Groundbreaking research reveals photography consumer needs

What’s more important to consumers—the quality of your photos or how easy you are to work with? How soon do they expect to receive images after a session? Are they searching Google for a local photographer, or are they asking friends and family for recommendations?

Until now, the answers to these questions were anyone’s guess. But PPA’s new Consumer Photography Buyers Study, conducted for the association by a third party, will finally provide reliable data revealing consumer perceptions of and expectations for professional photography.   

“One of the things that is lacking anywhere in this industry is an actual understanding about what consumers think about professional photography,” says PPA CEO David Trust. With consumers’ true perceptions and desires shrouded in mystery, it’s been difficult for photographers to bridge the gap between what their business offers and what consumers expect. “This gap is the single biggest threat to professional photography,” he notes.

Consumers continue to spend discretionary household income in every category. “So why not on photography?” Trust asks. “It is PPA’s job to help photographers, to prepare them, to give them the armor and the arrows in their quiver to get out there and compete.”

The new research data, along with PPA’s gap education via Imaging USA, other events, videos, and Professional Photographer, will teach photographers how to orient their business toward contemporary consumer demands.

Distinct from the traditional business education long offered by PPA, new gap content provided by the association focuses on educating photographer entrepreneurs about the ever-changing expectations of clients and how to address consumer needs. It addresses such topics as the importance of establishing a professional vision, valuing your time, overcoming the fear of failure, and the importance of taking responsibility for business growth regardless of outside forces.

Research from the new study will be unveiled at Imaging USA by PPA CFO Scott Kurkian, and the full report and analysis will be available to members in the weeks following. The study, which surveyed over 1,000 consumers by gender, race, age group, and geographic region, is the first in a number of studies to come from PPA over the next couple of years. “Consumer research is our biggest initiative right now,” says Kurkian.     

Testing our mettle

“Some of this is going to be tough love, bitter medicine to take,” warns Kurkian of the study’s results, “because we are asking in very straightforward terms what consumers think about professional photography.”

For example, preliminary data shows more consumers select photographers based on how easy they are to work with than by the quality of their photographs or the depth of their photographic knowledge, which will no doubt disappoint some seasoned pros.  

“There is a disconnect between most professional photographers and their consumers, and we are going to find out things about consumers—why they purchase and what they want to purchase—that will require some humility on our part and adjusting our business models,” Trust says.

But having concrete consumer data to analyze will bring photographers closer to their market. “I think the success of any business depends on its ability to step back from the emotional part of the business and look at what the consumer is trying to tell us,” says Kurkian. “The businesses that do that, that actually listen to their consumer, are the businesses that have financial success. And the ones that don’t are typically the ones that struggle or even fail. That is why we are doing this research.” 

Amanda Arnold is the associate editor of Professional Photographer.