Equine Marketing 101 Part 1: Perception of Market Value
There is a saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, and no statement rings truer in the tough equine market. A photograph can mean the difference between grabbing a potential client’s attention to having them pass over the horse completely. With online equine marketing sites and social media at the forefront of selling a horse, it may be asked why so many of the online advertisements seen every day by thousands of potential buyers are downright terrible. There are a large number of websites, forums, and blogs dedicated to poking fun at those marketing fails. Why do so many photos fall flat in such a competitive market?
There are three parts to an ad: the photo, the description, and the details on the horse. In this first part of the series, the focus is on the photo. With a little more time, grooming, and knowledge, a horse’s photo will grab the attention of a potential buyer faster, and it may mean the difference between a horse being perceived as being worth $500 versus over $3,000. A seller could potentially double or triple the revenue on the horse simply by taking a different photo.
As part of a senior research project in college, I proved just that. Six horses were photographed in different situations and a survey was set up to ask participants to value the horse based on what they saw. Keep in mind that these photographs were taken by an amateur and even though they were an improvement on the “before” photos, it doesn’t mean they still couldn’t be more polished or better posed. Critiques will be offered in each set to show what is missing on them.
The photo is the first thing that a potential buyer will see when they search for a horse, and first impressions are everything. If they don’t see something that catches their eye in that tiny thumbnail, they will just click on the next photo. Having a poor photo can make it difficult to find an interested buyer, especially if they are looking for a particular set of qualities. There are always exceptions to the rule – people who know to look beyond the photo and want a project or to find a diamond in the rough. But for the general horse population, good, clear photos make a huge difference, as seen in the photos below.
Horse 1 is a seven-year-old Rocky Mountain Horse mare. Photo A was taken when the mare was very overweight, covered in mud, and the camera malfunctioned which turned the background pink. She looks trained enough to have a rider on her, but not much beyond that is shown. She does not look to be suitable for much other than trail riding, though she looks to be at risk for laminitis due to her excessive weight.
Photo B shows her three months later, at a manageable weight. It shows that she is able to compete, that she did not founder despite the weight in the first photo, and that she would be suitable for someone looking for a horse to compete the next season. No picture is ever perfect, so ideally it would be best to move her to a less cluttered area for the photo, since there is a man standing in the background.
For photo A, the price range average assigned was $600 – $1,600. When asked what was liked about the photo, most responded that they liked that she was under saddle. Some mentioned they liked to see her ridden without a bit, while others wanted to see her ridden with a bit. Most thought the seller was lazy for not actually grooming the horse before hand. One mentioned she was wringing her tail and had a sour expression.
With Photo B, the price range average jumped to $3,000-$7,300. Most survey takers like that she was photographed in a show situation with a rider on and that she had nice movement. When asked what they would change about the photo, one mentioned that it was an amateur shot, quite a few thought it lacked clarity, and others wanted the picture to be cropped closer. The price assigned to this horse with photo A was $1,180, and for photo B it increased to $6,700, giving her an improvement of 470% with just one photo, the most dramatic change of the project.
Horse 2 is a five-year-old Kentucky Mountain Horse mare. Photo A was taken at the beginning of the winter months after a large rain turned the entire field a gigantic mud puddle. Her halter is far too low on her face making her head appear larger than it is, and she is moving her leg in the process of taking the photo which makes it appear broken or extremely crooked. It would be very easy to pass up a horse like this for fear of soundness issues.
Photo B was taken a few months beforehand, with her summer coat. Her long mane – which was not visible in the first photo – is down and she is in a show halter appropriate for her breed. She is posed on the grass and is standing correctly for her breed standard.
Horse 2 showed the second most dramatic change of the survey. With horse 2’s first photo, most people mentioned her nearly being an ASPCA case, that she would be considered more of a rescue than a purchase. However, a few people did point out that the grass behind the horse was very green, seeing beyond all of the mud. Photo A was the only picture that had people consistently assign her the price of either under $500, or between $500 and $900. Most people considered her suitable for trails only. When asked if they would consider contacting the seller for more information, this horse was the only one given the answer no 100% of the time. The results were the same when asked if they would consider purchasing this horse. The average price range assigned to this photo was $93 – $900.
With photo B, one participant wanted her three-foot mane trimmed, and another mentioned they did not like how the barn in the background was positioned right on the top of her back. When asked if they would consider contacting the seller for more information, the percentage jumped from 0% in the first photo to 86%. 35% of participants would consider purchasing this horse. Once she was well groomed, shined and stood up outside of the mud, her price range jumped to an average of $2,800 – $5,200. A very interesting price change indeed since it took a small amount of grooming and positioning, and people considered her ready to step into the show ring, instead of being an ASPCA case.
Horse 3 is a seventeen-year-old Half Arabian/Paint mare. In Photo A, she is actually four years younger than in Photo B. However, she is in a bad pose, she is covered in dirt, and there is a time stamp on the bottom of the frame. There is another horse in the background, she is dripping water out of her mouth, and you cannot see her feet. She is fat enough that she looks either pregnant or a founder risk, which she was neither, but would cause concern. Interestingly enough you can see her tobiano spots, which are hidden under her gray coat in the other photo.
In Photo B, she is standing more appropriate for her breed, she has been bathed and her tail brushed out. Despite the increase in her age, she is in better condition than in photo A and is at a good weight. It is to be noted that photo B was used to successfully advertise and sell this mare.
Horse 3 had another pair of photos that showed a decent change with a better photo. Her first photo was assigned the average price range of $750 – $1,600. Comments included that it seemed like she got along with other horses; that she looked healthy and well maintained, and that they liked the fencing. When asked what they would change, it was stated that it was a bad angle to judge any conformation and the photographer needed to take a little more time to not get a backyard shot. Explanations for why they would or would not purchase the horse included that you could not tell if the horse was broke, crazy, or unmanageable. Another stated she was not their breed of choice, that they didn’t like white horses, and that she was overweight. 35% of the participants would consider contacting the owner for more information, and only 7% would consider purchasing the horse.
When the second photo was shown, the price average was $2,600 – $4,800. Survey respondents indicated that they liked the fact the photo looked professional, and that she was well groomed and clean. 79% of participants would consider contacting the seller for more information, and 29% would consider purchasing the horse. When asked what they would change, many mentioned they wanted the dark spot on her hip to be cleaned better – though it was not a dirt spot, but a patch of several flea-bitten grey areas that were very close together. Survey respondents did not want to change much about the photo, but they did want to change her background a little. One participant stated that it “looked like a tree went up her muzzle” speaking of the fact that there were quite a few trees in the background and they found it distracting. Another did not like that her feet were hidden by grass. One asked if this was the same horse from the first picture, being the only person taking the survey to acknowledge that any of the horses where the same. The price increased from $1,500 to $3,700, a 142% increase with a more professional looking photo.
Horse 4 is a three-year-old Rocky Mountain Horse Gelding. In photo A, the horse is outfitted with a baby blue hunt seat saddle pad under a western saddle, purple polo wraps, green splint boots, pink bell boots, and a red browband with a purple rope halter hanging underneath. The rider clearly does not understand proper turnout. She should be using more conservative colors and better fitting tack instead of a very ill fitting synthetic saddle. In addition the rider is looking down in an attempt to watch the front leg of the horse instead of watching where she is going. The photo lacks quality. The horse does not look like he is gaiting properly as the photo timing is off, and there is a thumb cutting off the corner of the photo.
In photo B, the image quality is not as clear as it could be and the background is cluttered. However, he is collected nicely and the photo shows he is gaiting properly and is being trained for the show ring. The rider is sitting properly in the better fitting saddle, though she could have her legs under her better and in less of a chair seat, and his tail should be down. Picture A did prove that this particular three year old was a saint when all of these things were piled on him.
Horse 4 was one in the middle range of improvements. In Photo A, the average price range assigned was $780 – $1,800. Quite a few people did not like anything about this multi-colored photo. One participant did say they liked that he was well groomed, clipped and that his tail was up. However, the general thought was that everything was distracting, and that he looked upset with the extra equipment. Another participant mentioned that with the exhibited bad equitation, bad training was also assumed; while a different person noted the rider did not seem to want to make a good impression and that the horse looked sour. 29% of respondents said they would consider contacting the seller for more information, and only 7% would consider purchasing the horse.
In Photo B, the average price range was $1,800 – $3,700. The participants liked that it looked like a show horse practicing, and that he was actually tacked nicely, but that the rider needed to be in show clothes and the background was distracting. The other thing that was repeated quite often was that the tail should be taken down. 79% of participants would consider contacting the seller. 35% of participants said they would consider purchasing the horse, an improvement from the first photo. Some thought he was a cute horse with a good front end, and that they would buy him for a show horse and that he looked fun. However, 65% said they would not, and mentioned they would want to be able to try him first. Between Photo A, which had a price of $1,300 and photo B, which increased to $3,700, his value improved 183%.
Horse Five is a five-year-old Quarter Horse mare, which was an example of what Photo Editing can do to a picture. In Photo A, she is standing in a mediocre pose, but the editing makes her look more like a child’s fantasy than an actual Western Pleasure prospect. Her un-pulled mane and pose make her look unfinished. She is standing in an extremely cluttered background, though you can hardly tell with the color and sparkles.
In Photo B, she is standing square, her mane is pulled and she is clean. To make this look more polished, she should have been banded and a show halter put on. The photographer should be positioned a little closer to the hind end as it makes her shoulder look out of proportion and larger than her hind end, however this photo would be acceptable to place in an ad and expect serious responses.
Horse 5’s price did not dramatically increase by using a different photo, however it is to be noted that her photos were not radically different, and that her good photo could still be vastly improved. The biggest difference was that consumers as a whole considered her more valuable in the better photo than in the photoshopped one. Comments for the photo A included “I like the horse, but the picture looks done by a 10 year old.” When asked what to change, one user commented that the whole picture should just be scrapped and started over again. Another mentioned it looked like she was lame in the left front leg due to standing with her leg out at an odd angle. It was also stated they would not buy the horse in order to not continue funding such awful pictures. 43% of participants would consider contacting the seller for more information, and 29% would consider purchasing the horse. The average price range assigned was $900 – $2,200.
In photo B, the average price range moved slightly to $1,300 – 3,100. Participants liked that she was a nice horse in a good background. One commented she was standing nicely and you were able to judge conformation without tack to disguise any faults. It was pointed out her eyes were closed and she was semi-parked out. One participant did not like the photo very much, stating “it provided little information to the buyer except for obvious conformation problems. I would put a show halter on the horse to make it look more formal as if to be entering the ring at any second.” Half of the participants would contact the seller for more information, while only 7% would consider purchasing this horse, with one respondent stating that there was nothing spectacular about the horse, and another mentioning she was not built how they liked. She was assigned a value of $1,600 in photo A and $2,900 for the second photo; an 81% increase and the second lowest of the survey. While the value did not improve dramatically, the amount of participants who would consider contacting the seller did.
Horse 6 is a seven-year-old Rocky Mountain Horse mare. It is to be noted that both photos were taken on the same day, in the same area, showing that it is possible to take two photos and make the horse look completely different. In Photo A, she is walking towards the camera, and this stance makes her ears look almost mule-like, even though they are clipped. Her legs look black and fade into the arena footing, and her tail and forelock are up in a braid.
In Photo B, she is stood up fairly square, and her ears are up and she looks well proportioned. She is in her winter coat, however it is clean. Ideally, the photographer should have let her tail down.
Horse 6 also had a less dramatic improvement in price based on a photo. This could be due to the fact the photo was taken on the same day in a different area. It proves the difference between a poor photo and a good photo is mostly about background, positioning, and timing of the shot.
In Photo A, the average price range was $700 – $2,100. Participants explained they didn’t like the saddle on without a rider since it may cover any faults or defects. Others liked the fact there was a saddle on, explaining it showed she accepted a saddle at that point in time and did not run off. 35% of the respondents would consider contacting the seller for more information, and 14% would consider purchasing the horse.
In Photo B, the average range allocated was $1,300 – $2,100. Comments included that they were happy the horse was well groomed, alert and seemed happy. Participants liked the relatively uncluttered background, and that they could see all four legs. However, they did not like her tail up and would like to see her without tack, and did not like that she was fuzzy and somewhat muddy. 79% of participants would consider contacting the seller for more information, and 29% would consider purchasing this horse. The price for photo A was $1,400, and photo B was $2,300; a 63% increase and the lowest price increase in the survey.
The survey indicated it is nearly impossible to please everyone with an ad photo as some people just aren’t looking for that kind of horse. They may not like the background, the shadows, the halter, or the build of the horse. However, it also illustrated that by taking the time to bring the horse out of the field, groom it, and stand it appropriately for the breed, people are less likely to pass up the horse and more likely to contact the owner for more information. And that’s the point of marketing: to get the consumer’s attention. If a photo catches the eye of the consumer and they contact the owner, then half of the battle has already been won.