Episode 6: 5 Reasons Your Photography Marketing Isn’t Working
with Sarah Petty
Marketing. It’s one of the hardest things to learn and implement successfully when you are a business owner. Most business owners try to figure out marketing, but don’t do it correctly. When it doesn’t work, they start to build up head trash about why they aren’t good at it, or why marketing just doesn’t work for them. If this is you, it’s not your fault. Hang with me because I’ve identified the top five reasons, your photography marketing isn’t working. And by the end of this Joycast, I want you to know why they’re not working and what you can do about it.
I started my career in marketing with Coca Cola Enterprises, and I loved it. I thought I had won the lottery because I was working for one of the coolest brands in the entire world. But as I went on, I just felt like such a small part of this giant machine. It didn’t feel like I was making a difference, and my job became less and less challenging. I was looking for jobs up in Chicago that wanted an MBA and a couple of years of sales experience. And so I went back to school and got my MBA. Then, I got a job as a marketing director at an advertising agency.
The Truth Behind My First Marketing Experience
I really feel like I’m the marketer I am because of my experiences early on. I want to share a story that changed how I looked at everything. There was a client that came to us. They were a big giant tech company in our city and they had a smaller division. They were launching a new business to business software to a very specific group of people. And they were hosting a business breakfast and it was a small group, with about 40 people, and they said, “This is a really important group and a really important meeting. So we’re not going to give you a budget– we want to see what you can come up with.”
They wanted something like a trifold brochure, because that’s what everybody thought was fancy. But to us marketing people, it was like fingernails on the chalkboard. A trifold brochure isn’t creative, fun, or exciting. But the magic words were “no budget”, so we knew we could do something special for them. We tracked down the company that made those little milk cartons, like those little milk cartons that you had when you were a kid in elementary school. And of course it was expensive to do a run of the milk cartons, but they were selling a very expensive technology, so money wasn’t an issue for them.
How to Hit a Home Run with Your Marketing
We designed the milk carton to promote their business. It had a catchy phrase, like “got milk?” but with a twist. The “ingredients” were the company’s core values, and the straw looked like a pen. And it said like got milk, it said, got their company name with a question mark. And it was amazing because when you put something creative into a field where they’re typically not creative, the response is even bigger. These serious business people who were techies and they weren’t creatives, they freaked out.
They came into the breakfast and they were like, “What is this?” And they were holding it and looking at it. It got their attention. It stood out in the crowd. And they LOVED it. Everyone saved their milk carton from that day. That’s where I really learned the basis for boutique marketing. It’s taking your budget and doing one thing really, really well. Instead of trying to do everything and spreading yourself too thin, be creative and “wow” your customer with something unique.
Five Ways to Fix Your Photography Marketing Right Now
Number one, your marketing isn’t working because you’re treating the symptom, not the problem. Think about that. In Keith Cunningham’s book, The Road Less Stupid, he compared it to weight loss. He said, “If you came to me and said, Hey, I’m 50 pounds overweight.” He would say, “Look, that’s not your problem.” Being 50 pounds overweight isn’t your problem. So buying a Peloton bike, or whatever workout equipment is on those late night infomercials, isn’t going to help the fact that you’re overweight. You can’t eat donuts for breakfast and pizza for dinner and expect your Peloton to fix that. The problem is you have bad eating habits, and a Peloton doesn’t magically change your habits. Same thing in business. Everybody tells me, “Sarah, I just need more clients. I need more marketing.” And they go straight to the tactic looking for the Peloton bike of marketing.
They’ll say, “My marketing’s not working. I talk to a lot of people, my phone rings, but they just want digital files.” But your problem is deeper than that. When someone calls you on the phone, there are things you can be doing to cure your problem, instead of just treating it. You can clearly explain what makes you different and why they should come to you. And you have a super smooth selling and serving system. Instead of asking yourself, what marketing activities should I be using because none of them work? Take a pause and fix the other problems first. Like learning what to say when the phone rings.
How to Pack a Punch with Your Photography Marketing
Number two, I see so many people spreading their budget too thin, trying to make way too many things work. I had a student, Olivia Pritchard from New Orleans. She did one marketing activity. One. Didn’t spread her budget too thin. And she hit $235,000 in her business in just three years. She added a hundred thousand to her gross sales that next year. She worked with charitable events to donate to their silent auction. This is just one of many things I teach. Most photographers say, “Oh, I tried doing those things for marketing. It didn’t work.” But the truth is, there are so many moving parts for just one activity. They have to be perfected. You don’t need to add activities. Instead of spreading your budget too thin, focus on one activity and all of its moving parts until it works.
Number three, the reason your photography marketing isn’t working is that you’re designing materials yourself. You can stand on a soapbox and wear a hat, but if you’re not a trained professional designer and you’re designing your own marketing materials, you probably look like an amateur. When we are in business, people judge us on everything. And when they haven’t hired us yet, they can only judge us on what they see. Think about it. Think about going into a restaurant and you walk in and before you order, you look at the menu and it’s tacky. It’s designed with horrible fonts and it’s dirty and it’s gross. And that’s your first impression. And you think, Oh my gosh, what’s going on at this place? They don’t know what they’re doing.
The same thing applies to you and your marketing materials. If you can’t hire a professional designer, I recommend holding off and doing a different activity that doesn’t require excellent design. Or find a way to trade with the graphic designer who can help you. There is a way to get it done if you have tenacity. Is it easy? No. But if it’s easy, everyone can do it. Putting out a discount, being cheap. Everyone can do it, which is why it doesn’t work anymore. Right? So make sure you have the highest quality of design.
Two Photography Marketing Mistakes You Didn’t Know You Were Making
Number four. Number four reason why your photography marketing isn’t working is because you’re guessing. What we know about trying things without a plan, without a system, without any direction, you’re going to end up worse off than before. Because you just spun your wheels and wasted your time, and maybe even your money. If you don’t have a system and the exact steps, don’t do that activity. Some activities are more difficult than the other, so just pick an easier one to start off. Or find someone who is already doing it, and invest in a system. But don’t waste your resources just guessing, because that is not a strategy.
And number five, your photography marketing isn’t working is because you’re sizing the rounder. That’s what they do in retail. When you’re at a store, you see a clerk standing there, putting all the sizes together and making everything perfect. They’re good at perfecting busywork. Guess what, you’re probably doing the same thing, too. You hop on Facebook, pretend you’re marketing, but really you’re watching kitty videos and reposting things that aren’t even contributing to anything. Even just passive marketing, where you’re putting things out there, hoping that someone will see them and call you, isn’t a “strategy”. You’re sizing the rounder, okay? That doesn’t make customers come in or buy anything. You’re just tidying up, staying busy, making things look pretty. You need to be actively marketing, getting out there and building relationships. You need to do things that actually help market your business.
Look, don’t beat yourself up because this is the first time you’ve tried marketing and it didn’t work for you. Stay the course with boutique, trust yourself, and be willing to do hard things. It’s going to grow not only your business, but it’s going to grow your abilities. I believe in you.
I'm Sarah Petty
I’m a photographer living in the middle of a cornfield (central Illinois), momma of three teenage kiddos (plus a cat & dog) and an educator for all things photography business. Favorites: Earl Grey Tea (not coffee!), anything orange and clothes that are made for tall girls