What do you do? What makes you unique as a photographer? Having a clear "unique selling proposition" (USP) can help you build a focused and attractive website. Let's explore some ways you can define yourself and your target clients, and use that to improve your business.
Update 2016: Parts of this article were originally published in January 2015 while others were mentioned in the newsletter. But I wanted to expand some ideas and rewrite the entire article, especially since it’s such an important topic for photographers.
I’ll try to teach you some important business concepts.
If you’re selling anything, whether it’s your time (assignments, various services etc.) or your photos (prints, licenses etc.), then it should be clear to you that you’re running a business. Photography is not just a hobby to you.
So getting a clear understanding of who your customers are and what makes you unique is essential to having success in your business. And then knowing how & where to apply this info will take you to the next step.
And it all doesn’t have to be very hard. You don’t need to create huge marketing plans or go to business seminars. I’ll try to show you the essential parts and make it all “digestible”.
In the end, you’ll hopefully learn how to find your niche & your strengths and how to position yourself as an expert in that niche. That’s what successful businesses are doing.
That’s how I’m trying to position myself on the topic of photography websites, and it’s working fine for me (especially since you are reading this from me). I understand who my target audience is and what they’re struggling with, I discovered my main strengths and unique ways of working, and then I infused all that knowledge throughout this website.
So, let’s get started!
Part 1. Define your target audience
If you market to everyone, your message gets too generic. Tailoring your message to your specific target market is what can help you differentiate yourself from the millions of other photographers out there.
Your story as a photographer will sound awkward until you understand your audience and how to help them.
And once you do define your audience, you have to identify their problems, needs or desires, and articulate them using their words, ideally. If clients and photo buyers feel that you truly understand their problems, then they just assume that you have the right solution for them.
There are no step-by-step instructions I can give you for defining your target audience, it’s all unique to your own photography work.
But you can start with asking yourself these questions:
- How would you describe your ideal clients? (Write down everything that comes to mind: age, location, social status etc.)
- Why do you like about these people? Why do you want to work with them?
- Why do your ideal clients usually hire photographers like you?
- What problems do they try to solve by working with someone like you (or buying your products)?
- Where do your ideal clients usually spend their time? (specific websites, conferences/events etc.)
- Do they have the budget and respect for your type of photography work?
And I can also show you examples from photographers I’ve worked with in the past (I’ll keep them anonymous).
You might be surprised how incredibly specific most of them are:
“My ideal client is a mother of one or two young children (aged 0-6), American, European or Middle Eastern; educated in US or UK. She is a professional woman with a high managerial position in marketing, IT, creative field, or has her own business. She is a from a double income household of around £100k, loves travel, wants the best for her kids but suffers from typical mother’s guilt most of the time (is she working too much?)”
“Age ranges= 29-55. Income levels= $45k-$120k. Professionals= techies, businessmen, entrepreneurs, business owners, media professionals, marketers. Will target people who want class in their lives but haven’t known where to find it since there is a lot misinformation and confusion about art.”
“Art buyers, interior designers, architects, gallerists, designers, visualizers, art collectors, private art buyers. Given the style of work my market is international, usually post graduate, above average income and professional.”
“My audience is a bit older, 30 to 60, mostly female, mid to high income, land owners, from the US and Western Europe, horse owners, love outdoors, small farming, organic gardening, kind to animals.”
“Target are tourists from all over the world coming to my country. Targeting GCC & Arabs in general but not only. Most are upper socio-economic strata with poor preparation of their trip and not willing in reading much.”
“The people that will be visiting my site will be publicists that are handling events that I shoot, and they do go to websites and see what was shot, so I really want this website to impress them.”
“Target audience: advertising agencies, corporate clients, actors, magazines, product photography clients directly (not through agency), event and conference organizers.”
“For my portrait business: Young, 25-45 arty, cool young couples and families. Down to earth people that value high end photography and want to invest in capturing their memories. Couples who like to have fun, enjoy travel and music.”
Now let’s see the opposite. If you don’t have a clear target audience in mind, you end up with generic goals like this:
“I would like to appeal to all age groups and ethnic groups. I would like to appeal to as wide an audience as possible and I would like to, at the same time sell some photos.”
Being able to pinpoint who the website is for (as you can see in all the good examples above) allows you to “speak their language” (through the texts you write, your site’s colors, the elements you feature on your homepage etc.)
When you’re just starting out though, you might have no audience or be completely unaware of it, and you tell yourself:
“I have no idea of what kind of visitors come to my site. Not enough, perhaps. I rarely sell a print, nor do people comment on my blog posts.”
It can be hard, I know that. But you don’t necessarily need website traffic in order to find out more about your audience (through tools like Google Analytics).
You can just start by defining your ideal audience. And later on, when you do get traffic to your site, you learn more about your visitors and refine your site accordingly. There’s nothing wrong with changing course if necessary.
Part 2. Write your elevator pitch or USP
I know that the concept of “elevator pitch” sounds salesy, I hate it as much as you do.
But it’s a really important thing to define, whatever you want to call it: unique selling proposition (USP), mission statement, core business concept, vision statement, value proposition etc.
Stop dumping time & money into advertising or dodgy SEO tactics, and do the important work to differentiate yourself. That’s what can make your business stand out in today’s crowded market.
“If you think your organization needs a bigger marketing budget, maybe you just need to be less average instead.” – Seth Godin
Why is it important?
Preparing your elevator pitch usually ends up helping every other area of your business, because it forces your work to be more intentional and has a better chance of impressing your clients.
It’s just like setting long-term goals. Until you clearly define what you do and what you stand for, you’re going blindly in random directions.
When trying to build a successful photography website, the purpose of the elevator pitch is to intrigue the visitors enough for them to browse further or come back to your site. It should have a powerful meaning that makes people want to click and learn more about your work.
Think about it this way: even if your services and products are phenomenal, other people might never find that out unless you draw them in with a clear message.
“So… what do you do for a living?”
This is the question that many people dread & get stuck on.
You can’t simply wing it because you risk sounding too pretentious or too vague, like you don’t really care much about your work. Or you might feel awkward giving this answer out loud.
It’s time to learn how to answer it confidently, without giving irrelevant or boring details.
When you answer this questions, the goal is to explain who you are and why your work matters. It’s not your autobiography!
Write down the first draft
Time to have a swing at it. It doesn’t matter how bad the first version it, it’s just a starting point.
Use these things to get you started:
- the target audience that you defined earlier
- their common problems and desires (ideally using their usual words)
- why do YOUR services/products matter? How are they better and more meaningful than the work of other photographers?
Also, take these important aspects into consideration:
- Confidence is sexy and generates trust. So whatever you come up with, you have to be comfortable telling it out loud or displaying it on your website.
- Length is an important factor too, forcing you to focus on the essentials. Try to be brief and keep it around 30 seconds (when spoken).
- Tone of voice needs to be natural & conversational as if explaining your work to a friend. Business language or statistics have no place here.
Keep improving it
With the first draft written, you now start rewriting and refining it, as much as you can. If you feel stuck, the solution is to ask yourself the right questions.
Here are some important aspects to think about, grouped into a few distinct sub-topics, that can shine a light on your core message:
- Define who your work for
- What is your target market?
- What are some critical problems that your target clients face?
- What is your ideal client?
- Clarify why and how you’re helping them
- What are your clients’ urgent needs?
- What are your clients’ biggest desires?
- What results do you help your clients achieve?
- What do you hope to achieve through your work?
- Showcase some benefits of your work
- What areas are you an expert in (or at least known for)?
- What are your special talents? What have you been good at since childhood?
- For what have you received great feedback in the past? (Consider asking past clients why they chose you)
- What do you never grow tired of doing?
- Make it a home run
- Won any awards?
- Have any relevant accreditation or memberships?
- Been featured in industry articles or interviews?
- Had any important clients in the past?
- Can you re-enforce through data (studies, statistics from past clients)?
- Add your personality into the mix
- Why do you do what you do?
- What intrigues you now, in the industry?
- When asked about your work, what makes you most proud to say?
Bring it all together
After all that writing, now try to put everything together into a coherent message. You probably started off with something that sounded awkward and then you made your way to a more crisp message about yourself and your work.
This article from Travel & lifestyle photographer Ken Kaminesky is a great example of iterating and improving your elevator pitch: Writing an Elevator Speech for Photographers
As with every important piece of text, you should then definitely try to edit down as much as possible and avoid repeating yourself. It’s a lot harder to shorten a text (while keeping its whole meaning) than it is to write it in the first place.
Last but not least, saying it out loud makes all the difference in the world. When just reading something, we tend to overlook details and just skim through. But when we speak, our “BS” filters activate, and we start to detect small things that sound bad or even make you cringe.
Part 3. Leverage it all to improve your site
When you’ve defined your target customers and your elevator pitch, you can then start putting that knowledge to good use. I’m sure that your photography website is eagerly waiting for crisp text :-)
Here’s where you can use the info:
a) Homepage. A tagline or a small intro paragraph is a great way to give people your elevator pitch, the essence of your photography business in just a sentence or two. Let them quickly understand who you are and what the site is all about, right from the homepage.
b) About page (in a longer form, of course). In my complete guide on photography About pages I’ve written that the first paragraph in the bio text should really be your photographer elevator pitch, a sentence or two describing what you’re all about, making visitors resonate with you and what you stand for.
c) SEO title & meta description for your main pages. People will see your site show up in Google search results, so make sure those meta tags are straight and to-the-point, but keep them sounding natural.
d) Call-to-action buttons. Wherever appropriate, don’t forget to end with a call-to-action, encouraging people to contact you or browse to your Contact page or any other specific section of your site.
e) Page headers & newsletter optins
f) Email signature. Read this how to use email signatures as a marketing tool.
g) Ads and social media messages
h) Beyond your website. I focused on websites because that’s my thing. But you can use your newly gained business awareness for:
- Any marketing messages on social media
- How you introduce yourself to people in calls or meetings
- In emails you send out to clients
- In brochures and proposals
- At photography conferences & events
If you want to dive deeper, here are some hand-picked resources for you:
- This is an excellent article from Ken Kaminesky on his experience with Agency Access, must-read for all photographers out there: My Marketing Adventure (Part 3): The elevator pitch for photographers
- How photographers must sell by creating value first – an insightful post from Bryan Caporicci at Sprouting Photographer
- Another practical article on writing your elevator pitch (more generic though): How to Create Your Memorable Elevator Pitch
- A nice post with some practical tips and elevator pitch examples: How To Rock Your Elevator Pitch In 30 Seconds or Less
- Great article going deeper on how to craft your elevator pitch: “So You’re a Photographer, Quick… Tell Me What You Do”
- An in-depth article for all types of entrepreneurs: The Ultimate Guide to Finding your Unique Selling Proposition
- And if you’ve got the time, here’s an entire book on the topic: Small Message, Big Impact: The Elevator Speech Effect
This article will helpfully take you from feeling awkward about describing your work to understanding yourself and your clients better, to crafting a clear and concise pitch about your business, to then turning that into a crisp tagline that can live on your site.
This whole process can make your photography website stand out. Without it, you’re probably stuck being average.
How are YOU improving your pitch and where on your site are you putting it to good use?