Writing Your Photography Marketing Plan: Determining Target Margets

Sixth in a series.

Many photography businesses fall into the trap of trying to be everything to everyone. You are so hungry for business that you will work for anyone and attempt anything. That’s certainly understandable, particularly in this economy. But it’s not a good marketing formula for long-term success.

No one can be all things to all people. Even a corporate giant like Wal-Mart is, at its heart, just one thing: a discount retailer. Sure, it has expanded over time to offer groceries, automotive care, financial services and other products and services, but it is all built on the same foundation of convenience and low prices. And it is all targeted toward the same types of consumers, with the same purchasing motivations.

Jack of All Trades, Master of None

While all young businesses can succumb to mission creep, photographers seem especially prone to this universalism.

You set up shop as a wedding photographer, and before you know it you’ve added babies, commercial, architecture, and an editorial assignment or two when you can get them.

You throw it all in your online portfolio. Your prospective clients come to visit — and see that you can do a lot of things. But they’re not sure if you do anything particularly well.

Look, we live in a world of scarcity. You have a limited marketing budget. Your prospects have a limited amount of time to find, say, a high-end wedding photographer in Milwaukee.

So you need to market your business in a focused way — spending your marketing dollars to maximize the number of prospective high-end Milwaukee wedding couples who call you or visit your Web site. And making sure that when they do visit your site, the first thing they see will be other high-end Milwaukee wedding couples smiling from ear to ear — and at the very same venues your prospects are considering.

You can have more than one target market, but to do this successfully requires time and investment. In an earlier Black Star Rising post, Sean Cayton profiles a group of photographers that does this well.

Identifying Target Markets

Here are four ways to segment a target market for your photography business:

  1. Geographic. Focus your business on a specific geographic area, such as your town, zip code or region. Assuming the prospect base within the targeted area is large enough, this is an easy way to manage your marketing costs; you won’t be trying to advertise or travel all over the state or country. Showcasing the city you love in your marketing materials also establishes an immediate connection with prospects.
  2. Demographic. These are the most traditionally thought of segments: age, gender, income range, ethnic group and family type. Perhaps you are part of a particular ethnic group and have strong ties within that community; this could be a good foundation for building a photography business that caters to the group’s particular interests and needs. If I want to hire a photographer for my daughter’s quinceanera or my son’s bar mitzvah, for example, I would be naturally attracted to a photographer who showcases these rites of passage on his or her Web site.
  3. Psychographic. Though not always outwardly apparent, these definers — such as personality, lifestyle, and motives — can be valuable in defining a target market. For example, if you’re selling signed, high-end prints to individuals, you should know that many buyers purchase wall art for the snob appeal, rather than because they actually understand art or photography. That means you’ll do better if you travel in the right circles, appear in the right galleries, and get reviewed by the right critics.
  4. Product-related. This is where you build a segment around the distinct attributes of your product or service. For example, if you aim to offer the best customer service in town, you can market your business to all those who have been frustrated by the service they have received from photographers in the past.

Getting Started

After your target customers are defined, it’s time to start marketing to them. The best way to accomplish this is to think like them.

What do they enjoy doing? What is important to them? How do they spend their money? Where do they spend it? Why do they spend it the way they do?

This will be the roadmap that tells you where to advertise, what to say about your business, what to charge for your services, and so on. It all starts with knowing your audience.

Next: marketing mix – product

6 Responses to “Writing Your Photography Marketing Plan: Determining Target Margets”

  1. This position of yours is mainly heard in the US, where specializing is the way to go, or at least the way to make it easy for the market to understand what you do.
    Some realities are different, they cannot work that way, especially in the beginning of a career, you cannot specialize when it's about surviving.
    Definitely you can hide part of the portfolio when it's not necessary and take it out only if requested, but beside some specialty sectors (automotives, furniture etc) a photographer should be able to do a variety of things, it's about problem solving, and that's the same no matter the field you work in.
    Not every market is the same and specialization pays in a flourishing market.

  2. I agree that a photographer should be able to work in more than one genre. I also agree that diversity is a good thing; it helps keep us fresh and pushes our limits in good ways.

    However, for the purposes of marketing we need to set limits. No one can be all things to all people. I am a wedding photographer in the St. Louis area. I will never cover the Norwegian Curling Championships. Even if I did, my client base would not be impressed to the point it would lead to a noticable increase in work. Therefore, I can cross the Norwegian Curling crowd from my marketing effort and put those resources toward a market I do want to work for - brides in St. Louis, MO.

    By choosing not to specialize, you have in fact made a decision and chosen a market. I read your comment to say you are choosing to be the go-to photographer for your loosely defined geographic area. There is a market for that, and I sincerely hope the best for you in conquering it. Set up your marketing material to highlight your talents and make sure the search engines can find you when people search for photographers in your area. But also know that if someone in your area has a "can't fail" project, they may choose a specialist photographer from farther away, even at a higher cost, to make sure it is done right rather than the generalist who may or may not have enough experience to pull off their very important project.

  3. Specializing is especially true in editorial stock photography and the secret is to figure out first what you love photographung: aviation; tennis; gardening; elementary age children -- and then find if there's a market for it. Google will show you if there is -just type five or siz keywords (one of them being 'publisher') in the search bar. You'll find many markets already waiting for your talents.
    And the nice thing about this way of marketing your photography is you can stay with the same target market for a lifetime, (the "theme" publishers never change their industry focus) ...

  4. In the business of business plans one needs to consider plenty. By choosing not to specialize, in my opinion, you cheapen your business. Having a nice website that will get rankings fast, climb in the search engines with ease, specializing in say, "High-End Event Photography or Equestrians", or whatever you decide, will increase your bottom line. This is a nice conversation considering I am all about specializing at this point.

  5. I hope all of your advice's listed above will help me push my photography business a bit further. And yeh it seems like in US the way to go with your business is slightly different than in UK, but I'll give it a try.

  6. Nikolay -
    Best of luck as your business grows! I would think that most of this is fairly universal, but of course your mileage may vary.

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