Kill Your Customer Avatar

A bit of a warning before you venture down the rabbit hole:

This content is a bit… ahem…controversial, to say the least.

I’m calling out a wide-spread teaching in the “marketing your photo business” niche.

Not because it’s bad, perse…

But because it’s being taught in a way that actually perpetuates a negative cycle…

But it’s something that needed to be said for a long time now, and I think you’ll agree with me…

So on to Part #1 of this:

How to do less, but do it effectively…

Get MORE of a result, without doing more…

Because the frenzy of “more” is where sanity ends and the rat race begins…

It’s about magnetizing the people who value the result you give them with your photography.

And one of the hardest things to do, is to explain the real value our photography brings…because the results can sometimes feel so intangible, so invisible…

It’s there, we know it, and we can feel it in our gut…but explaining it?

Easier said than done.

But we’ll get to that part later in the series.

I want to start things off with a story…

This is my story.

However I’ve heard variations of almost this exact same story from photographers across the country (and the globe).

Maybe you have a story of your own like this…


It made absolutely no sense to me…

She left without purchasing any of her photos.

Saying she “loved” them so much, but couldn’t “spend that much on just photos.”

This had only happened to me a few times before, but this instance was the most perplexing of them all…

Why was it so perplexing?

Because she had checked all of the boxes.

She was my “ideal” client…

…Or so I thought.

Female? CHECK

Mother? CHECK

Age 25-40? CHECK

In a higher income bracket? CHECK

Loves to spend money on shopping and hangs out at the local boutiques (as well as buys designer purses and shoes online)? CHECK, CHECK and CHECK!

ALL signs pointed to her being like my customer avatar Sarah, the mother with extra disposable income who loves her family and spends a premium on high-quality items and experiences.

At the time I didn’t understand what was happening.

I knew what I did was totally worth it, even though I was on the higher price of the photographers in my area.

I had followed all of the traditional advice.

I had created my customer avatar.

And then I marketed to that group, that target market of my avatar.

I was partnering with upscale boutiques and charities with lists and reach.

I was doing silent auctions where things went for top dollar.

I was doing Facebook ads targeting interests and income levels.

I was creating free “helpful” content for my avatar – you know – the “value first” thing.

I was always learning, to the point of my gray matter feeling like mashed potatoes in my head.

All of this was supposed to attract the right people, grow my business and my income, and keep an edge on the photography market in my area.

And yet I was still under-booked.

And yet I was still getting people who inquired, then ghosted when they heard my pricing.

Not ALL the time – I had plenty of great paying clients – many repeat customers, some new.

But things were stagnant.


What was going on here?


That was in 2013.

And it was at that point I realized something wasn’t right…

How could I be doing ALL of this yet barely growing?

I would increase my bookings a bit, then they would bounce back to the same or less…rinse repeat.

It was not sustainable.

Fast forward a year later in 2014, and my business had done a complete 180… I was getting more clients…

…I was getting clients who were ready to book when they first emailed or called…

I didn’t know why at the time.

I just knew that I was finally loving not just the photo sessions, but the business side as well.

And somehow everything had shifted…

My marketing just felt like it “clicked.”

Things were working…my work was about the same, but my marketing was just hitting home with people.

Not 100% of the time, but I had way more “hits” than misses.

So I took the marketing that was working the best, and just kept tweaking everything to work again and again.

What I was creating was much more powerful than I knew…with much more nuance…

I was finally consistent with my bookings  year round (not just in the summer)

And way more inquiries were booking me than were previously.

I paid off one of my student loans YEARS before it was due.

I saved up for the down-payment on our home – just me.

I felt the freedom I had been seeking for so long.

I was finally PROUD of what I had created – and so was my husband.

It wasn’t until the past 1-2 years or so that I finally realized the real reason why what I did was working so well…

I realized that out of frustration and necessary…

I had inadvertently killed my customer avatar.

And I had swapped it for something completely new…

Kill Your Customer Avatar Part 1

The customer avatar is a wide-spread concept used across the board in marketing – be it photography, the online marketing realm, or a mom-and-pop quilting shop.

Most marketing courses teach this concept.

Which begs the question – then why aren’t people getting the clients they desire?

Any how can I claim they’re all wrong? (a bit on this later in this email)

If this concept is new to you (or you just want a refresher) – basically creating a customer avatar is the process of “imagining” your ideal client and their characteristics.

Their age, sex, marital status, number of kids, income level, where they hang out, where they shop, etc.

You can even take pieces of favorite past clients, and mold them together.

You can even create a name for him or her.

The theory is that now that you know all about them, you can now “speak” the way they speak, target them directly on facebook ads, and partner with businesses where they shop, among other things.

Sounds pretty awesome, right?

But there are two things wrong with this model:

ONE: There is no way to target “values photography…” not in Facebook ads, and not when you partner with a boutique.

They’ll have a range of doesn’t value photography at all, to values it highly, and everywhere in between.

TWO: Everyone is vying for the same (or at least a close similar) person.

Meaning the competition is CRAZY.

They are the most targeted, over marketed to group, and the competition just keeps growing with more photographers getting into the business all the time.

#2 is the biggie.

Let me show you a neato little picture I drew for you to explain this better:

(Hey…no judgement…I’m a photographer, not a sketch artist)

Let’s use family portraits as an example.

The main thing the customer avatar is based on is income of women (usually mothers) ages 25-45 or so

As you can see, there is just small fraction of people who have the income and also value photography.

But the problem isn’t necessarily the SIZE of that group of people, of that target market.

It can be bigger or smaller or in between based on where you live, social norms, average income, etc.

The real problem is the number of other photographers vying for that group of people.

The more photographers, the less average possible clients per business.

And as more and more photographers come into the market, you get to a point of “over-saturation.”

Or, in business speak, supply is greater than demand, which brings prices down (in general terms).

Supply and demand explanation in 60 seconds (it’s BANANAS!)

Maybe you don’t lower your prices, but the market in general has an average of lower prices, and you’ll likely sell less photo sessions because of it.

This leads to a variety of problems for photographers when they’re all vying for the same target market…

Avatar Chaser:

  • Targeting a customer avatar/target market (income level, age, marital status)

  • Knows what they do is valuable, but has a hard time believing people will pay that

  • Constantly reinvents pricing

  • Gets “ghosted” when sends pricing via email/message

  • Most inquiries are price shoppers

  • Gets rave compliments from people, but they never book

  • Seeks the next big marketing idea for their business – the “magic pill” which may work for a little bit, but then bounces back to the “sameness” of prior

  • Works hard to 1-up the competition with baking cookies, giving clients gifts, etc.

  • Wonders if they should throw in the towel, even though it’s what they’re meant to do

  • Puts off raising prices, even when they’ve done the math and know what they need to be charging

  • Feels like they can’t compete with the lower priced photographers

So the question becomes – how can I WIN at this game?

Many have tried, few have succeeded.

(Mostly because there’s a better question to be asking… hint hint…)

When you look at those diagrams – here are your options (again, some might sound familiar) – I see most photographers doing one or more of these 4 things (there could be more)

  1. Grab a bigger piece of the pie – do this by doing MORE marketing – daily facebook posts, instagram posts, email newsletters, lead magnets, facebook ads, SEO, blogging. This is the “new tactic seeker” or “do MORE”

    1. PROBLEM: doing more isn’t necessarily better. Especially if it wasn’t effective to begin with…”you can’t polish a turd”

  2. Try to get people who can’t afford to buy anyways (shiesty marketing tactics,like not giving people pricing before they come in to order)

  3. Try to convince more people to value photography – (web pages talking about the hours of work that goes into photos, and why said photographer can’t make a living wage by charging less…usually making potential clients feel uncomfortable)

  4. Try to create less supply – [drives competitors out of business. Creating rumors, bad-mouthing, posting false bad reviews…I’m sure none of you here fall into this category.]

  5. Try to raise prices across the board – [this is a noble cause, that’s for sure…I myself would like to raise the industry up, however we need full time jobs for multiple people to do this)

As you can see – some of those options well, aren’t even real options (at least not for those like you and I that have integrity).

The big thing we’re seeing in the industry (and honestly, in MOST industries) is the concept of “trying to grab a bigger piece of the pie.”

…by doing MORE marketing.

And that piece of the pie, is a bit different depending on the type of photography you do…but it is often some variety of “Becky, mother of 2.5 kids, with an above average income level and college degree, and values her family as #1”

But when there are already so many photographers out there competing for that piece of the pie, and ALSO taking marketing courses, reading blogs, etc, then I argue this isn’t viable at ALL.

So we’re stuck in this cycle.

Everyone is doing more.

Everyone is upping their game by creating more of an “experience” by baking cookies in studio and hand-holding through the ordering session and sending thank you  notes and commenting on past clients social media posts and creating facebook groups to create engagement and…and…and…

[Side note: None of that is necessarily BAD to do – it’s not at all. It’s just that the culmination of it all leaves us overwhelmed and often feeling like we’re exactly back where we started]

So where does this leave us?

How can we compete when we don’t want to buy into the “more” frenzy?

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.

To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller

Take a second to re-read that quote.

Let it fully sink in…

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.

To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller

In other words, we need to change our business so the problem and that diagram is completely irrelevant to us.

We need to create a new Venn Diagram.

  And in Part 2 I’ll show you how to do just that.    Cheers!  Lisa “killing it by killing my customer avatar” Edwards
And in Part 2 I’ll show you how to do just that. Cheers! Lisa “killing it by killing my customer avatar” Edwards

Side Note:

One of the fastest ways for people to “grab a bigger piece of the pie” is by price cutting.

Put another way, “low balling.”

And if that photographer also has good work?

You can bet they will get a nice piece of the pie.

And if I’m honest, that’s what I did when I was first starting out in 2007, because I didn’t know any better.

And then other photographers take notice, and either follow the lead by offering substantial discounts, or they stick to their pricing and “ride it out.”

Because at some point, the photographers playing the “low ball” game will end up overwhelmed, overworked, and frankly, making less than minimum wage, or even losing money.

They’re forced to either change, or go out of business.

That is, as they say (whoever “they” are), “the race to the bottom.”

Don’t get me wrong, we ALL have to start somewhere.

We can’t expect photographers who are learning posing and lighting techniques to charge the same price as those who have mastered those skills.

So what I’m offering you is to play a different game – to change the Venn Diagram, so you aren’t even competing with the lowballers…

So be sure to go to part 2, where we’ll do just that…