The Secret Sauce is You
By Andrew Fingerman
Why does marketing yourself seem so hard? What makes things increasingly hard is that nobody wants to be sold to anymore.
Historically speaking, sales and marketing has been very interruptive. We’re all so busy — we don’t want to be interrupted. If I’m going to let myself get distracted to take your sales call, that means I’m putting my stuff aside in favor of your stuff, and helping you achieve your goals. So selling is becoming increasingly and increasingly harder.
That presents a challenge because, as a small business owner, you need to sell, you need to market yourself, you need to make people aware of your services. But I’m going to challenge that notion a bit. I’m going to tell you that if you can stop selling yourself, you need to start building Audience.
The Bulls-eye and the Funnel
Why is audience so important? This little bulls-eye illustrates my point. Your audience is in the outer ring — that’s anyone who might have any interest whatsoever in your content, in your services, in what you do and the content that you put out there. Your audience is big, it’s wide, and it’s massive. Let’s say you’re a horse photographer and the editor of Equestrian magazine is in your audience. But it can also be somebody who appreciates the subject matter of your photography, like a consumer, or just a horse lover. Maybe it’s a Clydesdale aficionado. So the audience is big and wide and massive, but in the center of the bulls-eye are your clients and prospects — the people who will one day likely have a need for your services. That’s much, much smaller, but the clients are there. They might be sitting there waiting and watching now, but one day there’s a decent chance they’re going to have a need for you and what you offer.
Let’s flip this around a bit. There’s a wonky marketing subject we call a Marketing Funnel. You can think about the notion of engaging with a prospect or a potential buyer like a funnel. At the very top of the funnel is the audience. It’s the very first moment when they engage with you and begin the journey of going into the funnel. Each step of the way they engage a little bit deeper and a little bit deeper. It’s almost like they’re making a deeper commitment to you and your services.
First they know you exist — awareness has occurred. Maybe they encounter a social media post you’ve done, or somebody passes along your portfolio, or a tweet or a marketing promo. You’re on their radar, but that’s where it stops. You need something to push them down into the next level — to Consideration. They know of you and now they’re considering you because they have a need. So you become an option.
However, sometimes people fall out. Maybe they’ll never have a need for you; maybe they hate your style. Not everyone you encounter will have a need for your services. So there are leaks in the funnel, each step of the way. That’s why the funnel gets smaller and smaller and smaller as it moves downward. But the journey of the customer from Awareness through to Conversion — you’ve actually gotten them to say ‘yes, I need to buy your services, I need to hire you for a job, or I need to purchase a print from you’ — then you move on down to where they come back and you have Loyalty, which is kind of like the Holy Grail. Loyalty, a loyal customer that keeps coming back for more, is very hard to achieve. And one step further is Advocacy — a lifelong client that’s your cheerleader, telling their friends and colleagues about you. Advocacy is elusive, until you get down to the lower rungs of the funnel, where you’ve worked with somebody and pleased them, you’ve demonstrated that you can solve problems, and then they tell everybody how enamored they are of you.
But things have changed a bit thanks to the Internet and social media, because you can now actually take your content and create advocates. People don’t necessarily have to become a customer, a repeat customer and a cheerleader in order to become your advocate. They might just fall in love with your content and want to be on your radar or be a part of your audience for a very long time. They can be an advocate for you and introduce you to others and pull them into your audience.
When you study the funnel, you think about what’s going in at the top, and what’s coming out at the bottom. What’s at the top is growing the funnel and what’s coming out at the bottom is your Conversion Rate. The challenge is to increase the people at the top of the funnel and/or optimize the conversion rate. If the funnel stays the same, you need more people going into the top in order to have more people coming out the bottom, because people drop off repeatedly. But you can also optimize the rate at which you convert people by understanding your audience, making sure that you’re putting quality content in front of them and that you’re marketing with vision. Because you can get in front of an audience as much as you like, but if they’re not seeing what they need to see, they’re never going to take that next step down into the funnel.
We all know by now that social media is a content-hungry beast. That’s where the advantage and opportunities are for content-producers like you. My challenge to you is to leapfrog that traditional funnel to create this massive audience of highly engaged advocates who want to help you grow your audience using your content.
The Five Ingredients to Marketing Success
I have a recipe for marketing success and these are my ingredients: The first is Research — how you understand and plan an approach to growing your audience. Next is Creativity and how to apply creativity to your marketing programs. The third is my favorite ingredient — Magic. When my marketing team comes to me and says, “What do you think of this ad?” I often say, “It doesn’t have enough magic in it. It doesn’t have enough imagination in it.” There’s a secret sauce and a special ingredient to everything you do. And that’s the challenge to you, to ask yourself, “how can I do this with a little more magic?” In this case, I’m going to speak about magic in terms of you, your personality and your brand. There’s a little bit of science in the recipe, too — Marketing Science. Things like the scientific method: forming a hypothesis, conducting experiments, measuring the results and correcting from there. That’s important to learn if you expect to have success in growing your audience. And, finally, there’s Discipline. Any successful marketing expert will tell you that marketing requires persistence and discipline.
First we’re going to talk about Research. I’ve also broken my presentation into about Thirteen Tactics, beginning with Self Discovery. You can’t start any audience-building campaign unless you really know yourself, what your goal is, and what you’re after.
I have this concept that I call Bucket Thinking. When people encounter you and your content they want to put you in a mental bucket with nice little organizational devices so they can remember you. This is not entirely different than what art directors and photo editors do when they receive your promotion in the mail or an e-mail — they’ll file it in a place where they can remember it because they think it’s going to be useful at some point. So if you’re a travel and lifestyle photographer based in Positano, Italy, and you contact the photo editor of Travel and Leisure, they’ll probably put that in their Italy folder — it’s a device that they can use to remember you.
The same goes for the mental buckets people use when they encounter your content. They want something to remember you by. If you’re a generalist, it’s very hard for them to latch onto anything. If the content on your Website, in e-mails or on social media is all over the place, people aren’t going to know how to mentally classify you.
So my first tip is to have a specialty. Decide where it is that you want to play and become an expert. This is how you build credibility and have something to say in a dialogue with other people. You want to be a living, breathing participant in the audience you’re looking to curry favor with. What is it that you want to be known for? What reaction and behavior do you want to produce in the audience that you’re connecting with? That’s Self Discovery. I seriously encourage you to spend time on this before you start marketing; otherwise it’s what they call “Spray and Pray.” You just kind of shoot stuff out there and hope that it hits and that maybe somebody will come back to you one day.
Discover Your Audience
Next, it’s time for the Audience Discovery, to really, truly understand the audience you’re going after, what they do and how you’re going to build that audience. You want to know who they are, first of all. Who am I going after? Who are these people? What do they do? Are they professionals? Where do they coalesce? How do they communicate with each other? What interests them? What do they care about? What content is most natural for communicating with these circles? What’s trending now?
If I was to ask your specialty, you should be able to rattle off immediately. Who are the most influential folks who are both hiring and shooting into that specialty? Where can you find the most of them? Do they have Facebook or LinkedIn groups? What hashtags should you follow to help you understand what they’re talking about? You need to really dig in and research the audience to understand how they speak to each other. Where are they? What compels them? What topics are most pressing on their minds?
There are a handful of places where you can do this type of research. Sometimes, our brains stop working when our fingers hit the keyboard, so it can be important to get away from the computer to think. When that happens, go manual: Take a walk to Barnes & Noble and pull some magazines off the shelf. The mastheads are all listed, so you can find the director of photography at any publication. That’s the first step toward building your list. Then take that list and go to Twitter or LinkedIn and find these people. That’s one step further to engaging with them, and understanding where they are and what they’re talking about, both professionally and casually. LinkedIn is amazing for this stuff; it’s a professional tool and it’s so useful. With LinkedIn, you can search for any term — director of photography, art director, creative director, photo editor, graphic designer — and find folks who not only have a title you care about, but probably have a title in a world or a smaller niche that you care about as well.
Social media is really useful for this stuff; every social media platform either has a way of creating smaller groups and communities, like Facebook groups and LinkedIn groups, or the hashtags which are effectively keywords that will help you find dialogue and conversations as they’re taking place and give you the opportunity to participate. Forums and traditional web discussion groups exist for every topic you can think of. If your specialty is frozen yogurt photography, there’s a frozen yogurt forum, I promise you that.
Quora is an interesting question and answer platform, which is very searchable and people can ask and answer questions into threads. If I were to ask the question, “What’s the best way to find photography of Positano, Italy?” there’s undoubtedly someone on the Internet with an answer, and probably some very creative answers to that question. There are also live events and meet-ups, which are so powerful. All these things help you filter down the world and give you a jumping off point to engage with folks who are potential members of your audience.
There are also some cool apps and tools that aren’t too widely used or known: Google Alerts. Google has a capability for you to enter a search term and set up a daily, weekly or monthly e-mail with all the Web conversation happening on the sites that Google picks up. This can be helpful if there’s a topic that you have an interest in or would like to understand where these dialogues are taking place. Mention.com is another relatively new search-term based service that does a really good job of picking up social media dialogue. The free basic account gives you a report so you can identify the influential people who are communicating about your specific subject matter.
Riffle is also pretty neat; it’s a free plug-in for the Google Chrome browser that enables you to click a little arrow next to anybody on Twitter for more detailed information about them. There are scores at the top that’s like a scale of how influential people are. And the hashtags that they use, and the frequent mentions, how often they tweet, so it’s a way to get a little bit more intelligence about the things that interest the people you might want to connect with.
There’s also Agency Access. I love recommending Agency Access as a targeted tool. Their database has hundreds of thousands of corporate, advertising, commercial and editorial buyers. These are folks assigning jobs, and purchasing and licensing photography. They keep this database updated and fresh, so using it to get to know and fine-tune the people you should be targeting is really, really powerful, whether you’re building a social media effort or planning a direct mail campaign.
Those are some tools for finding your audience, which is an ongoing, living, breathing process. You’ll never stop learning about your audience, because every day the conversation and compelling topics shift. If you want to continue producing and injecting valid, relevant content into that dialogue you have to pay very close attention.
Adding Creativity into the Mix
So we talked about research; now we’re going to talk about Creativity. Tactic number three is Make Connections with Your Content, which is kind of the logical next step. You’ve spent time honing your vision; you understand your own specialty and what you’d like to be known for. You understand your audience and what they’re communicating about. Now you have to put the two together and say, “How am I going to get my content in front of this larger audience and become an active participant in this dialogue?”
Essentially, you have to figure out the niche and target it with your content. If you’re just getting started, the smaller the niche you can find, the more likely you’ll have impact if your content suits that niche’s interests. Targeting a niche will help you generate engagement, because you’ll truly be seen as a subject matter.
Take for example, Geoff Waugh, a Photo Shelter photographer I’ve been following for years, who is everything cycling. He photographs big cycling sporting events and lifestyle cycling stuff on the side. He lives and breathes the audience and their interests as a cyclist himself, so you pick that up following him on social media. He uses social media platforms to engage with folks who care about these same things. He’s on the radar and both a member and participant in the audience he wants to be known within. He’s based in the UK, so when a big cycling event like the Tour de France happens, he’s the one they look to for event photos as fast as possible.
Other ways to create engagement and get your content in front of the audience include Instagram — which offers a great opportunity to use hashtags — and general blogging. The more you blog, the more opportunities you have to tag and get your content found by folks who are interested in it.
Randy Santos is a Washington, D.C.-based photographer. You’d think that architectural photos of Washington, D.C., are a dime a dozen, but Randy has created a magnificent flow of potential buyers and clients because of how he’s put his content out there with really strong keywords in ways that he knows his audience is looking for content, mostly using Search Engine Optimization. So if you’re searching for Washington, D.C. architecture photos, there’s a decent chance you’ll stumble across this particular blog post that Randy put up.
All these platforms are opportunities to put your content out there, using keywords or hashtags or whatever the tagging opportunity may be, in ways you know the audience is seeking. You have to pay attention and understand how the dialogue is shifting. My advice is to be as consistent as you possibly can, with frequent posts. The regularity and consistency of your posts help you stay on the radar of the audience.
The more you interact with others, the more likely they are to interact with you. One thing I’ve only recently picked up on is Twitter lists, which can be a very interesting, but very tricky, little sales tool. Twitter gives you the ability to follow anyone out there, and to see what they’re saying, but it also gives you the ability to take these people and group them into lists. So my tweets are typically either about photography, marketing or running start-up companies. One day somebody following me favorited one of my tweets and put me on a list called Interesting People. I was like, huh, that’s kind of flattering. What if you were put on a list called Amazing Photographers — now that’s super flattering. Let’s say you were put on a list called The Best Advertising Art Directors I’ve Ever Seen. This is a very subtle, but very clear and direct way of communicating to your target audience. So it’s a little bit of flattery, but it also creates this connection. Getting put on that list creates this little bomb, like “oh this person finds me interesting,” that tickles the ego a little bit. I might be more apt to answer an e-mail from this person, or pick up the phone, or look at a link they send me after having that tiny interaction indicating that they find me interesting. It’s definitely a little sales-y, but it tends to work, and it’s a way that social media can evolve into a useful tool for you in not just following somebody, not just favoriting their tweets and stuff, but actually pulling them a little bit deeper into that funnel. They might say, “oh this person finds me interesting, let me click on their profile and see if they’re equally interesting, let me click through the link to their portfolio.” It’s an opportunity to get on the radar and create that Internet bond with someone. But don’t sell — don’t be out there saying, “Hire me, buy my photography, license my work…” That’s a real turn-off. Using your content to engage, being relevant in the discussion, being a participant, helping other people; that will buy you all the credibility and leeway in the world needed to stay on these people’s radar until they have a need for your services.
Another good photographer story comes from Gareth Pon, who lives in South Africa. He does a lot of cultural and lifestyle photography for his main line of business. He created an Instagram profile and is incredibly popular, with 190,000 followers. Gareth knows his audience and these 190,000 people are following him for his South African documentary and cultural photography. Gareth also loves food photography, but he knows that audience is different than his cultural photography audience. So he created a separate Instagram presence for his food pictures. If you look at his food stuff, it’s super consistent and he knows who he’s speaking to there. He’s speaking to the Instagram food loving, food photography loving community. He’s very deliberate and not crossing the streets. He knows that the food folks aren’t going to care much to see his cultural photography. This is an interesting way to really understand your audience and how to use these platforms to present the right content to the right people.
Promote Others to Sell Yourself
Another creative tactic is to Promote Everyone Else. I’m telling you not to sell yourself, but I am telling you to sell everyone else. There are all kinds of ways to help other folks get noticed, which comes back to you. It’s not just karma; it’s actually that the more you help others get noticed, the more those same folks will help you get noticed.
Here’s a phenomenal example. Robert Caplin is a New York-based freelance photographer, mostly editorial, some commercial work. Robert started something called the Photo Brigade. It’s a series of podcasts, generally about an hour long, that highlight incredible, seasoned, experienced photographers. He has a ton of hustle and does almost one of these a week. It’s fantastic career-educational content, so if you haven’t heard of the Photo Brigade, it’s worth picking up the podcast and listening. The Photo Brigade is a way for Robert to give back into the industry, but lo and behold, life does work in funny ways. Every single person Robert interviews will also share the podcast socially. They’ll put it on Facebook, on Twitter; they might even mention it in their newsletter, because this is content that they want to share with their communities. So, in that exchange, Robert is getting on the radar of his interview subjects’ communities. It’s a fantastic, somewhat viral, way of helping the folks he’s interviewing. It’s valuable and good to listen to content, but it’s also a great way for Robert to expand his audience via the folks that he’s interviewing. I’m really impressed by the value of the content as well as the marketing tactic — promoting others to stimulate your own follow and share activity. If you see an incredible campaign, why not do a public kudos via Twitter and congratulate the art director? Sure enough there’s a decent chance that the art director will probably favorite your tweet, they might retweet it and they might click through to your profile and look at your portfolio.
Okay, tactic number five: You have to Stick Your Neck Out and Try New Things. When it comes to creativity, you have to always be looking for new opportunities to find new communities and new audience members that care about your content and to get your work in front of them.
Vincent Laforet recently did this really cool aerial project using the new Canon camera, which is amazing in low-light situations. He flew over New York City, Las Vegas, and a handful of other towns in a helicopter, and shot this amazing night photography of each of these cities, and then he published it via Story House. Story House is a visual storytelling application that’s building a lot of steam right now. It’s a lot like a blog capability, but it mixes your posts together with lots of other peoples’ posts, which affords you a greater ability to build your audience through that platform. Vincent wasn’t on the platform previously, and he identified that there are a lot of photography lovers who might be keen on his really cool, new aerial photography. He said, “Let me get this in front of the Story House community,” and it just exploded. Another similar visual storytelling platform is Exposure. Try out new platforms like this — you have to test or you’ll never know if there’s a hook there for you with your content.
The Value of Lists
The next tactic is not a brand new one — Build and Use Your Leads Lists. A lead is anyone who takes a deep enough interest in you and your work that they’re willing to commit to being a member of your newsletter. Think about the spectrum of ways that I could commit to wanting to hear from you and care about following you and your content. The easiest, perhaps, is a Twitter following. That’s a very low commitment; I don’t have to do anything and I’m not asking anything of you, you’re not asking anything of me. Then you go deeper and deeper and deeper. Giving someone your e-mail says, “I want you to interrupt me when you have something to say. I want you to interfere with my day so I can keep tabs on you and your career progress, your achievements or your portfolio evolution.” E-mail is coveted territory when it comes to leads, because they’ve made that commitment to say, “Yeah, maybe we will work together in the future.”
There are two concepts you need to think about when it comes to your lead lists. One is Capturing — how are you going to get these peoples’ e-mails? All the things we spoke about earlier — going to events, exchanging business cards — are helpful, but you need a tool. Most e-mail services give you a form to embed on your Web site so people can register for your newsletter. It captures and saves those e-mails and you have the opportunity to send a newsletter and let people know what’s up with you and your career, which you should do on a regular basis. If your e-mail service doesn’t do that or you don’t have an e-mail service, Google Docs has a very rudimentary, free form to embed on your Web site so to capture information. This form should be as recognizable and visible as possible on both your Web site and blog, so that folks are not just window shopping, they have an opportunity to leave a calling card for you. If you don’t have that mechanism, they can pass on by and you’re leaving it up to them to remember you. Having a newsletter with frequency and regularity gives you the ability to get back in front of an audience that has indicated an interest in your work.
After you’ve captured, you have to Engage. Your audience has told you they’ll take the interruption, but the responsibility to actually engage them is on you. And every single time, you need to provide content that demonstrates that they want to stick with this thing. That’s true for every flavor of business that has a newsletter. As soon as you start sending me stuff I don’t care about, I drop off. I might not open your next e-mail, and then I might unsubscribe. We all get enough e-mail to know that we don’t need more stuff that’s not of value. You need to come up with ways to provide an engaging e-mail newsletter, something they anticipate and want to receive.
An example of this is the California-based photographer Bo Bridges (not the actor Jeff Bridges’ brother). Bo does a lot of really interesting stuff with his business; he’s really good about merchandising his photography and connecting with other local businesses to cross-promote. Every time I get his monthly newsletter, there’s something new and creative he’s doing to grow his business. If you’d like some innovation and creativity and inspiration, check out Bo’s site.
Here’s a couple of different directions you might consider taking with your newsletter. Steven Voss is a Washington, D.C.-based editorial portrait photographer with a great newsletter. One of the things you hear from both seasoned professional photographers and their clients is that successful photographers are problem solvers. And almost all of Steven’s e-mails are about solving problems — about how he found himself in a particularly thorny situation and undid that situation. He has an interesting story about being commissioned to shoot Michelle Obama. Right before he arrived at the White House they told him, “You’re going to be in this room and the only thing you need to keep in mind is that the photography equipment can’t touch the carpet.” What do you do? You’ve got lights and tripods and so on. He ran to a carpet store and got a bunch of carpet samples. There were no rules about carpet samples not touching the carpet, so he put the carpet samples on the floor, where his photo equipment was touching the carpet samples. So it’s all about solving the problems. Reading these vignettes, I anticipate and get excited about the next newsletter that Steven might send.
In a totally different direction, one of the most visually pleasing newsletters I’ve ever seen, is produced by a music photographer named Kyle Dean Reinford. He takes a very different approach to engaging with his audience. Every week he gives you five different things that are going on in the music world that he’s either photographing or cares about — he calls it KDR Gives You Five. He’s connecting with his audience in a totally different way. He’s not pushing himself on them saying “you should hire me for your next shoot,” he’s saying, “you care about music, I care about music, here’s what’s going on,” and they look forward to receiving this newsletter.
Randy Santos has another approach, he e-mails with a monthly postcard image and a text saying, “Thanks for looking.” This isn’t great in terms of branding or of demonstrating value, but it is a great way to stay on your audience’s radar. He puts everybody everyone he’s gotten a business card from on his newsletter list and lets people opt out if they want. If you’ve been following Randy’s career and have an affinity for his work, you open the e-mail and look at his postcard and it might trigger a need. A few months ago his postcard image was of fancy old schooners in the Potomac. Lo and behold, somebody on his newsletter list does interior decorating for hotels in Boston, and they said, “I need photos of ships to hang in every room of the hotel!” They ended up creating a licensing and print deal with Randy to decorate the entire hotel with his ship photography.
The next example is not about a newsletter, it’s sort of a combination of sticking your neck out and properly engaging your list. Grain Images is a collective of three photographers based in the northeast. They sent me a Viewmaster along with mini print portfolios from each of the three photographers. It’s cute and kitschy and I loved it. It came in a nice chunky package, so I unboxed it, looked through the portfolios, and then I took a picture of it and I posted it to Instagram. I was so surprised and delighted by this particular promotion that I wanted to share it with my community, and that bought the folks at Grain access to my network as well. Ideally, people are listening to me and care about what I have to say, so they click through and the check out Grain Images a bit. Doing things like this, these kinds of special promotions, they have halos around them. It’s not just necessarily about nailing that job from that single person that you mailed it to. Other folks might see the unboxed promotion when they stumble by the desk or it might be the art director’s social media post after being thrilled to receive it. This kind of promotion is obviously very expensive to execute, so if you target the group you can have a pretty cool effect.
The Power of Personal Projects
Tactic number seven is Personal Projects That Hit A Nerve. Again, it’s about applying your creativity to reach a larger audience. These can span an entire spectrum, from funny to depressing and serious. But they touch a nerve and if you know your audience and the things they’re going to find compelling, you can think of creative ways to package and position your content into projects they’ll care about. Here are some of my favorites.
Carli Davidson is a Portland, Oregon-based pet photographer. She started a series of dogs shaking off water after the bath or after being watered down. It’s just these wonderful images of dog’s faces going from one direction to the next. A blogger got ahold of it, then another blogger, and another, and it just exploded. If there’s one thing the Internet loves, it’s puppies. So Carli parlayed that into a relationship with Nikon, and a coffee table book. She understood what would resonate with her audience and once this stuff took off, she just continued feeding into it and feeding into it, so now she has a very regular, and very avid blog and social media following, which she continues to feed with either photos from the archive or new photo shoots. And so the virality of this stuff continues. Even though the awe of seeing her images for the first time has worn off, people still love it and love sharing it.
Another dog photographer, Chris Sembrot, did this thing of people mouth-kissing their dogs. This is probably totally normal to you if you’re a dog lover, but not to me. It was just a personal project he photographed and sent off to the editors at the Huffington Post, who loved it and thought it was useful content. It got published, went viral, and catapulted Chris into a whole new level of awareness with a much bigger audience.
Brad Mangin is a freelance sports photographer, he does a lot of work for Sports Illustrated and Major League Baseball, and so he has this incredible access in his day-to-day job. He started Instagramming from his position of access in the dugout. Nobody can get in there — the average Instagrammer, the average sports fan can’t get into the dugout. He’s really ignited his passion for shooting this stuff and ended up doing a book, but he continues to get published all over the place.
The humanitarian photographer Ami Vitale has spent a lot of time in Africa, and one of the issues that really touch her is poaching and the effect of poaching on these local communities. She recently did an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money to document the communities that are rising up and battling the poachers. She got a ton of press when she launched this campaign, which very much touches a nerve. It’s a very deeply personal project that she cares about, and not only is she the photographer in this situation, but she’s also a subject matter expert. She’s established herself as a go-to resource and a thought leader about these communities. It’s really helped her transcend from just the person behind the lens and capturing what’s going on into a much greater position of influence with the audience.
My last example is Jerry Monkman, who has always been a nature, outdoors and landscape photographer. He decided to do a campaign in his own local community, where they were building what’s called the Northern Pass, which is a power line that was going to run through significant portions of the northeast. Besides doing stuff like delivering electricity more efficiently to communities and creating jobs and stuff like that, it would destroy farmland and open space and local communities would be completely torn up by these very intrusive electrical power lines. Jerry wanted to do a documentary on this, and you can’t believe the support he got from his local community, which has very strong feelings about this power line coming in. He also raised $36,000 from 340 different people to produce the documentary The Power of Place, which premiered at Red River Theaters in Concord, NH, on March 11, 2015. This has significantly helped Jerry with his audience. However, it’s worth pointing out that he is someone who knows exactly who his audience is and what he does. His Twitter profile says “Professional conservation and adventure photographer, producer of The Power of Place.”
The Secret Sauce
We’re now going to talk about Magic, which is my favorite part. Your Personality is the Secret Sauce of all of this stuff; this is what ties it all together. When I talk to photo buyers and ask, “If you have two equally talented photographers, how do you make a decision on who you’re going to work with,” nine times out of 10 it’s “Personality.” Who do I want to spend three days with in a foxhole, gutting it out on a really difficult shoot? Maybe we’re working around the clock under difficult conditions or the client is nuts? Personality is a huge X factor in getting hired, but it’s also important to inject your personality into your communications. This is your brand and anything you do that goes in front of your audience is your brand. So your personality should really come through.
Here are a couple of examples. Kendrick Brinson + David Walter Banks recently made the transition from documentary/editorial to working as commercial photographers, and following them on Instagram is a lot of fun. There’s a little thing they do that actually just caught fire and has been featured on CNN and all kinds of blogs. They travel around and take a picture of themselves in front of fun places with him lifting her up in a classic kiss pose. It’s caught fire, but what’s really interesting is that it shows their personality — they look like fun people to work with. If I’m thinking about someone for a job, there’s a reasonable chance I might think about or choose Brinson + Banks over someone else because they’re the type of people I might want to work with.
Another example is Todd Owyoung, an exceptional music photographer as well as Photo Shelter’s marketing designer. Todd has developed a bit of a following from other aspiring music photographers. One thing you’ll notice about Todd’s blog posts is that whenever anyone comments on his blog, Todd always comments back. A couple of months ago, he got hired for a commercial shoot with Wrangler jeans. He asked, “How’d you find me?” And they said “We were looking for a music photographer and there are plenty of them, but we really liked the way you interact with people on your blog. We thought, ‘hey that’s a guy that we might enjoy working with.’” So they decided to bring him in and he got the gig.
Then there’s tactic #9, The Smell Test, which goes back to how quickly someone looks at you, your Web site, blog, Instagram profile and so on, and then makes a split-second decision about whether or not you might be good to work with.
An interesting illustration of this point is the dating service app Tinder, where you get pictures of people who are somewhat connected to you. If you like them you can swipe them to one direction and if you don’t like them you swipe in the other direction. If two people swipe in the right direction for each other, you connect over Tinder. It’s location-based, so you can find people near you. There’s a study published on BuzzFeed about the split-second decisions people make when they see these pictures. Perhaps you see a picture of someone and you say “oh no, they’re too hard core for me,” or “they’re too this, they’re too that.” You’re making a very quick decision about whether or not this is a kind of person you’d like to date. Maybe s/he’s really interesting to you, maybe s/he’s sexy, maybe s/he’s scary — the point is you make a snap judgment.
The same thing happens with your Web site. If it has a lousy edit or you’re ranting about some client that you worked with, you’re throwing off these brand signals without even knowing it. You might be suggesting to the visitor that you’re going to waste their time, that you have a poor attention to detail, that you’re a diva, or you’re not cut out for the work — maybe you don’t seem professional enough. There are good things that your site can send off as well: like you’re a specialist.
Maybe you’re a problem solver, like Steven Voss. Or you’re easy to work with and professional, like the Miami-based celebrity portrait photographer Brian Smith. His bio oozes professionalism. Obviously having portraits of Samuel L. Jackson and Anne Hathaway on his site doesn’t hurt. But he also talks about the Pulitzer Prize he won and about the crew he assembles for every shoot. This tells the client what they can expect in working with Brian. It builds value and clearly indicates to the visitor that Brian is a professional, he’s been around the block more than a few times. It’s the same with Jill Greenberg’s Web site, with examples of the shoots she’s done and her many different contact avenues for different representation. All of the signals that she’s throwing off are that she’s an experienced professional.
The next ingredient is Science. This goes back to that scientific method we all learned as kids, to result in tactic #10 — Form Hypotheses. Run Experiments. To do an experiment, you have to have a hypothesis such as, “I think X is going to happen if I do Y.” You have to run experiments and you should always be testing. If you want to be a good marketer, you always have to be testing. What are some things that you might be able to test? Change your profile, alter how you describe yourself, update your Web site, tap into new audiences or try new promotional media. If you’ve been doing postcards, try e-mail. If you’ve been doing postcards and e-mail, maybe try that more expensive targeted promotion. Try new content vehicles, like what Vincent Laforet did with Story House. And post content at different times.
At Photo Shelter, we experience very interesting Facebook algorithms that are constantly changing. This puts business owners and brands in fits, because what was working six months ago doesn’t work today. Facebook used to value photo posts more. You’re getting tons of traction on your photo posts, but now it’s video. This stuff is constantly changing as Facebook tinkers with the recipe and the algorithm, so you have to be trying new things constantly. So one of the things we tried was to post essentially the same content presented in different ways and at different times, and understanding, through the analytics, what kind of feedback, engagement and interaction we get at the various different times. Just sharing different information and being helpful, sharing different tips and so on. You have toMeasure Everything to get that objective feedback on whether or not something is working, which is tactic 11.
But, what can you use to measure? If you have a Facebook page, you can use Facebook Insights. This offers very deep analytics on every single post. Twitter now has analytics and insights, too there’s a little drop down area in your profile area where you can see how well your tweets do, who your most influential followers are and so on. Also, Google Analytics is an absolute must. If you have a Web site, tying it up with Google Analytics is free. Google Analytics is something that will help you understand what visitors to your Web site are doing when they interact with your content. You’ll actually be able to target what spot on the Web site where people are most likely to drop off and when are they leave. What content are they looking at? What content are they sharing? What content is getting the most traffic from social media channels? Then you can tinker and pull those levers to adjust your Web site presence, based on what you know is working and what you know isn’t working.
The last ingredient is Discipline. Along with that you have to understand what’s called Opportunity Costs, tactic #12. Opportunity costs in an upstart are when you’re spending money or time on something, you obviously can’t be spending that money or time on something else. So the cost is what you could be earning spending on something else. If I’m tinkering around with Facebook, Twitter, GooglePlus, Instagram, LinkedIn and so on, for three hours a day, I’m not doing something else. If that’s productive for me — producing clients, getting me traction, building my audience — great. But I’m not spending time on a mailer or going out to events, or other things like that, which might be more productive. You have to understand what the trade-offs are. What am I sacrificing if I’m spending three hours on social media every day? That’s your opportunity cost.
The final tactic — number 13 — is you need to Know What to Stop. Knowing what to stop takes bravery and courage, because it’s easy to think that something’s working and that something’s worth your time. But once you have the data and your goals are set — basic details like your specialty, the audience you’re trying to reach and what behavior you’re trying to elicit — if it’s not working, you need to make a decision to change. These are hard decisions; and it takes courage, bravery and creativity, because you have to decide to do something else. You can’t get comfortable or just keep doing something because you’re doing it. You need to change. And sometimes, for the more seasoned professional, that’s the hardest part. So, know what to stop.
In summary, I’m going to harken back to my most important message: People don’t want to be sold to anymore. But you can use your content to build and engage an audience of advocates, who will help you build that audience even further and bring clients your way.