Creating a Digital Marketing Strategy for Your Photography Business: Part 2
How to Market Your Photography Business to the Right Clients
Once we know who we are meant to serve and have a templated journey map to understand how those customers find us, it’s time for us to turn this into our digital marketing strategy. While it may seem like a lot of work before we even begin marketing, doing this “pre-work” helps us to be efficient in our marketing strategy.
For example, if you run a high school seniors division in your photography studio, it’s important to know who your ideal clients are in order to market to them. In this case, your clients are not only high school seniors who can help represent your studio, but also the students’ parents who will be paying for the session. If you spend all of your time writing blog posts with the wrong client in mind, it is time wasted. If your high school seniors have migrated away from using Facebook, and are only on Instagram or Snapchat, then you might have decided to write your Instagram posts to appeal to the students, and the Facebook posts to answer the questions of the parents.
Remember: your business does not have to be everywhere at once. You only need to be in the likely places that your Ideal Client Avatar will be getting their inspiration and information. Thinking back to the Ideal Client Avatar examples we explored in Part 1: a “Josephine” might spend more of her time on Pinterest, whereas a “Karen” might spend a lot of time in Facebook groups.
Where to Reach Potential Customers
There are four main “buckets” for you to put your efforts into as you develop your marketing strategy: Paid, Earned, Shared, and Owned. You can remember this with the acronym PESO. A healthy marketing strategy does not necessarily have to have all of these elements within it, but we will explore each so that you are able to determine what works best for your business.
Let’s dig in a little bit to explore each:
- Paid – In your digital marketing strategy, paid media refers to any kind of advertisement you buy: whether it is a banner ad on a popular website, a Google ad, a Facebook ad or a Pinterest ad. Despite being the first letter in our PESO acronym, it is generally the last bucket that I recommend business owners explore. We’ll talk about this more later.
- Earned – Have you ever been featured on a popular blog or news site? This is what earned media is all about. If you have a shareworthy or newsworthy photo project, or you’ve helped serve your community with your business, these are the kinds of stories that blogs and news sites pick up on. Earned media can also come from when you’ve written a particularly noteworthy article that addresses a topic important to your ideal client base. When sites link back to you in earned media, it tends to send positive signals to search engines and helps give your SEO a boost.
- Shared – Social media is probably the biggest part of your shared media. This can be content that you post on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. There is some crossover with earned media here as well because if a photo project you’ve worked on is covered by a popular blog and then goes viral, this could fall into both shared and earned.
- Owned – In my opinion, this is the most important part of your media strategy because it sets the foundation for everything else that you do. Your owned media is your website, blog, and newsletter list. It is the digital heart of your business.
Remember you don’t need to use all of these types of media within your marketing strategy, but there are at least two buckets that I believe are essential to your business. The first is your owned media, meaning your website. The second is your shared media.
Within owned media, I believe that all photographers should have their own website and work diligently on improving their website’s search engine visibility through SEO strategies. In fact, I believe that having a well-optimized website is one of the most important things you can do for your business in the digital sphere. Too many creative business owners believe that having a social media presence is enough to market their business, and that they don’t need a website.
However, here are just a few reasons why you absolutely need a website for your photography business:
- It is a space you own and control.
While there are a number of photographers who have built businesses based on their social media presences alone, they are at the mercy of those platforms. Every time Facebook or Instagram changes their algorithms, it can affect the revenue of their businesses. Other users have had their accounts banned or suspended, which has created huge obstacles for them. And if suddenly those platforms ceased to exist, so would their businesses. Because you own your website and website content, you are in the driver’s seat.
- You can control the experience on your website.
The experience with your business is unique and your website can help express that. If your website is well-designed and thought-out, you can guide a customer through a path on your site to answer their questions and excite them about working with you. On Facebook or other social media platforms, a client’s experience is dictated by the limitations of the platform and their attention will be pulled by other content in their feed.
- Your website gives you credibility.
If the only place that a prospective client can find you is on Facebook, it likely says to them that you are not well-established or serious about your business. It would be difficult to expect a client to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on your service or product if you are using social media as a proxy for your website.
- You can attract your ideal client and keep less-than-ideal ones at bay.
As we discussed before, once you know who your ideal client is, everything in your marketing will be curated to appeal to them. That means that your website’s design and written content will be specifically created for their type. There is a saying, “Show what you want to sell.” If you’re showing boudoir images to appeal to that 30s woman with a rock and roll vibe, you are much less likely to get inquiries from someone who isn’t a good fit!
- You can build your newsletter list.
Having a place on your website to sign up for your newsletter is a must! Having an email list is a great way to keep in touch with both prospective and past clients. By showcasing what is going on in your business, you can stay top of mind and encourage people to book with you.
As mentioned, the second bucket that I believe you should be focusing your efforts on in a marketing strategy is shared media. Most everything in this bucket falls under social media, and is a great way to promote your business either by sharing content from your website or by posting updates natively into the social media platform. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram also give you opportunities to interact with your fanbase and potential clients in unique ways.
Can your business survive and thrive without using shared media? The answer is probably yes, however, social media lets you interact with followers and share your personality and your brand in ways that other types of media simply do not. Many potential clients might also prefer to follow your business on a social media platform for a time before investigating your business services further.
Think back to Part 1 of this series. Do you remember the AIDA funnel we discussed? While social media can absolutely be used at every stage within that funnel, it truly excels as a tool for that upper funnel Awareness stage. Part of this is simply the fact that these social media platforms have large audiences inherently built in. Facebook has more than two billion daily users, Instagram has hundreds of millions of users a day, and YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. By showing up on some of these platforms and entertaining, inspiring or informing your potential audience, you’re able to bring more people into the world of your business’ funnel.
While earned and paid media are also fantastic ways of bringing attention to your business and either increasing or deepening your relationship with your fanbase, establishing your owned and shared media should be your first priorities. Finding places to feature your work in earned media, or amplifying your business efforts with paid media, only tend to work well when you have the other two established first.
Pulling It All Together into a Strategy
Now that you have an idea of who your ideal customer is, what their process is in looking to acquire your services, and what your priorities are in your paid, earned, shared and owned media, it’s time to turn that into a strategy!
Simply put, your marketing strategy is a plan that will help you achieve a set of goals. Your first step, which you have already completed, is defining who your audience is. Next, it’s important to define what your measurable goals will be. For example, do you want to have 100 new followers in a month, or increase your books by 10 percent? Write your goals down and keep track of them.
Now it’s time to determine your tactics, or the means by which you plan on achieving your goals. For example, achieving a feature in an earned media blog post might help you increase your followers on a social platform by 100 or more. Creating a series of blog articles might help increase your visibility on search engines, leading to a booking increase of 10 percent within several months. Remember as you develop both your strategy and your tactics that they stay aligned with who your target customer is!
Here are some of my biggest recommendations for your various media types in the PESO model we discussed, ranked by importance:
One of your main focuses on your website will be developing an SEO strategy. Whether you have a new website or are looking to improve an old one, the thought of approaching SEO might seem overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you can approach building your site with these things in mind as a minimum, you’ll be off to a good start:
- Make sure you have a clean template that is mobile responsive.
- Think about who your ideal customer is, and what they would be searching for in your product or service niche.
- Think about the questions and concerns they might have in the process of researching your product or service. Make note of the keywords and topics that come up as you do this brainstorm.
- Create a calendar of topics that you will write about consistently that focus on the keywords and phrases that your ideal client would be searching for.
- Aim for longer form content that is at least 1500 words.
- Create your content consistently and promote it on your social channels.
- Look for outlets that your ideal client might frequent, do outreach and find opportunities to guest blog.
A great way to begin developing the content for your SEO strategy is, with your ideal customer in mind, think of the top 10 questions that you get asked in your booking process. Now think of ways that you can turn that into content on your website. Perhaps you need a FAQ page on your site, or your About Page needs to have more information on what it’s like to work with you.
From there, think of at least 12 pieces of content that you could create to help answer those Frequently Asked Questions in a longer form. For example, if a common client question is, “Will you help me pose in front of the camera?” and your answer is, “Absolutely yes,” then perhaps a blog post or video demonstrating what it is like to be in front of your camera is in order.
Once you have those 12 pieces of content planned, try to post at least one a month on your website. Not only does having fresh content on your website send positive signals to search engines, but answering a client’s question in your content could potentially help you rank for search engine queries. This will help improve your website’s SEO to become more visible in searches and can help you achieve more traffic to your site over time.
As a bonus, all of those pieces of content for your website can be repurposed into a monthly newsletter to go out to your newsletter list, making sure that your business stays top of mind with your prospective clients!
Are There Alternatives to SEO & Owned Media?
By now you know why it’s so important to have owned media. But with building a website and creating content with both your ideal client and SEO in mind, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed. You might be wondering if there’s something else you can do so you don’t have to worry about SEO and owned media. The short answer here is yes, and no.
You could theoretically use paid media to drive traffic to your site instead, which we will talk about soon. Using paid media (often referred to as PPC or Pay-Per-Click advertising), such as Google Ads or Facebook Ads can be an effective way to grow a business. On the other hand, too often, I have seen businesses use paid advertising to send traffic to their sites as a band-aid solution instead of developing their content or working on issues that are causing them to have low organic traffic or poor booking rates.
Additionally, if you have a high price point product, sending paid traffic to a page that asks a user to contact you or book right away could be a very poor experience for them. If a user is not familiar with your business, it is unlikely that they will buy or book immediately from a paid ad. Think back on that customer journey map you developed. Would your Ideal Client Avatar be likely to jump immediately from Awareness to Action? The answer is probably not.
Social media can also be considered an alternative to SEO. However, as many have found over the years of their organic Facebook reach dropping, building a business that is dependent on people finding you on social media is risky at best. Even if your reach on social media is stellar, users’ feeds are crowded, so the lifespan of your post is limited. Plus remember: if social media sites like Instagram or Facebook disappeared tomorrow, so would your audience.
Once you have a content calendar for your website, it becomes a lot easier to know what to post on social media. Let’s take that example of creating a piece of content about what a session is like with you. If you decide that you’re going to be using a behind the scenes video on your website, cutting that video down to 30 seconds as a teaser for social media can be a great option!
If you were going to write a blog post walking a potential client through an example shoot to help them visualize the experience, then you can post snippets of that post with images or links back to your article. A great way to get more life out of one of your owned media pieces on a social platform is to create several variations of a post. Remember, newsfeeds are crowded and your post might not be seen by your audience. So recycling variations of your content over time gives it a longer life. Additionally, if your content is evergreen, meaning it doesn’t pertain to a specific season or promotion, you can post it any time of year to fill in a gap on your social media calendar.
Now, even if your website’s content calendar has 12 pieces planned for the year and you’ve created three variations for each piece on social media, that still only brings us to 36 pieces of content for a year. So it’s important to fill in those gaps on your content calendar. This is where behind the scenes images, client testimonials, favorite images from a recent session, and inspiring quotes can all come in handy.
Remember, all of this needs to be done in the context of your ideal client. So if you’re looking to appeal to that edgy-rocker gal, sweet sentimental quotes will probably be a turnoff for her. Curate your content to inspire, empower and excite your potential client about what you have to offer.
Sometimes earned media comes as a surprise, but more often than not business owners are seeking it out. When you were doing your research to determine your ideal client, you were likely thinking about the places that they look to as information authorities. So for a bride-to-be it might be The Knot. For another kind of client, it might be a local news media organization.
Many popular blogs and news sites have ways to submit your story, pitch or project. Make a list of the top 10 places your potential client might hang out online (outside of social media) and make it a goal to pitch to at least one a month. Not only does getting a feature in a popular blog or news site help increase awareness about your business with potential clients, it also has a positive impact on your SEO!
When other sites that are seen as an authority in their niche link back to your website, it helps send positive signals to Google and other search engines about the trustworthiness of your website. If you earn a mention in a popular blog without having a website, you lose out on that major SEO benefit. Plus, as I mentioned before, if someone looks for you after seeing your work featured and can’t find a website, it can hurt your credibility. Having your social media up and running before seeking earned media mentions is beneficial in that it gives potential fans and potential clients a place to follow your work before they are ready to visit your website and look into your services.
Paid media, or PPC, is an advanced strategy that I only recommend business owners explore once they have solidified their owned media spaces. That means that you have developed content on your website that appeals to your Ideal Client Avatar and are also building a newsletter list to stay in touch with your prospects.
As mentioned before, if you use Google Ads or Facebook Ads to send a prospect to your booking page, and they aren’t familiar with you or your work, you’re going to be more likely to attract the wrong type of client or turn off your prospective ideal clients while spending money in the process.
Let’s look at a couple of scenarios:
If I create a gorgeous Facebook Ad and target my Ideal Client Avatar to perfection, but my website isn’t geared towards appealing to that avatar, I am likely throwing away money on traffic that isn’t going to garner me future bookings. The same goes for creating a Facebook Ad but not knowing who my Ideal Client Avatar is; it is simply attracting traffic that won’t benefit my business.
However, let’s say I create a Facebook Ad to target my Ideal Client Avatar “Karen” by promoting blog posts about how celebrating yourself with a photoshoot is an ideal gift to oneself. There is a much higher likelihood that the traffic garnered in that approach will engage with my website, sign up for my newsletter, and eventually book.
Notice I haven’t mentioned creating ads to encourage someone to book right away? Generally, ads like this do not work, or if they do work they are incredibly expensive. Ideally, paid media is used to amplify the content you have created in your owned media, such as promoting blog posts on your website or encouraging prospects to sign up for your newsletter.
This is why I tend to recommend rolling paid media into your digital marketing strategy last. Its success is largely dependent on how well you know your client, where you are meeting them in their customer journey, and how well your owned media is ready to serve them.
So, Is SEO Better Than PPC?
There are SEO practitioners that will tell you that SEO is much better for your business than PPC. Their reasons would be that SEO has longer term effects, whereas the traffic from PPC will dry up immediately the moment you turn it off. And while those two statements are not incorrect, it can give many business owners a false understanding of the marketing ecosystem of their business.
My background is actually in paid media. That’s how I got into this crazy world of marketing. And while the SEO’s point of view is not wrong, I like to look at SEO and PPC as tools that help each other and ought not to be looked at in competition. As discussed, paid media can also help amplify the content you are creating in your owned media spaces by driving immediate traffic.
As a bonus, if you have the budget for it, PPC is actually a fantastic research tool to help you understand your Ideal Customer Avatar while driving traffic to your website. Let me give you an example: back when I worked at a digital marketing agency, we had a client that was bringing a new brand to market. They had no website when we started working with them and they were up against a huge competitor.
As the paid media account lead, I used various tools within Google Ads to help me research what their Ideal Client Avatar might be searching for. Then the SEO account lead and I created a content calendar to help us build the website and blog, but we then used our ads to drive traffic to those pages. Once some of those pages were ranking well due to our SEO efforts, we began to pull back our paid media budget so that we could use it for new experiments and efforts.
Again, if you have the budget and the desire to research your market, paid media is a great way to get data and test theories fast. But if you don’t have the budget, I recommend focusing your efforts on SEO by creating solid content in your owned media spaces.
Everything in digital marketing comes down to knowing who you are meant to serve in your business! Your Ideal Client Avatar and their customer journey from Awareness to Action are the cruxes of any marketing strategy. Knowing these two key elements help you know where to be in the digital world, and what to create! From there, everything else comes down to consistently showing up in those places and providing value, whether it is informing, inspiring or educating your prospective client.
So, take the time to examine who your business is best suited to serve and how they go about finding your business and what that journey looks like for them. Once you are consistently crafting content for a combination of paid, earned, shared and owned media, you are executing a solid digital marketing strategy that has the potential to book your photography business solid!