renee bowen


Gen Z :: Know Them, Love Them



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I recently started a facebook group for photographers, and in the process of looking through bookmarks and random stuff I’ve saved over the years, with the intention of having it be useful for the group of Senior Portrait Photographers in there, I found this article that I had actually written back in 2014 about Gen Z. 

I was asked to write this for a magazine, and it was published – which was cool; but in re-reading it tonight, I realized how relevant it still can be for us as Senior Portrait Photographers.  I think it’s very interesting how film cameras were just on the rise then – and now, ALL my clients want or use some kind of film camera – or at the very least, appreciate film.  They listen to vinyl and cassettes. 

They crave the authenticity of my youth the way I craved the authenticity of my mother’s late 60’s youth.  

So I wanted to share it with you.

Now, keep in mind this was written in 2014 … and the images I am referencing in the article are of my daughter and her friend – because back then, they were 13 years old.  My daughter is now a freshman in college (insert crying face) … so the article was written with the intention of helping photographers get these younger clients – these teen clients. 

But NOW these are our current and near future SENIOR clients.

I do a ton of research on this … I’m just that kind of person – I love research and school – and office supplies.  Like … I LOVE office supplies.  (They’re the grown-up version of school supplies, yes?)  So over the years, I have kept this online archive of articles and research on all this stuff … because I’m a big nerd.   

I just ran across this article from Ryan Jenkins and it’s AWESOME and pertains to just this – there is a ton of useful marketing info in here, but I especially think the very last paragraph is SUPER important, which is why I quoted it on my photo for this blog post.  

I hope this helps you nerd out a lil’ bit too because marketing is freakin cool, yall.

Generation Z Doesn’t Care About Your Brand – 2014 (original article by Renee Bowen)

Have you guys seen the movie “Fault in Our Stars”?   If you have a teenager, you probably have.… or you will… I promise you this.  I, unfortunately, was there the night before it opened for the 9 pm showing…. along with every squealing teen girl in all the land.  My ears may still be bleeding and I found myself really, really wishing my local theater sold alcohol.

You know what, though?  It was amazing to be a part of that energy.  AMAZING. I felt like a teenager all over again…. and let me tell you, it’s been a LONG time since I’ve been a teenager.

If you DID see it, do you remember the graphics the filmmakers threw over the imagery for all the text messages and emails?   And do you remember how the film is about actual, real, authentic PAIN – and romance?

Thirteen year olds love that.

I know this because I have not one, but two thirteen year olds.   (One of each – a boy AND a girl) Lucky me, right?  {I also have a fifteen year old}  Most days, it’s like hormone soup in my house!  

So let’s chat about marketing photo-shoots to thirteen year olds….they’re known as “Generation Z” in case you didn’t know.  There are some arguments amongst silly, bored people of the internet who obviously do NOT have kids as to exactly WHO the Gen Z kids are…some say kids born mid 1990’s – mid 2000’s; others are more specific and say 1995-2010… in any case, these kids are the first generation to be born completely in digital times.  Like, they don’t know what film cameras ARE.  When I whip out my Fugifilm Instax Mini during  a session, they’re ALL enamored by that actual photo that spits out of it.  They are down-right shocked. (And they all promptly turn to Mom and say, “I want one!!”

I love working with teens.  I absolutely LOVE working with them.  I know…. we all say that – when people ask us why we like shooting Senior Portraits or teens, we ALL say “I just love working with them – I love their energy!”  But I really, really do mean it. I refuse to go down without a fight – I refuse to grow up all the way.  Yeah, I’m a Mom of three teens and I’m in my 40’s (sshhhh).  While I’m definitely NOT the cool Mom who wants to be their friend and posts instas of them in skimpy clothes kissing boys —- SO not that Mom — I AM the Mom who loves spending time with them… laughing with them, taking them to and fro…. eavesdropping from the driver’s seat…. listening to hours of “she did this and she did that and omg have you seen her hashtags” stories while I should be editing but instead nodding and agreeing whilst she vents…so I began to think about how I could create a market for this age group within my already very busy, successful business.

My main gig is shooting High School Senior Portraits.  I’m known for creating an experience for my Seniors (mainly girls, but some guys too) by doing creative – sometimes theme – shoots with them.  We spend a LOT of time together and by the end of every single session, we’re BFF’s… and I adore my Seniors.  They’re *almost* grown up… but not quite yet.  Spending the afternoon with them and their parents, creating an experience they all remember …. is awesome.  Being a Mom of younger teens, though, I wanted to photograph them – BEFORE they crossed over.   So how to go about doing this? How to market?  I decided to photograph my own daughter and her best friend since Kindergarten as a starting point and these are still some of my favorite images.  Instead of telling them what I wanted to do, I asked – and listened – to their ideas.  We started with hair and makeup and then headed to Downtown Los Angeles for their session – we had so much fun!!!   I really wanted to capture who they were at this time…..before they grow up too much.  I shot these 6 months ago and already these girls do not look like this anymore; my daughter has since cut all her hair off for Locks of Love and is almost taller than me.  She is crossing over.

And THAT is your main selling point – communicate with your clients that their window of little girl-ness is almost closed…emotion-driven marketing works.

What we got from this session was a combo of what us Moms love and what the kids this age want – and will post online to share (ahem, market) with their friends.  They wanted it to be fun but they also wanted to feel pretty – remember, this is a PIVOTAL age….a very tender age.  If you think working with 17 year olds is hard, you might run for the hills screaming after working with multiple 13 year olds!  You need to approach it a tad differently.

So here are some ideas I’ve come up with regarding photographing, working with and marketing to 12-15 year olds (and their parents):

  • Safety in numbers – kids this age like to be photographed with their friends.  Their friends are EVERYTHING to them. They’re always texting, Instagramming, and Tweeting them.   By including their BFF’s, you not only make them happy, you also make more money. Yes, it’s a tad more work, but not if you are organized.  Here’s the thing – you will shoot the same set-up for each of them (because you want them to have the SAME look, so as not to be jealous of each other) and you will photograph them together a LOT.   For instance, if you are a location shooter like me, you will shoot them individually in the same spot – same lighting, etc., then shoot them together there – then move onto another setup or location.  This will ensure consistency but still give them variety. I also suggest creating a specific BFF Session that markets directly to friends.
  • Hair and Makeup – I include it in every Senior Session I offer – and I work primarily with one HMUA – so I wanted to include this in my Teen sessions.  What a great opportunity to educate these younger girls on how to apply makeup! While my HMUA is applying their makeup and curling their hair, she is also talking to them and their Moms on how she is applying it, why we don’t do “too much” makeup; how to enhance their own natural beauty, how we are just giving them enough to look like “them on their best day”.   And we’re having fun doing it….and building rapport. This is usually their favorite part of the session!
  • Delivery/Ordering:  make it simple and include digital something – these are digital kids.  Their parents might want to hang a 20×30 on their wall, but they just want to live in infamy in Instagram – so include some kind of digital image.  *And do it QUICKLY* The best way to get any marketing from Instagram or Snapchat or even Twitter and Facebook (Moms are still on FB) is to post something within a day or two of the shoot.  If you wait a week, the excitement has waned. Also….ask them during their shoot when lunch is at school – and post your sneaks then. I realize the whole digital imaging thing all depends on your pricing and your individual biz plan; you have to make it work for YOU.  For me, I include a StickyFolio once a minimum order is reached.  However, I always include 1-2 sneaks on Instagram of faves.  *Note, I’m talking specifically web images that are sized for web and watermarked – I do offer high res digitals for sale but this is different.   Also, my pricing for Teen Sessions and High School Seniors Sessions are the same.  
  • Teens this age are NOT brand-loyal – they are not going to stick with you just because their older, millennial sister did.  Oh no. They are not.  If you want to shoot this age group, you will have to become very comfortable in all things social media.  I have found that younger teens inquire about my photography because:
  • Teen finds me on Instagram and convinces parents to pay for the experience (this is the number one place I get leads from this age group, with Twitter being number two and Snapchat is gaining speed)  I’ve found that the parents of Generation Z kids are very willing to provide them with happy experiences….they like knowing their kids are receiving something that will add to their lives.
  • Mom finds me because a friend’s daughter shot with me and she saw her photos on Facebook and wants her daughter to have the same experience.  (And since Mom is at the session, she sees and experiences the VALUE of my time and talent, which is key in the ordering session.)
  • In either case, it’s word of mouth and/or social media – they have either seen my work through someone they know on social media or they have heard of me from a friend.  I don’t advertise for my younger teen sessions….since my bread and butter is Seniors, I can’t really devote a ton of time to my younger friends. I like to keep my biz boutique and higher end/lower volume.  However, by shooting a few of these teen sessions every year, I continue to be in the radar of that age group … who will be High School Seniors very, very soon.
  • Teens this age are very cause-driven – perhaps try incorporating a charity into your marketing.  This is even the case with older teens – they love the idea of giving…of being a part of something bigger than themselves.  This is not the “me” generation like so many people think they are – quite the contrary in my experience. They would respond very well to cause-driven marketing, like fashion shows where all the proceeds are donated to a charity, etc.
  • Youtube and video —>  HUGE piece of their lives.  They don’t have patience to sit and watch your entire promo video – they want to see everything you do super fast.  (And usually more authentic like Snapchats rather than polished high end video – their parents will appreciate the longer, high end video.)  If you are not using Snapchat video and Instagram video, you need to be. Video and youtube are where these kids are … so also think about incorporating that into your sessions if possible.  I always post iPhone vids on Instagram of the behind the scenes videos I take during a session – and as I mentioned, Snapchat video is a great way to share your story… I just started using it to share behind the scenes (super quick) videos and ALL my clients love it – it’s more of a slice of life than Instagram.
  • Lastly, have fun.  I love incorporating props or themes into my sessions – communicate that with them and see where it goes; more often than not, they come up with some amazing ideas.  In the images here, you can see that I shot a handful of whimsical shots for them – with the feathered masks. Both of these girls love animals… to an almost extreme degree so they loved the idea of these masks; however, I wanted to use them to create a “last look at childhood” feeling…. I didn’t know exactly where it would take us, but I like where it did…and so did they.


senior portraits, senior photographer, renee bowen seniors

Let me know your thoughts on this; as either photographers or parents – or both.  Things are moving SO quickly right now with technology, and trust me, I know how overwhelming it can be to try and keep up.  But keep up we must … it’s part of shooting High School Seniors – and this generation of seniors is SO fun.  Share your own stories with me here or on my instagram!

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