A friend of mine, the owner of a small photography company, recently asked me what was wrong with the school picture business.
The answer came quickly and confidently. “Mom. Well, mom and her cell phone,” I replied.
I explained that mom isn’t buying school pictures for several reasons. First, she’s confronted with too many buying opportunities: spring pictures cannibalize next fall’s, and sports pictures cannibalize spring’s. And mom’s smartphone cannibalizes everything.
I then offered an old adage, “Everyone’s a professional photographer today. At least they think they are.”
But I was wrong.
The real answer to what is wrong with the school picture business? It’s me. The school photographer.
The simple fact?
School photography customers have changed, but the school photographer has not. As an industry, we haven’t listened, we haven’t learned, and we haven’t evolved to address the needs and desires of today’s modern parents.
Listening to the Customer
At the heart of it, mom isn’t getting what she wants, and she isn’t getting it when or where she wants it. She’s social and she’s mobile, and her phone is her connection to daily tasks, to her family, and to her memories. She can be overwhelmed with demands, the pace of life, and the marketing noise that bombards her daily.
But she’s a discerning consumer with lots of choice – her tastes and expectations are high.
Frankly, we aren’t creating a compelling enough product, and we’re making it too hard for her to do business with us or to even want to do business with us.
What do I mean by that? Here’s what moms have been saying to us for the past few years.
About their experience with us:
About what we offer:
So, after years of complaining, mom is leaving us and participation rates have declined.
Unfortunately, once mom leaves the school picture category she seldom returns, generally replacing school pictures with personal photography. But each year in the U.S. there are over 250 million purchases of personal professional photography, so there is clearly opportunity out there.
Closing the Experience Gap
So, what can we do to close the gap between today’s consumer and ourselves?
We have to take their feedback seriously and understand that the market is rapidly moving away from the model that worked in the past. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t space for the tradition of school pictures. There is, but we must change how we deliver it.
Millennials, who now make up the largest consumer segment in the economy, represent $200 billion in annual buying power and spend 5 hours a day on their mobile devices. And now mom is a millennial, too.
As Gary Pageau has said, “They expect a social mobile experience with digital content.” Millennials want a quality product, and a social and mobile shopping experience that is full-featured and complete.
Manny Almeida, President, Imaging Division at Fujifilm North America Corporation, recently underscored the need for school photographers to make the shift to mobile when he addressed the audience at SPAC. “Photographers need to think about mobile as a way to extend their reach. It is how their customers are communicating and shopping. CaptureLife is a great example of this.”
This trend is happening whether we like it or not.
We can’t ignore the shift to mobile. If we do, it may mean that our business will shrink, our margins will be squeezed, and our industry will continue to decline in relevance.
Reaching and engaging today’s parents means delivering the experience they expect, when and where they want it – on their smartphones. Lifetouch and Shutterfly surely will soon.
There are forward-thinking businesses, like CaptureLife, offering the solutions to help us make this change, deliver a friction-free consumer experience, and maintain our relevance.
So, What’s Wrong with the School Picture Business?
It certainly isn’t mom – it’s our unwillingness to listen to her and make the changes she’s been asking of us. If mom doesn’t get what she wants, when and how she wants it – she will leave us.
We need to listen, and we need to change. If we as an industry don’t, we’ve no one to blame but ourselves. If we don’t innovate, we’ll evaporate.
Mark spent 25 years in leadership positions at Lifetouch and as a consultant to the company for two years after retiring. He served in key positions in the volume picture industry as Managing Director for PSPI (Professional School and Sports Photography International), Technical Advisor to the PSPA (Professional School Photographers Association) board of directors, past President of PSPA, and PPA Imaging USA School and Sports track speaker selection committee.