Simple Marketing Strategies for Photographers

2. First create the market, then create the sale

I frequently see marketing consultants offer this advice to people who struggle with their marketing and sales effort:

“Start by identifying your ideal customer.”

This advice is usually followed by describing a process you should use that goes something like this:

Create a set of personas, each one a fictional character that has a name, age, gender, income, habits, and various other characteristics.

I will admit I find this advice impractical, but maybe that’s just me. I guess my main gripe with this approach is that there is no guarantee that these fictional people will want to buy your stuff.

I can make a profile in my head of Joe Blow, aged 54, living in Kentucky with an income of $70,000. But this picture tells me nothing about what Joe might want to buy. I might be operating under the illusion that he wants to buy one of my prints to hang on his wall, but in reality, all he wants is a new lawnmower. So, I don’t believe I can refine my offering by creating a fantasy world where I sell to imaginary people. I believe it is much more effective to ask real people what they want to buy.

I owe much of the concepts presented in this section to Daniel Priestley, and especially to an interview he did for the Creative Warriors podcast, hosted by Jeffrey Shaw.

One of the ideas he presented during that interview was that of creating the market before the sale. The process he suggests is to ask for expressions of interest before asking for business.

Another suggestion he made is to create a selection process to increase demand. Making your product look exclusive is a tried-and-tested sales technique.

To put things in perspective, here is how I applied Daniel’s strategy to my main business, which consists of organizing and leading photography tours and workshops in beautiful locations around the world.

  1. Start by collecting expression of interest: When I do a scouting trip to a new location, I bring home a lot of photos. Then I use the best ones to illustrate one or more blog posts. Each post has a well-defined call to action, where I ask readers to tell me whether they would like taking part in a tour there.
  2. Create a selection process to increase demand: When I decide to offer a photo tour, even before I have finalized dates and prices, I do a pre-sales campaign. During the campaign, people can reserve one seat on the tour by paying a small, fully refundable deposit. If they do so, they are entitled to a hefty discount over the final price. This is a limited time offer and tour groups are always quite small. Access is on a first-come, first-served basis.
  3. Schedule the tour and confirm bookings: At the end of the pre-sale period, I announce the final dates and prices of the tour. The people who have paid the deposit are offered the option to confirm their booking or to cancel (and get their deposit refunded). People who are on the waiting list are then given the option to book the tour in the order they signed up.

An important thing to understand with a traditional approach is that when people visit a tour page on the website, it is very unlikely that they are prepared to make a purchase at that moment. Embarking on a photo tour to a foreign location requires a lot of thought and preparation, so most people will leave the website and maybe come back later. I don’t know who they are, and aside from doing a remarketing campaign, I have no way to contact them again.

However, with my strategy, I am collecting contact information of those interested enough to pay a deposit, albeit small and refundable. At least I know they trust me enough to send me money. I also create scarcity and a sense of urgency.

Even if they don’t end up purchasing this particular tour, I know they are my target audience and I have the opportunity to send them more offers in the future. They are not fictional personas. They are real people.

Finally, there is a psychological element at work here. If you can get people to pay you some money, it becomes much easier to convert them to the full sale. The pre-sale deposit acts as a bit of a gateway; it creates an impetus to continue through the booking process. Without it, you need to convince prospects to go from nothing to a purchase that might be several thousand dollars, which is much harder.

Will this strategy work? I’ve just implemented it, so it’s hard to tell. But what have I got to lose?  Even if I get no sign-ups for the pre-sale, I will have at least established that my product is not very interesting. And, in the future, I can save money on advertising a product nobody wants.

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