Creating a Digital Marketing Strategy for Your Photography Business: Part 1
How to Find the Right Client
Clients are the lifeblood of your photography business and finding ways to promote your business and reach new clients is essential. While many photographers will invest in traditional advertising by taking out ads in magazines, it becomes difficult to track a print ad’s effectiveness. In fact, many photography marketing experts will tell you not to invest in traditional advertising, and that it’s not worth the money. While I won’t go so far as to say that traditional ads will never get you clients, it’s important for us to understand what goes into a client’s booking our photography services and where a traditional ad might fall into the overall customer journey.
Today we’re going to be doing a deep dive into marketing, focusing on the online world, to help you become an expert in driving business to your photography studio. For now, forget about those “10 Tips to Market Your Photography Business” articles. While they might offer a few solid tactics, they often lack context and strategy to help you scale your business and set up your marketing so that it brings in leads and clients throughout the year. Once you have your strategy down, then you will know which tactics and techniques make sense for your business and when!
We Live in a Digital-First World
First, why are we exploring only digital? Well, most of our potential customers do their research online. After all, we live in a digital and mobile-first world. While a traditional ad might be useful in creating awareness about your business, if your digital sphere is not optimized, then when that traditional ad prompts someone to search for you they will immediately be turned off. Imagine inviting someone into a dirty studio! Having an unoptimized digital presence is the online equivalent of a dirty studio.
So, when a potential client becomes interested in a service that your photography studio can fulfill, the likelihood is that they will begin their research online. Being where your potential client is with the answers that they are looking for is of the utmost importance! In order for us to be where our potential clients are, we need to know who they are, what their concerns are, and where they are in their journey to booking.
Know Your Customer
In my time as a Director at a digital marketing agency, the first question I would always ask potential clients was who their customer was. The only way to create solid marketing strategies and campaign plans was to know who we were trying to engage with and why. The same goes for your business! If you want to develop a solid marketing strategy that will fill your photography studio for years to come, you need to know who you want to serve and why.
This is why we create Customer Avatars in marketing. It helps us speak to our potential clients and serve them in a way that feels authentic to their personalities. For example, if you run a wedding photography business that produces crisp, minimalist images, your ideal customer might be “Josephine, a 28-year-old creative director at a startup who earns $70,000 a year and aims for chic minimalism in everything that she cultivates in her work and home.”
The way that you design your website, write your blog and website copy, and create advertisements will now all go through a filter of your own Ideal Client Avatar. Will every single client of yours be a perfect match for this avatar? Of course not. But the idea is that once you have an avatar, it works as a north star for your business and marketing. It helps turn off clients that will not be a good fit for you and attracts the ones you are meant to serve.
Benefits of Finding a Customer Type
Now, you might be thinking, “Why would I want to create an Ideal Client Avatar? My business is meant to appeal to everyone.” But the fact is that even if we want to serve everyone, we are not suited to serve every single person with photography needs. Our style, our business process, the products we offer, and our personalities, mean that we will only end up meshing well with a percentage of the population that is in the market for a photographer.
Let’s say that you’re a boudoir photographer; you may be thinking, “Well, I can serve everyone!” But when you look at your past experiences, you find that you’ve been the most comfortable working with women. From there you might be tempted to say, “Ok, well I can serve all women in my area!”
However, when examining your work again you realize that you’ve really aligned well with women in their 30s who’ve had enough experience in their lives to really begin to move into a place where they’re interested in loving and celebrating their bodies. Ah ha! Now we’ve begun to niche down into a type of client.
If we take this even further, you might realize that the women you’ve really enjoyed working with are in their 30s and have a bit of a rocker vibe. They’re a little more off beat and are looking for a moodier and edgier kind of photography, rather than something glossy and glamorous. Suddenly, we have hit upon the beginnings of an Ideal Client Avatar!
Determining Your Ideal Client Avatar
The simplest way is to think back on your favorite clients that you’ve had in the past. Ask yourself what their defining characteristics were, and what was similar about them. Why did you enjoy working with them? Was it their personalities, their value sets or the kind of creative freedom that they allowed you? Write these characteristics down, and eventually you will begin to home in on an avatar of who you feel you were meant to serve.
If you haven’t worked with paying clients yet, that’s ok. You can still begin to drill down into an idea of who you want to work with. Think back to other career experiences and use those to help you understand the kinds of personalities and attributes that you worked well with and try to extrapolate that into a beginning avatar.
Don’t worry about getting this right the first time. Your avatar will evolve over time, as will your business. Doing an annual check-in with you Ideal Client Avatar is a great way to make sure that you are still serving the right people, and that your business is in line with your mission.
Let’s Create Your Ideal Customer Avatar
As mentioned earlier, before we talk about any kind of marketing strategies or tactics, it’s important to discover who your ideal client is. Here are some starter questions to get you going. If you have a studio that offers multiple services, do this exercise for each service that you offer. For example, if you do wedding, boudoir and newborn photography, even if the same woman could be your client for all three services, her needs and desires will change. Fill out the following about your ideal client for each service:
- Sexual Preference
- Faith/Spiritual Practices
- Marital Status
- What attributes do they possess?
- What are their passions?
- What are their favorite brands?
- What shops or websites do they purchase from?
- Where do they like to spend most of their time?
- Where do they spend their time online?
- Who and what do they spend the most money on?
- What is a need, problem or worry that they have in their life and what is a solution you offer?
- What attracts them to your service specifically?
- What is their biggest concern as it relates to booking your services?
- What type of people are you currently attracting to your business?
- If there is a disconnect, how can you begin to attract more ideal clients?
Now that you know who your ideal client is, it’s time to do some reverse engineering and figure out how they make their way to you – and how you can help curate their journey! The idea is that if we can engage with a potential client early enough while they are researching their options, we can help them in their decision-making process. Ideally, of course, we encourage them to book with us.
An additional benefit of this process, especially for photographers, is that if you are able to engage with a prospective client early enough in their research phase, then you can help educate them along the way. Then, by the time they are ready to book, you won’t have to explain to them why you don’t give away all of the RAW files, or why your studio recommends printing their photos and hanging them on the wall instead of just handing over a USB.
To illustrate, let me tell you a story about a client of mine. We’ll call her Christa. She had just finished a master’s program, gotten her dream job and wanted to celebrate. She just wasn’t sure what it was she wanted to do yet.
But a little bit of Googling led her to my blog where she found a post that described why a photoshoot is the perfect way to celebrate oneself. Because she had visited my website, I was able to send her a Facebook ad encouraging her to sign up for my newsletter. So she did.
Over the next few weeks, she got emails about the types of photoshoots my studio offered, saw behind the scenes peeks at client sessions, and got heartfelt memos from me about what I hope my clients experience during their sessions.
As you can imagine, Christa got excited. She emailed me asking to meet for a consultation. Over tea, she asked for my next available date, signed a contract and paid my session fee. To date, she has also been my highest in-person sale. This story is not a fluke when you can reverse engineer the process by which your ideal client finds you and books you.
Knowing Your Customer’s Journey
Once you know who you are meant to serve, it becomes a lot easier to understand how those people tend to find you. For example, in our “Josephine” example avatar, she might rely more on her own research, whereas most of your clients might have found you through referrals from friends. Understanding where and how our clients are influenced, do research and gather information is incredibly important. It helps us understand where we need to be in order to be found.
Mapping out the customer journey is the marketing process of determining where a client might be, and how they might be feeling, as they go through the process of determining if they want your services. The first step in mapping out our customer journey is understanding the basic stages that a prospect moves through before becoming a lead, and then a customer.
The AIDA Funnel
In marketing, there is something called the AIDA model, which describes the steps which someone goes through in the purchasing process. The acronym stands for Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action. In general, we will always have more people aware of our services than we will have taking action to book. This is why the AIDA model is often represented as a “funnel” to represent how many potential leads there might be at any given stage:
In real life terms, the friends of people who follow you on social media might be in the Awareness state of the funnel. However, many of them will never move down into the Interest stage. Fans on social media and your email subscribers are much more primed for the Interest phase, and once they’ve been in contact with you they would be considered Prospects in the Desire phase. Action is where they book and become customers.
I like the AIDA funnel model because it helps us visualize a few things. One is that our potential market is never going to equal the number of leads we have coming in. Even if, for example, we had a market of 100,000 ideal “Josephines” in our region, we simply cannot expect to be generating business, or even interest, from all of them at the same time.
It also helps us contextualize a few things about the marketing strategy we will be developing together. Remember when we were talking about traditional print ads? Well, where would you place them in the AIDA funnel? If you said Awareness stage, you’d be right. Traditional print ads and digital banner ads are great for generating brand awareness, but they don’t always move customers all the way to the Action stage on their own.
And if you’re drawing a blank here, wondering what to do to fill in those gaps, don’t worry! This is where the AIDA funnel needs a little help, and where we return to the idea of mapping out a Customer Journey. I love Customer Journey mapping because it helps us take our Ideal Client Avatar and understand and empathize with their process of finding our services in ways that make us better in our marketing and our overall business services.
The Customer Journey Map
The core purpose of a Customer Journey Map is to understand what a prospect is thinking and feeling at each stage of their process. It takes elements from the AIDA funnel and humanizes it by asking us to explore the ways in which we might reach a potential customer in their journey, and what that potential customer is thinking and feeling at each point. A Customer Journey Map also asks us to explore what our opportunities are at each of these moments.
Let’s explore an example together. Let’s say that you are a boudoir & glamour photographer and that your Ideal Customer Avatar is named “Karen.” You’ve fleshed out your Ideal Customer Avatar and decided that Karen recently got a promotion and wants to celebrate. She has worked really hard to get to this point in her career but realized that she wasn’t taking the time to celebrate all of her milestones.
Ask yourself what an Awareness stage might look like for Karen. Perhaps her girlfriend shares a social media post with her. Or as she is browsing the internet an article featuring your work and mission to empower women comes up.
In the social media post or internet feature, there might be a link to another of your blog articles that talks more deeply about your mission, and your own backstory in coming to love this type of photography. Moved, Karen bookmarks your blog and thinks that a photoshoot might be just the thing for her. She’s a little nervous about the idea of being in front of the camera, but she is officially in the Interest stage.
After reading your blog for a short time, Karen decides to sign up for your newsletter. She has officially expressed Desire, and for everyone who moves into this phase, you’ve queued up a welcome series for prospects like Karen. The goal of this is to introduce your studio’s philosophy and that manages to answer a lot of questions potential clients might have had about a photoshoot.
Once she has gone through the automated welcome sequence, Karen gets an email with a video showcasing a behind the scenes look at one of your photoshoots and inviting her to book. She takes Action by responding and asking for a consultation. You meet, she books, and she walks away a very happy and confident customer!
Again, at each of these stages it’s important to think about what your ideal client might be thinking and feeling. What are the opportunities that might exist at each stage, with both negative and positive thoughts and feelings?
Let’s take a look at what a Customer Journey Map might look like with another example of how Karen might find a glamour and boudoir studio. Ask yourself what an opportunity could look like for each of these stages and feelings:
You’ll note that on this example customer journey map there are columns that look similar to the stages in the AIDA funnel. Some customer journey maps will have many more stages to them. For this above example, you could interchange Familiarity with Interest, Consideration with Decision, and Booking with Action. The Loyalty stage is when your former customers provide testimonials and referrals for you, helping to fill that top of the funnel in the Awareness stage all over again!
And Remember, the Easiest Way to Collect Data Is to Talk to Your Clients
Now, are you drawing a blank about how your customers might be finding you? If so, it’s time to start doing some data collection. If you have had a business up and running for some time, reach out to your best customers and ask if they remember how they found you. Whenever a new inquiry comes in, try to weave that question into the conversation as well.
A field in your contact form provides some information, but I highly recommend having a broader conversation during your consultation phase with a prospective client. This was how I found out what social media posts and blog articles were really resonating with the people most likely to take advantage of my services, which gave me an idea of how to serve them more in the future.
If you’re just beginning your business, a lot of this will have to be guesswork. As with the Ideal Client Avatar, try to think about how people search for information and services and do some brainstorming. Your customer journey map will evolve over time, just as your Ideal Client Avatar will.
Now That You’ve Found Your Ideal Client…
You are well on your way to developing a solid marketing strategy for your photography business. A good marketing strategy must start with knowing or brainstorming who your ideal client is and what their journey to becoming a client looks like. Far too few businesses of all sizes do this work, and it ends up costing them a great deal of time and money in marketing mistakes.
However, now that you’re in the process of fleshing out your ideal client, you will know where your best efforts can be placed and where your ideal client simply might not be reached. In the next installment of our series, we will talk about your marketing time and effort and how to turn that into a strategy for your business!