An Old Dog With New Tricks

For years, marketers have been predicting the death of email marketing. Having been one of the first digital marketing platforms, email seems like an outright dinosaur compared to some of the newer vehicles available.

Rumors of email’s impending death have been greatly exaggerated. As Hank Hoffmeier, a speaker and author specializing in digital marketing education, points out, email remains one of the most popular digital marketing channels. And rightfully so since it continues to be an extremely high-converting channel compared to other options, including digital advertising and social media.

With email, you own your audience. The marketing list is yours. Those are your hard-earned contacts, and as long as you maintain an updated file of those contacts, no one can take them away from you. If your Facebook account gets hacked or you’re locked out of Instagram for accidentally violating its terms of service, then you’re instantly disconnected from your audience. It’s the difference between renting and owning, and in marketing, you always want to own.


Email’s effectiveness emerges from the strong relationship you’re able to build with subscribers because it feels almost like one-on-one correspondence. Personalization features in email marketing platforms make this easy to accomplish and allow you to present content that feels more like a conversation, less like a broadcast.

To strike that conversational tone, think in terms of conveying your why. Photographers tend to spend too much time talking about what they do rather than why what they do is important. “But people buy on emotion and rationalize with logic. That’s the head and the heart of marketing,” says Hoffmeier. “If you can market to both the head and the heart, then you’re going to get into the psyche of your subscribers and be more successful meeting their needs.”

To meet their needs, your communications can’t be all about you—your skills, your revenue, your business growth. It’s important to talk to clients about their pain points. A pain point could be as simple as someone needing wedding photography, and they want to find a professional they can trust, someone who will deliver quality, and someone who will customize the experience for them.

With email marketing, you can collect data from email subscribers so you can segment them into specific groups and send them specific messages. Through segmentation, you can speak to various audiences differently so your communications address their needs. You don’t want to send messages about how to prep for a beach portrait session to people who are looking for architectural photography. “It’s important to put content in your emails that resounds with your audience, not just what you’re looking to sell,” says Hoffmeier.


There are three essential elements in forming a successful business relationship: know, like, and trust. The first step is getting the word out about who you are and what you can provide so people are aware of you and your services. The second element is getting people to like you. Given the choice, we all want to work with people we enjoy being around. And third, if someone is considering giving you money, they need to feel they can trust you.

“By developing know, like, and trust, you remove friction and speed along the transaction by helping your potential customer feel like it’s not a risk to spend money with you,” explains Hoffmeier.


Email marketing automation is effective in building know, like, and trust. Automation may seem impersonal, but if it’s done well the user experience is just the opposite. A well-thought-out email workflow addresses your audience’s FAQs, helps them get to know you, and provides a sense that you’re considering their needs before they even bring them up. It also allows you to share tidbits about your personality, your photographic style, and the experience they can expect working with you.

An automated email workflow can be relatively easy to set up with an email marketing system, of which there are many. You start by obtaining email addresses. If you have a signup form on your website, that can be connected to your email platform. You can set up multiple signup forms for different audiences or segment audiences based on their responses to a couple of preliminary questions.

Once they’ve submitted the subscription form, contacts should be automatically added to the correct audience in your system and then receive an automated welcome message. The welcome message can be as simple as “Welcome to my email newsletter. Here’s what you can expect.” Tell them a little bit about yourself and what you can provide, and let them know the typical cadence of emails you’ll send.

Your second email will help build the relationship. Set it up to go out automatically three to five days after the first one. This message is where you help them get to know you. Explain the services you provide. Share details about yourself, your artistic passions, how you give back to your community. And give them something of value, like tips on how to prepare for an outdoor portrait session or what to look for in the ideal wedding photographer.

Another three to five days later, the third email in the sequence could offer a peek behind the scenes. You could also share your guarantee, answer FAQs, and lay out the details of what people can expect during one of your photography sessions.

“You want to make sure you don’t overdraft your bank account. You don’t want to ask for the sale before providing value. Because sales is a nurturing type of environment.”

Hank Hoffmeier

Work through all these steps before trying to sell anything. During this process, you’re establishing value. Once you’ve built up a little bit of a relationship and provided some value, then you can think about pitching an offer. Hoffmeier makes a banking analogy to help describe the process. You have a bank account. You make deposits. You make more deposits. You build value. Then you can make a withdrawal.

“You want to make sure you don’t overdraft your bank account,” he says. “You don’t want to ask for the sale before providing value. Because sales is a nurturing type of environment.” Sometimes clients will pull the trigger right away, but that’s rare for a service-oriented business such as photography. Instead, they want to get to know you, they want to figure out if they like you, and they want to trust you.

Keep that process moving by providing thoughtful, valuable content and nurturing your leads with strategic, automated emails. A sale typically requires multiple touch points, so expect the process to take some time. By providing more information, you’re helping to reduce friction, which is essentially consumer objections to doing business with you. As you build that relationship and provide a sense of trust in your professionalism, you’re also prequalifying potential clients to make sure the relationship is a good match on both sides.

“It all matters because you want to close less often but close higher-quality deals,” says Hoffmeier. “This process is about more than just getting people to click ‘Buy now.’ If someone books you and you’re not what they’re looking for, then that rarely leads to a positive outcome. But if they’re informed and happy with their choice to work with you, then it could be the beginning of a productive, long-term relationship.” ­­­­

Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large.