Do you rely on “word of mouth” advertising?
One of the best parts of my job at JD Photo Imaging is that I get to talk to photographers — lots of them. Some have been in business for many years, while others are just starting out. But regardless of experience or type of work, most photographers have one thing in common: they trust word-of-mouth advertising to build their business.
When I visit a studio, I usually ask “How is business?” If the photographer says “great” we talk about new products. If the photographer says “rotten” I ask about their marketing plan. Most of the time their answer is “I don’t spend a lot on advertising – my business relies on word-of-mouth.”
My experience tells me that this answer can spell trouble for a studio. If you rely on word-of-mouth to advertise your business, you are limiting your ability to grow and profit.
I like to use JD Photo Imaging as an example. Our lab has served Mid-Michigan for over 35 years. We’ve printed thousands – perhaps millions – of wedding, senior, and underclass images, and yet at local trade shows I am regularly approached by photographers wanting to know what it is we do! Even large corporations like GM, Ford, FedEx and Coca-Cola continue to advertise long after everyone in the country knows their name and what they offer. Why should a smaller business like a photographic studio be any different?
I understand the aversion people have to advertising. We all see a thousand advertisements a day – many of them are cheap and tasteless. In the best possible world, we shouldn’t even have to advertise. Customers should hear other people talk about the great products and services we offer, remember the conversation, and find us later when they need us.
It isn’t that simple. The truth is, some customers will be influenced by a phone book ad, some by a flyer or coupon, others by a web site, and some will depend on a recommendation from a friend. Therefore, one of the goals of advertising is to make sure our name and phone number is available to every customer – no matter where they look for us – when they are ready to buy.
But being easy to find is only part of advertising. The best ads don’t try to sell something – instead, they present a solution to a problem the customer is trying to solve. For example, some of my customers became frustrated trying to create unique, one-of-a-kind wedding albums using Photoshop. So I introduced a service that uses our lab’s in-house graphics department to custom design each album. Telling my customers about this service with a postcard is advertising, but because I’m trying to solve their problem it’s the kind of advertising I’m proud to do.
Here’s another example. If I was a senior photographer I’d imagine a teenager standing in front of me asking, “Can you make me look pretty/handsome/cool even though I think I’m not?” Isn’t that a real problem teenagers have? To solve it, I could promise to take many more shots than average to ensure that they would find a pose they were happy with. But having a solution to their problem isn’t enough – I need to let my potential teenage customer know about it. Again, that’s the kind of advertising I would be proud to do.
I’m not saying that word-of-mouth doesn’t work – it does. It’s cheap, powerful and cuts through all the advertising clutter we see every day. Recommendations from others are always more valuable than advertising alone. But having customers advertise for you should only be one part of your total marketing plan.