Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Are They Seeking You? Part 2

Are they seeking you? Part 2.

One of the frequent themes around the questions I hear, both on the forums and in person, essentially involves how to book more of the clients you want and how to get paid the money you need to be paid to make the living you seek. In order to dig into that a little, you need to start with an understanding of who the clients are, how they shop and how they think about what they want.

The world around us has seen dramatic change over the course of the last 15 years. For those of us in our 40s it’s still possible to remember a world without the internet (although it’s getting murky). With that said, even for my younger readers, the pace of change and its implications on your marketing, etc., are important to understand. By far the most dramatic change has been the ability for a shopper (someone who wants to buy something) to produce literally hundreds of options in simple, short order. Where in the past someone seeking pretty much any product or service was relegated to whatever options were locally available, now, with a few keystrokes, there is a wealth of optionality and information ready to fortify or overwhelm any shopping process. But there have been other changes as well, and these are equally important.

A photographer told me the other day that he doesn’t respond to most of his email inquiries (because they are obviously form letters). This struck me as ironic because this photographer was also talking to me about the challenge of signing new business. It’s important to understand that today’s consumers are not just able to get long lists of viable options meeting their needs, they’re also multi-taskers and they’re more and more likely to be extremely tech savvy. The computer no longer intimidates. It calls to us. Listen - can you hear yours? “What did your friends just post that you want to see?” “I should tweet how great this sandwich is.” That thing in your pocket, on your desk or in your hand is not a device used for talking to people. It’s a communication device to be sure, but more and more people use text and email as predominant communication media. We may decry that change (at least the old fogies like me do) but if anything, it’s accelerating. Let’s look at what that means to the shopping process.

If I am seeking a photographer I have numerous channels in which to inquire. Depending on my age, I’m likely to tweet or facebook my need to my friends, who can easily give me linked options. While that’s happening, I’ll also google my request, be exasperated by my first search and then narrow down my search as much as possible so I can start paging through a relevant field of results. I did this recently myself and I was really interested by what I found. As you are all aware, most photographers maintain both a site and a blog. I think this is smart as long as you know why you’re doing it and as long as it is clear to the reader of a search what the difference is so they immediately know where to start. Know what I found? Most of the searches yield the exact same text between the two sources. That hurts you. With so many options, any confusion is an excuse for a consumer to move on. Take out a piece of paper and a pencil and write down these two statements: I have my website because (fill in the blank). I have my blog because (fill in the blank). Now, look at your site and your blog and make sure that their reason for existence is loud and clear.

Here’s my two cents. Most photographers have a blog because they find updating their sites to be difficult and cumbersome. They make the mistake of thinking that shoppers who want up to date information will simply go to the blog. Here’s a wake up call. That may be true in our industry because we’ve conditioned ourselves as such, but the rest of the world primarily sees blogs as places where people prattle on about things that matter to them, but not necessarily to the reader. The predominant consumer shopping habit is to visit the site first. They believe the site will give them a solid, high level understanding and that the blog is the place to go and dig deeper.

As the consumer passes through the shopping process they will leave breadcrumbs behind in the form of inquiries - form letters. It’s important to understand that the consumer is telling you they’re interested, just through the act of sending an email. That their inquiry reads like a form is probably because that’s exactly what it is. This efficient shopping process allows them to contact anyone who looks vaguely interesting as a way to begin to narrow down to a final choice. The problem I see is that most photographers do one of two things with these. They either discount their veracity (because they’re form letters damn-it!) and don’t respond, or they respond with long personal notes. If you take the first approach then you’ve obviously not going to get the business. If you take the second approach you’ll quickly wish you worked at Starbucks. You need to make your response process as efficient as the shopping process. A few clicks - cut and paste and you’re done.

That response also needs some form of hook. ‘Hey - I’m so glad you’re looking for a photographer, come to my site (by clicking here) and download this handy 5 step guide to picking the right photographer for you. (OOO that’s value, especially if the 5 step guide doesn’t read like a sales pitch for why they SHOULD pick you.) I’ve provided a little information here and you can find a bunch more about me on my site and elsewhere. (paste short standard email inquiry response below - resist urge to wordsmith yet again - move on). Make sure all contact information is on all responses.

Here’s the thing. Almost all new photographer business comes from word of mouth (WOM). But WOM is seldom rifle shot - one question - one recommendation - in nature. It’s ragged. That Twitter/Facebook question will elicit loads of responses. So even in case of a referral, this information is important. But what’s really important is that you are moving in a direction where at some point they will be seeking you.

We’ll get to that next week. For now - see you on the road!

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