about them as you can. Become a good observer of people because no detail is ever too small.
If you stick around for the rest of this episode, I’ve got a free gift for you make it a lot easier to identify your ideal clients, so listen for the details coming up at the end.
Clean Up Your Vocabulary!
Next, make it your goal to eliminate the words “I”, “we”, or “us” from your marketing copy. Those are bad words, and should be used with great care.
Instead, focus on the most powerful word known to marketers—the word “you”.
Pick up your red editing pen and get ruthless. Blaze your way through every page and blog post on your website with all the enthusiasm of Genghis Khan on a world tour. Convert your marketing copy from being centered around you and your business into something focused purely on your customers and their point of view.
Fall In Love With Email Marketing
If you haven’t already done so, start an email marketing list, and offer something simple and valuable to the people you now know so well. Because you know what they love and the ideas they struggle with, it’s much easier to come up with something to offer them in exchange for an email address.
But don’t fall into the trap of getting caught up in the numbers with email marketing.
For example, you don’t need thousands of random subscribers, just those who can emotionally relate to you as a photographer.
Master the art of communication and talk with the people on your email list at least once per week. Notice I said “talk with” and not “talk to”—those are subtly different in their execution but the difference is important.
Share stories of mutual interest, and invite them to reply with their own opinions or questions. In other words, always seek to engage your audience.
Open Up And Tell Your Photographic Stories
Next, embrace the importance and value of real words and their incredible ability to tell the deep emotional stories captured by your inner eye, camera. and lens. I can’t stress this enough and it’s something marketers have known for a long time: stories sell.
For example, if you want a slideshow on your website then at least overlay the images and photographs with a short but powerful phrase of emotive text. And remember to allow ample time (it’s more than you might think) for the viewer to read and assimilate the message.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then use those words in your marketing to tell the real story.
You Can’t Possibly Photograph Everyone!
Perhaps one of the key things to remember about marketing is it’s not important to reach everyone.
You only have to reach the people who will naturally resonate with your approach, style and message. Those are the folks who are interested in what you have to offer.
Finally, remember this:
You are not a professional photographer just to make money… your real job is to inspire your clients through a magical experience they can’t get elsewhere…
The money part comes later, almost as a by-product of following this type of principle.
In my experience, the photographers who are in it only for the money, instead of doing it for the sake of providing a unique and valuable service, those photographers are the ones who usually burn out the fastest, especially if they also lack the necessary marketing skills.
It All Comes Down To Perspective
So, the next time you look in the mirror, remind yourself that you are not your client and that your real clients are the ones looking into your business from the outside. They might have different views and beliefs about certain business practices, and you can’t rely on the assumption that they see things the same way you do.
You might feel like your marketing copy is too sales-oriented while they see it as helpful, valuable, informative, and even inspiring.
It’s all a simple matter of perspective.
Remember These Words From Marie Curie
We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained…
You don’t have to be a professional photographer for very long before you realize it’s not as easy as it looked from the outside, right?
Viewed from the amateur side of photography, it seems like only a small jump into a world where you can actually make a living from your camera, and a tempting jump at that!
But, oh what some photographers wouldn’t give to be back at “I might give this professional photography thing a go…”!
After the initial novelty and excitement wears off, and the dust settles to reveal a world where it seems as if EVERY person is suddenly a photographer, the reality sets in…
This is TOUGH!
It doesn’t take long for the self-doubts to start, the questions about how you’re going to make this work, and why are you spending every minute of every day frantically begging for people to pay attention to you?
Without a deep sense of purpose and self-belief, failure is inevitable.
Unless you can get up every morning determined to keep at it despite the setbacks and challenges, your business is going to die before it’s even a toddler.
Therefore, the one thing you must NEVER lose is your passion and your firm belief that you’re gifted and destined to do this.
Keep at it, and never ever give up… 🙂