Marketing for Photographers

This blog post is for photographers…… so if you are a client, please understand, I sometimes use this blog for a means of transporting this information to photographers in order to help our industry  (and yes, it is… um… well….. in a precarious state… oversaturation and underpricing due to some not operating legally or even with insurance but it is what it is, nothing I can do to change it, so no use rambling about it).  All’s good on the J. Otte Studio front — so you may want to bypass this post, unless you find business discussions interesting 😉


I began writing this out on a local Ladies Photographers forum that I created.  The reason I created it was because I tried to talk about these new marketing schemes on another local forum, and I was berrated and called mean for discussing them because apparently there were a few on that board who were using these marketing schemes and were not happy that I was bringing forth the truth of some things going on in the photography industry.

Let’s back up.  I’m majoring in business in college.  Yes, I know, a little cart before the horse, right?  I’ve owned my own businesses since 1997, and while I took a business class here or there, much of what I learned was gathered from experience and trial and error.  I even teach a business course online and will be releasing some online lighting courses here shortly  (not going to link to it – if you are interested, you can find it, cause I’m not here to advertise it.  I only teach what I know from my own experience and I am still a working photographer with 80% of my profits coming from actual real portrait and commercial clients).

Every photographer wants to know how to market.  But it’s such a secret isnt it?  No one will tell you their secrets.  Actually, scratch that…. they won’t tell you their secrets or they will sell you this marketing dream.   I’m here to tell you that a secret marketing tool kit does not exist.  You cannot purchase one no matter what people try to sell you.   I will not teach about it, I will not charge to discuss it.  Marketing is simple, but it’s always just out of your reach, isn’t it?   First, your area has different fluctuations – economy affects different areas…. there are geographical, social, and financial differences in every area…. so for anyone to try to sell you a blanket “marketing tool kit for success”, well, frankly……….. it can’t cover all the areas and differences, let’s be honest.   Marketing has to come from YOU….. and YOUR own research…. sorry, I know, but that takes work, and there is no easy button for it.  However, you can get a lot of marketing tips for free.

Let’s go back to the history of marketing/business.  The Industrial Revolution blah blah blah The Production Era…. blah blah blah….. but when did marketing REALLY hit? Communication to the masses is key – TV…. television is HUGE.  That was when the Marketing Era took place.  We all know we are marketed to every day through television, radio and all the pop up ads…. through our senses – our eyes, our ears… market market market.  Well you can’t very well pay millions to have your studio on TV, right?   But we have this other thing – social media.  WOW….. that’s a business’s dream, right?  Free social media….. and now?  Now it is a free-for-all especially photographers teaching photographers, because let’s face it – our industry is oversaturated, and photographers are losing clients (but ssshhh…. they won’t tell you that, they don’t want you to show their hand that business is not booming like it used to be), and they are figuring out where they can supplement their lost revenue.

But we actually aren’t in the Marketing Era right now.  You know what we are in?  We are in the Relationship Era.    Page 6 of BUSN 5 (Kelly/McGowen), college textbook…….

“Building on the marketing concept, today, leading-edge firms look beyond each immediate transaction with customers and aim to build long-term relationships.  Satisfied customers can become advocates for a business, spreading word with more speed and credibility than even the best promotional campaign.  And cultivating current customers is more profitable than constantly seeking new ones.”

Learn it, own it.  That is your secret marketing toolkit.  This one is for free and it’s the most important idea out there….. and believe me, *I* can learn a thing or two just about that simple statement.  Of course, it goes deeper than that, but I struggle with how busy I get with customer service sometimes…. I’m not always as quick to respond as I need to be – simply because I get incredibly busy.  It’s important to continue to build a relationship with each and every client.

Relationship Era.

Wait…… You don’t think it works?  I’m here to prove to you it works, but I’m not going to tell you how to make it work for your photography clients.  I’m going to tell you how it has worked for the workshop industry, also running hand in hand with the “Rockstar Photographer” industry.   This relationship marketing is working – and it is working on YOU, the photographer.

There is a force behind the “Rockstar” photographer circuit who sell out everything they put their hands into.   The force teaches for the most part – all photographers are the same….. but what you need to get out there is the “cult of you”.   Cult you say?  Yes, cult.  Strong word?  yes it is…… but it works.

No?  you don’t think?  Let me explain.

Relationship Era.

Have you noticed that some of the photographers you have probably been looking up to as “wow!  they have such great businesses!” have been selling odd things lately?  Sure, some of it comes “free” to hook you, but…. ultimately, there is a paid item being sold, even if it is just a “rerun” of their webinar.  The odd things they have been selling have aboslutely nothing to do with photography.  If you haven’t side-eyed this trend…… I beg you, please de-brainwash yourself or please recheck your naivety scale….. ask yourself….. What is going on here?   It’s a desperate move to bring in more revenue…..  I’m not saying it is wrong of them to do this, everyone needs to feed their family… I’m saying that it fits right in with the Relationship Era.

Years ago, Walmart, known for their mega-stores but rock bottom prices, started selling fresh produce.  Walmart had their customer-pool of frugal people looking for deals.  What’s easier for Walmart to do?  Market and bring in new clients?  Everyone knows Walmart and stores like that exist, right?  We all know the name of Walmart.  Why keep preaching to the frugal choir, Walmart knows their name is known.  What can they do to bring in more revenue?  Venture into something else – fresh produce.  Now they have created a one-stop shop and can pull in more revenue from their current customer pool.

Relationship Era.   They have customers, sell them more of something that they don’t usually sell.  Cheap marketing, easy, extra revenue.

But Jodie, why are you discussing Walmart?  Here’s why.  How many photographers have you followed, that you know their name… they’ve made some sort of impact on the industry, good or bad, but you know their name and they have created a following…… At one point, they were teaching something photography related….. but now…… now strangely they are selling fitness, marriage counseling, or other types of webinars or products to photographers FOR photographers all of a sudden?

Pssst…. some say they are “giving back”….. are they?  Giving back doesn’t pay the bills, now does it?  Not saying you shouldn’t give back, but giving back is not sitting back building their following to release their new product or promotion at a later date.   Giving for free is the gateway to pulling in an audience to then sell to.

Is that evil?  No it’s not evil………. it’s marketing.  That’s part of marketing.   If you don’t like that type of “scheme”, you better get out of business because that’s part of business… marketing.

Relationship Era.

The NAME now has an audience, they have a following (even if the following comes from someone that is backing them to go on tour or be the voice for their products), so why not sell to the customer pool they already have?  It’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s there for the taking.  Would you normally go to a newlywed photographer for marriage counseling?  or how bout a cute fit photographer for yoga?  Why would you not go find someone with credentials for those types of things?  Because you already admire that photographer, so you want to hear what else they have to say or how they live their lives, right?   You follow them, you are hooked…… you going to follow every last thing they do?  You going to jump off a cliff with them?

I’m kidding.  Lighten up 😉

There is a new “sales” interface that is being circulated right now by someone who while I may not like his tactics, I do have to say he is a marketing genius.  However, the sales interface is really nothing knew.  The concept has been done for years.  It’s just packaged pretty with a tagline that will make you feel you need to be a part of it or you will fail in business.  Marketing in this way that touches emotions and makes one feel like they want to be part  of the popular “club” is brilliant.  Simply brilliant marketing.   The huge cult following in this group is doing nothing but swallowing up more and more and more and more….. brilliant way to bring in revenue……  Marketing is only as good as the amount of audience you can acquire.

Relationship Era.   It’s working on you every time you buy into that latest fad or trend from the same source (or force backing that source).

I’m not saying it’s a horrible thing that you are buying into it.  I’m only trying to point out – open your eyes and see what you can learn about marketing that is right in front of your face.  Learning how to market is free.  Simply observe.

You need to figure out how you can use these practices on your own clientele.  I personally have a hard time with it because I have certain ethics that I hold dear.  While I may have certain ethical standards, that doesn’t mean I’m right and someone else is wrong.  Ethics come from your heart, your beliefs, and your background.

I hope by writing this, this comes off as a clear message to those who are searching for the marketing secrets….. Look around, you can learn so much just from observing what is coming at you in every direction in the photography industry itself…… and it’s for free.  Keep those hard-earned dollars in your pocket and work that brain that God gave you.


About Jodie Otte

Maryland Newborn Photographer and Child Portrait Artist, Jodie Holstein-Otte, specializes in unique photography of newborn babies, kids, and families. She works on location in Harford, Howard, Cecil, Anne Arundel, Baltimore and other areas throughout Maryland. She uses both both natural lighting and soft studio lighting techniques.

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