As photographers, it's very easy to fall into the trap of not treating your work as a business. However, even those of us who treat our work as a business can miss out on key advice companies get, thinking it may not apply to photographers.
Back when I worked in sales in my late teens and early 20s, a much abused marketing adage was taught to me: the rule of seven. This "rule" states that a potential customer needs to see or hear your message seven times before they are ready to buy. From what I've read, there is certainly truth to it, whether the number is an average of seven or not. This, in many ways, echos more modern advice from the likes of omnipresent entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, where he advises that you need to be seen as ubiquitous within your sector to succeed.
This underlining notion of being seen or heard regularly can go against your intuition, deeming that kind of persistent exposure as irritating. I decided that I know too little about marketing and reached out to a director at a leading British marketing and media agency to get some inside knowledge. As this person opted for anonymity (I'll refer to this person as M), I will instead take the time to point out that their client base, with whom they direct the strategy of marketing campaigns and brand awareness, is full of leading global brands in a multitude of industries.
On the Campaign Trail
I premised our discussion with the caveat that I'm asking from the point of view of photographers, though it seemed that the task carried out by the company or person is utterly irrelevant to the foundations. These foundations were presented to me in two: brand campaigns and direct response campaigns. These are the two types of marketing campaigns that companies, large and small, typically undertake.
These are exactly as they sound. They focus on awareness of the brand, perceived brand quality, brand health, and building connections with potential customers on a deeper level than just "buy our stuff," I am told. This is crucial for securing business of customers old and new. Without knowing it, you — in a sense — rank brands for everything.
You’re walking around with a shortlist built up over numerous years of brands you like and brands you don’t like. For me, I see Nike as having very high brand value, so when I’m in the market for trainers, I shortcut straight to Nike. The same thing happens for things that are boring like insurance.
It’s true. I buy all sorts of insurance every year: car, asset, public liability, pet, travel, and so on. While I use comparison sites, I will gravitate towards reputable companies I’m aware of over smaller boutique companies I’ve never heard of, even if they’re cheaper.
Comparison sites are interesting; they’ve really shaken everything up. Compare the Market are one of our clients, and we can see how users act. What typically happens is people search for a quote and then scroll down the list past the cheapest options to find the cheapest brand they are already aware of. Being the cheapest isn’t always what people are looking for.
This really underlines just how important a brand as a photographer might be. M unpacked this a little more and a little more brutally when he told me that you might want to bring in new clients, but if you've never had any sort of interaction with them before, what right do you have to expect a chance of them choosing you? The lowest price is unlikely to be enough to secure the deal a lot of the time.
Direct Response Campaigns
M fears that this is the only type of campaign that almost all professional photographers create. Most photographers don't see their business as a brand, so they instead go for the throat. DR campaigns are in essence calls to action. They might not be directly vying for work; though that's common, they might instead be looking for newsletter subscriptions or traffic. We have all seen these adverts on our Facebooks and Instagrams, scrolling through and seeing sessions, tutorials, actions, and so on. These certainly work, but M suggests they are far less effective outside of a marketing ecosystem that includes brand campaigns: "Ideally, you should be doing both brand awareness and direct response when you look at your marketing," M concludes.
Creating Your Campaign
While I've researched this before and created multiple (DR) campaigns in my career, I've done so with little knowledge. So I asked M to give us some general tips, without overstaying my welcome in areas that would warrant a hefty invoice:
When creating a campaign, you need a benchmark of the sort of response you need to be hitting. Whether that’s from past campaigns or finding benchmarks from others. With campaign metrics, Facebook has made it really easy. You want to concentrate on hitting your reach and frequency. While it’s not always easy with small budgets, reaching a smaller percentage of your audience multiple times is better than a larger percentage once. If you think how cluttered social media is, it’s very hard to cut through.
This nicely brings us back to that old rule of seven. Even if you don't take it remotely literally, getting your brand and your work in front of the eyes of prospective clients as many times as possible is imperative to a business's success, and a photography business is no different.
This was an eye-opening discussion in many ways. I'd always respected how important marketing was, admitted it was an Achilles heel of mine, and ensured I did some marketing of my own. But M got me right between the eyes with his first sweeping generalization: photographers will mostly just use direct response campaigns and do little towards their brand and brand awareness. It was one of those cutting remarks that summarizes you so well; you feel vulnerable. I would often use the word brand — albeit discomfort betrayed by a large cringe — but I'd never mention myself as one. My namesake from The Apprentice obliterated the Baggs brand for me long ago.
Do you market your business properly? Do you treat your photography or videography as a brand?
Lead image by Pixabay, skillfully edited.
People hire us because of who we are. The person, the skills we have, the vision we have, the service we offer and ultimately, the final result we deliver.
Branding that is all well and good. Create your own 'Rankin' brand, Or David Loftus brand, etc. Your pricing can be positioned accordingly too then. People are hiring then the brand, because that brand is what other big names are using and they want that brand to shoot for them too, ultimately leaving yourself, oversubscribed but having yourself as the brand.
My biggest dilemma with working as a photographer is not the brand as such. People already come to me because I'm me. (poor bastards) It's the lack of scalability that this profession has. I toyed with the idea of setting up a brand some years ago, a scaled up operation of photography services. However, I dropped the idea because, people come to me for me. Not some subby I send out to a job.
So no matter what brand I built for myself, it comes down to my 2 hands representing that brand and being very careful who I engage to help me as not not damage that 'brand'
Food for thought, Robert. I liked the post, thanks.
Scale up your prices, ala Peter Lik, not your production. LOL.