Yesterday we had John Pyle talking about how to specialize in photographing high school seniors.Today's guest post is by Jen Basford, a highly successful Edmond, Oklahoma-based photographer. Be sure to follow her on Twitter.
Like most photographers, I love what I do. I mean, I REALLY love what I do. And my biggest passion is marketing to seniors (which is JUST slightly above photographing seniors, however on most days I tend to love them just the same). And to be truly honest, I just love marketing in general. It is quite possibly one of the biggest factors in the success or failure of portrait studios in today's world. So you need to take a hard look at how you're approaching things.
First of all – who are you marketing to – the senior or their parent? In general, I am marketing to the senior. However, don't ignore the parents entirely or it can come back to bite you. So with that in mind, I look at ways in which to reach my target market most effectively. Oh, and I also should let you in on another little tip – I like to do EVERYTHING differently. And I like to do it my way. :)
For me, that means doing what everyone else ISN'T. I've done a LOT of research over the past several years into what gets the attention of teenagers. And I can tell you that it is NOT direct mail. Everyone mails pretty little postcards to seniors with the same things on them – here are some images of what we do, here is our latest campaign, and here is an offer to get you to come in and have your portraits made. And I can tell you that every single one of them looks alike. Sure, the colors may be a bit different, and many people use WAY too many fonts, but they all look like they come from a photography studio trying hard to get your business. Which will bore the daylights out of a soon-to-be senior.
Who, by the way, is quite possibly way MORE marketing savvy than you are.
Teenagers are marketed to nonstop from the moment they wake up until the moment they fall asleep (and some might argue even well past that point). They can spot a fake, a gimmick, or something cheesy from 3 states away. They aren't interested in discounts. They aren't interested in deals. And they aren't interested in the fact that you can photograph really great well-lit images (though you'd better at least be able to do that if you're calling yourself a professional).
What they ARE interested in is fame. Being important (or made to feel like they are). Helping others. Relationships. Being REAL. You get the gist here.
So how do we reach them? By developing relationships with them and giving them once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Our 2 main marketing ventures for high school seniors are our senior model program and our annual Lights. Camera. Fashion! show we put on every spring. And these two things work hand in hand with each other. We recruit our models each year from the current year's junior class, and give them options in which they can choose to participate. And this isn't your parents' ‘rep' program designed to make kids work for referrals and discounts. Our model program offers the kids so much more – fame, the chance to be a top model for our studio, the chance to be a national senior portrait artists (spa) model winner, and the opportunity to be a runway model in our annual fashion show. We do offer incentives for direct referrals, however our model program is designed such that if they don't directly refer seniors to us we still benefit from indirect referrals, and the model then becomes a full-paying client. It's truly a win-win in all situations for us.
Our fashion show that we hold each year is the biggest event of its kind in our area. The focus is on the upcoming fashion trends, and we show high schoolers what types of clothes they will be wearing for their upcoming senior portraits. We also show them what a great time they will have at our studio, and how senior portraits are SO much more than just having your photograph made. They are about an experience. A feeling. A passion. A love. About everything you've worked your whole life to be, and everything you're heading off to become. It's a point in time that will never be repeated, and we want to make sure they realize the value of their senior portraits and that our studio can provide them with the best experience possible.
To support and supplement our model program and our fashion show, we effectively use Facebook, twitter, our blog and our website to create personal interaction and relationships with our models, clients and potential clients. One thing you have to realize, however, when using social media is that you HAVE to make it personal. Making a connection with your audience goes a LOT further than making it ONLY about business. High schoolers especially will start to tune you out before they even really tune in. Simple posts such as ‘Monday-1, Jen-0' on your social media can spark connections with almost everyone, as all of your target markets can relate to this humorous quip in some fashion or another. Keep it fun, make it personal, and use it effectively to enhance your business.
And keep it up. Regularly. If you don't, your audience will soon become bored and wander elsewhere. So it's your job to continually engage them and keep them coming back for more.
Assuming you are good at your craft, by giving some attention to your marketing and looking at how you can differentiate yourself from the pack you will be able to drive your target client towards you without the need to compete in the same arenas as ‘everyone else'. You must find out what makes you different, and start to capitalize on that. Because if you continually do things the way everyone else is doing them, eventually you will burn out and find that you are just a commodity to your market base. And people compare commodities on price – a war you will NEVER win, no matter where your pricing falls.
So play hard or go home. Because if you're marketing isn't on its ‘A' game you're going to be left behind.