Your comments, questions, or suggestions on giving corporate gifts, or even on how this blog is or should be written, would be most appreciated.
Marketing’s main aim is to place us as “top-of-mind.” When clients or customers think of the services or products that we incidentally offer, they should be thinking of us first, and not our competitors. How then do we that? In addition to other marketing efforts, promo items, or corporate gifts, are small inexpensive items (well, some could be expensive) that serve as tokens of our appreciation for our clients’ patronage and physical reminders that we exist.
These gifts could be given at trade shows and other events, sent out to those who inquire about us or reply to our ads, or given to first time clients. They could also be given to clients on the anniversary of their first projects with us, or whatever special occasion that we want to celebrate with them. (I do warn against sending corporate gifts on clients’ birthdays or anniversaries – on those occasions, they deserve to receive personalized or special gifts).
There was a time when t-shirts were popular give-aways, but I personally feel that they are too ordinary, unless we use better fabric, make them more presentable by using better designed shirts, and more cleverly, by using artistic graphics to convert those ubiquitous shirts into wearable art pieces.
I also decided that whatever we gave away should not be “screaming” Adphoto, so our corporate gifts had our logos usually inside or at the back of our corporate gifts, or if there is no “inside” or “back,” then we designed them to be small and unobtrusive; except for the “adcubes” that we give away, which had our logos on at least two sides of the adcubes, since those logo imprints would be peeled away with use. We prefer to give away practical gifts, preferring items that go on top of clients’ desks, or usable at work. (The idea is for them to see or use those corporate gifts everyday).
Our most current corporate gifts are USBs, since they are small, handy and put to use everyday, but we’ve also given away pencils, ball pens (classy looking retractable ones), leatherette (but real leather-looking) folders, magazine holders, notepads with photos on their covers, home-baked cookies in reusable canisters, and single-serve coffee makers. From time to time, we re-order adcubes (notepads), since clients actually ask for them. It’s always a challenge finding a gift that is unique or new in the market, but always put yourself in your customers’ shoes – if you don’t like the item, chances are, your clients won’t either.
Timing is also important. Giving away corporate gifts does not have to be limited to Christmas or when you have an event. We once gave away waterproof cellphone and money pouches when we learned that an ad agency we were serving was taking their people on a company outing to the beach. Our clients were thrilled with our simple gift because that’s just what they needed for the trip.
Even corporate gifts, since they help in marketing your company, must be of high quality. Once, I was about to leave for a trip abroad when we ordered notebooks (paper, not computers) for giveaways. I was still away when the proof for color separation was submitted for approval. In the rush to make the deadline, someone signed approval on the proof even though the colors were off, since the printer had promised that the colors would be adjusted in the final printing. Unfortunately, they were not and the printing was substandard. I came home to stacks of notebooks with our photos on the cover and inside dividers, but I was aghast to see that the colors were not correct. We could not distribute them to clients, and that year, we chose not to have Christmas giveaways, rather than give poor quality photo reproductions. We have since torn off the below-standard photo dividers, and now just use the notebooks for internal use. We paid the printer, since we had signed the color proof, but did not want to risk being identified with low-quality printing. We are, after all, in photography.
The design, creation and selling of corporate gifts is a big industry, but you don’t need to depend on them. If you plan your gifts early enough, you could probably design your own corporate gifts.
Do be aware of your clients’ policies on gift giving. Some companies, especially multinational firms, prohibit their employees from receiving gifts outright, even very inexpensive corporate gifts. Some set a value mark – if your gifts are worth more than a specified amount, then your gifts would get declined. Respect those policies.
A website is like your showroom in cyberspace. It is always (or supposed to be always) accessible – 24-hours a day, seven days a week, no matter where your viewers are, or where you are, in the world. Like a physical showroom, what you display would need to be updated every now and then, and must be attractive enough to hold the attention of your viewer, and to make them want to look at more than just what’s in “your display window.”
Once you’ve “lured” people to your website, they should want to go beyond your home page. It should make them want to see what else you’ve got, and it should be easy for them to navigate your site, so they can explore your other pages.
Having checked out what your website contains, they should be impressed enough with what they see, and convinced enough that you’re the photographer they’re looking for. Your website should make them eager to contact you to inquire about your services. Your website should make it easy for them to send you an inquiry, and you should be regular in checking your emails or website inquiries as a quick reply is expected of you – whether your website visitor is simply making a comment, or making a serious inquiry. Your ultimate goal is to make them do business with you.
While the whole wide world is your website’s audience, this does not mean that your website does not have to consider a targeted audience. The design of your website would have to take into account who your website is written and designed for. Those of us who are in advertising photography would have to ensure that our web design recognizes that we would be visited by art directors, marketing managers, advertising managers, account management people, who are knowledgeable about good design and marketing principles. Our clients are busy people, so our site must be easy to navigate. They are people on the go, so our website must be adaptable to all kinds of devices – iPhones, smart phones, iPads and all sorts of tablets, in addition to their desktops. (We’re working on this).
Unless you are an expert web designer, you may want to hire a professional designer and developer/programmer, with extensive knowledge of search engine optimization.
Your goal is to be on top of the list that search engines spew out when a search is made. This can be the result of various efforts – well-designed (not only aesthetically) websites with the right texts that grab at the tentacles of search engine crawlers, robots and spiders, regular and frequent updates or activities, online advertising as well as online linkages with others. The more people who visit your site, the more you are pushed to the top of the search list. All these help to promote your website.
Please take note that your photos are not “read” by those search engine crawlers. You would have to support your photos with text – which could be your articles or write ups, captions for your photos, or metadata (information about the contents of your website, or inside information on your photos – when taken, what camera used, resolution size etc.). A very good book on this topic is Rosh Sillars “The Linked Photographers’ Guide to Online Marketing and Social Media. Google him to gain access to his regular podcasts on this topic.
It’s also not enough to have a beautiful website, you need to find ways to market your site– to drive people directly to your website. If people are not specifically looking for you by typing in your URL (universal resource locator or your website address) and instead do a more generic search, such as “Manila wedding photographers” or “Food Photographers Philippines,” they get a list of everyone – your competitors – doing those kinds of photography. Hopefully, your name – because you have diligently worked on staying on top, is at the very top of those lists. It’s probably safe to bet that no one has the patience to search through the 5th or 10th page of a series of search results.
In addition to aiming to be on top of the search engine lists, you can also “push” people to search for and find you directly. You can put your URL out there – on your email signatures, your business cards, your and your staff’s uniforms, promotional t-shirts, fans, bags and boxes, bookmarks, your car, links at forums you join, banners of events you support, as part of photo credits in magazine and newspaper articles you do photography for, and your studio’s signage. There are countless ways.
I asked my daughter Sacha, who has a widely read blog at sachachua.com to give some pointers, and here’s what she has to say:
It might be helpful to give people advice on how to think of what they can put on their webpage beyond portfolios and keyword-optimized copywriting.
What questions do their prospective clients have, and how can they address those questions to build trust and get people to choose them?
How can they educate their prospects and clients to become better clients?
How can they demonstrate the advantages of working with them?
How can they help their clients get even more value from working with them?
What can they harvest from their experience/expertise to offer on sites that their prospective clients might read? For example, if you’re targeting advertising agencies: what do advertising agencies read, what can you share from your experience as a photographer, and which sites can you offer (or sometimes even sell) this resource to so that they’ll link to you and their audience will discover you?
“Content marketing” and “customer journey” might be good keywords to explore if you want to learn more about this.
A website is more than a brochure. It can help you with building your reputation and relationships, and even improving the quality of your clients. =)
This article on how to create, maintain and promote your website is just a beginning. As you get started with your website, more questions will crop up, and you would have to seek more answers elsewhere. This article or book does not in any way cover all there is to know about social media marketing.
Events: Getting People to Come
We should also know other ways of reaching our target markets. When and where do clients or customers congregate? In our industry, there is (or used to be) a biennial event called an “advertising congress.” We cannot afford not to be there. There are also annual events such as printing and graphic expos, and of course, those organized by the different sectors we serve – the food industry, car manufacturers, construction and real estate developers (since we do aerial and architectural photography), and also by the marketing and advertising associations in the country.
Events are a popular way of reaching potential customers, and reconnecting with old ones. Do some research on what kinds of activities or topics your clients are interested in – sports, photography, writing, technology, travel. Your studio-sponsored event could be a fun activity or a serious learning session. It could even be something relevant to the times, not necessarily to photography, such disaster preparedness. Before embarking on an event, do a preliminary survey by offering your clients a list of topics. Make a survey also of your clients’ preferred schedule. Based on your clients’ responses to your survey questions, you could then plan the event. Invite a resource speaker. Serve light snacks (it’s a good time to show off your cooking or baking skills), and offer some souvenir items that feature your photography or list your services.
If you have a small studio and your activity needs to be indoors, it might help to schedule your guests in batches – twenty people a month every month might prove to be more intimate and effective, than all of 240 guests in one grand party.
Check out hot ideas. When Facebook started to become popular, we had a Facebook party in our studio. We set up lights and clients gamely posed for their profile photos. We provided props – wigs, sunglasses, hats -the kinds used in photo booths- and everyone thought that was a ton of fun. Of course, we also had ourselves photographed with them, and quickly posted their pictures on our Facebook page where they were tagged. We invited a rock band composed of people from the advertising industry, provided refreshments, and ensured that everyone enjoyed. In addition to sharing digital files, we also printed their photos using a Canon Selphy printer and they gladly took home their copies. When we did our client calls, we were very pleased to see these photos framed and placed on their desks or displayed on their boards.
Go ahead, connect with clients and customers.
Marketing Photo Services and Products
No matter what marketing techniques you employ, or marketing channels you explore, there is no denying that your photos will be needed to attract prospective clients and demonstrate your capabilities as a photographer to them, so start with having great photos.
Marketing is all about getting people, especially prospective customers, to get to know about you, to get them to think of you when they need a photographer. It requires identifying and knowing your market, and staying connected with them through various ways or channels – online or other means of communications, personal or face-to-face interactions, and through advertising or events. Marketing requires that you plan, keep, execute, measure and monitor, whether on a short term or long-term basis.
It’s about establishing a “brand” so that you are top of mind and fully trusted for the kind of photography that you do. When the connection with clients or customers is strong, their challenge to you could go beyond the photography you are known for. They could challenge you to go into other areas of photography you don’t normally do, because you’re the only photographer they trust to do the work for them. In short, marketing is all that you need to do to identify, approach and win customers and create connections with them so that you could keep them as your faithful patrons, followers and supporters.
There are many resources on the Internet on how photographers market themselves, or how to prepare marketing plans. Do take advantage of them, but remember that a great marketing plan is anchored on knowing yourself and knowing your customers.
Identifying your Target Market.
Not everyone needs or wants your products or services. Like the biblical parable of the seeds (some thrown into barren land, rocks, fertile soil, and only those that were thrown at fertile grounds grew), our marketing efforts should be directed at people or companies who present the possibility of being converted into customers.
As far as our photography services and products are concerned, who are these people? Are they young or old? Male or female? To what economic strata do they belong? Are they employed at particular companies? What kinds of positions do they occupy? What and where are they? Who or what influences their decisions? Are they the decision makers, or they lead us to those who are? What are their interests? What are their values and preferences? How do we find them and how do we connect with them?
Marketing is not always about trying to reach the largest number of potential customers. While some products are meant to be marketed to as many people as possible, there are specialty products that are produced for a specific and limited audience. What we know as “signature brands” would even lose their worth as coveted brands, if they were made available and affordable to everyone.
Should photographers aim for a bigger market, or a smaller audience? It really depends on what photography products and services are being offered. Photography companies that offer photofinishing services may go on two different directions. One that offers automated, non-customized printing would do well to put themselves in malls and highly visible locations where they can offer greater accessibility, lower prices and fast-turn arounds. Their marketing would be directed at a bigger audience, although it would help them to keep a database of regular customers and to find a way of connecting with them from time to time, or when they have special promos.
On the other hand, a photo lab that offers highly-customized printing, such as for fine art photography, or specialized commercial outputs, would not be marketing to the general public. They would have to research on who their specific potential clients are, and to try to reach them. Often, they would depend on “word of mouth” and on a limited list of satisfied clients for repeat business.
When John and I decided that we would focus on advertising photography, logically, we sought advertising agencies, and advertisers. We further defined the people at ad agencies who would be in a position to choose their photographers. These would be art directors or account managers, as well as print producers (formerly called “traffic.”). We did not directly seek out copywriters – since they don’t hire photographers – but we did not ignore them either, as they work side by side with art directors and can put in a good word for us. Of course, it also helped to know presidents or vice presidents of ad agencies as they could make it easier to get to meet the people who directly connect with photographers. Same with advertisers – our targets would be marketing and/or advertising managers. Their secretaries or assistants would also act as proper channels to the powers-that-be, so it helps to connect with them as well. In fact, it would be foolish to ignore secretaries or assistants, as they actually hold the power on a day-to-day basis. Secretaries whom you have ignored might just tell their bosses that they can’t reach you on your phone, although it’s probably harder to say that about emails.
No matter what type of photography business we are running, we would have to define who our target markets are, and the closer we are to identifying them, the better our chances of reaching them.
Finding Your Niche. Tony Luna, author of “Reinventing Your Career as a Photographer” and “Mastering the Business of Photography” suggests trying to find the smallest market in a marketing strategy he calls “passion-based marketing paradigm.” In one of his online articles called “The Stages of a (Freelance) Photography Job,” he suggests trying to identify first what a photographer loves to do, and based on his passion, to find the smallest group of people who would need such photography. Marketing guru, Seth Godin, would call this small group of people who believe in you and the work that you do, as your “tribe.” Happy with the work that you do for them, they would even act as your “volunteer marketer,” spreading the good news about your photography. This is “word-of-mouth” marketing at its finest.
In class (I teach Business of Photography at the College of Saint Benilde), when I asked my students what they would specialize in and who their potential markets are, we followed Tony’s advice, and tried to find sub-markets. Usually, when asked about their preferred specializations, students are generally divided into broad genres – fashion, travel, photojournalism and advertising. Once in a while, one student would add fine art photography to the genres being listed. Then, we work harder and further to identify submarkets. One female student who wanted to go into fashion photography, shyly volunteered a sub-specialization, “male fashion photography” and drew a lot of giggles, but also other suggestions – “children’s fashion, gay fashion, mature women’s portraits. The class became livelier when they brought forth rationalizations for targeting such markets, and one student declared that he would pursue the senior market, since such a group of buyers are still underserved and yet, more established financially, and therefore able to afford higher prices for portraiture. I would like to repeat Tony Luna’s challenge: What’s the smallest market that you can find that need and want your services as a photographer? (check exact words and quote here).
Marketing Channels. Marketing channels are the different ways or avenues that we connect with our target markets. Since there is no one fool-proof way to reach our target markets, we should plan on several.
The Internet is a powerful channel, as we have global reach with it. Social media has emerged as a powerful tool, not only for taking your photos and information about you “out there”, but it also provides substantial statistics on who you are reaching, who is following you, how engaged they are with your materials, and more. If you should choose to advertise, rates could vary, and you have many choices on how you would want to be billed.
Traditional media (print – as in newspapers and magazines – and to a much lesser extent for photographers, radio and TV) can be expensive for photographers to employ, but many photographers go into exchange deals with these media organizations, often providing them with editorial materials, in exchange for a feature article on the photographer, or at the very least, good-sized photo credits. A word of caution – for this channel to be effective, choose magazines that cater to the same market that you are trying to reach.
Other marketing channels include events marketing (trade shows, such as bridal fairs for wedding photographers), promotions, face-to-face interactions as when we arrange for portfolio presentations, email blasts or telephone marketing, and exhibits. There are more, and it would help to be creative in thinking of ways to reach your market. While events such as bridal fairs, graphic/design trade exhibits, or advertising congresses are commonly participated in by photographers, please take note that these are also where our competitors are. It might be “thinking out of the box” to be the only photographer-exhibitor in a real estate developers’ convention (for those who do architectural photography), or in hotels and restaurants’ trade shows (for food photographers, or even travel photographers), or maybe at a stand-alone booth for portraiture at your town’s fiesta? At a recent trade show on corporate social responsibility where all the exhibitors were corporate foundations, there was a solitary booth featuring a photographer, and it’s name was appropriately called “Blessings.” He said that he got a lot of inquiries about corporate photography from the exhibitors themselves, and few from the exhibit visitors.
You’re not allowed to do “flyering” (distributing flyers), at malls, but who says you cannot give away your business cards (illustrated, of course, with your photography) at restaurants or fast food courts. Just do it discretely.
Since they have been overused, and indiscriminately used, email blasts (like the old fashioned fax-blasts) and telemarketing are proving to be irritating to recipients, so you might want to heed Seth Godin’s advice to try “Permission Marketing.” When you ask clients and customers to fill up your Client’s Info form, add a little question about how they would like to be updated about you. Those who opt for telephone or email updates can be contacted and updated that way, but make sure you are careful not to overdo it. Even permissions can be recalled or withdrawn when your email blasts become irritating.
Blogs can be a great way to connect to your clients and win some following, with permission, of course, since they would have to first visit your blogsite, and hopefully read your blog and sign up for a subscription. Your blog host will notify those who have signed up for notification, and they can choose to go to your blog, or simply ignore the notification. You can either write tips on photography that help clients who are interested to learn about photography, or your articles could establish you as the expert to go to for articles on your specialization. You could also write on any topic that you feel is interesting to many of your clients.
There are other ways to connect through the Internet. You could join forums where your clients might encounter you, or you could join networking sites like LinkedIn, Google Plus and Facebook.
Face-to-Face. While the Internet has long “arms” that reach every part of the world, nothing beats a handshake between you and your current or prospective client in a face-to-face meeting. So again, take out a calendar or date book (the version on your computer is fine) to schedule appointments to call on your clients. You won’t even need to wine and dine them at expensive restaurants – a quick, meet-up-for-coffee at Starbucks, Coffee Bean or Figaro would do. Show them the new photography that you are doing. If you are social friends with your clients, that’s even better – as you can invite them to celebrations not only in your studio but also in your own home, just as they can invite you to theirs. Hey, maybe, you shouldn’t be bringing your portfolio to those parties!
Marketing Photography … to be continued.