Entries and Categories

Buzz Marketing

A Lesson In Business Strategy From What the Duck

I know that lots of you follow the adventures of that camera-loving online cartoon character, "
What the Duck," drawn by Wisconsin cartoonist and bass-playing band member Aaron Johnson. The strip tells about the trials and tribulations of a professional photographer who happens to be a duck. I believe that I qualify as a What Junkie. In fact I just ordered what is bound to become my second-favorite t-shirt: It features the duck and was designed by his creator. See it below:

In case you are wondering about my most-favorite t-shirt, here's what it says: The more you complain, the longer God lets you live." I believe this sentiment might just appeal to my duck-buddy What.

Well if you haven't heard, What the Duck is going big time! Aaron's strip is being syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate (UPS), so What might even be coming to a newspaper in YOUR town, and a book deal for 2009 also is in the works!

As you can probably guess, the odds of a cartoonist getting his strip syndicated are about as good as a gun-toting, moose-stalking mother of 5 from a little town in Alaska running for vice-president of the United States. Fortunately for all of us What-lovers, UPS will allowWhattheDuck.net (and now .com as well) to flourish, and bloggers can continue to link to strips that strike their fancy to their sites, as I've done in the past. Hooray! Apparently UPS understands how helpful unfettered Internet access and social media marketing can be to its bottom line.

And that's exactly what caught my attention about Aaron and his curiously appealing duck in the first place: Arron's very interesting use of the Internet and social sites to propel his duck to cult status. It seemed to me that there is something for all of us to learn from Aaron about capturing the attention of the public by studying this audacious business strategy. Many students in my classes are quick to argue with my thinking about giving your work away to the right audience, under the right circumstances. Clearly that strategy has paid off for Aaron Johnson and his buddy What. So I continue to believe there's a lesson here for studio owners: If you want to get attention and set the right people talking about you . . . go where they are and be generous!!

To read the particulars about What's syndication
click here. Inside this PopPhoto.com article, you'll find a link to an earlier article about the What the Duck's business strategy. In case you miss it there, just click here.

And and every now and then, look to the sky: If you see a duck flying overhead with a camera around his neck, it's just What the Duck moving on to bigger and brighter horizons.

Seeing Yourself . . . Through Your Client's Eyes

Want to assure that your business stays on course? There's no better way to know how your business is doing than to ask your clients. This concept has worked in my business, and it is something that I've taught in business management classes for years; but I don't know many photographers who have taken the time for follow this advice. That's why I was so pleased to hear from Stockbridge, Georgia photographer Molly Purvinesthat she had done just that. Molly took six of her clients to brunch to have some fun and to talk some business. The result: "They had some really great ideas to help grow my business, and they gave me really honest feedback," she said. "One of things that surprised me was how much they are genuinely interested in each other. They asked about each other's kids, talked about their sessions with me, and even want to bring their albums next year to share with one another." Yes, the group is already planning to get together again, including a possible family portrait safari in Florida. They're even talking about other future, more exotic locations. Wow!

Molly also received great feedback about how the ladies reacted to having her business in her home. One client said she had some reservations about it, but that the quality of her work alleviated her fears. Furthermore, when she returned for the sales session, Molly served cheese and crackers and punch in stemware. The client remarked that when she purchased her $400,000 house, she didn’t even get water in a paper cup from her real estate agent, so that the quality of her experience was really impressive.

So here's some good advice from Molly: "If you are ever feeling down take six of your best clients out for brunch. It’s pretty darn cool to have people say really nice things about you for two hours!" And I promise . . . you'll learn a lot!
Below is waitress's photo of Molly (top row, left) and her clients:

You can see more images from Molly's party on her blog at www.purvinesphotography.com/blog

'Twas the Season . . .

Although Halloween 2007 is now just a memory, for many clients of Carrie Viohl Photography, Carrie's no-fuss Halloween Portrait Party and Costume Contest resulted in some darling portrait memories for some lucky Moutrie, GA parents, as well as a whole lot of priceless exposure for the studio. Here how Carrie describes of the event preparation:

"We put two posts on the blog in the weeks before Halloween, inviting anybody and everybody to come the studio for trick-or-treating and a free costume photoshoot. We also mentioned that we'd offer a free 10x20 standout composite to the kid who got the most comments (votes) on our blog. Then I bought $12 worth of spoooooooky fabric (Read: cheesecloth with holes in it) and hung it from my roller system, $20 worth of candy, and our CV packaging bags in the smallest size.  ET VOILA!  Halloween party!" Husband Phil also contributed two carved pumpkins.

The results: From not a lot of prep work, 43 families came to the party, most of whom were not current clients. Best of all, they booked 5 additional portrait sessions for 2008. But that's not all: Carrie, who authors one of my all-time favorite blogs, then posted all the images and invited parents to "get out the vote" for their child's photo. Carrie describes what happened next:

"We've had well over 600 votes (comments) in less than a week!  About 100 of those had to be deleted because there were a few moms cheating (Ha!!).  But that's moms and dads bugging all of their friends and family:
PLEASE go to carrieviohl.com and LOOK AT MY CUTE KID AND VOTE FOR HIM!!  

Talk about creating buzz! The little sleeping monkey, shown above, was the top vote getter. To see more of Carrie's darling Halloween images, click here, then scroll to the bottom of the window and work your way up. While you're there, take a while to page through the blog's features and archives, and you'll see why I visit CarrieViohl.com so frequently. I love to peak inside the world of Carrie, Phil, Renee, Haley, the ever-so-lively stick-figure characters -- not to mention so many of the studio's clients. I feel as though I'm getting to know the people and the community of Moultrie, GA through this adventurous blog. And if I enjoy it, can you imagine how much Carrie's clients and prospects love it! And that's just the point: Carrie's blog represent person-to-person marketing at its best!

More Great Websites!

One of the pleasures of serving as a Studio Management Services consultant is reviewing the promotional materials of client studios. I particularly enjoy looking at studio websites that never cease to amaze me because of how creative and sophisticated this marketing medium has become. I also love the opportunity to visit good websites because they are nothing less than a window on creativity.

Last week, I got to look a three really well-done sites that feature fantastic photography. They belong to . . .

Candace Ann Schwab, of
Candace Ann Photography in Sioux Falls, SD . . .

Lesha and Eric Moore, of Lesha Studios, Cherry Hill, NJ . . .

and Farrah Braniff, of Farrah Braniff Photographs, Houston, TX.

A special congratulations to Farrah, who just got word that her website was a finalist in the PPA AN-NE Awards competition. Good job, Farrah!

A "Once in a Blue Moon" Website

I see a lot of websites: the good . . . the bad . . . and (of course) the very ugly. The good ones often distinguish themselves by being slick, clever, and/or engaging. But only occasionally do I come across a website that puts together a series of appealing elements so skillfully that the visitor is compelled to linger and learn, and ultimately to decide that "This is the studio for me."

BlueMoon Studios is located in
Mt. Laurel, a planned community in Birmingham, Alabama. The website was created by photographer Butch Oglesby, whose journey to owning a studio in such a charming locale is worth reading about. You can do so by clicking on the About Us tab, where you'll meet Butch and his wife, Joy, and learn about their life, their approach to photographing weddings (a major product line), and read some FAQs that are designed to give prospective clients confidence in the studio's integrity. You'll learn that the Oblesbys' journey included many twists and turns, but all the while, Butch's life-long passion for photography never dimmed. It is a passion that illuminates the site and its accompanying blog, and it makes the business and the people behind it come alive.

In my opinion, an effective website needs to accomplish these things:
  • Give the business a "personality." Consumers today want to deal with businesses that are a "good fit" for their specific tastes. And they don't want to do business with just the run-of-the-mill studio. A business with personality stands out.
  • Allow visitors to feel as if they know the owner(s) and/or staff. When this happens, your prospects are less apprehensive about the possibility of dealing with the unknown.
  • Educate prospective clients about important aspects of your business. Doing so saves you time when you deal with prospects on the phone or in person, and it serves to filter out those who are not a good fit with your business.
  • Encourage prospects to pick up the phone to learn more or to book an appointment. If this DOESN'T happen with qualified clients, then your website is nothing more than a distraction.
Bluemoonalabama.com does these things and more. Here are some reasons why I like the site so much:
It is not over-designed. You are not hit with exploding images and firecrackers. The design simplicity supports your ability to focus on one thing at a time, and consequently you stay moving through the site.
The navigation is simple! It's easy to find your way from here to there, and you don't get stuck in a corner or lose you train of thought. On any page, you can get back to where you started or move forward to where you want to go. You are provided with both visuals (in the navigation buttons) and good order (in the navigation bar). Absolutely no confusion here.
I LOVE the details! The home page gives you a reason for the name "Blue Moon" and sets the bar for prospective clients' expectations when it says: "If the old saying that something this good only comes along once in a blue moon is true, then it's a blue moon every day at BlueMoon Studio. And check out the lunar references on the masthead. Furthermore, instead of the usual "Send" button on the Contact page, there is a "Send to the Moon" button. How clever! The message I'm getting is that these people are both creative and caring about what they do.
The site is strong on education. Education begins on the home page in the upper right corner, where the business mission is spelled out in an eye-catching and easy-to-understand way. The entire tone of the website is educational. Yes, there is advertising copy, but its tone is very low-key. No hard-sell. You are taken gently by the hand and told what you need to know to make an intelligent decision about the photography.
The site sends a strong message about professionalism. This impression begins on the home page, where visitors see a button (lower left) that says: "Click here to see other wedding professionals that we recommend." Very generous. And the prominently displayed PPA logo also is a nod to professionalism. Wedding prospects learn so much when they click on the Wedding page. My favorite feature is the wonderfully designed section that begins when you click on the link that says: "Not convinced? Check the 7 Reasons we are right for you." Take a moment to enjoy each of the 7 pages that support the "7 Reasons." What a wonderful way to gain the confidence of a prospective bride and groom. Professional all the way.
You know whose site you are visiting. Every page has a header with the studio name and a footer that contains complete studio information. Do you know how many websites lack this common-sense approach? I see some really "sexy" websites that never tell anyone what city they are in. Sometimes there's a reason for this, but most of the time it's a simple matter of overlooking the obvious. Next time you browse through a retail-sales catalog, notice that the toll-free ordering phone number is always listed on the bottom of each page. There's a REASON for this!
Visitors learn that this business has earned a high satisfaction rating from their clients. You see this both on the Raves page and in the Galleries on the Client Photos page. The site provides a strong statement about the consistent quality of day-to-day client work.
I could go on and on . . . I love the Products page, Butch's blog, and the simple, yet elegant way each gallery is revealed . . . and the fact that you have multiple options for viewing the studio's images, including nicely expanded sizes. Most of all I love looking at Butch's Art gallery section. What great images, and so nice that they can be purchased! I've posted Butch's signature image below. It's my favorite.

So enough of listening to me. Take some time to treat yourself to a wonderful website experience. Enjoy!


Senior Expectations . . .

Yesterday I answered a call from a mom inquiring about senior portraits for her son. Not an unusual ocurrance except that what this mom wanted to know was "does your studio have a senior website where I can get information about your senior photography?" For months I've been advocating that separate websites are appropriate when studios do a significant business in certain specialities such as seniors and weddings. Today's consumers, especially members of the younger "Entitlement Generation," want to deal with specialists — photographers who are perceived as being experts in their field. They like to feel as if they are the ONLY client you have.

So I wouldn't have been surprised to hear a high school kid ask if we had a senior website. But his mom? I guess I shouldn't be surprised. After all . . . it's her generation of parents who are responsible for raising this current crop of high school "Entitlers." Both parents and their children are truly changing the way that all retailers — including photographers — do business. More about the Entitlement Generation on another day.

I Have My Own Stick Figure!

Got an email from Carrie Viohl, whose blog I mentioned recently (I'm a avid reader), and she absolutely delighted me by sending me a link to the illustration below, and the following much-apprciated email:

"Ann, thank you again for everything you've done to help us enrich our business!! Haley agonized over what you should be doing in your stick figure portrait, and she finally decided that you would most likely be found teaching... bears."

The black bear reference comes from the fact that Garrett County, MD, where my lake house is located, has a sizable native black bear population (over 300). We've spotted bear several times during the day, but they come around mostly in the night to see if anyone has been dumb enough not to lock up their garbage. Two years ago, our community was written about in People magazine, when a particularly aggressive bear came through a cabin's screen door and hauled away the owner's entire refrigerator. So at each Deep Creek Lake Guerrilla Management Class, I make sure to deliver the "people-vs.-bears" speech.

Anyway . . . thanks to Carrie and Haley for the delightful drawing!

"New Blog" Alert! Visit sarahpetty.com.

It was only a matter of time . . .

Last year Springfield, IL photographer Sarah Petty launched her new senior business in a big way, so for this senior season Sarah has introduced an exciting new blog. You can access it by logging on to her site (
sarahpetty.com) or go there directly by clicking here. Either way, you'll see that her blog is aimed at seniors. Such a branding guru, Sarah has used her senior theme "Shine on" as the title for her blog. The site design smartly coordinates with her awe-inspring senior marketing piece, printed and assembled by BellaGrafica. I'll be talking about Sarah's boutique studio as part of my "Boutique Studio Revolution" program at the Chicks Who Click conference later this month in The Bahamas. And Sarah will be teaming with Bev and Tim Walden to present a program entitled "The Boutique Studio Experience" at PPA's Make More Money conference on July 21-August 1 in Memphis.


One Fantastic Blog!

One of the best things about teaching is that you get to learn from your students. Such was the case at my May Guerrilla Management Workshop when I met Carrie Viohl and learned how good for your business a blog can be. Carrie and her husband, Phillip, own Carrie Viohl Photography in Moultrie, Georgia. Employee Renee Truett attended the workshop with Carrie and Philliip. Besides being a wonderful photographer, Carrie has made extraordinary use of her blog (carrieviohl.com) to propel her business. She credits it with helping to gain an incredibly loyal group of clients. I'm confident that you will enjoy taking a look at Carrie's blog. Note that when you reach the bottom of the scroll under a given topic or month, you might not have reached the end of her posts. So be prepared to click on "Previous Entries," because it's worth your time not to miss anything! Carrie has really been an inspiration to me to keep blogging away and doing my best to make it interesting.

One of my favorite parts of her blog is the
"stick figures" section which her super-talented employee Haley draws from time to time. There's an entire set of drawings that cleverly informs clients about how to display photographic art appropriately. I've joined the group of interested readers who log on just to find out what the stick figures are up to!

Here's a photo of Carrie and Phillip taken at Deep Creek during the week of my class. What a great couple! When you visit the blog, you'll see wonderful images of their two darling kids.

Favorite Blogs

Recently I heard a marketing insider say that "blogs are just a fad." His comment reminded me of the number of folks who not so many years ago were saying the same thing about websites. For what it's worth, I believe it won't be long before it will be unthinkable for photographers NOT to have a blog. It's such a great way of introducing prospects to the "personality" of your business and making them feel comfortable with you and your studio. When you meet someone who's been reading your blog, they already feel as though they know you. And best of all, they tell other internet friends about you . . . just as I am going to do for the studios listed below :-). Here are some of my favorite blogs:

Liana Lehman. Liana's website won top website honors in the 2006 AN-NE Awards Competition
Lori Nordstrom
Jeff & Julia Woods
Laura Novak
Ryan Phillips
Jed & Vicki Taufer

I'm amazed at how much I enjoy reading and learning from these talented marketers:

Viral Marketing

If you're not already an active blogger, you might be wondering whether a blog is right for your business. I began investigating the subject of blogs last year by logging on to Amazon.com and searching for the site's three top hits on the subject of blogging. The book shown below, Blog Marketing, by Jeremy Wright, was the most helpful. One of the author's comments really got my attention when he said something to the effect that blog marketing is the ONLY way you will get the attention of a growing number of customers.

Blog marketing is part of an emerging marketing category now referred to as "viral marketing." Some folks call it "buzz marketing," but the term "viral" speaks to the fact that the Internet allows one consumer to quickly and easily "infect" new markets, when they forward your website or blog link to their computer. Word about your business can spread like wildfire throughout markets that target young people. One of my students referred to the phenomenon as "word-of-MOUSE" marketing. So if you're over 30, don't dismiss blogging before you investigate this dynamic new marketing medium. After all, you're reading this blog. Just think about all those computers you could infect with your marketing message!