This was a hard article to write, but there are some things that I honestly believe need to be said about the state of marketing in the photography business, and not everyone is going to agree, I’m sure!
In fact, unless we pay serious attention to what’s happening right under our noses, we could be heading for real trouble (as if we aren’t in enough of that already!).
It should be obvious that the success or failure of our photography businesses hinges on the effectiveness of our marketing, but what if we’re going about it in completely the wrong way?
Are we heading blindly toward the brick wall of failure, blissfully unaware of the danger?
Let’s find out…
Somewhere In Time
To get some perspective on where we are right now, we need to take a little trip back in time…
The rate of change in the world is accelerating at an alarming pace. Ten years ago already seems like “the good old days“, while the world of 20 years ago is almost unrecognizable.
In 1992, which feels only like yesterday to me, hardly anyone owned a modem and the Internet was just taking its first breath. We lived in a world where email was something for the future, and mobile phones had to be carried around in a small suitcase.
Marketing in the photography business during those days depended upon such relics as the Yellow Pages and the good old landline telephone.
Even if a photographer did have a website, hardly anyone would have known what that actually was, or how to find it.
Back then, very few people imagined that having a website would one day become almost as necessary as clothing.
Words like “Google“, “Facebook“, “SEO“, “Internet marketing“, and “blog” were either not yet invented, or so obscure that only a select few had any clue what they could possibly mean.
How times have changed!
Back To The Future
Fast forward to 2012, and here we are in a world where everything runs at a million miles an hour.
The world has gone from having no Internet to being barely able to function without it.
The digital revolution arrived like a swarm of aliens, and the world hasn’t been the same since. Even the photography giants had no immunity; I mean, who would have said, in 1992, that we would live to see the end of Kodak?
There’s no doubt that today’s professional photographer has a lot on their plate.
As a result, photography marketing has become insanely complex, not only making traditional channels obsolete, but replacing them with a deafening cacophony of new ones that place huge demands upon our time.
In the midst of all the chaos that’s exploded onto the Internet in the form of blogs, websites, social media networking, likes, shares, tweets, plus-ones, stumbles, Diggs, and pins, photographers seem to have become distracted and forgotten something very important…
Marketing, in its most fundamental form, is a two-way conversation…
For some mysterious reason, this concept comes as a surprise to a lot of people.
From the moment humans first started to trade with each other, marketing was simply a conversation that took place between two people wanting to trade one thing for another. In order for the trade to happen, there first had to be an exchange of words to establish the relative value of the items in question, and determine the terms of the trade.
The twentieth century made great efforts to change all that, when mass media (TV, radio, magazines, billboards etc.) managed to create a whole marketing industry based on eliminating the consumer’s side of the conversation, and replacing it with corporations armed with megaphones where the market could no longer talk back in any meaningful way.
Even the entertainment industry became little more than a puppet to the marketing machine, with such things as soap operas designed to encourage housewives to watch more daytime TV just so they could be sold more laundry detergent.
But then social media and the Web 2.0 thundered onto the scene and redressed the balance – or at least that was the idea. We’re now back to a two-way conversation again, in principle at least, despite the fact that a lot of folks haven’t quite caught up with it yet.
However, the angry elephant in the room, which no one seems to want to notice, is this:
Professional photographers are abusing the amazing power of social media by trying to use it like a megaphone…
- Like my Facebook page!
- Book a session now!
- Hurry and get this special offer…
- Follow me on Twitter…
- Don’t miss out!
These are just some of the dangerous things we can say in a social media setting. This is 20th century marketing in a 21st century world, and it spells big trouble if we don’t change our ways!
Death Of A Salesman
Here’s an old, but effective, trick… if you meet someone at a party you don’t particularly care to talk to, you only need to tell them you sell insurance for a living, and you’ll be free of them in no time.
We know that trying to blatantly sell our stuff at someone’s party is not a socially accepted form of behavior, and social media is really no different…
We also know that networking and forming potentially useful relationships at a party is acceptable, however, and that social media is really no different…
The idea that we should treat social media as we would a real-world social gathering or a party is nothing new, and has been said many times already.
But photographers are still not getting it!
It’s as though we know what we need to do and we want to change our online social graces, but we’re stuck in our old ways through some kind of business momentum that makes it hard to stop or change course.
Either that, or we’re all so confused by the world around us that we just don’t know how to behave anymore, or how to form any clear strategy of what we should be doing.
Terms Of Endearment
I want to zoom out for a moment, to look at the bigger picture, and see what elements are really at play here.
For me, success in the photography business is defined in layers, much like a pyramid:
The foundational base of the pyramid is our overall attitude and approach to the photography business; without a strong, determined, and positive attitude, we’re going to be very ill-equipped to handle the demands, stresses, and strains placed upon us as we struggle to grow. It really doesn’t matter how good we are with a camera, if we can’t handle the heat in the kitchen, we’ll end up living the studio nightmare.
The middle layer of our success pyramid is the subject of this article: Relationships and communication.
Still more important in the grand scheme of things than our technical skills, the quality of our business relationships are critical, and affect everyone our photography studio interacts with – clients, suppliers, partner businesses, and competitors alike. Again, our technical proficiency isn’t going to be worth very much to us if we can’t create lasting relationships with our clients and others upon whom we depend.
With all that’s been said so far in this article, it all boils down to one very simple truth:
The strength of our business relationships depends upon the quality of the conversation…
People are not going to love us if we don’t show that we care about them first.
The 39 Steps
There’s probably a lot more than 39 different action steps we could take to create and cultivate productive business relationships, but nothing is guaranteed to stop someone from actually taking action more than making it complicated.
I mean, If you read this article, but don’t actually do anything as a result, then my time has been wasted, and no one benefits.
So, my goal is for you to actually get out there and take some form of action to improve your business relationships, so I’ll keep it simple with my top 6. Of course, if you have other ideas and steps that I missed out, then please do share those in the comments.
#1: Being Interested = Being Interesting
It’s a fact that people who try to be interesting rarely are. Don’t be the person at the party who is desperately trying so hard to get everyone to love them.
Conversely, people who are interested in others are, themselves, more interesting as a result.
In the new world of Internet marketing this translates into the idea that we should be the first to reach out to like or follow others; we should read and share what our social connections have to say before expecting them to like and share what we have to say.
Engage people in interesting conversation on topics that you know excite and inspire them, and you’ll find that they’ll naturally want to know more about you.
Action step: Find three people a day on social media, and reach out to them in a personal way to see how they’re doing, give them some encouragement, or express interest in what they are doing.
#2: Be A Connector And Facilitator
Physical networking meetings can be a little awkward at times, as everyone can spot the cringe-worthy person who’s there simply to “get themselves known“. That person might as well have a neon sign on their head that says, “hey, I’m only here for what you can do for me“.
Social media is no different, and people who make friends with others just to exploit the connection five minutes into the relationship stand out like a sore thumb.
Instead, it’s better to quietly observe the ebb and flow of the natural social conversation, learn what needs and problems other people have, and then help them to make connections with the right people who can help them solve those problems or fulfill their needs.
LinkedIn has this down to a fine art, restricting the ways in which people can connect to prevent the “spray and pray” networking mentality, but allowing us to recommend or introduce others to each other when we think they might each benefit from the connection.
Action step: Open your awareness to those in your social circles, and look for opportunities to connect two new people each week who can help each other achieve their goals or solve a problem. Once you start looking, you’ll be amazed at how many of these opportunities you’ll discover.
#3: Lend A Helping Hand
You don’t even need to know someone personally in order to be a good Samaritan – strangers in need are just as grateful for a helping hand as anyone.
Facebook is a good example of this, as it seems that everyone wants to share every aspect of their lives, no matter how personal or sad it might be.
All it takes to make an impact is to reach out and offer some genuine encouragement, congratulations, or moral support.
Action step: Make it a personal goal to give at least three people a week some words of kindness or encouragement. Better still, if the people you want to help are your clients, then send them a hand-written card in the mail. You have no idea how much that small gesture will be appreciated.
#4: Make A Personal Connection
Have you noticed how much less people talk on the telephone these days? Texting and Facebook have started to replace the need to have an actual conversation, whether it be in person or on the phone.
In fact, people living and present in the same household text each other from room to room, rather than get up off the couch.
What a darn shame that is!
So how do you think your clients or business partners might feel if you took the time to pick up the phone and talk to them, for no other reason than simply to catch up with them, and see how they’re doing? Remember, a smile can be heard on the phone!
Action step: Call at least one person a day (more if you can) just to say hello and renew the relationship. Here’s a radical idea – ask them to join you for a coffee or lunch. No business, just purely social.
#5: Be A Leader By Following
The hallmark of any good leader is that they’re also good followers, and they know the difference between the two, and when each style is appropriate.
Relationships thrive on teamwork, so why not get involved with something where a group of people come together for a common purpose?
Action step: Find a group (online or offline) that’s not related to work, and become an active member.
#6: Leave Your Ego At The Door
Finally, no one loves a know-it-all or a show-off. Humility and a reigned-in ego will go a long way to making people feel comfortable to connect with you, and more willing to help you when the time comes for them to respond to an offer or other call to action you have out there.
Action step: Give your social media profiles a spring-clean and get rid of anything that seems too self-serving or overly opionated. It’s not easy to do, as we obviously hate to think of ourselves as being in any way obnoxious or arrogant about what we do.
The Last Word
I firmly believe that, as professional photographers, we really need to give our marketing tactics a makeover to realign them with the spirit of the two-way conversation that’s always existed in marketing.
The one-way marketing strategies of 20th century mass-media marketing no longer work in today’s photography business, and people just see that kind of bullhorn marketing to be inauthentic and manipulative.
The new world of social media has reopened the closed channel of communication from the consumer to the business, even giving them unprecedented power to affect how businesses are perceived in the marketplace.
Thanks for reading, and please do share your reactions, thoughts and comments below – your feedback is very important to me and helps to keep me on the right path too!
PS: This combination of approach, marketing, and photography techniques are the basis of the Zenologue Inner Circle, which is coming soon… Check it out here.