Trained as a journalist, Melanie Deziel had long thought her career would involve writing fascinating stories for the pages of America’s great news publications. But as she launched her career, social media and Internet-based news reporting were transforming traditional news outlets. Newsrooms around the country were downsizing to unrecognizable levels. Opportunities for skilled journalistic storytellers weren’t as abundant as they had been in earlier years.
But effective content delivery was still in demand. And Deziel realized the benefit of applying the best practices of journalistic storytelling to marketing and advertising. People still yearn for good stories, and brands that could deliver those stories in a credible, compelling manner would have a leg up in communicating with their audiences.
So Deziel transformed herself into a branded content creator. She’s worked for the likes of The New York Times, HuffPost Partner Studio, and Time Inc., and she’s counseled clients including Viacom and the Oprah Winfrey Network on how to produce better branded content. Now a sought-after speaker and the author of “The Content Fuel Framework: How to Generate Unlimited Story Ideas,” Deziel works with all manner of businesses through her consultancy, StoryFuel.
For small businesses such as photography studios, she recommends developing a content strategy by establishing a plan, focusing on your strengths, and building a better brand by sharing a unique perspective.
“Make sure the plans you create are scalable and realistic,” suggests Deziel. Many small business owners feel paralyzed by the perceived need to be everywhere at all times. They think they have to constantly create amazing pieces of content to stay relevant. However, just like in your business offerings, you don’t need to be all things to all people at all times. It’s better to focus on a couple of core activities that align with your message and mission, and push all the other elements to the side.
To do this effectively, the first step is to make sure you tie all your marketing content to your business goals. “Avoid random acts of content!” says Deziel. “You don’t need to create content just to create content, especially when it’s not tied to any goal.”
Instead, think about your business objectives. What do you want to provide? How do you want to be perceived? Then figure out how you can create content that helps advance your goals. Even better, figure out how to repurpose content that helps advance your goals. “Small business owners don’t have a lot of time, so make sure every piece of content is repurposed so it has the greatest impact,” says Deziel.
For example, as a photographer you’re already creating great images all the time. That’s likely your most comfortable mode of communication, so use it. Find ways to turn images into stories that connect with your audience, and then share those stories on the platforms where you feel you can most effectively engage people. That could be a visual platform such as Instagram or Pinterest, maybe an image-heavy blog, or even a well-designed email. The key is to determine what’s comfortable for you as well as your audience, and then devise a way to fit in that space.
“I don’t think any business should feel obligated to do any one thing,” says Deziel. “For example, if you’re feeling pressured to have a blog, and you hate creating blog posts, then that pressured feeling will come through in the content. Instead, focus where you feel like you can communicate naturally, and then do it consistently. It’s so much better to do something consistently in one place than to do something inconsistently everywhere.”
Assess your audience: A bride may consider dozens of photographers before making a decision, while an executive in need of a headshot may not look at more than one option.
Start your content strategizing by determining the amount of content you’re going to share. It’s important to provide your audience with the volume of content they need to make a decision to do business with you. You don’t want to push out so much that they’re overwhelmed and so little that they don’t get a sense of who you are as a photographer.
To help you determine that happy medium, think about your audience and how they’re going to engage with your content, recommends Deziel. For example, brides shopping for a wedding photographer typically feel they’re making an enormously consequential decision; they may look through hundreds of photos before deciding on a photographer. By contrast, executives in need of a headshot probably aren’t going to look through hundreds of image samples.
Now tie everything back to a business goal. If you want to be seen as a high-end photographer, then everything you display should portray a sense of luxury that fits your brand. “It’s more than just sharing a good image,” explains Deziel. “It’s sharing a good image that advances your brand and appeals to the type of clients you want for your business.”
Throughout various aspects of your business, you have systems in place to guide your work. But when it comes to creating marketing content, many people just wing it. You’ll be more effective if you build a system to access your creativity. Specifically, set up steps that spur you to think about the key elements of the story.
Start by considering the lens through which you’re going to tell the story. What would your audience find most interesting? To use the wedding photography example again, would your audience enjoy personal stories, such as anecdotes about the people in the wedding? Is your audience interested in place and setting? Then consider talking about the history of the venue or the unique features of the surrounding area. Are they fascinated by data? Share the number of people at the event, the square footage of the venue, the number of photos your team captured.
“People feel so pressured to talk about the product, but sometimes the most compelling story comes from one of these ancillary topics,” says Deziel. In other words, your content doesn’t have to be about what an amazing photographer you are; it can be about any of the myriad side stories that make each project interesting. “The idea is to think differently about content,” says Deziel. “Find something that resonates and go with it.”
Consumers don’t need more content; they need help finding the right content. You can provide this right content by offering what no one else can give them: your point of view.
Many small business owners worry about competing with all the other voices out there for their audience’s attention. How does a small business owner get anyone’s attention?
“You can always compete on perspective,” says Deziel. Consumers don’t need more content; they need help finding the right content. You can provide this right content by offering what no one else can give them: your point of view. Your point of view is valuable because it provides a unique perspective that people can’t get anywhere else. You can talk about your specific approach to certain situations. You can share experiences that no one else has had. You can express your opinion based on everything you’ve seen and learned.
Don’t worry about being the first person to cover a topic. That’s not important. What’s important is your perspective on that topic. Think about how people search. Are they looking for the first answer or the best answer? Do they choose to view the first piece of content that pops up or the one that’s most relevant to them?
Your goals are not the same as all the other businesses out there making noise. The best answer to your audience can be very different from the best answer another business provides to its audience. There’s always room for your perspective. Share it. Understand its value.
Build your brand around it. That’s how you distinguish yourself from all the noise and become a memorable force for your audience.
Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large of Professional Photographer.