Marketing to Seniors
I have opened two different studios in two different markets over the years. And one of the keys when you start in any market is you need to find that in. It's always different for everybody, I've had friends who've opened studios in other parts of the country where their in was targeting a local boutique, and you know, working with them to get clothes for a look book or working with their models. And then that leads, you basically, you need content to get content, so the only way to show off your images is to keep creating. So you need to figure out what it is that you want to create, and what style, and then show that off. A lot of times, you know, people think, where do I even begin? And again if you want to be a photographer, you need photos to show people to prove yourself. And you're not gonna have clients just knocking on the door. So the content is king, you need stuff to post, you need your website ready, you need all that stuff so that way you can show people what you do, the...
style you do it, and I believe that's really important. You also need to create a consistent brand and you know, figure out who it is that you're targeting. A brand isn't necessarily about you, as a photographer. In fact, it's more about who you're target market is. Think about who you're trying to sell to, who you want as your client. And think about what other type of things they buy. Look at that for inspiration. A lot of people think, well I want my brand to be my exact style. Okay if I were to do that, I'm a 33 year old guy, if I'm thinking what I like is the same thing as what a 16 year old high school girl likes. There is definitely a difference there. So it's more of thinking, who are my target clients looking at, what brands are they following, what do they want, and then in my head, how can I make my brand target them in a similar way. There's all these huge companies out there doing all the research and everything. So I look at some of the things, the websites that these kids look at, the stores they shop at, the Instagram pages they follow. Things like that, that's where I get ideas for my brand, it's not necessarily what I like, as a 33 year old guy, or what any of you guys like, no matter what you like, it's probably different than what your target market likes. So, you know, it's not necessarily about you, you're creating images that you like, but your brand in itself, is about them. And you gotta remember that, otherwise sometimes there's a little bit of a, you know, a miss in the middle, and you might not be getting the clients you want, but it's because you're not necessarily targeting them correctly. So identifying your target market, and then figuring out a way to speak to them, to get their attention, to get them to come to you. And I just can't stress that enough. That's how we get the clients, yeah they come in and they love the images that they see on my website, but at the same time the studio itself is a different style. My studio doesn't look like where I live, it's a different style, it's speaking to the client. I want them to have that experience when they come to the studio, and then I go home at night, and that's my area. I don't need to hang out, you know, in my house all day. That is different than what I want my target market to enjoy. So it's about figuring those two things out, being able to keep them separate, and knowing what you're going after. And it could be something as simple as your branding. When I'm talking studio, not everybody has a studio, not everybody has the space. So it doesn't have to be that big yet. You need to start small though, because a brand starts at that first point of contact. And don't undervalue yourself, I see a lot of people who are just getting started, and yes you do need content to start. I shot plenty of free sessions for the first bit. My start in Omaha came in 2013. I had already has a senior business for years, so I knew how to do the whole business side, I'd already, I knew how to create the photos. All that experience was there, but I was in market with zero clients, because I had no contacts. So for me, I had to find, just an in. Back to the first bullet point. My in was, I met somebody who was friends with a teacher, who had a daughter who was a junior. Perfect, I'm taking senior pictures, that's a great in. She said, well my daughter, she would love to do photos, they're always in front of the camera, all that. I said, well have her come in on a Saturday, you know, I didn't even have a studio yet, we'll meet, have her bring at least two or three friends, we'll go pick out, you know, outfits and all that. And it was essentially, in that point I knew, that as many photos as I could get of these four girls, the more content I have, and then they can share that with their friends. So my in was, that one little shoot, because I met somebody who knew somebody else, and brought in these four girls for a two hour shoot on a Saturday. Those four, I had all four of their senior pictures then soon after that. That just spread like wildfire, and that year alone, you know, I went from those four test shoots on a Saturday, to having, I don't know, 15 or 16 seniors within two months. And whether your in is a coach, you gotta think about what the schools you're targeting, the area you're in. For me, each school has it's own, there is a lot of schools in Omaha, so each one kind of has a specific thing. Some of them are dance and cheer, other ones are volleyball, sometimes it's basketball. It's whatever activities are big within your area, those are the kids you wanna bring in because they're the influencers, they're the ones that the other kids follow. So if volleyball's big in your town. If you get couple of the girls off the volleyball team, everybody else know what they're doing, plus, you know, they're the ones that people are looking to. So if they see that, "oh you took Sarah the volleyball girl's pictures." Everybody else wants to do something like that and they follow along. So, for me, it was finding people who were fitting that mold and that I could bring in, even if the first four shoots were free. But I needed that content to show what I could do, to get the attention and within my website it creates familiar faces, so other kids at that school, "oh I know her," you know, you can't just have random people from other workshops and things like that that you've photographed and think that's gonna set you apart in your own market. And then, again, don't undervalue yourself. Even though you're just starting, your time, your products, the equipment you've invested in, the time you've invested in to educate yourself and everything else is worth something and so are digital files. I see so many people that can't get around that, they think that they aren't worth anything and again, this is a business, unless you're trying to work two or three jobs and photography's your hobby, you need to charge accordingly and that's a whole nother talk for a whole nother time but I always tell people, don't undervalue yourself or you'll be working too much, you'll get burnt out and that whole creativity will just go right down the tubes. So, you gotta know your worth. Another part of getting started and keeping consistent business is reps and ambassadors. I've gotten to a point now where I don't have a rep or ambassador program anymore but a lot of senior studios do. Some are run different ways than others. There's some that are just really involved and an over all pain, there's some that are really simple. When I did do a program it did work and one of the things that I did was I kept it really simple. I didn't want anything that'd be all these crazy structures and meetings and all that type of stuff. What I did for mine was I brought in a couple seniors earlier in the year. So what I did is, let's say it was 2015, or 2016, I would ask my seniors from the previous year, "hey, you know our style," they know our prices, they know our business, "do you know anybody who you think would be good "for some test pictures early in the year next year?" So maybe two months before the senior season, we would reach out, about the time we're doing grad announcements now. I would ask the seniors from last year, "hey, give us a couple of names of people "you think would be good for us to work with as reps." And we don't ask anything of the reps, they just come in, we do one outfit, one little, quick 20 minute session to get a couple of new photos, a couple of new, familiar faces for that next class and all I tell 'em is anybody who books and gives us your name, you get 50 bucks. Simple as that and they get half off their session. I've since not done the half off the session cause we don't need to cause it gets fully booked and we've kind of got rid of this program altogether but it worked and let's say you have eight reps and they each tell two friends, well now you have that 16, plus the original eight. You have 24 seniors. If one of my reps went out and found me 10 people, they're gonna get 500 dollars, cash. That sounds like a lot because it is, especially when you're 17 years old and in high school but if you have an average of 1500, 2000 dollars per senior whatever your number is. If they bring you 10 clients, that's 15 to 20 thousand dollars of extra income for you. So for them getting a 500 dollar finders fee, that's nothing and it gives them incentive. A lot of people wanna give print credit or things like that to the seniors. They don't care, generally their parents are paying for it, let's be real. So if you're gonna say, "oh you'll get a free collage "for the wall," big deal, their mom was probably gonna buy that for 'em anyway. So I just entice them with cash because that's what everybody wants anyway, so why not just do it? And it keeps it simple. A couple of people who do run really successful rep or ambassador programs are Stephanie Newbold, she's a photographer out of Arizona, and then here in Seattle is Ike and Tash. Another great program. It's definitely more relationship based, it's a whole different thing, it's not something that I would do but it works really well for them. It creates just a connection with her and her clients and the community, and those are great people to talk about that. They teach workshops and other things and speak specifically about their programs and I know they're really successful, plus reputable, so I highly suggest checking those out. As far as experience goes, again, everyone is a photographer I've said it before, it's the truth. I believe it's been a recent study that's shown more photos taken every day than like all the other days combined, or something like that. Basically more people are taking photos on their phones with digital cameras and everything else and so many people are pretty good at it. So how do you take your studio and your photography to the next level and what can you do, and what can you provide to your clients that's beyond the photos? It's something you need to figure out on your own as far as what your brand says, what the experience is. Whether it's how you interact with the kids, how you treat them when they're at the studio. Some people do the whole hair and makeup thing, it's kind of a, make a full day of it with that experience. Other people provide more stuff with social media. It's how can you provide them with an experience that they'll remember and they'll be willing to pay for and a lot of times nowadays, it has to be beyond them just ending up with a wall full of photos because there's so many people that can provide that to them, but what can you do that makes you stand apart both with the camera and outside of it, and again, that's something that you need to find out on your own for your own market, your own brand because there's no right or wrong answer to that it's just something you need to be aware of because that's where we're at now as a senior industry. There's just so much more to it than solid, technical photography. Social media impact. I have social media, I am not awesome at it. I do love browsing Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, all that but that's where all the kids are these days. So having an eye for that and having the ability to connect through Instagram and Snapchat, Instagram has become something that is so much more than just a place to post photos. If you go look through some of the popular Instagram feeds now it's this cohesive brand, it's a look. When I talk about using alien skin to create that color palate, if you look through some of the feeds of the people who have all these followers on Instagram, every photo has this feel where you know exactly who shot that. There isn't this outlier or this randomness to their feed, it's all well thought out. It's well curated, it's all edited. Instagram's become something now that is a place to put professional photos and really put your brand out there. Snapchat's the place where you wanna put the rest of the stuff, whether it's behind the scenes, raw videos, funny moments, things like that because they don't live forever, they live for 24 hours or less depending on how you set it up and what you wanna do. As of right now those are the two main things that the seniors use. You know, Facebook is more of a way to target parents. Most of the kids aren't on Facebook anymore, I don't even really get on Facebook anymore because it's become too much and especially for teens, they don't wanna deal with all that on their phone, they just want that instant gratification of Snapchat, Instagram and things like that. Same with Instagram Stories, it's similar to a Snapchat story. It's something that just lives there for 24 hours and then disappears. So you can post those things that are a little less important and a little less polished because they're not gonna be there to represent your brand for the long run like something like an Instagram feed. Instagram feed, I just talked about that so we'll move forward. And behind the scenes as well, I love giving people looks behind the scenes because if any brand, any celebrity you follow on the internet, just think of how many of your seniors, or probably some of you guys, admit it, follow someone like the Kardashians or someone like that. Everyone wants that sneak peek behind the curtain to feel like they're getting to know somebody on a personal level, to feel like they see something that they wouldn't normally live in their life. So even if it's you showing sneak peeks of behind the scenes of a photo shoot, kind of giving somebody that peek behind the scenes and seeing what they'll see, what they'll get to experience and the experience that you can provide them as a brand other than just the photos that show up on your feed. There's actually a photographer on the advertising and editorial celebrity side, his name's Art Streiber, I was telling you about this yesterday. His Instagram handle is aspictures. It's my favorite feed to follow as a technical photo nerd because he does these big, elaborate set ups, tons of photo covers, movie posters, covers of Entertainment Weekly, all these big name magazines but with every photo he posts his next post is the entire behind the scenes set up along with an explanation, and for me to see that and read like, "oh, I used this scrim here" and it's also a picture of the behind the scenes, so for me, having that sneak peek behind makes that a must follow. Kind of how any brand has their own secret behind the scenes view. I know the importance of what that is to me so just think what you can do to show your client something that they wouldn't normally see, or to give them a little sneak peek into the experience they're gonna get when they use you, or your brand, for their senior pictures. And then, interaction and engagement. How can you post things that allow people or even encourage people to interact with you and engage, whether it's with your posts, whether it's with you asking them to do things and share their photos and tag you, just to create more of a buzz and get more of your brand and more of your imagery out there. What can you do to increase that level of interaction? You know, a lot of people post things to encourage other people to comment, other people post things to encourage people to post more. It's what can you do to create a relationship with potential clients and past clients that gets more interaction and engagement just to give your brand more publicity and just get it out there. People I look to for these ideas, again, Amanda, she does all the pricing stuff for me. She also is really great with marketing and pricing, like I said. And then one of my good friends, Dan McClanahan, he's almost the opposite. I actually talked to him on the phone last night about this, he's more about this connection and experience. He always tries to be, this is his own words, "that band that no one has discovered yet," you know when they're still cool? That's how he keeps everything low key, I mean he still has a jillion followers but he keeps that connection where it's not out there in your face as much, it's very subtle and this connection's very subtle but really specific. So it's almost two totally different approaches to the way they market but yet they're both very successful and like any business you just have to figure out what works for you. Whether you're over the top and just always putting content out, or if you're someone like him who keeps things more subtle and behind the scenes and keeps that connection quiet. It's just a matter of what works for you.