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Catering to Beginners, Enthusiasts and Geeks

by Marcia Yudkin

Recently I had occasion to review several dozen web sites in one industry - camera stores. I found this eye-opening, as an unfortunate pattern emerged that I believe holds not only on the Internet but also in paper-based marketing materials, and applies to many professions. First, some background.

Most of us, particularly those who regularly deal with a wide swath of the public, know how to adjust our conversation according to the experience level of our audience. If someone asks to see a particular camera, a retailer explains it differently depending on whether the person seems to know as much as he about cameras or next to nothing. An oncologist explains the same case of cancer differently to the patient than to the patient's doctor.

On paper and on the web, however, we tend to orient our promotional material to just one kind of audience and only one level of sophistication. If we do this strategically, great. If we make a conscious choice to target one audience rather than another because the former accounts for higher profits, terrific. But that's not what I saw at the camera store sites.

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For beginners, people who don't know much about a product or service, it's a huge mistake to lead with detailed product information. Too much "APS 505 AiAF f/2.8 2x" overwhelms when I'm wondering whether a digital, 35mm or disposable point-and-shoot camera would fit my needs.

Beginners need helpful guidance that takes their goal as the starting point. Questions and answers and products recommended for specific purposes may work best for this audience so long as the descriptions use laypersons' vocabulary.

Enthusiasts, people who love spending money on their hobby, respond well when invited to adventure farther or deeper and meet new challenges in pursuit of their favorite pastime. Activities such as clinics and outings for wildlife photography, sports shots or photojournalism capture the imagination of this group - and get them to spend more money. Since this segment loves exchanging tips and sharing their passion, an online discussion group and an email newsletter containing picture-taking techniques would earn their devotion to a web site.

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Finally we get to the geeks, the experts, the pros, who usually have a rough idea of what they want and might be narrowing down the field to one or two models or manufacturers. They're the ones that all that "APS 505 AiAF f/2.8 2x" speaks to. I doubt very much they represent the majority of camera buyers, or that they bring a merchant the greatest profit, since they're probably skilled comparison shoppers. Nearly all the sites I looked at mainly appealed to geeks. And I think this was unintentional, due to the camera store owners belonging to this category themselves.

Don't pick out one audience only unless that's your strategic choice. By combining approaches on your web site, or on a brochure or sales sheet, you can lasso all levels of customers - beginners, enthusiasts and geeks.

Copyright 2001 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.

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