Selling Yourself: 10 Traits of the Master Marketers

Selling Yourself: 10 Traits of the Master Marketers

The best marketers in the world never stop marketing. They blaze their own trails, often where conventional wisdom says you can’t go. They don’t let obstacles get in their way, or let minor details derail their plans.

For many photographers, marketing is a mystery. Many feel uncomfortable “tooting their own horn,” and avoid it as much as possible. This is a very common feeling among most of my photographer friends – but not all.

There seems to be two types of photographers – those who market themselves, their images, and their services, and those who don’t. The truth is: If you are an average photographer with above-average marketing skills, you can have an extremely successful career in the photo biz.

Some of my photo friends do quite well with marketing. So I decided to take a closer look at them, what they’re doing, and how they’re doing it.

Then I made some observations (10 of them, actually) and list them here in this story. These observations aren’t limited to photography – they’re present in any industry or person who really “gets it” when it comes to marketing.

The point of this is to take away the “mystery” of marketing, and show that anyone can be a “Master Marketer.” Yes, even you.

The 10 Traits of the Master Marketers

1) They realize, and accept, that marketing is a lot of work – but necessary.
Photographers want to spend the majority of their time shooting pictures, but a Master Marketer knows that without marketing, very few people will ever see the images they create. Therefore, marketing itself is part of the creative process for these people.

Understand that you’ll likely spend more time marketing your images than you did creating them, and accept that marketing is part of your job. Many photographers believe that, if they continue to create amazing images, the marketing will take care of itself. This is not true.

If you are not spending a portion of each day doing some sort of marketing work, then you’re not doing enough.

2) They are persistent and consistent.
Master Marketers don’t give up. They work every day, the remain focused on their goals, and they never feel that their job is done. These people understand that the day they stop marketing is the day that people start forgetting about them. To prevent a drop in sales, they consistently maintain a steady drumbeat of marketing messages that always reflect their own personality and style.

They don’t allow little obstacles and setbacks to derail their plans. They are focused on the big picture (not thrown off their game by little distractions) and keep going, no matter what others say or do.

They’re also not afraid to break from the pack, and try something different — even when conventional wisdom says otherwise. Trying new things doesn’t mean they’re out of touch with reality, though – as I address in point #3…

3) They know what works, and what doesn’t.
Master Marketers are constantly evaluating their own marketing efforts. They’ll repeat the ideas and tactics that worked, and avoid the ones that didn’t. They know what success looks like because they are always keeping track of their results. No campaign goes out without statistics and analytics going in.

They don’t rely on “feel” to tell them if something helped their business. If you ask them the effect that social media has on their bottom line, the Master Marketer will be able to give you conversion rate statistics that justify their efforts.

Too many photographers will do a wide variety of marketing activities and have no idea which ones are actually working out. Just because “conventional wisdom” (hey, everyone is doing it!) says you should be doing certain things, that doesn’t mean it works for YOU. Statistics and analytics can show you what works, and what doesn’t.

4) They know their audience because they ARE their audience.
Master Marketers are always asking themselves (and being honest with their answers), “Would I use the style of product/service that I am creating?”

Are you a wedding photographer? If you were the bride/groom, would you hire a photographer who shoots like you? What makes you different than any other photographer? The Master Marketer knows what makes them unique, and then uses those details in their marketing materials to excite their customers and separate themselves from the competition.

Also, you may find that your best customers might actually be other photographers. For example, photojournalist David Hobby left his full time job as a newspaper staff photographer so he could pay more attention to “Strobist,” a blog he created that helps teach other photographers how to use small cheap strobes to achieve big expensive-looking results. Hobby realized that his best customers were actually photographers, and was wise (and brave) enough to make a switch.

5) They find a niche, then define it.
The Master Marketer knows that to be successful he/she must set their targets on something specific, and become a master of that niche. For example, Vincent Laforet decided to make aerial photography his specialty. He didn’t just rent planes and helicopters and shoot from the air – he took it a step further by using different creative tactics while in the air. His images looked uniquely his own, and he succeeded by putting his own individual stamp on images made from the air.

For Laforet, this wasn’t a bit of one-time luck – he does this routinely. Today, he’s moved into high-end video production using Digital SLR cameras, and has already achieved success in this niche by putting his own stamp on it.

Why is this important? Because the Master Marketers know that if they are successful at defining a niche, people will ask for them by name when they want it. When a photo editor says something to you like, “We’re looking for an Avedon-style look for this assignment,” you’re experiencing the results of a Master Marketer who identified a niche, then defined it for everyone else.

6) They have character and manage to be entertaining or “interesting.”
The Master Marketer is not shy, and is able to get up in front of a group of people (large or small) and talk about their craft, their vision, and anything they’re genuinely passionate about. They know that being a positive, informative inspirational speaker will result in additional word-of-mouth buzz.

Having a unique personality, one that is easily identifiable, can cause total strangers to feel like they “know” who he/she is, beyond just their images. This especially important when it comes to #7, below…

7) They motivate people to spread their messages, using many different channels.
Their work, combined with their unique personal character, can cause many people to start spreading the word – free of charge.

The Master Marketer is mindful that there are many different platforms where messages can be delivered, and usually crafts a message that is suitable for each of them. Social media, blogs, newspapers, magazines, television, radio, corporate PR campaigns, in-person events, and casual emails are examples of very different marketing channels, each deserving a slightly different approach.

Over time, the Master Marketer develops an audience using each of these different channels, and is capable of reaching, and then mobilizing them quickly. This becomes a very powerful way to spread their marketing messages, however, he/she does not abuse their power, as I point out in #8…

8) They promote others (people, brands, services) in addition to themselves or their own products.
A Master Marketer doesn’t just toot their own horn all day. They willingly share the spotlight with others, especially if they have similar interests. These people realize that it is easily possible to overdo it, and become seen as a blatant self-promoter. To combat this, they make sure they spend time making others look good too.

Why? Because people like people who are willing to share the spotlight.

Similarly, people also like people who don’t keep “secrets,” which relates to #9, below…

9) They share their knowledge and educate others.
A Master Marketer knows that they’ll benefit more from sharing information than by keeping it under lock-and-key. Remember what I said in #5 (Defining a Niche), and #7 (Motivating People to spread messages)? Being seen as an educator helps them do both of these things simultaneously.

It allows them document what it is that they do, thus clearly defining their own special style. I t also gives people a reason to talk about, write about, and Tweet about – which is what great word-of-mouth marketing buzz is all about.

10) They try to never let the world see them “marketing.”
The Master Marketer is usually a pretty smooth individual, and even when they’re in full marketing mode, people are usually unaware. Their passion, energy, creativity, and personality are the things that take center stage.

They make marketing look easy. They make it seem like all you need to do is shoot great pictures, and the marketing will take care of itself.

Who are the Master Marketers?
Everyone is exposed to a different set of marketing messages, so my list would be different than yours. With that in mind, here’s my list of “Master Marketers.”  I’ve personally experienced the effects of their marketing, and exhibit the 10 traits mentioned above.

Art Wolfe, Steve Jobs, Joe McNally, Lady Gaga, David Alan Harvey, Guy Kawasaki, Vincent Laforet, Richard Branson, Robert Caplin, Scott Kelby, Chase Jarvis, John Lander, Casey Templeton, and the Luceo Images photography team.

What’s your list? Please contribute to this story by leaving your comments below.


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There are 24 comments for this article
  1. Nacho at 12:54 am

    Good advice, thanks. David Alan Harvey’s name is misspelled. I guess he still needs some work on his branding and name recognition … (kidding). Cheers, nacho

  2. menchu at 2:39 am

    Great ideas, thanks. However, some of us recognize we like to do the photographing and temperamentally don’t have the marketing skill nor wish to develop it and, therefore, would prefer to have an agent do all that hard work (if we’re truly good, that is…).

  3. Paul Williams at 5:32 am

    Grover, Thanks for the very nice and precise bog. I thought the hatred of trumpeting your own skills was only a British problem, its obviously unviversal. I think the problems photographers face have been very well set out. Most of us photographers are so locked into our own worlds that we are not really that aware of the world outside. I think that is also why the idea of social networking is a biy alien to photographers. I agree totally that photographers expect the world to discover them. I also think photographers are heavily effected by fear of rejection. If you take photos that you think are masterpieces they remain so until someone disses them. Nobody will diss them if they cannot comment on them. I have noticed this when I have looked at photo site where amateurs put their photos. The sites comments box usualy has “Be nice” as a policy of the site owners who know that bad comments will loose them contributors. That’s a shame. We really can learn so much from constructive critism. The other problem is making time to do marketing. Digital photography post production is so time consuming if you have good quality control!! Anyway maybe thats just an excuse. I also think photographers are very bad at seeing their work as other people do and therefore have very little to say about it because they cannot see what may be unique. Bret Weston said “I don’t talk about my photos I take them”, or something like that. Your blog has set me thinking and cofirmed some of the conclusions I was coming to for the last 2 years. Thanks for that. PS nice marketing!!!

  4. mary at 10:53 am

    We have a Google Alert set up for the phrase “never stop marketing” since that is the name of our company. Hope you won’t consider this ‘comment spam,’ or anything like that, but thought you might like to ‘join the movement’ since you obviously share the philosophy! 🙂 We’ve got a Facebook fan page for others who agree that we can ‘never stop marketing.’ It’s here: Anyway, just wanted to reach out.

  5. Nadine Burzler at 5:34 pm

    Definitely!Self promotion is the way to go and consistency is key!I found your article very informative and will be passing it on to my dad, who is a photographer as well, without the self marketing of course. Let’s see if this will do the trick. If you don’t believe is your work and abilities, who else will…?And if you don’t now how to market yourself online, YOUTUBE has many videos and tutorials on Facebook, Twitter, Diggit, Blogging etc. I would also recommend everyone buys a copy of Chris Anderson’s book “FREE”. It will give you some insight into the online world we live in today. Best wishes to all! Find me on TWITTER –> @nadineburzler

  6. Gold Coast Photographer at 10:35 pm

    Love it. Always struggle with the balance of time spent shooting and the time spent marketing. Difficult balance to get right and i guess I could be accused of being from the old school that believed that if your images are good enough then everything else will flow. You can`t operate like this anymore especially in the digital age when its easy for someone to pick up a digital camera, build a website and call them selves a pro. Gotta keep getting your name out there. Thanks for the reminder. I will have to re-plan my week.

  7. Penelope at 11:54 pm

    Great information! You are so right, and I will be referring back to this as I create my marketing strategy…I finally decided I need one. 🙂 Penelope Lolohea

  8. orientexpressguy at 1:21 am

    The very basics of marketing is being able to answer just 3 questions: 1. who are my customers? 2. where are they? 3. what do they want? 1. It requires considerable effort to identify your customers, but a simple data-base could be the answer. Cards in a shoe box are enough, you don’t need to have a relational database, that’s for airlines & travel agents! Keep a record of your customers names & contact details. 2. Decide where you are going to sell your photos, they are not likely to sell here in China because images come very, very cheap. 3. Don’t just take images of what pleases you, find out what the customer wants, this will enable you to carve out a niche. When I had a successful camera shop on the internet I just sold Leicas and Leica accessories, I didn’t waste my time with the mainstream Canon & Nikon.

  9. Russ at 12:55 pm

    Really great post. Marketing is something I’ve been trying to work on. Like you said in your post sometimes it is easy to read what everyone else is doing and do the same, assuming it’s also working for you. It’s important to try new things and see if they work, if they don’t try something else until you’ve found a strategy that works.

  10. Jean Ramey Photography at 11:23 pm

    Thanks for the advice. As a marketer-turned-photographer, I was surprised at how much harder it is to “toot your own horn”, for all of the reasons listed above. As I’m also starting my photography career, I looked for affordable marketing tools. Over the last month since I launched my website, I’ve found the following tools to support my efforts: VistaPrints – intro offer (google to find discounts) for 500 postcards. 1) I did an initial mailing featuring an iconic photograph from my collection + logo on front, and short copy with my URL and summary of my photography on back of card. 2) I mailed the postcards to friends, family, coworkers, and give out cards when I’m at parties or events. Cost: $50 + postage for 2-sided printing, cost to upload photo & logo, 7-day shipping. Constant Contact – I created a launch email to announce my website. – First 60 days is free of charge if you have less than 100 contacts, and $15/month thereafter – Their email templates aren’t particularly appealing, so I did spend a few days customizing a template to make it more professional. – I included the same photo as in the postcard for branding/consistency, as well as a section with my URL, About Me section, description of my work (travel photography, ideal for home/business, etc.), and instructions for using the site. – I also created hyperlinks in the left column, which take viewers to each of my international travel galleries In December, I sent a “holiday newsletter” that offered a 1-time discount coupon to friends & family, as well as 7 holiday gift ideas that tie-in to my travel images (Ooh-La-La package – photograph of the Eiffel Tower, bottle of champagne, and box of chocolates). You can post your newsletter to Facebook or Twitter, which increases your audience through social media. Hope that gives you some ideas, I’ll continue to expand my audience through new marketing going forward…

  11. Valerie Tamburri at 4:51 pm

    Thanks for the article! I am also not so great at the marketing aspect or tooting my own horn. I was initially drawn to your article because it mentioned that you sell photos to hotels and restaurants, which is something that I have been wondering HOW TO DO. Who does the photographer need to approach in order to try and sell prints to, for lobbies in hotels, restaurants and high-rise condos or businesses? If anybody knows, please pass on the info. Thanks! Valerie Tamburri

  12. LaKaye Mbah at 9:07 am

    This article reinforces my need for marketing. I began the year with an outstanding plan to send unique wedding photography pricing and information guides to a few area coordinators, but I was too chicken to send it out to the big names. I guess I suffer from not wanting to toot my own horn. But now that I’ve read this, I’m going to go for it. Great tips!

  13. radiantsquares at 1:04 am

    I’d like to suggest an alternative site to It is called MailChimp The reasons I’m a fan of mailchimp over constant contact are as follows: 1) you get to store 2000 contacts, and email up to 12000 free emails a month. So You can already get much more done than you can do with constant contact. 2) Mail Chimp syncs with Google Analytics. And that is HUGE. You can see all the information tht you would normally see from viewing your google analytics account (you DO have one, don’t you?) from your email newsletters. 3) They track and compare your performance based on your industry and report how you are doing. 4) you can write you own template in HTML if you are so inclined and are not limited to a template that someone designed for you. You could, if you were so inclined, hire a graphic designer to make you a email template that matches your website, and then use that for all of your email blasts. 5) with one click of a button, the newsletter you send out gets linked to both Facebook and Twitter automatically. So that is LESS WORK for you! There are other reasons I prefer MailChimp over CC (I have used both) but those are the most significant in my opinion. If you refer people and they sign up for paid accounts, you get $$ credit with Mailchimp. Which is always nice. That being said, my referral link is below 🙂 Also, if you don’t have an analytics account, sign up for one here: You can see how to use it here: I hope you all will find this useful! Ray Detwiler Dallas freelance commercial photographer

  14. Richard at 4:59 pm

    I’d add Peter Lik to this list. The guy makes a lot of money selling prints of well-known landmarks from his galleries and now has his own show on the Weather Channel.

  15. Michael at 3:06 pm

    Once again, Photoshelter has provided me with insight into how I can market myself better. I’m just starting my blog because you can incorporate so many keywords into it to garner more traffic to your website.

  16. Michelle at 4:46 pm

    As for the master marketers list – please add Gary Fong, Kevin Kubota, Scott Kelby, Sandy Puc and Sarah Petty to that list. 🙂

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