Building Blocks: Know Your Demographics—Who’s Really Your Target? with Skip Cohen


Building Blocks: Know Your Demographics—Who’s Really Your Target? with Skip Cohen

At ShutterFest two months ago, I got to talk with dozens of photographers about their marketing efforts. Over and over, I found small business owners who were doing nothing to target their demographics. Instead, they just opened their business, hung out their shingle and hoped clients would be drawn in.

I’ve used this thought experiment more than once in workshops and articles: Pretend you’re a children’s photographer, and you just opened your studio in Sun City, Arizona. You found a great location and you’re open for business. It’s been a week, and nobody has walked through your door.

Why? Because Sun City is a retirement community, and there are almost no young children, except those who come to visit Grandma at Thanksgiving. There’s no client base for you to build a business on.

That’s an obvious example, but many creatives just aren’t in a mindset of targeting clients. They’ve never really thought about their target audience. Let’s put some things together to help you get in front of the right audience.


Start by figuring out the demographics of your community. Just hit Google and put in “Demographics for ___________.” Try by zip code or city and state. You’ll find a wealth of information on gender, age, education, married versus single, income and race, just to name a few.

It’s also important to check out the demographics around you. Geographic demographics are important. While many of you love doing work on location, especially destination weddings, the bulk of your business, until you become famous and in high demand, will still come from an area within a hundred-mile radius of where you’re based.

You still shouldn’t ignore going outside your geographical area, and that’s where social media comes in. Maintaining a good blog and being active on Facebook and Pinterest can make your reach more global.

It’s All About Mom

Now think about your business. Most of you are in the portrait/social specialties, which include family and children portraiture, pets, seniors, weddings, engagements and events. As a result, your target audience is female.

For the most part, your ideal client is Mom or brides, because women make 98 percent of the purchase decisions to hire a professional photographer in these areas. (That’s from an old Kodak survey from 25 years ago, but I don’t believe it’s moved one single percentage point.)

How often do you get a call from a man saying, “We’re overdue for an updated family portrait”? Dad’s a critical player in the decision process and often the key recipient of the final portrait, but he rarely makes the call to hire you.

High-Profile Demographics

One key demographic everybody is always thinking about targeting is high-profile clients. Every community has at least one high-end zip code.

Let’s look at Wellesley, Massachusetts, which has a higher average income than most of the communities around it. You can enter its zip code, 02482, into a search at The site’s loaded with great statistics, giving you data on what’s being spent on every aspect of weddings in the area, as well as ideas for promotional and networking partners.

Wedding Report lists the average being spent on flowers, limo service, gowns, honeymoons, spas and caterers. Each group represents another partner with the potential to cross-promote your services.

Here’s just a taste of what popped up for Wellesley’s 2015 Wedding Market Summary: With an average wedding cost of $39,695, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH is ranked no. 25 out of 977 Metropolitan Areas.”

For me to dig deeper, I’d need to spend a little money and get the actual report, but if that were my target audience, it would be a low price to pay to understand the market better.

While things like average income and educational level in the community are important, don’t assume that just because you’re targeting a high-profile zip code, you’re going to automatically qualify to charge more. A well-educated target audience also has more access to other resources, and is more focused on the value of your product and services.

With a high-profile audience, your work also has to hold up to their expectations. They know more about what they want and are more critical when looking at your galleries. Make sure you’re showing only “wow” images. That’s any photograph that’s so good you’d only need to show one image to get hired.

Recognizing the educational and income demographics is also key to thinking through your value-added offers when you’re putting your promotional calendar together. Look for add-on products that have value and are unique.

Look for ways to add value without discounting. You might be bored with canvas wraps, but your clients aren’t. In fact, many of them have no idea the things you can offer with a printed image these days. When you just discount, you turn your products and services into commodity products.

It’s important to always remember you’re an artist. Each client and the coverage you provide is unique and essentially a work of art. Present them with ideas that fall under the art umbrella.

Social Media

Now, let’s move over to social media. Think through your demographics as they relate to your specialty regardless of where they live. If you’re a children’s photographer, then you’re looking for family-oriented readers. Your target reader is Mom.

That means your website and blog need to have a certain look and feel to match the demographic. Your content needs to be interesting for Mom to take the time to read and hopefully follow you. The information you provide needs to be helpful and engaging.

Your site needs to be less masculine and high-tech looking. It needs to be warm and friendly. Give your audience an experience. Your blog needs to be the same way. In fact, since your blog is about what’s in your heart, it becomes even more important to match your demographic.

Demographics and Riptide Marketing

Many of you, because you didn’t think through your content versus your readership’s needs, have locked yourself into what I call “riptide marketing.”

For lack of anything better to share on your blog, you started featuring images from every engagement shoot. Your clients love being featured, and they tell their friends, who, because this is a word-of-mouth business, might also become your clients. If you don’t show images from every client’s engagement shoot, they’re going to be hurt. After all, you shared their friends’ images. This happens with engagements, weddings, family portraiture and children’s sessions. Eventually you’re stuck showing only images from shoots without any substance in your content.

So, let’s break the trend. Instead of showing all the images from a shoot, show just one and use it as an educational feature to demonstrate posing technique, lighting technique, wardrobe changes, etc. Make yourself into the community’s photography expert, and get yourself out of riptide content. Give your readers something that helps them take better pictures.

What Not to Do

You’ve got to pay attention to the demographics of your readership. Years ago, Agfa US ran an ad for APS film in the professional photographic magazines. Most of you probably don’t remember APS, which was a purely consumer product that lasted only a few years. The problem was Agfa not paying attention to the readership of the magazines. It was like Revlon running an ad in Guns & Ammo.

With everything you post, think about who’s going to read it. You need to give Mom topics of interest about how she can get better pictures of her family; gift ideas using photographs; family-oriented events in the community; locations for great family images; and tips on being a storyteller. And, one more great topic: Use Throwback Thursday to remind your readers of the value of older images and the importance of capturing memories.

Your blog and social media activity reinforce the products and services on your website. Be soft-sell and informative. Never be hard-sell when you’re sharing experiences from the heart.

This brings us full circle to your target demographics. Just as you wouldn’t take a trip without a roadmap or GPS, you can’t get to your target if you don’t figure out who it is first. Think through where you want your business to go before you get behind the camera.

Get the full story

To read the full article, launch the digital version of the June 2016 magazine.

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