Experiential Photo Marketing vs. Traditional Photo Booths or Starbucks vs. McCafe

Those who read this blog know it is about the business of photography.  It’s my unfiltered opinion on how to be a successful photographer in today’s changing market place.  My expertise is corporate and event photography; US Event Photos doesn’t handle private events like weddings, but rather partners with leading companies to provide photography solutions to fit their marketing needs.  That’s my niche.

In the past five years, photo booths have become a THING.  From weddings to corporate events, different types of photo booths rocketed into massive popularity.

This rise in demand prompted photographers to run out and buy a photo booth, then market their new service.  Profits were high, and for about a year or two, things hummed along with no ceiling in site.  At any event, there would be four, five, even six different photo booths.

Most of these “traditional” photo booths featured a “photo technician”, a camera set into some type of box, and direct lighting (read: flash).  Some were enclosed booths, and others open — camera, background, a light source, props.  The enclosed booths looked like the ones at the local mall — even spitting strips of photo prints.  All traditional booths have one thing in common:  everything is automated.  The camera is set.  A button is pushed.  3. 2. 1!  The image is processed, printed, and spits out a slot.  An iPad is available to upload the image to social media.

The photo booth rose in popularity in the private event sector, but like any good idea, corporate America soon discovered their magic.  Enclosed booths were brought in for corporate events, and became ubiquitous.  Suddenly, the CEO posing with giant sunglasses and a paper mustache was common.

And there’s a place for this sort of slapstick, fun booth.  But, like mold on cheese, these traditional (and limited) booths took over.  Photo booths became photo marketing in the consumer’s mind.  The problem?  That’s not quite true.  They are similar appearing, but are executed totally differently — and the end images are as different as a Starbucks is to McCaffe.

Related Article: Photos, Videos & Teachable Moments: Building Brand Through Photo Marketing

Experiential photo marketing booths might be thought of a traditional photo booth on steroids.  In fact, that’s how we market our services:  as MEGA Photo Booths.  Experiential photo marketing booths take up where the traditional booth falls short:  they utilize an experienced event photographer, props that add to the brand immersion, and sophisticated artwork that produces a final image that is amazingly real.   With a great photo marketing booth, there are actually two stars:  the participant, and the brand.

Experiential photo marketing events are not push button.  A photographer poses the participant.  Then hand-combines or creates the image.  Everything is customized to fit the experience, from props to lighting, to the photo set.  Most of our experiential photo marketing booths are green screen, but not all.  The green screen allows sophisticated combinations, and permits us to produce images that look and feel emotionally authentic — even though the only thing “real” in the photo is the participant and the props they selected.

A photo marketing experience for Avaolon Cruises promoting their Avalon Fresh concept — travelers train with a top chef on board each of their river cruises to bring the art of the cruise to another level.

The challenge — if you are an experiential photo marketing company — is differentiating yourself from the traditional photo booth.  To complicate matters further, the popularity of the traditional photo booth is waning.   Why?  Because — well, most of the time — the photos are average (my way of saying they suck).  Those photo technicians?  They aren’t photographers.  The end product –the photo — might be kitschy and fun — but not something you’re likely to repeat.  After all, how many times can you pose with giant sunglasses?  Now, when you see a traditional photo booth at an event, it’s often like a Howard Johnson’s Motel — sadly, pathetically vacant.

Producing great artwork means people will want to share the image.  Do you think this participant in the hat hesitated to Tweet, Facebook or Instagram this photo?  He was uploading to social media before he left the booth.

To further the headache, if you are an experiential photo marketing company, your services are going to be lumped by potential clients into the “photo booth” basket.  That means they’ll be searching “photo booths” on Google trying to find you — and, instead, will be deluged with traditional photo booth companies.  Since they may not know the difference, they don’t find you, don’t hire you, and don’t receive what they are looking for.  Then, their photo marketing efforts fail dismally.  Next, if you are a traditional photo booth company, over the last few years you’ve noticed your organic search results dropping further and further down the Google search.  The result?  Few photo booth businesses are booking as many gigs today as they did two years ago.  That means it’s pretty easy to find a used photo booth on Craigslist, as more and more photographers have evacuated the photo booth market.

Artwork that softly markets a brand — in this case Zac Brown Band — is our favorite.  The only thing “real” in this photo are the participants wearing the hats, the rest are members of the band.  

Then there are the rates.  A traditional photo booth, on average, is a third the price of a photo marketing experience.  A third.  If the client doesn’t understand the difference in what they are buying (or worse, there isn’t a difference if your product is lousy), there is no way to compete.

Related Article: I’ll Have A Big Mac, Hold The Two All Beef Patties | The Business Of Photography

So what do you do? Define your niche.  If you’re a experiential photo marketing company, educate your clients how you differ from a traditional photo booth.  Teach them what you do.  Take great photos — every, single time — that showcase their participants and brand.  Nail every shoot.  Make them love you.  Amaze both the client and every participant.  Remember the competition.  Remember every participant matters and every photo is important.  Don’t settle for average, run of the mill photos, lethargic customer service, phone calls that sit in voice mail, emails that receive a response days later.  Be passionate, both about your brand and the client’s brand you represent.  In short, don’t be a photo booth; be a photo experience.

You may find yourself in a business cycle where new clients are coming from the most traditional of sources:  word of mouth.  That doesn’t mean you ignore your on line marketing efforts, but you might want to shift resources to following up with existing clients — through programs like email marketing.

Whatever type of photo booth company you run, be aggressive in finding your niche and sticking to it.  Your brand may be super fun — but then deliver something different than what every other photo booth company is marketing.  Upgrade the entire experience.  Find something that separates you from your competitors, something other than price.  Price has fallen through the floor on traditional photo booths.  People are scrambling and clawing on photo referral web sites (like Thumbtack) to compete on price.  Let them have it.  You need to compete on something other than price.  Don’t be Howard Johnsons, clawing against Super 8 and Econo Lodge.  Don’t race to the bottom of the profit margin.  Figure out how you can be the Aloft Hotels of your brand — a clearly defined concept marketed to a clearly defined audience.  (For those of you not familiar with the Aloft brands of hotels, these are loft style rooms marketed to a younger clientele, with hip bars in the lobby, pool tables, and a moderate  — not cheap — price point.)

A photo marketing booth may LOOK like a simple green screen photo booth.  The difference is  in the artwork, the photographer, the expertise, the props, and the customized set.  See the bike prop?  Here’s how that image turned out., when combined with a glass of champagne and a photographer posing the participant:

The world of photo booths is changing.  We’re right on an edge.  It’s a dangerous time for those who have invested in this industry.  However, when this seismic shift ends, we’ll be facing a few years of growth.  Those dabbling in the photo booth industry — and who aren’t serious, professional photographers — are about to get slapped.  The low end is going to dry up, or at least narrow down to be unprofitable.

If you are looking for a photo marketing company, make sure you are looking in the right spot.  Make sure photographers are manning the booth.  Make sure the artwork is super cool.  Ensure you are producing images people want to share — if they don’t share to social media, what kind of marketing are you actually doing?

One rule will always remain true:  great imaging will equal great marketing.  Make sure your imaging is great.  Every. Single. Image.  When that happens, client or photographer, you will be successful.