Photography marketing essentials: who’s your web site for?

In my photography marketing consulting business, one of the first things I do when I work with a client is to review their web presence. When a photographer doesn’t fully understand the wants and needs of the present-day image buyer, their site usually reflects what makes the photographer happy vs. one that will makes the buyer happy.

When I see one of these kinds of sites and have to tell the photographer that to increase business they’ll need a new web site or major re-design, one of the first things they think –if they don’t come right out and say it– is “What’s that going to cost me?”

Of course, in this economy, that’s a question that lives in everyone’s mind. But that should not be the FIRST question that comes to mind when thinking about reaching more clients via your web site.

“What’s the business objective of my web site?” has to be answered before you start pricing any solution. As visual artists we’re primarily drawn to the play of light, shadow, color and contrast as they often serve as the basis of our sheer delight. We’re also easily distracted by bright, shiny, and pretty things.

A marketing trap that one can fall into is to simply emulate the web design of a photographer whose photos and web site we admire. Award-winning web sites with lots of stunning visuals suck us right in and lead us to ‘be inspired” (i.e., copy them) when creating our own site; often there’s  little if no attention paid to asking if the design is resonant with our own branding and the needs of the people we want to attract.

An ironic liability of a too-over-the-top web design, is that it risks alienating a market segment who you could have served; they can end up thinking “they can no longer afford you.” (Yes, that’s actually happened).

Your best site design strategy is one that reflects both YOUR brand and what YOUR target audience needs. The photographer you admire may be serving a completely different market.

You must define who your “ideal client” is before you can build a site that will appeal to them.
Here are some questions to help you define your “ideal client.”

What do I know about my target customer’s needs? What do they want when they arrive on my site?
E.g. If you’re targeting ad agencies, your site must have features that serve the needs of the time-pressed and collaborative work environment. Some way of displaying thumbnails are a must.

The time-line in wedding photography is usually a lot less deadline-driven (shotgun weddings not withstanding..;-) and therefore the wedding market visitor arrives at a more leisurely pace often looking for an experience (usually romantic) from your imagery E.g. they might respond favorably to interactive and experiential features (e.g. music)–ironically the same ones which usually alienate business clients.

The corporate market customer may require more copy  about your services to gain purchasing approval from colleagues outside of the creative department.
Some features (e.g. light-boxes) also might require more instructional copy in one market than another.

But what if either by geography or economic necessity you’re trying to reach several markets with one site?
You can. Just don’t try to be all things to all people all the time.
Develop a targeted web strategy to drive different market segments to specific areas of your site or to sub-domains.

You are essentially a service business. So are your insurance company and your bank; they have different marketing plans–and related web pages– to reach both the sports car driver and the soccer mom. Their marketing strategies are different based on the different needs of each market. You can do that too. Unless your target market is other photographers, design your web strategy accordingly.

Gaining the admiration of your fellow photographers–while it sure feels nice–might not be the best business goal for your bottom line.

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