By Skip Cohen
Everyone in business today has the same challenge, including me. We're all on a quest to stay relevant.
By the time I finally learned how to program the VCR, they weren't making them anymore! Now I'm waiting for my contract to finish up with Verizon so I can finally dump my Blackberry. And the list goes on and on.
Technology seems to beat me to the punch all the time, but that's only part of the challenge. Lifestyles, consumer trends and social media still top the charts for me. Three years ago family and friends told me I was “too old” to be on Facebook! Then they didn’t understand why I’d want to post things on a blog or do podcasts.
As a professional photographer you've got the same challenge. How will you stay relevant to your target audience? The answer: You've got make yourself habit-forming! So, how does somebody create incredible work that people can’t stop looking at it? Or, better yet, they can’t stop sharing it with their friends?
Let’s create a list this morning and add some resources for you to follow:
Know what’s hot and what’s not!
· Take a trip to the mall and just window shop. Look at the most upscale stores and how they display merchandise. What are the colors this year? What’s hot in new looks related to your target audience? Tiffany’s doesn’t show everything they carry in every window, just single pieces with outstanding lighting to draw you in.
· Read every magazine you can – not the magazines you specifically are interested in, but what your target audience is reading. Look at the pictures! Your clients are influenced by trends and the trends for photography start with advertising. So many clients get their ideas from upscale fashion and product ads.
· Remember your primary target. If you’re a wedding or portrait photographer your target audience is women. I’ve only said it a few dozen times, so once more won’t hurt: Women make 98% of the purchase decisions to hire a professional photographer in the portrait/social category.
Whether you’re a commercial photographer or not, look at the work being presented at one of my favorites, www.workbook.com. Pay attention to the styles, the lighting and the composition. As a commercial photographer this will help you understand the trends. As a wedding photographer you’ll get some new ideas on how to do some of your detail shots – check out the lighting and composition on some of the product photography.
· Be involved in your community! Market yourself to the customers who are physically closest to you first.
This isn’t about being involved in the way I usually talk about cause-related marketing. This is about getting yourself known and knowing your target audience.
· Scott Bourne uses a great expression, “Own your own zipcode!” Yes, we know you want to dominate the world and get the draw from all corners of planet earth, but you also have to walk before you can run. Dominate your zipcode before you branch out.
Quality trumps quantity!
· Every image you share has got to be spectacular and repeatable! Review all your images on your website and your albums.
· Every image needs to have consistent quality! A few years ago I wrote about an album of a new wedding photographer I met. There wasn’t one consistent flesh tone – pay attention to every image so your clients know you consistently produce terrific work.
· Quality isn’t just in your images – it’s in your style, mannerisms, customer service and approach. Be a class act!
Know the trends and show the trends!
· Every market is different. In this case I’m using parts of the country as a definition of “market”. You’ve got to show work that appeals to your client base. What's hot in Chicago this month isn't the same in Las Vegas, Denver or Atlanta.
· You’ve got to know who your clients are. When you look at your albums and galleries are you showing work that appeals to your audience?
· Show work that’s diverse. It seems like a hundred years ago since I was last looking for a job, but I had three different resumes. Each one pushed the button on a different skill set or style that I had. You need the same with your albums. You need to always be matching up the right images with the right clients. My vote would be to have a couple of terrific sample albums that showed two great looks, one very contemporary and one a little more conservative. Then, I’d have a third book of personal favorites where you really pushed the limits.
If you keep doing the same old thing because it’s always worked, you’ll eventually drown. In fact, staying relevant means you’re willing to change and keep pace and sometimes set the pace with your target audience.
“You don’t drown by falling in the water, you drown by staying there!” Edwin Louis Cole
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.