Postmortem on PMA 08: Photography as a Search Vertical

I recently attended the Photo Marketers Association annual convention in Las Vegas. The PMA has been around since 1924 and has extended its reach to address an international mix of sub-verticals including photo retailers, professional photographers, mass merchandisers, professional labs, custom picture framers, scrapbook retailers and event videographers.

All these were represented at this year’s show, and at a presentation I gave on local online advertising. The audience exhibited a wide range of tech savvy and acclimation to local online advertising. Those working with photos or imaging, for example, seemed more savvy in general with online technologies (and advertising possibilities) than the brick-and-mortar frame shops.

No surprise there, but it also occurred to me that many photographers have been forced to adapt to digital imaging so they have a certain degree of savvy that translates to their acclimation and comfort with online advertising.

Because these businesses in some cases are based on exhibiting a visual medium, they have also been required to create aesthetically and functionally sound Web sites as a competitive advantage. By extension, some have also gotten good at SEM management to drive traffic to their sites.

The Democratization of Photography

All this has been compounded by another prevailing theme at the conference: the fact that competition for local business is higher than ever because of a rise in supply. By this I mean that the competitive field of photographers has been democratized to a large degree because of the available technologies and lowered barriers to entry.

Anyone with a digital camera and a copy of Photoshop can do what has traditionally required lots of equipment and capital (talent notwithstanding). This heightened competition for local ad dollars has resulted in more of an interest in utilizing online tools for local marketing.

These businesses of course face the same challenges (time, resource constraints, etc.) as most categories of SMBs when it comes to online campaign management. But for all the above reasons, they came across as having an above-average online IQ when compared with the greater field of SMB verticals.

For a small amount of anecdotal evidence I did a quick audience poll at the beginning of my presentation that asked:

Who advertises online? (about 75 percent of hands went up)
Who advertises with search-based advertising such as Google AdWords? (about 50 percent of hands went up)
Who advertises with traditional local media like newspapers and Yellow Pages? (about 25 percent of hands went up)
Who doesn’t have a Web site at all? (1 hand raised).

Lowering the Barrier

The varying audience profile made for varying online advertising needs. The retail operations in the audience showed an interest in the opportunities to have inventory be searchable and even reserved in store. This is something starting to become available to businesses of all sizes from companies like Krillion and NearbyNow, compared with being traditionally reserved to big-box operations with lots of internal IT resources.

I was lucky enough to end up with the media director from Ritz Camera in the audience who happens to be the point person for the company’s relationship with NearbyNow, which I had queued up as a case study. In a conversation following the session, he highlighted NearbyNow’s reporting capabilities (i.e., how many mobile searches are being done for what terms in what areas) as a valued feature. He mentioned Ritz hasn’t seen a terribly dramatic rise in leads just yet, but the levels are growing and it has been well worth the investment.

nearbynow.jpg

The democratization of online resources at SMBs’ disposal also goes for some of the landing page and micro-site offerings increasingly available as low barrier opportunities for SMBs to get online and make themselves found. This includes low hanging SEO fruit such as populating SMB information in Google’s Local Business Center — something that set off a fair amount of audience questions.

Other interesting online guerrilla marketing tactics becoming popular among photographers include using tools like Flickr to get their work indexed into a searchable and socially driven taxonomy where it can get found. Flickr photos are increasingly surfacing in search results (due to universal search) and can drive traffic to a photographer’s own site. This is a similar opportunity to the video SEO concept that’s been discussed a great deal lately on this blog.

Otherwise, there were many interesting sessions that I was regrettably unable to attend. This was nonetheless an interesting vertical to learn more about, and many session and keynote videos are available for those who couldn’t make it. Check them out here.

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