Table Of Contents
This is a long article, so I’ve broken it up into smaller sections for you. Click on one of the links below to go directly to a specific section:
- What Do Your Clients Say When You’re Not Looking?
- What Is Word Of Mouth Marketing?
- Active And Passive Word Of Mouth Marketing?
- Using “Sneak Peeks” To Build Excitement
- The Power Of Slideshow Videos
- Going Viral: Word Of Mouth Marketing On Steroids
- Getting Involved In the Conversation
- Watermarking And Logos As Word Of Mouth Marketing
- Creating A Positive Client Experience
- Dealing With Negative Word Of Mouth Marketing
- Client Referral Programs As Word Of Mouth Marketing
- How Regular Blogging Affects Word Of Mouth Marketing
- Making It Easy For People To Share Your Content
- Word of Mouth Marketing From Local Displays
- Projecting A Genuine Business Persona
- Acquiring And Using Testimonials
- Thoughts On Word Of Mouth Marketing From Other Experts
- Your Word Of Mouth Marketing Strategy
- A Step-By-Step Word Of Mouth Marketing System
- There’s A Lot More To Successful Marketing Than Word of Mouth
Get Everything In Here As a Convenient Book
Word of Mouth Marketing In Photography: Intro Video
In fact, almost every photographer I talk to tells me that word of mouth marketing plays a big role in getting them new clients, and yet they still don’t have enough business to keep them going.
Something doesn’t add up there, does it?
If their clients rave about them to everyone they know, the photographer’s phone ought to be as hot as a freshly-baked potato, right?
It therefore raises the question, if word of mouth marketing is such a large part of their strategy, how come they’re not fully booked?
Sounds to me like photographers love the idea of word of mouth marketing, but influencing it to their advantage and getting it to actually work for them is a challenge.
Does that sound familiar to you?
Word Of Mouth Marketing Isn’t A Game Of Chance
The good news is, you don’t have to leave it to chance that someone will give you a raving review to their friends and family.
With the advice I’m about to share with you in this article, you can create a word of mouth marketing strategy for your photography that practically guarantees that your clients will not only love you, they’ll become brand evangelists.
Word of mouth marketing (or “word of mouse” as we might call it in the online world) is widely recognized as being the most powerful form of marketing there is—it’s also the least expensive with a massive return on investment (ROI).
Think about it for a moment.
How would it feel to know that can activate a steady stream of positive conversation every time you share photographs from a portrait session or wedding?
Pretty good, right?
Check out this infographic and the amazing statistics behind word of mouth marketing today:
Word Of Mouth Marketing Is Not Beyond Your Control
A big mistake that many photographers and small business owners make is to assume that word of mouth marketing is something that just happens, and is outside of their control.
Nothing could be further from the truth—especially in an emotion-driven business such as photography.
If you commit to developing a solid strategy to take advantage of every opportunity to encourage positive word of mouth marketing for you and your photography, you’ll love what you find here.
- What word of mouth marketing is…
- The two basic forms of word of mouth marketing…
- Learn how to use “sneak peeks“…
- The viral power of slideshow videos…
- How to improve the chances of your content going viral…
- Why getting into the online conversation is so important…
- How to best watermark your photography…
- The impact of personality on word of mouth marketing…
These are just a few of the topics covered in here, designed to give you a foundation for generating successful word of mouth marketing for your photography business, and to help you come up with new ideas of your own.
Before we start, it’s a good idea to have a definition of what word of mouth marketing really is.
The most common notion of word of mouth marketing suggests that it’s simply the transmission of a marketing message or recommendation from one individual to another, with the intention of influencing the receiver’s perception of the product or service being discussed.
Here’s a great definition from Entrepreneur:
An unpaid form of promotion in which satisfied customers tell other people how much they like a business, product or service.
They also go on to say that word of mouth marketing “…is triggered when a customer experiences something far beyond what was expected. Slightly exceeding their expectations just won’t do it. You’ve got to go above and beyond the call of duty…”
I couldn’t agree more because the experience is everything when it comes to thrilling your photography clients enough to get them talking about it.
Word Of Mouth Marketing Is Like A Magnet
Magnets have the ability to attract or repel, and word of mouth marketing is no different.
Because it depends on how you and your photography experience made your clients feel, any resulting word of mouth marketing they do can be either positive or negative.
Obviously, your reputation hangs in the balance whenever you’re subject to its effects. The more you do to ensure that anything spread by word of mouth is positive, the better off you’ll be, and the fewer fires you’ll need to put out.
Before the Internet, and specifically prior to the rise of the social web, traditional word of mouth marketing usually involved one person talking to another as part of a face-to-face conversation, or perhaps a trusted speaker addressing a group.
The result was a slow transmission of ideas from one person to another, with the occasional group of people being involved during a social gathering, for example.
Despite being slow, word of mouth marketing was nonetheless “sticky“.
This means that the message usually came from a trusted source, made even more compelling by the social rank of the person providing the endorsement.
Nowadays, with social media playing such a large role, word of mouth marketing has been augmented by “word of mouse” marketing, where the sharing of information has been greatly accelerated by the speed of the Internet.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll consider “word of mouth” and “word of mouse” to mean the same thing.
The Real Power Of Word Of Mouth Marketing
When was the last time you tried a different restaurant, or stayed in a hotel you hadn’t been to before?
Did you do so purely by chance, or was it because someone you know recommended it to you?
I bet you checked out any online reviews first, though, right?
If it was a product or service, you probably already knew about it through some form of advertising, and you may even have considered trying it yourself, but hesitated because you weren’t 100% sure.
But if you hear about it from someone who has tried it and had a good experience, you’re more likely to give it a go for yourself (or avoid it altogether if your friend’s experience was negative).
Interestingly enough, the closer the referring person is to you in social terms, the more likely you are to act on the information they give you. In other words, the influencing power of the message is dependent upon the social distance between the messenger from the receiver.
Because of the fact that word of mouth (at least in the offline world) relies on the physical interaction of one person talking to another, it’s particularly effective at spreading an idea within communities, but is less efficient over larger distances.
Which is good news for you.
Most photographers naturally work within a local community, ranging in size from small towns to large metropolitan areas, so word of mouth marketing is an effective vehicle for spreading brand awareness.
The information doesn’t have to travel too far. With the advent of social media, the transmission power has grown exponentially more powerful.
It therefore makes sense to use the power of word of mouth marketing as much as you possibly can, and to your best advantage.
However, just because word of mouth rests in the hands of others (your clients), you don’t have to leave it all to chance.
There are also many ways in which you can influence the efficiency of transmission, as you’ll see.
There are basically two flavors of word of mouth marketing:
Active Word Of Mouth Marketing
Active word of mouth marketing is the one we think about most often, where people talk to each other, exchange information, and pass on recommendations about things they’ve done or tried, or places they’ve visited.
The participants are actively engaged in the process of communicating the value of their experiences, complete with any emotional context they might add, such as enthusiasm and excitement.
For example, suppose one of your clients bumps into a friend at the grocery store, and starts talking to her about the amazing experience she had working with you.
She pulls out some wallet prints or a mini-book, and excitedly shows the photos to her friend, all the while explaining what a wonderful photographer you are, and that maybe she should have portraits made for herself too. Most of what she says, by the way, are things you could never say about yourself with any amount of credibility.
Passive Word Of Mouth Marketing
Passive word of mouth marketing, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily require the sender and the recipient to be physically present in the same place, or even talking specifically about the product being marketed.
They could be conversing about something else entirely, yet your products and service can still have a subconscious influence.
For example, the same happy portrait client from the previous example might be having her friend over at her home for coffee, sitting in a room where one of your portraits is proudly displayed.
They could be talking about something entirely unrelated to your photography, but if the friend notices the portrait on the wall, she may be swayed into considering having one done for her own family simply because her friend has endorsed it by displaying it in her home.
Other forms of passive word of mouth marketing include mailed holiday cards, profile photos used for online social media sites, displays of your work in the community, implied endorsements from other vendors, to name but a few.
Usually, wall portraits and high-end albums are the most profitable type of sale wedding and portrait photographers might aim for.
By the way, for the purposes of this article, I’ll assume that you do IPS (in-person sales) and that you sell by projection.
At the very least, you should use a guided sales session where you’re physically present with the client.
This is in contrast to the alternative business model of selling through online galleries, where you can upload the images the same day or very soon thereafter. I won’t go into the pros and cons of either model here, as it’s beyond the scope of this article.
Maintaining The Emotional High Of The Session
One big challenge you face with projection selling is that there’s a delay of anywhere from several days to several weeks between the session or wedding and the actual sales presentation itself.
Given that you sell an emotionally-based product, it makes sense to keep the emotional intensity as high as possible, for as long as you can, so that the client’s anticipation of seeing their finished photographs during the sales presentation is still on a high.
The question is, how can you maintain the emotional high without showing them all the photographs ahead of time?
The answer could be to release “sneak peeks” with a handful of images from the portrait session or wedding.
You can do this on Facebook, through your blog, or both. For maximum effect, I recommend using both platforms and synchronizing them so that they appear at the same time.
It’s also a good idea to send an email out to your email subscribers (you do have an email list, right?). This is an opportunity to keep your dormant prospects warm by letting them know you’ve posted some images, and to invite sharing and comments.
Sharing these sneak peeks is easy for your clients to do on Facebook, but remember to give them the URL link to your blog post so that they can share it by email with their family and friends too.
When To Post A Sneak Peek
The timing of sneak peeks is also important.
Ideally, you should post the photographs when the client’s excitement is at its peak, usually within 12–24 hours of the session. Obviously, it makes no sense to post them at an odd time such as in the middle of the night, so be aware of when your clients will be in a position to see them as soon as possible after you post them.
A major exception to the above statement is for weddings. The idea of a sneak peek for weddings involves more than the concept of just showing them a few sample images to share, like, and comment on. If at all possible, you want to be the first person to post any images from the wedding day, which means getting something online as soon as you can. You can do this during a quiet moment at the wedding itself, or when you return home or to the studio.
The reason for this is because there are so many other people at the wedding with cameras, and they will also be eager to post their photographs.
Using the principle that “the first impression is the lasting impression“, you’ll want your great photographs to be the first that people see, rather than something taken by “Uncle Harry“.
Unfortunately, this is becoming more difficult, especially given the prevalence of smartphones and social posting apps.
A good solution exists for photographers armed with wireless-enabled cameras. These cameras can be set to automatically send the captured images via wireless to a remote computer, such as a laptop, and then you can have your assistant do a quick edit on a few images, and post them online, even while the wedding is still happening. This way, you’ll be guaranteed to at least be amongst the first to get some sneak peek images out, and they will stand out much better as a result.
Sneak peeks are a great way to generate buzz and excitement about your work without giving away too much, or spoiling the surprise of the sales presentation to the extent of hurting your final print sales.
However, I recommend that you limit what you post to a small number of images, and make sure you accompany them with a strong piece of compelling text.
Famous For A Day
Sneak peeks are especially effective for high-school senior portraits, where the senior is keen to show off some of their images to their friends.
You can enhance their experience by doing whatever you can to make them feel “famous for a day“.
There are many ways to do that, such as giving them a special “senior of the day” award, highlighting them on your blog in some way, producing a unique slideshow video (more on that later), replacing your Facebook page profile image with one of their photos for a day, including a detailed write up about them and their session, and so on.
The power of sneak peeks to generate positive word of mouth marketing for your photography business can’t be overstressed. However, you should use them strategically, wisely and judiciously.
Usually, it requires only one or two images to have the desired effect. Any more than that, and it becomes less of a “peek” and more of a “viewing“.
The one thing to avoid at all costs when doing sneak peeks is making any mention whatsoever of portrait sales, prints, packages, special offers, early-bird discounts, or anything connected with making a sale. I guarantee that nothing will kill your word of mouth marketing faster than unnecessary sales talk.
I’ve mentioned the use of slideshow videos several times so far, but it’s worth talking about the power of using them to spread your message by word of mouth.
Slideshows are ridiculously easy to create these days, either through the use of software on your computer (such as ProShow Producer) or online (for example, Animoto), not to mention many WordPress plugins (such as NextGen Pro from Imagely).
In the days before social media, slideshows were a nice add-on product you could sell to your clients on a DVD or give as a special thank-you gift. They would take it home, play it on their computer or DVD player, and maybe show it to a few friends every once in a while.
The viral power of slideshows at that time wasn’t very strong at all.
But now, social media and the ease of sharing has dramatically changed all that.
There are numerous channels through which to propagate video online, and many of them offer the fantastic side benefit of increased SEO for your website through followed links.
Take high-school senior portraits, for example. Here we have a group of young people, just about to graduate from high-school, who have grown up with the power of the Internet, and take social sharing for granted. This is not just a tool for them, it’s a way of life.
Add to that the notion that everyone loves to be popular, and it’s nice to be famous for a day or two, and we have a recipe for creating massive word of mouth marketing value through the sharing of cleverly-crafted slideshow videos.
For this group of people, all we need to do is to create the content, hand it to them and then get out of the way.
It’s so easy to share videos on Facebook, YouTube, and other video sites, such as Vimeo, that it’s a no-brainer. By adding your website URL to the beginning of the video description, and optimizing the video title, you can also add a significant boost to your SEO.
The beauty of video (as with any other media) is that it can be embedded in a web page or blog post, shared on Facebook and other social media, commented on, and tagged. Video is more engaging than a web gallery, especially with the right choice of properly licensed music.
Slideshow videos don’t need to be long—just a couple of minutes at most, or the duration of one song, and they get shared more than any other type of content.
As long as they’re created in the spirit of the market you’re aiming at, they will go down very well with your clients, who will be falling over themselves to share it.
The term “gone viral” is all too common these days, usually associated with someone’s funny cat video on YouTube.
All of a sudden, out of the blue, a piece of weird content will explode on to the scene, enjoy a frenzy of popularity for a short time, and then fade back into the background just as quickly, like a supernova.
Notable examples would be Ted Williams (the man with the golden voice), the “JK Wedding Entrance Dance” (later parodied by the TV sitcom, The Office), Gangnam Style, the ice bucket challenge (and a flurry of other social media “games”), to name just a few.
Before the days of the internet, there was no real concept of viral marketing in the strict sense, mainly because the speed of transmission is a key factor in propagating the virus.
This led me to wonder if it’s actually possible to achieve viral status for an offline marketing message.
After some thought, I believe it is possible—it just needs a smaller, denser, environment in which to spread.
Obviously, the lifetime of the “virus” will be shorter, and interest will burn out faster, but it’s still possible nonetheless. In this instance, smaller populations are better suited to spreading such a virus, where the individuals are more closely connected.
Just to clarify, by “population” I mean any group of people, whether it be the residents of a small town, or the members of a specific social group within a community.
For example, if a photographer started to offer a new and exciting baby portrait plan, the idea could spread easily and quickly among the local new-mom’s groups, but it wouldn’t necessarily go viral in other, less-targeted, segments of the community.
That being said, the real home of viral word of mouth marketing is in the online world, where it can spread as fast as the click of a mouse will allow it to.
Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, and email are the main routes by which these marketing viruses can spread themselves, but in the end, it’s up to the people who make up the social communities to determine if the virus is worth sharing.
Unfortunately, as much as we would like to think we can make it happen, not all of our ideas or elements of word of mouth marketing are destined to go viral.
The vast majority of such things are doomed to go out in a quiet puff of smoke instead of the big bang we would like, and it’s almost impossible to know beforehand which outcome is the most likely.
Can You Make Your Content Viral?
Having said that, are there ways you can increase the chances of your marketing spreading more quickly, if not quite being fully viral?
I believe the answer is “yes, you can“.
One simple way is to employ tactics such as contests, and other incentives, to encourage your clients to spread your brand message to their social connections online.
For example, you could post a slideshow video on your Facebook page from a recent session, be it a wedding or portrait session, and then reward the clients with a gift when they reach a certain number of “likes“.
You do need to be careful here, since Facebook has its own specific rules and regulations regarding contests, which are constantly changing. You may not want to openly publicize it as a true contest but, instead, simply tell the clients what they’ll get when they hit the appropriate target.
In most cases, you’ll be amazed at how quickly they’ll spread news of the video to their friends, and how many “likes” and comments you’ll see as a result, all of which is great for brand recognition and marketing.
When you do post sneak peeks, photographs, videos, and blogs online, it’s a good idea to join in with any conversation that develops as a result.
It should be pretty obvious, and a matter of common sense, that it’s only polite to reply to positive comments or compliments you receive. However, I would consider consolidating “thank you” comments to several people at once into one post or reply.
Jumping into the conversation is a good way to show that you’re paying attention to what’s going on, that you have your finger on the pulse, and that you appreciate the attention. However, there’s a fine line between jumping in too early, and participating too late, or not at all.
The point at which you might want to engage the people talking about your work probably varies according to the type of photography. For example, high-school seniors might appreciate less involvement from you than, say, the proud mom of a newborn.
The answer is to use your own good judgment on when you feel is an appropriate time for you to enter the conversation. This is something that comes with both experience and your own personal connection to the social pulse.
As a guide, spend some time to observe the rate at which likes and comments happen with a given post, and then wait until the posting frequency starts to drop off.
Before the activity fades away completely, you can hop in to add a comment and hopefully spark another round of input.
It’s important to realize that every piece of content you put out there to be talked about will have its own personal lifespan regarding comments etc. Once it’s run the course, there can be little chance of re-igniting the fire, although it will probably never burn out completely.
This is another reason why it makes more sense to only post a few images at a time for a sneak peek. For example, the law of diminishing returns suggests that you won’t see twice as much social interaction if you post twice as many images.
In that case, one or two photographs will work just as well as three or four.
When it comes to word of mouth marketing or, in this case, word of mouse marketing, your logo is a powerful, and often overlooked, passive component.
As I’m sure you’re aware, it’s important to watermark any and all of your images that make it out into the public domain, mostly for the sake of copyright protection, but also to put your identity on the photograph.
Including your logo has the secondary function of spreading brand recognition for our business.
As a form of word of mouth marketing, your logo is automatically spread with the photographs, carrying your brand identity with it.
While it’s not a loud component of the word of mouth message, the subliminal effects mean that the imprint of your logo in the collective marketplace is strengthened with each impression it receives.
Of course, this is always open to abuse, and most photographers have experienced the situation where the client has taken the image and removed the logo or committed some form of Photoshop abuse on the image.
This is not so easy to fix after the fact, but is easily prevented in the first place, by educating your clients on the importance of not editing any images you post online for them, either to remove the logo or to crop the photograph. If they would like to have a cropped version, you can easily supply them with one, with your logo appropriately applied.
I’ve found that some degree of give and take here goes a long way.
By that, I mean be careful about how and where you place the logo on the images you choose to share online.
For example, don’t place the logo over the subject’s face or in a sensitive part of the photograph. Instead, you can usually find one of the four corners where it can sit without being a distraction from the portrait itself, but yet can still be seen clearly and identified.
By taking the client’s feelings and perspective into consideration like this, and educating them ahead of time in a diplomatic fashion, you should only have rare problems with them removing the logo or inappropriately cropping the images.
How would you like your clients to talk about you?
What impression of you would you like them to pass on?
Hopefully, you want them to be as nice as possible, right?
The fact is that you can’t just go quietly about your business and think that they’ll talk you up to the moon for no reason other than that they worked with you.
Word of mouth marketing is almost always based upon someone’s experience of something.
Not only that, the person doing the talking usually does so in the form of stories, often embellished with increasingly more lavish enhancements on each telling.
This is especially true in the case of a bad experience!
Virtually nobody spends time telling their friends over dinner about the ordinary time they just had (unless they hated the food and don’t want to be invited back).
In such cases, even if someone asks them how their portrait session went, they’ll just say, “ok” and leave it at that… not much of an endorsement is it?
Therefore, it’s in your best interests to make the experience of working with you as positive, exciting, and memorable as possible.
In fact, you should go as far out of your way as you can to create the most amazing experience for them—if you’re worried that you’ve gone too far, then you’re probably about right.
You want your clients to leave the photography session on a high note, knowing that you captured the best photographs they could ever imagine having created.
New photographers, who might not be aware of this, often fall into the trap of thinking they need to keep shooting for as long as they possibly can, with the idea that it will enhance their chances of getting the “money” photo.
This is a big mistake, unless of course, the session has been a total bust from the beginning, in which case the whole idea is moot anyway.
By dragging out the session unnecessarily, the photographer unintentionally causes a situation where the shared energy between the photographer and the subject rapidly dwindles.
If they aren’t careful, the session can end on a tired or exhausted note—not very conducive to generating any amount of positive word of mouth marketing in that all-important time immediately following the session.
There are also plenty of opportunities during the portrait session itself to reinforce your positive message.
For example, your own enthusiasm for an image you just created, and a proclamation that “this will make a fantastic wall portrait!” goes a long way to putting people at ease and also adding to their positive experience. Not only that, it also plants the seeds for future sales at the purchasing session.
When the client knows the photographer is thrilled with the results, this goes a long way towards validating their own feelings, so don’t underestimate the power and infectiousness of your own enthusiasm and demeanor in determining the end result.
In reality, marketing is a conversation—a complex and intricate one, yes, but a conversation nonetheless.
In the days before the Internet and permission-based marketing, it was a decidedly one-sided conversation, with companies talking at prospects and clients.
There was some feedback, in the form of written reviews and opinions, but it was slow and had none of the power that the companies themselves had in terms of spreading their own message.
Now, in the age of social media and the mature web, the balance of power in marketing has shifted past the middle and, to the alarm of many businesses, straight into the hands of the consumer.
We now need the permission of our clients to email them (with the rules on this getting tighter every day), and the opinion of just a single disgruntled customer can almost cripple a company, no matter its size.
There are plenty of such occurrences. For example, search Google for “Comcast hammer lady” and learn how 75yr old Mona Shaw caused Comcast a media headache of enormous proportions after she smashed one of their cable boxes with a hammer in their store after she grew tired of poor customer service.
Then there was the “Dell Hell” fiasco when Jeff Jarvis wrote his famous “Dell sucks” blog post. Even then, in 2005, a blog had the power to almost destroy the reputation of a large corporation.
Now imagine how a small one-man photography business might fare against such a media disaster—it’s not something I like to contemplate.
Actually, we don’t need to imagine this because it happens all too often. Go to your favorite Facebook group for professional photographers, and you’ll inevitably find posts where the photographer is being held to ransom by a disgruntled client.
Obviously, it’s important to keep a watchful eye on what’s being said about you out there in cyberspace.
If you do encounter something negative about your business, then you’d better be prepared to deal with it swiftly and in the most diplomatic and sensitive way possible.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to know how you’re being talked about out there, giving you the chance to respond quickly to any fires that might spring up.
You can create automatic web alerts on Google that email you as soon as Google locates content relating to your name, your website, Facebook page, or any other content you would like to monitor. To set that up, just go to Google Alerts.
If you do find yourself on the receiving end of negative word of mouth, the best thing to do is to address it as politely as possible—in private.
Retaliatory remarks, or attacking the person responsible, is not the way to go. After all, it may be the result of a genuine error on your part, or a simple misunderstanding that can be cleared up with a friendly phone call or email, preferably the former.
Entering into any kind of online flame war, in any arena, is both unprofessional and unnecessary. In the end, it just makes the whole situation worse, and everyone will end up taking the other side instead of yours, simply because no one likes to see a company beating up a client.
Most often, and fortunately for us, negative word of mouth is seen by most people for what it is—nothing more than a flash in the pan. This is especially true if you’ve worked hard to build up a reputable business that has very few, if any, complaints. So, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep moving.
In the context of what we’re talking about in this guide, client referral programs are unusual in that they’re a manufactured form of word of mouth marketing.
Despite being artificial in nature, they’re still extremely valuable and powerful in communicating our brand message.
Just about every successful client referral program has the three following components:
- A special offer for the people being referred to you…
- A deadline or window of opportunity…
- A reward for the people doing the referring…
I know many photographers who have set up client referral programs of varying kinds, such as senior rep programs, only to have them fail or fall flat, with little or no response. They quickly become discouraged, and argue that referral programs don’t work.
However, in most cases, there was at least one or more critical element missing from the equation—Direct photographer involvement, and a catalyst of some kind.
Let me explain what I mean.
First, for these programs to work successfully, you can’t just create a referral program, tell the client about it, and then leave them to it. They need more guidance and support than that, and a helping hand to get it going.
According to Seth Godin, in his book Unleashing The SUPER Ideavirus, any idea that you wish to spread in a viral sense needs to have a smooth method of communication to enable it to transmit easily from one person to another. The harder it is to transmit the virus, the less chance it has of propagating successfully.
Why Referral Programs Can Be Difficult
For example, consider a referral program where the client has to pass out personalized business cards to her friends.
First, she must remember to carry them with her, then she needs to actually hand one to the target person.
That person then has to carry it with them, not lose it somewhere or forget they have it, and then make the conscious decision to act before the deadline on whatever is on there (such as visiting a website or calling your studio).
That’s a heck of a lot of exchanges and actions that must be completed just to get someone to talk to you.
And then you have to start the sales process of convincing them to actually work with you.
Let’s say that out of all the possible opportunities for the card to be passed on, your photography is mentioned 10% of the time, that the client has a 50% chance of remembering she has referral cards, and that 50% of those actually have them on their person.
Then let’s assume that 10% of the people who receive a card actually get in touch with you.
These percentages are, of course, estimates. But I don’t think they’re too far off the mark.
This means that in order to get even the chance of one new client, it will take an average of 400 client-friend interactions.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I meet 400 of my friends in a month. Admittedly, many of those interactions could be multiple times with the same person, which may increase the chances of the card being passed on, but the numbers still don’t look terribly good, do they?
Fortunately, there’s a better way.
What’s needed to get the program going is at least some initial involvement from the photographer, and a catalyst to accelerate the referral process to make it smoother and easier to complete.
Here’s how in a nutshell:
You create a dedicated client referral page on your blog (if you don’t have a blog, then you really need to fix that), where people can see a slideshow or even just a simple gallery of the client’s photographs, together with a testimonial from the client and a few words from you, the photographer about how much you enjoyed working with them etc.
You should also include a special limited offer on the page, together with a simple form that people can fill out to take advantage of the offer, and which lets you know about the page that referred them, so you can keep track of things.
Because this is a blog page, visitors can also leave comments, and you can then reward the client based on how many unique comments they can collect—of course, in order to do that, they’ll need to share the page with their friends and family, through Facebook and email etc.
I can’t stress enough the importance of using the full power of your blog to generate client referrals, and encourage as much word of mouth marketing as possible for your business.
Blogs are an important component in your marketing arsenal for a variety of reasons.
And, if you don’t maintain a blog right now, you should seriously consider starting one (see my simple 5-step guide).
Some of the major reasons why this is so useful include:
- SEO benefits…
- Dynamic content for your website…
- A place for you to project your personality…
- Opportunities to tell subtle marketing stories…
- Blogs are excellent for building client rapport and trust…
In contrast to the static pages of a website, where the content remains the same for long periods of time (for example, home pages, about us pages, FAQ pages etc.), blogs allow for content to grow dynamically over time, much like a journal or diary.
As such, a blog gives the reader a chance to get to know the blog author gradually, which generates a much stronger connection than, say, a simple gallery page of images that is hardly ever updated.
However, the blogger has a responsibility to the reader to provide regular fresh content, and this is where too many photographers fail. They create a blog with all the best intentions in the world, make a few posts to display their work, and then hit a wall where they can’t seem to think of any new content to add.
Without a constant stream of fresh content, the blog gets stale, and it’s disappointing for the reader or consumer to find a photographer’s blog where the most recent entry was several months ago, or longer.
Don’t get me wrong.
You don’t need to post new content every day, or even more than once a week. You could even have a schedule of one new post every two weeks if you wanted to, which should be within the capabilities of most people.
The important thing is to have some kind of schedule that you can stick to. People get used to seeing new content on a regular basis, whether it’s once a day, once a week, or once a month. The point is, to stick to it!
If you do stick to your schedule, you’ll find that your clients will be far more likely to read your content and, more importantly in the context of what we’re talking about here, share it with their friends.
Regarding the blog and word of mouth marketing, don’t forget to post links to your blog updates on your social networks—Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter etc.
If you mention specific people in your posts, then tag them appropriately, so that you can get the most mileage from your efforts.
The easier and quicker it is for someone to share your message, the smoother the transfer will become, and the further the message will spread.
For example, before Facebook introduced the now-ubiquitous “like” button, sharing external content with your Facebook friends required significant effort.
First, you had to copy the URL of the page you wanted to share. Then you needed to head over to Facebook, paste the link into the status update box, add a description and then a comment.
Now, we have the simple “like” button, which does that automatically, as long as we’re already logged in to Facebook. By making the task of sharing a “one-click deal“, Facebook improved the smoothness of the process, and all of a sudden everyone is sharing content like crazy.
If you want to encourage word of mouth marketing for your website and blog, you’ll need to make sure you include prominent sharing links that make it easy for your readers and site visitors to spread your content.
I recommend placing buttons allowing visitors to share content on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
There are others, of course, such as Instagram, but these are the main ones in use at the moment on the main web.
All the social networks make it simple to add these buttons, by providing the necessary code and widgets that you can insert into a web page or blog post, so there’s no excuse for not having them present.
There are also WordPress plugins and social sharing utilities that can add the ability to share content in every conceivable way, and on a huge array of networks.
By the way, some bloggers and photographers make the mistake of activating every possible sharing option, but this can have the negative effect of scaring the reader into not sharing at all, because there are simply too many choices.
The best advice here is to just keep it simple.
Exhibits and displays of your work in a public place, such as a local restaurant or mall, are a passive form of word of mouth marketing, but can still be effective nonetheless.
This works especially well if the people in your displayed portraits are also local residents, since they will want to visit the establishment with their friends and family to see what they look like.
It also makes them feel special, appreciated, and a little “famous” in the community. This is a great way to get word of mouth marketing started, and it works extremely well if you rotate the images on display every couple of months or so to keep it looking fresh.
The essential ingredients needed to make these displays work efficiently are:
- A small selection of your very best work…
- Minimal and understated framing…
- Simple, uncluttered displays…
- Compelling marketing cards for people to take away…
The last one on the list is the key.
It’s vital to have something that people can take away with them, or else the display has accomplished nothing.
However, in order for the exhibit to complete its “word of mouth” function, your marketing cards need to be done in a certain way.
Simple business cards won’t work.
They’re too small, have no compelling reason for the user to do anything with them, and can easily get lost or discarded.
I recommend using post cards (5″ x 7″, or larger), which can’t be easily lost or forgotten about. A single image on the front of the card, with a testimonial from whomever is in the photograph, is all that’s needed from a photography standpoint. The back of the card, should be dedicated solely to getting your marketing message across, through the use of persuasive and effective copy. It should also include a great headline, an attractive offer, a call to action, and some form of deadline.
For example, the call to action could be to visit a specific limited offer page on your website that only the visitors to your exhibit will see. The offer can be limited either by time or quantity, such as “for the first 8 people to respond“, or “offer ends on December 31st this year“.
Crafting the headlines and marketing copy for the cards is really beyond the scope of this article, but I hope you get the idea that your cards need to perform the same job you would expect a real salesperson to do if they were standing there talking to people.
Simply having a card with your business name, logo, phone number, website, lots of cute photos, no testimonials, and a “call me if you’re interested” line, won’t work, yet I see so many examples like that all the time.
Word of mouth marketing is one of the most powerful forms of marketing, and you want people to talk about you—but for the right reasons.
It’s important to ensure you always project a genuine business persona that accurately portrays who you are, what you stand for, and why you do what you do.
I can’t stress the value of this part enough.
For example, although Facebook is a personal and relaxed social medium, you have to remain fully professional in every interaction you have on there if you’re also going to use it to market your business.
While everyone else might offer their opinions on religion and politics, it’s best to keep such references off your agenda.
Too many professionals, in all kinds of businesses, seem to forget this, and I’ve seen a lot of examples where a business owner has gotten themselves into social hot water because they resorted to using profanity, shared inappropriate or inflammatory content, flamed another user, or just portrayed themselves in a less than complimentary light.
At the same time, I don’t recommend being so clinically “professional” that your audience can no longer relate to you. There’s a fine balance that needs to be struck, and only you will know where the line is for you, personally.
There’s also no harm in revealing some of your flaws or vulnerabilities.
In fact, this can be a positive thing, because it makes you seem more real in the eyes of others. If you’re perceived as another caring human being, with some of the same insecurities, problems and challenges as everyone else, then it adds to your authenticity. This gives people common ground through which they can relate to you better.
Being authentic, genuine, and with a proper sense of integrity will generate trust with your clients, making them feel even more at ease talking about you and your business with their friends and family.
Testimonials are an effective form of word of mouth marketing that you actually have some control over.
They’re also a vastly underestimated and very powerful motivator when used correctly in your marketing materials.
In essence, testimonials are a formal type of active word of mouth marketing that can be used in passive ways, such as in marketing pieces or a website.
As a business owner, you need real feedback from your clients to understand how well you’re doing.
By feedback, I don’t mean a passing comment when you hand over the prints (“I love these“, “these are awesome“), or even comments made on social media.
Instead, you need a systemized approach for gathering information that can really tell you how you’re performing, but which also allows the client to say what they really feel without worrying about upsetting you or hurting your feelings.
If you’ve shied away from getting testimonials because you feel your clients won’t respond or, worse still, that they’ll complain, then you need to get over it.
The vast majority of your clients are undoubtedly happy with what you do and, if there is an occasional problem, and you don’t know it exists, how can you hope to fix it?
To find out more on this topic, check out this article on how to get great testimonials.
As you can see by now, word of mouth marketing is a complex topic, and the ideas and strategies I’ve shared so far are only the tip of the iceberg.
So, I invited some other experts in the photography industry to weigh in with their perspectives and thoughts on how to get your clients to rave about you to their friends and family.
Here’s what they had to say.
Scott Wyden-Kivowitz from Imagely:
There are two things that can go over very well, which I’m sure so many photographers aren’t doing. The first is to be nice. That’s obvious, I know. But we all have bad days, and it’s important to keep that away from your clients. Always have a smile, be kind and go above and beyond. The second is to follow up. You’re the nice person—the awesome photographer doing what you can to make your clients fall in love with you. Once they’re hooked, send out another line. Maybe the other line is a coupon for referring you to another person. If you’re a wedding photographer, the coupon could be for a family portrait session or a framed print. If you use WordPress, create a referral program using a plugin like Gravity Forms, which asks for the contact information of the referral, a note from the client, etc. Send the email to the newly referred person, and a coupon to the client. That’s fully automated!
A common mistake is a lack of follow-up, but also automation. The majority of photographers have a solo business which means having to wear multiple hats. Implementing automation can remove much of the stress and time-suck that comes with each task. So, automating something like follow-ups can prove effective because you’re now handling tasks by triggering a “job complete”.
Stacie Jensen from Colorvale Actions:
I think the relationship between the photographer and the client starts before the wedding day. I think that nurturing a bride along the way, during the planning process really creates a bond between you. So many times, we only talk about what we’re passionate about.
In my experience, I always made sure that the bride looked to me as someone who truly made an impact on her pre-wedding experience. After the wedding I ensured that I kept a proper timeline and always kept in contact with my bride. There’s nothing worse than a bride who feels out of the loop. When the time came to showcase images for her wedding I asked for a questionnaire to be filled out so that I could include it with her gallery. That way her family truly knew her thoughts on the wedding day. I asked for her to tell me things like, “how did you pick your bouquet” or, “how did you pick your wedding song?”
I asked her things like, “what was your most favorite memory of the day?” Most importantly, I asked her to include a heartfelt testimonial on my services.
Then I created a blog post with her questions and her answers, along with corresponding photographs of the special day. This trick always worked. The bride always wanted to share that blog post because it included her favorite memories, it’s a way to show family and friends her wedding and most of all it shares my website and a testimonial to everyone she knows.
One of the most common mistakes photographers make is misunderstanding social media, and the necessary marketing tactics. Many times, photographers use the platform to just show photos of past sessions and upcoming sales or promotions.
This is ineffective.
No one is interested in following a salesy Facebook page or one that talks “at” their audience.
It’s like a first impression.
Make it impactful. Make it helpful. Make it a resource. Make it a platform for opinions, votes, engagement and community.
Nate Grahek, Founder of StickyFolios
Give them something that is cool enough, and easy enough to share, that you don’t even have to ask them to.
Ironically, we’ve also seen that your past clients are more motivated to pass on a good discount or product credit to their friends, than they are motivated to get a deal themselves.
We need to make it super-simple for our past clients to share their images, and give us the referral. While I wouldn’t call it a mistake, I was printing a small run of 25 custom business card with each client’s images on them. Once in a while, they would get shared, but I wasn’t getting an ROI big enough to warrant the time and money I was putting into the tactic.
Especially for high-school seniors, it wasn’t convenient enough. And passing along business cards is not a natural way for high-school seniors to share a referral. Thankfully I did the senior portraits for my little cousin, and it was her honesty that triggered the lightbulb moment. When I gave her a set of custom business cards, she said: “OK, I guess I could give these to my mom to pass out, but I don’t think my friends are going to want to take a piece of paper…”
And in that moment, it occurred to me. For my day job, I’d been figuring out a cool way to put corporate training images, and guides onto mobile devices, saved offline for future reference. So, I asked my cousin, “OK, so what if I put a few of your favorite images into a small custom app, I could even put your face and name on the App icon, then you could share your session images that way?”
She nodded her head, and said: “Yeah, that would be pretty cool”
So, I started custom-coding these small mobile web-apps with a few of the best session images for each of my portrait clients. I put my logo, and contact information right in the app too, so as they shared their app with their friends and family, both in person, and online, it was amazing free exposure for me, which quickly turned into more booked clients.
I quickly realized that other photographers would want to use this tactic too, minus the custom-coding part, and StickyAlbums was born.
Here’s a quick rundown of what we’ve covered in this article:
- What Is Word Of Mouth Marketing?
- Active And Passive Word Of Mouth Marketing
- Using “Sneak Peeks” To Build Excitement
- The Power Of Slideshow Videos
- Going Viral
- Getting Involved In The Conversation
- Watermarking And Logos As Marketing
- Creating A Positive Client Experience
- Dealing With Negative Word Of Mouth
- Client Referral Programs
- The Importance Of Regular Blogging
- Making It Easy To Share
- Displaying Work Locally
- Projecting A Genuine Business Persona
- Using Testimonials
Now it’s time for you to put all of these together to form a word of mouth marketing strategic plan of your own.
After all, none of what I’ve written about here amounts to very much if you don’t act on it.
How you design your plan is entirely up to you, and finding what works best for you.
For example, you might like to write an extensive document on your plan of attack, or you might prefer to have an evolving plan sketched out on a whiteboard. Whatever you choose, make sure you do something.
This article was written primarily with the wedding and portrait photographer in mind, but many aspects of what’s been written here also apply to other photographic genres, so you can add to it or adapt it as you see fit.
Obviously, you can’t make your clients talk about you, but I hope you can see from what you’ve read here how you can drastically improve the chances of that happening.
As an overall strategy, you’ll find below an example of what I would advise the majority of photographers to start with.
It can be adapted to suit your individual circumstances or needs, but should cover the essential elements.
Step 1: Why You?
Identify what it is that makes you unique—why should someone hire you? This is absolutely essential, and you might need help from a business coach to really dig up this information, and I can help you with that if you need it.
Step 2: Branding
Build your brand around who you are, what you’re truly passionate about, and the factors you identified in step 1.
Step 3: Brand Message
Develop your online presence to portray you and your brand consistently across all areas, from your website and your blog to all your social media profiles. Consistency is critical in communicating the same message no matter where someone comes into contact with you or your marketing message.
Step 4: Demonstrate Your Passion
Build excitement, anticipation, enthusiasm and passion into every interaction you have with your prospects and clients.
Even if someone is obviously not going to hire you, for whatever reason, you can still genuinely help them to find the right photographer, and do it with sincerity and enthusiasm—rest assured, they will remember it.
The aim here is to create a positive user experience no matter what the outcome might be for you.
Step 5: Build Excitement
Conduct your photography sessions the same way—with passion and excitement. Let your clients know, through your own joy at what you’re creating, that they’ll love what you do for them.
Step 6: Make It Easy To Share
Start to build some anticipation for the finished photographs by posting a few “sneak peeks“—the fewer the better. Give your clients the ability to easily share them with their friends and join in the conversation that ensues.
Step 7: Video Slideshows
In some cases, produce a video slideshow that you can post online for them to see. This is especially useful for high-school seniors, children, engagement portraits etc. Again, monitor and engage in the conversation to keep it going.
Step 8: Your Blog Is Your Business Personality
Use the power of your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, and any other social network or groups, to allow your clients to share your content and talk about it. When blogging, remember to stick to your established schedule.
Step 9: Safeguard Your Images
Remember to watermark your images with your studio logo.
Step 10: Watch For Negative Feedback
Keep an eye out for any signs of negative feedback on you or your work, and address it immediately and diplomatically.
Step 11: Local Displays
Select some strategic portraits to display and exhibit locally. These will generate traffic for the establishment where they’re displayed, as well as word of mouth marketing from the people in the portraits.
Step 12: Be Authentic
Throughout all of this, remember to project the most genuine version of yourself that you can, complete with a few flaws.
Nothing beats being perceived as “real” in today’s modern marketplace, and your clients will be happy to talk about you if they feel you’re a real person, just like them.
Step 13: Testimonials
Collect testimonials from everyone you work with, and never display an image on a website or in your marketing without an accompanying testimonial to add weight to it.
Most photographers hate marketing for a variety of reasons, so word of mouth is an attractive option because it feels largely “hands-off” in the sense that your clients take care of it for you.
As long as your clients are thrilled with what you did, and you have a good working relationship with them, they’ll talk about you and your photography to their friends and family. It requires no further input from you, and runs almost on autopilot in the background, as it were.
But, the truth is, word of mouth marketing on its own won’t be enough to bring you all the clients you need to keep your business running at a level to stay healthy.
In fact, word of mouth marketing isn’t the perpetual motion machine many photographers would like to think it is.
Unless every client refers more than one new client, your word of mouth marketing will eventually run down and come to a stop even if you do have a stream of new clients coming in.
Suppose your word of mouth referral rate is 75% and you start with a pool of 10 clients in the first month.
Each of those clients will have a 75% chance of referring someone to you, which means you get 7–8 clients the next month.
In the following month, you’ll see 5–6 new clients, and so on, until your word of mouth marketing referrals become little more than a trickle.
Your Business Can’t Thrive On Word Of Mouth Marketing Alone
Clearly, your business can’t survive on word of mouth marketing alone.
Instead, you must develop a marketing plan that includes every channel where your potential clients can be found or enticed to visit your website. For example, social media, video channels, email marketing, collaborations with other businesses, aggressive content strategies, SEO (search engine optimization), to name but a few.
One effective marketing methodology is the lead generation system.
With this strategy, you deploy in-depth, story-based, content on your website and blog to attract and connect with the right people. You can use paid ads to buy visitors who fit the profile of your ideal clients, use SEO for organic search, and then you convert your visitors into phone contacts or email subscribers to make sure you get to have a conversation with them about hiring you.
As attractive and nice to have as word of mouth marketing is, it’s not a substitute for more practical or proactive marketing strategies.
For this reason, I highly recommend you look into building a solid and effective lead generation system into your marketing, which you can then use to attract and convert ideal clients who will then go on to rave about you to their friends and family through word of mouth to boost your bookings even further.