You have created a great library of stellar images. You have developed a licensing model and fee structure that will work for you. You have developed an incredible delivery model through an e-commerce website. Now all you have to do is sit back and wait for the sales to come in.
If only it were that simple.
I wish I could recall where I heard the following snippet of information, but I’ve come to realize it is so true: If you haven’t captured the attention of a photo buyer within the first 100 image views on your site, you are going to lose them. Let that sink in.
I wish I had more than anecdotal evidence, but I don’t. What I can suggest is that in the old days of print catalogs, the photographer could be quite assured an image in a catalog would sell, many times over due to exposure time between catalogs. When a new catalog came out, usually about three years after the previous one, sales from the earlier catalog would decline. And by the time the third catalog was released, sales from the first were pretty much nullified.
When catalogs gave way to web delivery, the shelf life of an image became much, much shorter. Web delivery has the same dilemma as print catalogs, except images get pushed down the ladder much faster. At most, an image probably has a web shelf life of 18 months before it falls into oblivion. Your challenge is to collect the maximum benefit from that image for as long as you can. Multiply that by the thousands of images you have on offer, and you can soon see how daunting the task can be.
Your success really can be summed up in how you position your brand and market your images. In a roundabout way, you have been introduced to the first three pillars of marketing: Product, Price and Place. The fourth pillar of the 4 Ps is Promotion. As you can see from the challenges above, your promotion must be effective, efficient and very concise. Are you going to concentrate on online marketing, social media, print advertising, direct mail or a combination?
Developing your business strategy will require much background work and blunt honesty. Are you really aware of your industry climate? Have you thoroughly studied and comprehended the current situation? Have you defined your business, assessed your competition and grasped the current industry marketing trends and concepts? Have you gone through a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis? Have you identified a marketing strategy that will lay the groundwork to be utilized in developing your marketing plan?
As you develop your marketing plan, you have to recognize that, from your client’s perspective, you are no different than any other image provider (from a huge number of them) soliciting their business. You also have to realize the one thing you cannot compete against is price; many of the big players in the stock world are now giving their images away for far less than what it costs to produce; some are even free! What you have to recognize is that you must market your images differently to reflect how you do business differently. Your marketing success will come from promotional campaigns that:
- Seduce clients to license your pictures, opposed to “selling” them.
- Enable your clients to buy as easily as possible, opposed to “selling” your agenda.
- Promote the experience of working with your firm, opposed to “selling” your pictures.
- Recognize your clients’ wants, opposed to needs.
- Stress the value of working with your firm, opposed to entering price negotiating.
Many indie photographers incorrectly believe they can save a few bucks and develop their own websites, marketing collateral, and advertising campaigns. Photographers, for the most part, are just that—photographers. We get so caught up in the look of our promotional product that we lose sight of what service we are actually providing in the first place. Really, what do we know about font families, client psychology and strategic use of colour and design elements? You will be, after all, directing the majority of your marketing to buyers who are creative directors, designers and photo editors. If you don’t impress them with the quality of your value, you will never secure them as a long-time customer. Remember this: Most designers go to school for four years to learn design principles, most marketing people go to school for at least four years to learn marketing principles, and the majority of photographers rarely take any courses in design or marketing. Why, then, would we think we could successfully complete this most critical work?
My strong recommendation is this: If you are sick, you go to a doctor; if you need design work done, go to a designer; and, if you need marketing expertise (both print and web-based), hire or contract a marketing firm.
Yes, a strong website presence will be expensive. However, the alternative is even less attractive. You will require significant working capital to ensure you captivate your potential customer through targeted marketing campaigns that ultimately drive them to your website. Your approach must be very strategic and focused, and I cannot overemphasize the importance of the necessary expertise required to pull this off.
You have invested many thousands of dollars in equipment, you have invested many tens of thousands of dollars in image production; you simply cannot afford to drop the ball now by believing you are also a designer, an SEO engineer with SEM expertise or a marketing manager. Don’t you think it only makes sense to stay with what is fun—making photographs—and leave the other components of this venture to those who have fun engaging in those important and critical components?
You have a lot to think about, and a lot to do. Now get to work.