Are You a Photographer or a Marketer? You Have to Be Both! with Sal Cincotta
Without marketing, you are dead on arrival. There is no greater truth in business. I know that’s not what you want to hear. I am not here to sugarcoat things. I know you want to believe that if you only offer the best product, you’ll hit your stride and end up killing it out there. But the sea of broke photographers should be a sobering sight to you.
Marketing is messaging. It’s that’s simple. Don’t overcomplicate it, which is easy for us to do. Yes, it’s social media, it’s bridal shows, it’s magazines, it’s networking, but all these things can be described in a single word: messaging. You must communicate the benefit of your product or service to potential customers. I am sure you are sitting there right now thinking, well, duh, Sal, the benefit is obvious, it’s our great images.
Blah blah-de-blah blah. No one cares or even hears you.
Let’s get real: Most of our clients are not art majors. They rarely set foot in an art museum. They couldn’t tell the difference between a bad image, good image or great image if it hit them on the head. This is not a dig at them, it’s a dig at us. Stop assuming they know. Market to them! Tell them what makes a great image. Tell them why you are better than the $50 Groupon photographer. Tell them why they should hire you and not their friend with a camera.
I had a wedding show just two weeks ago. A bride walked into my booth and said she needed a wedding photographer. “You’re in luck,” I told her, “because I just happen to be one.” We laughed and started talking about her day and the importance of engagement pictures.
She told me she’d had a friend take their engagement pictures, and didn’t think she needed professional ones. RED ALERT. RED ALERT. My senses started to tingle. This is going to be a nightmare if I am competing against her friend with a camera. I immediately went into the pros and cons of her friendographer. She stopped me and said she completely agreed with me. She hadn’t seen a single one of the engagement shots, and they were taken three months before. Now her wedding was in two months, and she had no idea if her friendographer would show up to shoot the wedding.
“She hasn’t returned a single call over the last month!” said my potential bride client.
“That’s a pretty shitty friend,” I said.
The friendographer turned out to be her cousin. Holy shit! Can you imagine? She made it pretty easy for me to explain why we were worth it.
This is just one example of clear messaging. I wasn’t trying to convince her my photography was better. Art appreciation is subjective. Instead, I spent my time messaging the other aspects of my studio. It’s safe to assume that if they contact me, they already like my work.
Here are some ways to become a better marketer.
Find your product market fit.
Your eyes are probably rolling to the back of your skull right now.
A product market fit means your product is solving a real and specific problem for your clients. Ask yourself what problem you are solving in the marketplace. Do you even know? Solving a problem they don’t have is going to lead to your business disappearing and you being broke. If you want to repair VCRs for a living, you might want to come up with a better dream—there just aren’t that many ironic hipsters wearing out the belts on their vintage video recorders.
Your marketing mission is to define a need and communicate how you can fulfill it. To my wedding clients, I offer a service that helps them document the most important day of their lives with an album and other art that will serve as their first family heirlooms.
This all depends on understanding your product market fit. What problem are you solving for your clients? Do your clients even know this is a potential problem? If not, then you have to educate them as to why this is important to them, much like I did with my bride. You’re going to trust the most important day of your life to a friend who’s doing it for free—and who might not show up?
If you are merely offering a thumb drive of digital images, I would seriously question what problem you are solving and the value of that service. This is why you see shoot-and-burners on Groupon for $50.
Establish your value proposition.
Once you know your product market fit and understand what your clients want and need from you as a service provider, craft your messaging around your value proposition. How will your clients benefit by hiring you? What value are you bringing to the table? Beyond the fact that your work looks pretty good, why am I hiring you and not your competitor?
Is it your personality? Is it your product offerings? Is it your professionalism? Is it your unique style?
I don’t know what your answer is, but I know if you don’t have one that resonates with your clients, you will struggle. Why? Because you are now just a guy/gal with a camera, and they are a dime a dozen.
You must establish clear messaging around this. It should be easily articulated and visible in everything you do.
The biggest mistake in marketing is when your messaging is all over the place. You can’t be high-end, but have a website that looks like your daughter did it for a high school project. Your website matters. As does everything you do. You must be consistent across your brand, website, social media, photography, the way you dress.
This is probably one of the most important lessons I have learned over the years. We are a high-end studio. We treat our clients to the high-end experience they have come to expect when dealing with high-end brands like Louis Vuitton or Mercedes-Benz.
Our messaging is consistent at all times. It doesn’t matter if we are advertising on Facebook or in a local magazine. The messaging is about delivering unique images from your wedding day and delivering your first family heirloom. We message it on our site. We message it face to face. We message it with our imagery and shooting style.
Clients are not smart enough to discern the difference or connect the dots in your messaging. There can be no gaps in the messaging. Be clear and consistent. It’s one of the easiest things you can do, but so many ignore it or get lazy.
Get the word out.
Marketing is messaging. How are you getting the word out? Are you using the “build it and they will come” marketing strategy? How’s that going? Yeah, it doesn’t work. You have to keep marketing all the time, and to anyone who will listen. They need to know who you are and what you do. Connect with vendors, give them free headshots, give them free pictures of their venue. Show them why you are the one to work with in your market.
Here’s an important thing I’ve learned over the last 10 years. I spend just 15 percent of my time shooting but 85 percent of my time marketing. That’s right. The sooner you accept this reality, the sooner you will get to the place you want to be. If that’s of no interest to you and you want to shoot 85 percent of the time, that’s possible too, but you will need to hire someone dedicated to marketing your business. Growth doesn’t happen on its own.
If you spend more time being a marketer, you could see immediate results. Get out there and tell your story.