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Spring Cleaning - PPA Today

Spring Cleaning

By Mariah Ashley

De-cluttering Your Message

I've been avoiding my bedroom lately. I only go in there at night. I don't turn on the light and just kind of hop from the door into bed. I definitely DO NOT look around. I'm afraid if I do I might see something really horrible. Something embarrassing. I'm ashamed of...

My closet!

I've been meaning to spring clean my closet for a while now; I just haven't been able to get motivated to do it. I sort of started, which yielded a bag of donation clothes but I never finished the job. I left it, door open, shoes spilling out onto the floor. It's been that way for weeks.

I thought, I'll just get rid of everything that isn't totally me. The problem is, I'm not sure exactly what that means. Is me a black pencil skirt or a ruffled bohemian blouse? Cause I've got both... Gah! Who am I? What do I like? How am I perceived? Classic or Artsy? Fun or Functional?

It was time to call in an expert, a straight shooter, someone who thinks my feelings are of no consequence--my 13-year-old daughter.

"What about this one?" I asked holding up a plaid shirt dress.

"Are you kidding? Frump Town."

"Ohhh-kaaay how about this shirt?" I ventured, showing her a turquoise and gold leopard print tank top. (I swear, it wasn't as ugly as it sounds).

"It looks like something a tacky granny would wear. And what is this material? It feels greasy." She replies tossing it in disgust.

"It was expensive."


"It's hideous. Next."


"These pants?"


"Only if you want people to laugh at you."


I don't know about you but I don't usually buy pants hoping that they'll make people laugh at me. This went on until there were five bags of clothes for donation on the floor and nothing in my closet. Okay, maybe not nothing but not much. However, the modest selection that was left (a) fit me perfectly (b) is well made and fuss free (c) doesn't leave me looking like I'm having an identity crisis.


What a relief! If you can afford to lose a little self-esteem, I highly recommend hiring a 13-year-old girl to evaluate your clothing choices.


Once I had the closet conquered, I started thinking about other areas that needed de-cluttering. Were there other aspects of my life having an identity crisis? While pondering the possibilities the doorbell rang. It was the UPS man with a package for me containing shoes I had ordered from Toms. I quickly snuck into my room with them avoiding the disapproving gaze of my daughter. Truth be told, Tom's are kind of ugly and frumpy and these particular shoes had an orange and blue rhinoceros pattern on them. Don't judge me! A portion of the proceeds went to rhino conservation! The thing that struck me wasn't so much the hideous shoes, but actually the box they came in.


Printed on the side of the box was this message: "We're in business to help improve lives."


It gave me goose bumps. Not because of the feel-goodness of it, which believe me I enjoy, but because of the marketing genius. The message could not be any clearer. When you make a purchase from Toms you know exactly what you are buying into. Yes, I will wear my ugly orange and blue rhinoceros shoes proudly because I believe in Tom's message. A clear message (i.e. short and tight) is a powerful message.


Toms message is not; We sell pretty shoes, it's not even we sell well made shoes, or cool shoes...it's we donate a pair of shoes when you buy our shoes. We care about improving the lives of less fortunate people, if you care about that too, buy our fairly unattractive footwear and feel good about making a difference in the world.


If Toms can get me to wear frumpy shoes because their message resonates with me, shouldn't it be a walk in the park to get people to buy into beautiful photography if our message strikes a chord with them. Ugly shoes? Uphill battle. Pretty Photographs... no brainer!


So what is our message exactly?


rhino shoes.jpg

You' d think that after ten years in business our message would be pretty clear. We should know ourselves. We should know our audience. We should have a powerful message. But...er... not so much. Our message looked a lot like my closet before my daughter took the axe to it. We're fun! We're professional! We're creative! We're traditional! We're ...confusing you with a cluttered message. We've said everything, consequently saying nothing at all.


People are hit with a barrage of information every day. Telling them very quickly what you are all about is the key to reaching them and making an impression. Because most of our clients' first encounter with us is our website I started de-cluttering there.


We just had our website redesigned and right before it was about to launch the designer said, "Oh, I need a blurb for the home page!" In about two minutes I wrote up a very boring, very generic , "Hello! Thanks for stopping by. Hope you like what you see!" message. Looking at my website critically I realized what a missed opportunity that was. There was no clear message. I gave no reason for them to look any further, no opportunity for them to connect or understand what we are about. What I did give them was an excuse to say...Next!


News flash: the photos DO NOT speak for themselves, people need the words to drive home the feeling they get from your work. Tell them in plain language what they are looking at. Reiterate what they feel, sum it up in a clear message.


I must say, it was a lot easier to take the abuse of my teenage daughter than it was to arrive at one sentence to deliver our message. Since it's next to impossible to write about ourselves, I started by thinking about our current clients. I have noticed many similarities in them. It seems that if a certain type of person keeps hiring us, then they must be attracted to the message that we are sending out even if it's not clearly defined... yet.


I started by making a list of these qualities, things like: They live in a major metropolitan area, the wedding is a destination event, they are educated and professional (i.e. finance, doctors, lawyers etc.), they are often philanthropic, come from successful families, trend toward traditional or classic styles, are healthy and fit and often have great senses of humor.


Side note, interestingly we do not possess all the same qualities as our clients. We live in the burbs, could never afford to plan a wedding like what they are planning, do not have nearly the education that they have, are not doctors or lawyers (obvi), come from moderately successful backgrounds, are more artsy and liberal than traditional, "try to be healthy", and then bingo! a winner, we are funny.


Secondly I made a list of the best qualities of our business. We are empathetic and have the ability to make our clients feel like we "get" them. Because of our empathetic natures we are inspired by emotion, our work reflects that we are more interested in people and relationships than in pretty details, and finally our true purpose is to be charitable, to give of ourselves to our clients and to help others through PPA Charities.


Finally, I took a look with a very critical eye at the photographs that really speak to me. What is it about the photographs that I recall immediately from past years that made them so memorable? I decided it was three things, quality, emotion, and beauty resulting in enduring photographs.


Eureka! We had found our message! Enduring Photographs.


Beautiful, high-quality, emotional photographs definitely appeal to our target audience with their classic sensibilities. Having our message match the work was a real light bulb moment for us. I immediately changed the tired welcome message on the home page of our website to the new and improved message we created.


So this is your spring cleaning homework, step one: create your message. It should be clean, short, and concise. I've shared the way I went about finding ours, maybe that will help you but it certainly isn't the only way to do it. Don't worry about alienating potential clients who don't like your message. The people who do get it are the ones you want anyway; they're going to help make your business strong. Once you have your message, get it front and center on your website!


About the author:

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for winter.jpgMariah Ashley is co-owner of Snap! Photography in Rhode Island. She is blonde, loves to bake fruit pies, wears flip flops way past the summer season, should have been born in the 50s, paints and writes when the mood strikes her, is mother to Jacques and Vianne, vacations on Block Island, is vegan, never has proper or stylish outerwear, fears frogs and toads but loves turtles, has really skinny legs, personal Style- Bohemian Chic, wants to own a VW van,  grew up on a cranberry farm and is happiest when snorkeling is happiest when sipping a rum punch under a palm tree.


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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Professional Photographers of America (PPA) published on May 6, 2015 3:44 PM.

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