A success formula for implementing customer-centric innovation to connect your business to how consumers experience memories every day.
All markets are dynamic and today, disruptive business models and technology have been a dominant force reshaping the everyday expectations of consumers. We no longer have appointment TV – we stream our favorite shows when and where we want to. We shop and compare online, enjoying the convenience of one-day, two-day or 2-hour delivery right to our doorstep. We have apps and watches that track our behavior and remind us of important milestones and memories, as well as voice-activated virtual assistants ready to help us with day-to-day tasks.
So as a photography business focused on capturing singular memories and milestones for consumers – how do you work through the changes happening around you, get your business in step with today’s consumer and ready for what’s next?
Rob Mauldin, a veteran leader of Disney’s memory business, co-founder of the MagicMakers Group and chief experience officer for Capturelife, offers a formula for evaluating and implementing change that will delight consumers and deliver real impact to photography businesses. We sat down with Rob to get his unique perspective on why innovation in the photography industry matters and his advice on how to step into consumer-centric change that can help future-proof your business.
Why think about innovation and re-imagining the photography experience now?
Rob Mauldin: The simple answer to that question is that the consumer has changed and how they experience memories is very different today. It’s fluid, instantaneous, social and personal – and on their smartphone or smart device. Like all of us, they’re a product of the Amazon generation, with the expectation of choice and easy access to what they want when they want it. And there’s a new model emerging in the photography industry and beyond that’s less about a seasonal or single transaction – that purchase of a school portrait or team photo – and more about securing an engaged, committed consumer relationship for the long-term and giving them a reason to return to your service time and time again. Shutterfly and Lifetouch are great indicators of the shift toward consumer acquisition and relationship building that’s ultimately going to be measured on lifetime customer value vs. this spring’s participation rate.
Netflix, Spotify and other streaming services are creating enormous business value for quality content and have shown that consumers are ready to spend on subscriptions to have access to that content. Theme parks and resorts have taken their cue and now deliver subscription-like passes or membership options for their experiences. That approach identifies their best customers and delivers unique perks along with digital memories they make at every visit. They’ve found ways to maximize the experience, make it sticky and create a more connected long-term relationship with the consumer.
Tall order – what’s a good place to start?
Rob Mauldin: To start, step back and consider this: how would your customers rate your professional photography services today? Would they give your products, service and the experience of doing business with you one-star or five-stars or somewhere in between? Experience brands – attractions, resorts, cruise lines, theme parks, sports and entertainment venues – work hard to earn those five-star ratings. They know that five-stars drives brand loyalty and intent to return, and that a brand loyal, emotionally engaged consumer is less price sensitive, more likely to recommend and less likely to shop around. Think about what you are doing today to delight your consumer, and if you think you’re missing the mark – what steps can you begin taking to make their experience engaging with you and their purchased memories easier and more emotionally rewarding.
It’s exciting to think about re-invention, but few photography businesses will be able make wholesale changes.
Rob Mauldin: And yet even the largest players in any industry have to plan for change, be it evolutionary or revolutionary. For any business, it’s good to keep a keen eye on your business fundamentals – the time and money you have to invest, along with what’s happening in your particular market and the industry at large. Are you faced with new competition or competitive tactics that are eroding your market share? Do shifts in technology and consumer demand require you to rethink your operations and offerings? Each business will have its own unique set of conditions and challenges, but it’s important to take stock of where you are today and be planful about creating your future vision.
So how can photography businesses step into consumer-centric thinking and implement the right changes for their business?
Rob Mauldin: Customer experience can be a daunting idea to wrap your head around. I thought a simple framework might give photography businesses an easier approach to evaluating consumer sensitive changes for their businesses. The formula I developed has three pillars: Innovate + Elevate + Delight.
When you think about innovation, it's important to cast a broad net – it’s really about ideation and then curation. Harnessing the creativity within your organization and recognizing new ideas within your own industry segment are essential, but I would argue that looking outside your walls is just as important for getting fresh thinking that could have a profound impact on your business. Pull diverse ideas from your customers, other segments of the photo industry and completely different industries for inspiration. That exercise can be energizing and when you have those ideas in front of you, may cause to reframe your perspective on what your business could ultimately be.
Elevate is all about your customer. Don’t just listen to them, hear them. Observe them and understand what they really want – or don’t want. Let your consumers and real data guide you. How do they behave, what are they buying or not buying? Look at your trends and listen to your employees on the front lines. Taking the time to really hear and understand your consumer will deliver valuable insights and a lens for filtering your innovation ideas. Along with this, map your customer’s journey to help you uncover opportunities, friction points or roadblocks, and identify ways to make it easier for them to engage and do business with you.
Having gone through the first two steps, you now have a foundation for addressing issues, friction points and opportunities for innovation. Through your consumer lens, evaluate how you can create stronger emotional connections with products, services and each interaction. Look for ways to streamline and optimize the buying experience – and identify ways to reward or acknowledge your best customers and turn them into your brand ambassadors.
That’s great advice for innovating through the consumer lens. Any parting thoughts for traditional photography businesses today?
Rob Mauldin: There is so much innovation and new technology to help photographers connect and sustain meaningful relationships with consumers, but even as they adopt digital delivery, few are rethinking their content model. For most volume photographers it’s overwhelmingly a model of scarcity – delivering that one single image and hoping consumers will buy their top end package. I call this Volume, without variety.
The purchase experience is out of sync with what the consumer wants and experiences in their day-to-day life, and adjacent markets have moved well beyond this to deliver more memories and more package options. I’ll be excited to see this market make even bigger moves to regain the attention and interest of the consumer.
Rob Mauldin is a results-oriented, entrepreneurial leader who is passionate about delivering high quality, customer-centric experiences. As one of the most widely recognized innovators in the professional photography industry, Rob has been at the forefront of the digital revolution helping organizations navigate through rapid technological change to meet the challenges ahead. With a storied 21-year Disney career, Rob was a key executive leading the transformation of Disney’s consumer photography service, Disney PhotoPass, at Disney theme parks around the world. Rob brings that experience to his role as chief experience officer at Capturelife, and as cofounder of The MagicMakers® Group, a customer experience consultancy.
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