The Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Tween Photography with Audrey Woulard
When I decided to specialize in tween photography, it was hardly new. Tweens were often photographed as kid models. So the need for headshots for their comp cards was a need. During the middle school years, parents would purchase the school pictures because that would usually be the only time their kid’s age was documented.
I consider the tween genre to be a “Blue Ocean.” I originally heard of the Blue Ocean Strategy from Sal Cincotta at a small event. When Sal mentioned the strategy, it hit home for me and my niche.
The Blue Ocean Strategy is a marketing theory coined in a 2005 book of the same name. It refers to a market for a product or service that has little to no competition.
In our industry, there are times in life that are routinely photographed because that is how our society is conditioned. When a couple is married, they will always hire a photographer. When a baby is born, that newborn is photographed. As that baby grows, they will be professionally photographed because that is what parents do. There is this mysterious gap between a small child and a senior when the child isn’t routinely professionally photographed. Then, when the child is a senior, the professional shoots start again.
Those gap years are the tween years, that time between 10 and 14 years that is routinely ignored when parents think about investing in professional photography. Why is that? The one reason I hear most often is that those are considered the “awkward years.” When I hear that, it sounds so incredibly negative.
As my business and family grew older, I began to notice how neglected this genre was. When social media started to become the norm, I quickly learned how loud this genre is, and how much power tweens possessed. Three years ago, I gave my first keynote about tweens. It was such a new genre that I was worried no one would show up, not to mention that my presentation was scheduled for 7:30 am. Who would show up for that? I was amazed that I was speaking to a standing-room-only crowd of over 400 photographers. That morning, I also learned that photographers are quickly learning how powerful this genre is, but many photographers were confused about how to begin.
Let me give you some quick background. I began my career 16 years ago in Chicago as a photographer of babies, children and families. I didn’t begin to gain leverage until 12 years ago. That would make many of my current clients tweens. I have been blessed to have a loyal client base, and have watched them grow each year. When I started to cater to this genre exclusively, I was also a parent to three tweens, so I had an inside position as a businesswoman and a parent.
Here are the top 10 things I learned that helped me master the tween market.
1) I learned the importance of client loyalty.
I photographed many tweens yearly as newborns, babies, toddlers and small children. At the time, I never would have imagined that the newborn I was photographing would be one of the people that would create word-of-mouth advertising for me. Photographers tend to give that role to adults and young adults (seniors).
2) The tween years are the last time these humans are considered kids.
It is the last time a kid may sit on a parent’s lap. This may be the last time they regularly hang out with their parents. It represents a time of change. Parents of tweens are hyperaware of this, and they often do not know what to do. It is as fleeting as a newborn growing into a baby. A parent will look at their kid one day and notice their child no longer looks like that young kid they just saw a few months ago. Puberty sets in, and now they look like teenagers. Parents want nothing more than to capture this. Parents do not often know how to articulate that. That is where we step in to tell them. It is a key point to make when you want to book the client.
3) We are living in an age when if there isn’t a picture, it didn’t happen.
Tweens live and breathe this, so it’s easy for a photographer to be seen as a needed asset. Because tweens love to talk, they are instant word-of-mouth generators. They talk more than seniors do. My motto is the photographer markets to the tween, but you do your convincing to the parent. What convincing can you do? See point 2.
4) Tweens want to look cool, and they understand the unspoken rules of social media better than anyone.
There are few businesses that can cater to this want better than photographers. Even if you do not want to specialize in this genre, tweens are able to fill in the gaps for any photographer having a slow season.
5) Speaking of slow season, tween season is January through March.
Some may worry about winter weather during that time, and I understand that. I live in Chicago, and that time frame is in the middle of winter. If that is the busy season for me, then it can be for anyone.
6) Photographers are looking for tweens now more than ever.
Those who make contact with them early will usually be the photographers who keep them when they are seniors. Senior photographers will soon feel the effects of this market shift. You cannot market to tweens the same way you do seniors. They simply do not respond the same from a monetary standpoint. It is important to understand your “why” when servicing this market if you are a senior photographer, and approach them accordingly.
7) The tween years are some of the last years that self-esteem can be organically built.
Photography is powerful, and offers a great way to give tweens a self-esteem boost.
8) Don’t underestimate the buying power of tweens.
Although they do not contribute to the household income, they certainly can control it. Parents want nothing more than to make their child happy. Tweens are the poster child for the word persistent. They will bug their parents for a thing that they want, and they won’t stop. I see this with my own children. When one of my boys begs me for the latest sneakers or a “skin” from the game Fortnite, I often cave when they continue to bug me about it. When a photo session with you is at the top of their list, guess what that does? It places your business in front of their faces on a daily basis. Parents especially cave to their children’s desires when they are able to see the good that can come from them (see point 7). Do not feel that you must discount your pricing in order to book tween sessions.
9) If you are a children’s photographer who wants to grow with your clientele, servicing tweens can grow your client base because it places you in front of their friends.
This opens the door to you for more family sessions. All children portrait photographers know there is a lot of money in family sessions. There is even more money with family sessions and older children.
10) If you want to stretch your wings with an editorial/fashion flair, tweens are a great start.
They are usually up for anything.
Tweens are such an underserved market. This genre can help your business while you make a difference in young lives.