Last week we covered the importance of making your dispensary website mobile-friendly, both for search engines and for the sake of your out-of-town visitors.

This week, I'd like to discuss a key component of website design that can help your site stand out from your competitors - imagery.

Pictures. Infographics. Maps. Diagrams. All the visual goodness that goes into making a site appealing, satisfying, and frankly, sexy. Your visuals can make or break your site's success. This is a cruel fact of web life: nobody appreciates the subtle back-end mastery that makes the site function until they get past the pictures. Good imagery is the tell-tale difference between "these guys look like they're on the cutting edge" and "these guys look like they did this in their basement."

Dispensary home page 2Dispensary home page 1

These images above are the exact same site with different images - do you react differently?

Be direct with your web designer about imagery when you are considering your next (or first!) site. Some web design firms will help you find a photographer. Some will help you choose stock imagery that fits in with the theme they’re developing. Some will state upfront that it is your responsibility to provide imagery. All of these are valid responses. The design and development process will go smoother and you will be more satisfied with the end product if you address this early on.

If you are responsible for your own imagery, you have three basic options:

  1. Invest in photography in-house

    For most businesses, this is a dangerous route to go. Everybody has a friend with a camera (or an iPhone) – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the skills, the space, the equipment, or the marketing training to tackle the job of creating brand imagery for your dispensary.

    On the other hand, if you anticipate needing to update your site’s photography on a regular basis, it may be beneficial to bring someone on staff that does possess these skills. We work with creative people! One of the amazing things about small businesses is the number of hats every member of the team wears – don’t be afraid to include photography experience as a requirement when you expand your team. Be sure to ask for a recent portfolio that includes both portrait and industrial work. Consider whether you can budget some money for auxiliary equipment, particularly lighting and reflectors.


  2. Purchase stock photos

    The upside: Stock photos are a low-risk way to increase the professional quality of your site’s imagery. Some good options are www.istockphoto.com, www.photodune.net, and www.us.fotalia.com.

    The downside: Since you are limited to what has already been posted on a stock photo site, it can be difficult to make all of your selected images hang together in terms of color, feel, and effect. You will probably also be using the same photography as a lot of your competition, resulting in a “who wears it better” scenario.


  3. Hire a professional photographer

    This is clearly the most expensive of the three options. It also gives you the most control over the content, style, and number of photos that you end up with. Especially when you’re looking to differentiate yourself from the other 300 dispensaries in the metro area, this can be a much needed boost.


So…how much should you spend?

A good rule of thumb is that a traditional established business should aim to spend 6% of its annual revenue (revenue, not profit) on advertising. Web is typically the first place to invest as funds become available, with print, and then direct mail coming in later. For a cash-based business, 6% is a stretch all at one time. Try for 3%. There will be a million places to put that 3%, but particularly early on in your business development stage, photography is a great investment. Good imagery can be used multiple times – on your site, any flyers or other print collateral, on banners, window screens, and any custom packaging that you develop further down the road. It opens up doors to other advertising avenues, saving you time (and money) down the road when those opportunities arise.

Call, call, call.

And then ask for a portfolio. Prices, style, and experience vary greatly. This doesn’t mean you need to work with a photographer that’s worked with a lot of dispensaries. They need to understand your business and target market, but diverse photography experience can help you cast your team and product line in a different light.

Content and image style will depend mostly on your target market and demographic. If you need help defining and refining your target, it may be worth it to consult with a marketing agency in town.

To get the most bang for your buck,

think broadly about your imagery needs as you prepare for a photo shoot. What marketing initiatives will you launch in the next year? Will you need mostly vertical or horizontal images (it’s usually smart to get both, but you may have a strong preference for one or the other). In addition to lowering the expense of photography, consolidating your imagery needs into one shoot will make the images more consistent in terms of lighting, style, and feel.

There are a lot of considerations, but don’t stress! Crafting imagery is a fun, creative process with a useful (and re-usable) end product. Enjoy it! If you have photographers you recommend, please comment below and tell us about them.