In our first instalment of “Ask an Expert”, I reached out to Kenny Kim to talk about the world of marketing. Marketing is one of the fundamentally important aspects of running a successful wedding photography business, both when building up your brand in the first few years of operation and to continued success beyond that. I recently attended Kenny’s class at WPPI – “Unconventional Yet Effective Marketing Strategies for Wedding Photographers” – and I learned some of the most applicable knowledge to put towards my own wedding photography business. Kenny has a lot of experience marketing in some pretty unique ways, so I knew he would be a great person to reach out to for this topic. As one of the top destination wedding photographers in the world, Kenny also has some unique insights into traveling for weddings.
1. In this era of social media marketing, what traditional marketing method do you think is still important?
Maintaining relationships with clients (future and past) as well as vendors has been instrumental in my career. Connecting with people is the most important form of marketing you can do. Social Media allows us to do it for faster and efficiently. However, a face-to-face meeting trumps everything else.
2. Where is the next big destination for wedding photographers? Is Iceland overplayed?
Accordingly the the XOGroup, currently the top locations for destination weddings in the contiguous U.S. are Florida, California and Nevada. The other locations outside the U.S. are the Caribbean, Mexico and Hawaii. Having said that, because of the ease of travel these days, clients are seeking out more and more unique places and locations to celebrate their nuptials. I think Iceland is fantastic. So is Ireland and the UK. I know friends that are photographing weddings all around the world in locations such as Morocco, Lisbon and Russia. The great thing is that weddings are being celebrated everywhere. I would love to see someone doing a wedding in Antarctica!
3. What’s your best advice for someone who’s been in business less than 3 years?
Education. Learn as much as possible about this wedding photography industry. Not just on how to use certain gear or lighting, but focus on all aspects of running a successful wedding photography business. There are so many available resources out there online these days. However, nothing beats learning from an instructor hands on at workshops. I know the cost can be more, but the reward you get from these kinds of workshops are unmatched. I would say the best thing to do is find the right balance between learning things traditionally vs using new technology. Also study what other photographers do. See what they do successfully that can be applied to your business. Not everything they do is going to necessarily work for you. The key is to find out what works for your business and apply it accordingly.
4. What’s your best advice for someone who’s been in business for more than 5 years?
Congratulations. You’ve survived the first five years! You are probably at the stage where you are starting to run out of referrals from the network of people you knew when you first got started because many of them have now been married. I would say go out and build new relationships and meet more people. Hopefully you’re doing this throughout your first five years and not waiting until the fifth year. You’re also at the mark where you might be starting to get into a creative rut feeling like everything you do is the same and has become a routine. I encourage you to go out and do something for yourself that will fuel your creativity again. It’s different for everyone. But while doing this, you can also meet people that have a common interest with you and build your network at the same time.
5. How are you using Instagram to promote your business?
I’m not sure if I can fit everything in a single interview but Instagram is an interesting tool, as it plays various roles. It helps me stay relevant with my clients as many of them follow my work. It also allows me to share my “portfolio”. It has become my way of “micro blogging” various events. I use it to connect with my clients and engage in their lives. I also use it to build relationships with my vendors and venues and more. I can go on about this topic but I’ll stop here for now.
6. You’re starting to shift your business to a more equal balance of local and destination weddings. What in your marketing strategy is changing and what is staying the same?
As you mentioned, my career started out shooting mainly destination weddings given the unique circumstance that I was in. However, I began to realize that to run a successful business, you need to find a good ratio between shooting local & destination weddings. There are so many benefits to destination weddings that local weddings cannot provide. The amount of time you can spend with your clients and guests heightens their experience with you. The amount of referrals that come from them are exponentially more and these locations become your creative playground providing so many different backdrops. Even as glamorous as all this may sound, if you are constantly traveling to photograph weddings, you’ll get burnt out quickly. I learned that in the US, one out of four weddings is a destination wedding. I took a look at this statistics and made it a goal for me to do the same for my business. Shooting about 25-30% destination weddings has helped me to find the sweet spot in helping me benefit between being a destination wedding photographer and a local photographer.
7. Where in your marketing did you see the most unexpected return, good or bad?
Surprisingly I found that many of the traditional forms of marketing and advertising was not working for me in the beginning of my career. So then I started to observe where my clients were hanging out. We live in a mobile generation now where everyone is using some sort of a digital device to get their news, entertainment and information. Just look at WPPI this year. Walking around the trade show floor and the hallways, even photographers are experiencing WPPI through their smart phones and tablets. Most of your clients are doing the same thing. They are spending time on social media, so you need to go where the fish are.
8. Should I care about Snapchat?
I cannot answer this question right now. However, as I mentioned above, many of my clients are hanging out on this platform. So I’ve finally caved in and started using it. It is a really interesting form of interaction. I am learning how to use it because my clients are on it. I will try to answer this better perhaps in our next interview? 🙂
9. Which city inspires you the most?
Not just one city, but Italy in general inspires me the most. I still recall taking the trip to Italy in April of 2009 and meeting with my Italian friend there who showed me his parts of the world. I walked away feeling so inspired and refreshed. This motivated me to want to be a better photographer. Through this experience, I started a photography tour company called PhotoVenture Tours to provide the same kind of experience for other photographers and photo enthusiasts.
10. What’s your favorite travel hack?
Become a savvy traveler. Use one airline to fly as often as possible. The more status you earn with them, it makes traveling (especially as a photographer) much easier. For me, I chose United Airlines and have been their Premier 1k since 2010. I know some people get turned off by destination weddings because of long lines, travel mishaps, risk not being able to carry-on your camera bag full of your gear, etc. But once you establish an elite status with one airline, you can get away with a lot more things. Another essential travel hack I recommend is to study which airplanes you’re actually flying. This will give you an idea of how to best pack your gear.
Thanks Kenny for providing some awesome insight into marketing your wedding photography business! You can see Kenny’s wedding work at Kenny Kim Photography, follow Kenny on Instagram, or check out his photo tour company at PhotoVenture Tours.