Full discussion is here:
A few excerpts that focus on brand position:
Every marketing book or website I have ever read has always stated that your business, whatever it is, needs a USP i.e. The mechanic that comes to your workplace and drives the car to his garage fixes it and then drives it back for you, that sort of thing. Now lots and lots of wedding photographers websites claim that theirs is their “unique style or approach to photographing your special day”
so all intrigued you go through the portfolio in the site to find same old, same old. In fact most are so similar you would think Trading Standards would have a word. Now I think some (few) wedding photographers could actually claim this, I am thinking Ed Pingol who’s talent is there for the world to see. but most simply can not. I don’t really want to start a “well we are all individuals and ergo we are all inherently unique” I think that’s just a cop out. So my question is, what is your USP? Do you use studio lighting for every shot? Do you turn up with 5 Photogs for every wedding? Do you have a gimmick like dressing all in white (how crass would that be?). I am sure it cant simply be price, so what is it?
I will start the ball off with what I think one of mine is and that is my 100% guarantee that if the couple aren’t happy with any part of our service, they simply don’t pay.
We are still refining it so it seems simple: but our is to take care of every single detail for you personally.
In a sense- we want to have the best customer service possible.
How is that unique? Which of your competitors says, “we have horrible customer service!”? Even if they do, they won’t say it. All photographers talk about having beautiful photos and great service. So, how are you saying anything different? And, on that note, I’d hope to build a more significant difference from my competitors than saying, “if you don’t like it, you can have your money back.” That’s a nice feature, but it’s a detail, not an overall hill to build a brand on. Do you really want your couples saying, “well, we like him, and we like her, but this guy gives us our money back… that’s the thing I really remember about him!”?
Shaun and my photography brand in Cali, Retro, positions itself as the anti-technology brand. No filters, no effects, no photoshop actions, no hyper color. We are focused on honest storytelling. That story helps separate ourselves, and the clients respond. My photography brand in Indiana is Swan: photography for luxury weddings. By focusing on a type of client, I stand out, I’m standing on a hill.
An example in another market: All album companies talk about how great their books are, how great their customer service is. KISS entered a busy market and said “we’re simple.” No one was saying anything like that, so we owned that word, that hill. In 2 years, we became a significant player in the album world and continue to expand market share.
You need to focus on what you WON’T do as much as what you DO do. You need to pick a position that is opposite of competitors. Quality, service, etc. are relatively uselesss to build a brand on from a marketing standpoint–they’re important, but they’re the minimum building blocks required for any company.
Please hear me on this, all photographers: Photography is a COMMODITY (something people can get from several sources at same or similar quality) now; and it’s getting worse and worse as the cameras get better and better. If you have a commodity, then you have to compete on price, and are you willing to compete with 18yo kids who shoot weddings for $500 and hand over the negs? There are more people on the planet with DSLrs than ever before. Teenagers can reproduce your best work with a decent body and a nice lens. A few years ago, I took my then 13-y-o daughter on an engagement session. I gave her a 40-d and a 50mm 1.4. Put it on “P” and told her to have fun. She had no experience. 4 or 5 of her shots made the cut, and the client didn’t know. If you honestly think you’re going to separate yourself from the SEA OF PHOTOGRAPHERS in your market by taking better photos, your business is doomed. You have to provide more. You have to provide a sellable experience. Like Starbucks isn’t about better coffee, and True Religion isn’t about better denim, your business shouldn’t be about better photography–cause people can buy amazing photography on just about any street corner. It’s had for wedding photographers, because people only typically shop with us once, so all that work you put into building a unique experience and relationship = 1 sale (yes, I know there is the chance of referrals, but that’s true in any business).
Of course, most people disagree with me. I reckon this is only worth about $.02, so chuck it at will.
I am also really struggling to see how limiting yourself to one market is a USP. But if it works for you, more power to you.
Then you’re not understanding what all these marketing books are saying to you, or why KISS succeeded. If you try to be all things to all people, you become nothing. By isolating a single market, I become very attractive to that market at the exclusion of others. Specialists beat generalists. If you blow your knee out, you don’t want go to the general doctor, you want to go to the knee specialist, who works on knees all day long.
It’s not hard to figure out. Someone who says, “I specialize in lifestyle baby portraits,” (like Amber Holritz) is cutting themselves off from lots of other markets; but because they are seen as a specialist in one area, they flourish in that area. Moms love to tell people they took their family to Amber because she’s known as the best in the biz for that kind of work. If a mom is looking at Amber’s site/marketing and comparing it with a photographer who shoots weddings, mitzvahs, families, pets, and commercial, EVEN IF the photography from the generalist is better than Amber’s, EVEN IF the generalist offers money-back guarantees, the mom is more likely to choose Amber because Amber is focused on exactly what she needs.
I disagree that the style/standard of that photography is not a selling point (again Ed Pingol’s photographs would make me choose him regardless of price or any other element of his service, to me that is his USP, as you yourself state when you decide to disregard effects as you put it.)
You’re a pro photgrapher, mate. You pay attention like no bride will. I will bet you 10,000 Euro that I can pick 10 images, 1 from Ed (your favorite), and 9 from various photographers around the world who all shoot in the $2,000-$3,000 price range, put them in front of a couple and say one photog shot them all and they’d believe it. I could ask them to pick their favorite, and the chances of it being Ed’s are 10%. My point is, good photography is easy to come by, and most clients have a hard time determining the difference between good and great. It’s the reason there are a lot of starving artist photographers, who produce AMAZING work, but can’t pay for their gear. If they don’t have the marketing/branding/biz skills to marry to the shooting skills, they fail frequently.
It becomes clearer and I do appreciate the idea of specialising, but am a bit confused by your term Luxury Weddings, do you mean expensive? I have been booked by people who I know couldn’t really afford me, but somehow found the money, the rest of the wedding was hardly luxurious but to them the photography was. It does seem a strange phrase to use. But like I say good on you if it works.
Most of my brides are spending over $100,000 on their wedding, some more than $1,000,000. So, the term makes sense to them. Luxury, though, isn’t just about money; it implies class. Luxury cars, luxury watches, we all know what the term means when applied to those things, at least most folks seem to.
Got you now, so your USP is that you are expensive, fair enough.
You could try using that as your hill, but it would be tough. Just saying something is expensive may draw attention, but if you have nothing else to offer, you are quickly discarded. My clients all feel they get tremendous value, so put another way, I’m a steal. And, the position I’ve built is not about MY price, it’s about THEIR event; a subtle but important difference.
i think for most of us, our unique selling point is ourselves, as photographers/artists.
Honestly… I really don’t think we all NEED a unique selling point. I think we just need to have good references, a good vibe with the client, a strong body of work, and the photography “style” that appeals to them. I don’t think you need to delve any deeper than that. Steve, you originally brought up Ed Pingol up in San Francisco. He’s definitely got a unique style, always using off-camera flash and strong lighting, but it probably turns off as many brides as it attracts. Sure, if a client says “I want someone who can turn day into night, who should I choose?”, they’ll end up with Ed. But take a look at someone like Jasmine Star. She’s got a lot of things going for her, none of them are necessarily unique. She has an incredibly engaging personality, is young and good looking, and is talented as a photographer. But her marketing skills, love of her dog and popularity on the seminar circuit does not necessarily attract clients. They are drawn to her personality and her technical skills behind the camera.
I think if photographers spend time trying to develop one unique selling point, they’re going to lose clients more than they gain. It’s like spending a whole day in a meadow of white daisies, looking for the one solitary purple flower. You may eventually find it, but you’ve passed up the chance to make a beautiful bouquet of white daisies. Photographers should spend more time enhancing all aspects of their business, because honestly there’s so many photographers out there, NOTHING really is unique anymore, there’s always going to be another photographer that uses off-camera flash, or has a money-back guarantee, or shoots film still.
This doesn’t really stand up to research, and if it was true, the advertising business would be shut down. Of course you don’t NEED a focus. You don’t NEED a website, or a business card, or more than one lens, or more than one pair of pants–but all of those things help you succeed. People that believe better products or services win are sadly mistaken. It’s the perception of the products/services that sell them, not the actual products/services themselves. After over 15 years as a professional marketer, I saw it time and time again.
How else do you explain my ability to book over 40 weddings and bill over $130k all in my first year? I booked my first 16 weddings having only shot 1 wedding, and I shot that wedding with equipment I bought using the deposit from another wedding. Yes, I was hired before I’d shot a wedding, and I used the cash to buy equipment. It was all branding and positioning, since I had no references, body of work, or style.
So, while you’re right that it’s not required, but it helps a whole heck of a lot. It’s what has turned KISS into a multi-million dollar business in just 3 years. The album space was crowded, and we had many people tell us starting another album business was a mistake. Had we marketed like everyone else does — around products and services — their advice would have been correct. Without our focus and brand, we’d have been just another of the thousands of album vendors making a decent book…
I know we’re told that a lot in this industry, that we are the unique thing, and it’s true to some degree, but it’s tough to build a brand out of it. Some have succeeded in it, but they have a lot of other things going for them. Most photographers have quirky, cool personalities. They like many of the same things (go to WPPI and see how many Buddy Holly, heavy-style glasses you see). They are artistic. They like people. They love photography. So, again, if you’re saying “I’m unique!” and everyone else is saying, “I’m unique!” then we’re all saying the same thing, and no one is unique.
I still think it’s better to find a hill you can own that gives you some room.
E.g., A while ago, I mentioned to Shawn Reeder that his positioning statement should be, “Photography for people who love the outdoors.” He’s never shot a wedding in a church, he’s an avid outdoorsman, he loves climbing, camping, etc. The position reflects his personality, but it’s really focused on his clients’ personalities. It also helps him to stand out. If you’re an outdoorsy kind of person, you’ll at LEAST check Shaun’s site out, if not hire him. It helps him define his brand in a way that is unique, fits his persona, clicks with his clients, and it tells people the kind of work he WON’T do. By saying no, you become more attractive.
Now, so Shawn doesn’t think I’m blowing smoke up his butt, if he reads this, I think he’s making a mistake at his website by combining his love of photography and music into one site. He should have 2 separate brands, completely distinct from each other. By saying “i’m a photographer, and a musician, and an entrepreneur who sells royalty free songs to photographers,” he diffuses the power of his brand. A couple interested in his skills as a photographer may think, “is he not successful enough in photography that he has to have all these side jobs?” He would seem less “jack of all trades” if he would split those two brands.
I also think he should work with his signature somehow to make it a mountain range, since signatures are horrible logos, but that’s just me.
Kevin your right of course, a Ford will get you where you want to go the same as a bently but I am not going to be paying the price of a house for a Ford. Still whwn bills have to be paid it takes some bravery to only aim at the comaritvly few high rollers. But like I said before more power to your elbow for doing it.
You don’t have to aim at high rollers, that’s just part of one of my brands. http://www.RetroYourDay.com/ aims at the middle market. Jim Kennedy has made millions by specializing on the middle market–there are a lot more weddings there. Separating yourself by market segment is only one way to brand. Take Mini, for instance, they separated themselves by positioning against the SUV. Apple positioned itself against PCs. Etc. What are you against? If nothing, then you should probably rethink. I’m not sure my elbow needs any more power.
Kevin, if you are operating at two prices levels ie high for you luxery and middle for your other company are you not concerned that a bride that has booked the former will find out that she has paid so much more to esentialy have the same person shooting her wedding.
Who said I shoot for the other brand? And who said they get the same experience? Again, it’s not about the photos… The brands don’t compete, they have completely different focuses.
Thanks I didn’t realise you employed others to shoot. Its interesting that a well known photog in the UK had a similar idea and employed another photographer to shoot less expensive weddings but with a year or so the demand was so great they raised the prices on that one to the upper range as well.
And Kevin, I had no idea you got your start that quickly! That is really, really encouraging.
The trick in the first couple years, in my opinion, is to book as many weddings as possible. I’d aim for 30, minimum. If that means you run bridal show specials of 50% off, who cares. Look at it as a marketing investment. Consider. 30 weddings at an average guest list of 300 = 9,000 people who are exposed to you directly. If you do a slideshow at the event, provide exceptional customer service, surprise your couple (e.g., I take all my couples to dinner, I give them Little KISSes as a surprise, I send them iPod Touches with all their photos as a surprise, all with hand-written notes), and you will be booking.
The slideshows at the events are huge. I’m sure you’ve had people say, “you’re a great photographer” at the event, even though they’ve not seen your images yet. They’re basing that on how you’re conducting yourself, how you’re interacting with the client, how you look, how you speak, etc. If you can cement that opinion by showing the slideshow at the event, they will fall in love. I’ve had people watch my 20 min slideshows for literally hours, dragging friends and relatives over, selling FOR me. Lots of times, I don’t even bring business cards to weddings, so when people ask, I just say I don’t have any on me, that I’m not really here to market. They appreciate that, then they get my contact info from the bride, if they don’t remember it on the slideshow.
The experience is king. People don’t pay $5.00 for a cup of coffee because it tastes that much better; it’s the whole experience, it’s associating themselves with a brand, it’s the fact that the barista says, “Hey! Can i get you your regular?” People will pay a premium for that kind of attention. Figure out how to build it into your photography…
I just want to clarify. Your level of quality and service are basically a given at this point. It’s not that they are useless – it’s just that they aren’t a position to sell from. They are clearly the MOST important part of actually building a brand (where a brand is the sum of the feelings that a consumer has towards your company or product) – but they are useless as a position to market. I agree completely that you can’t sell yourself as unique by trying to market something everyone is doing.
A position has to be unique, so if you’re going to attempt to sell from a position of “style” or “Service” you’re up against a pretty big hill. In fact, I would argue that in order to sell “quality” you better have a style and product that’s so different than anything anyone else in your market is doing, that people can’t help but notice.
If you’re going to market “service” than you have to be better at it than the Four Seasons. As a photographer, you don’t have the time or money to do that.
Exactly. Service and quality of photography are basic. Look at KISS: we bring people to the brand with the idea of simplicity, but if the books sucked or our customer service was weak, people would never shop there again and they would badmouth the brand. The product/service is how you KEEP customers, but luring them in is a whole different ballgame.
“If you’re going to market “service” than you have to be better at it than the Four Seasons. As a photographer, you don’t have the time or money to do that.”
Yes and no. You can pick a similar hill to another business if you’re not in competing industries, but if you’re in the hotel industry, your statement stands. The problem most people have in marketing is they try to 1-up instead of start a whole new game. E.g., Steve thought that by having 3 slideshows on multiple computers, he’s 1-upped his competitors. Picking a whole new hill is much better from a marketing standpoint. Once a brand gets known for something, it’s silly for a competitor to try and beat them at that game. E.g., someone trying to sell the market that they have a simpler process than KISS would be a waste of money–even if the process WAS simpler, the market has already filled the ‘simple’ slot with KISS in their brains, and unless KISS totally drops the ball, we can’t lose it.
So, even if a hotel does a better job at service than the Four Seasons, they’d be silly to try to knock them off that hill if the Four Seasons was known for their service. Much better to move to an unoccupied hill (and cheaper!).
I have taken on board what a couple of people have added here that your USP is unlikely to be a step-change i.e. moving from film to digital but will more likely be a collection of smaller evolutions and gimmicks which may combine to become your USP. To that end here is a list of things that we do, by no means exhaustive and certainly not unique when taken in isolation but maybe food for thought.
We are full time professional wedding photographers i.e. this is how we make our living – yes we will shoot family shoots for ex couples but don’t advertise the fact (at least yet)
Two photographers one male one female attend every wedding who are not related.
We dress identically in short sleeved black shirts with our logo on an black smart cargos. If it rains or is cold again both wear identical black logo-ed coats.
We let couples pay for our services products by remote credit card terminal if they choose and we cover any surcharge
From April we will have our office in an ex stately home, the office although small will be smartly furnished with different photo wall hangings displaying our work ie canvas, block wraps, acrylics etc. Everyone who comes to see us will be offered a choice of beverages, cookies. There will always be fresh flowers.
We provide a toll free phone number for clients to contact us
If there is no one in the office the phone transfers to one of our Blackberrys so we are always open
We don’t charge mileage within a hundred mile radius
We use Rangers and Rotolux softboxes to take formals, partly for the light and partly for the theater. Uncle Bob is not going to have that set up with him
We carry mini battery operated fans with our logo on, in a pouch on our belts so that if a bride or groom is struggling in the heat, we simply hand it to them as a gift and walk away
We use Lastolite Hilite backgrounds for our photoboths which are internally lit to avoid trailing wires, we have two sizes depending on the size of the venue
We have at least 4 full duplicate albums to show clients
If it rains on the wedding day, we have four studio lights with us as well as 8 umbrellas 4 blue 4 cream so we still get the shots and we offer that if the couple want to dress up again on another day we will come and shoot them again for free
We use short throw HD projectors to provide the reception shows, great quality and we dont need a lot of space to project large.
We use Proshow producer and have developed a stylish template to speed the production and the standard of the show.
I think someone misunderstood when they said we do two shows simultaneously, obviously we don’t, we do take 2 laptops with us, one to cover redundancy and two so that we can be preparing another show whilst the other is running the show
If couples send us old photographs of themselves we scan them and create a show from that as well all free
We provide Mark Rideout (not in his league but getting there) style shows to the couple and their parents for free
Prior to every wedding even if the couple hasn’t booked a pre wedding shoot we will take one head and shoulders shot of them which we print up on business card sized magnetic paper to which we add their names and wedding date and our web address, we leave these by the side of the projector with a small sign saying help yourself. The idea being that our web address is now siting on hundreds of fridges and computer housings, cost to us about $10 per wedding
We both carry clean tissues to hand out if Mom gets too emotional and has run out
We both carry a pocket full of confetti to give if someone has forgotten or to use in shots ourselves
We take a confetti canon to use at the end of the first dance to add another dimension to the pictures and again for a bit of theater
We print out 3 pictures at the reception and place them in slip in mounts to give to the couple and their parents
Oh and of course we offer a money back guarantee
I am sure there is more but its a start. Are some gimmicks? Yes of course they are but so is the button we press on the electric window of our cars the little windy handle worked just fine.
So what do you do thats a bit different?
You guys are looking at your wedding businesses like most software developers look at their applications. You’re listing a bunch of features and expecting people to get excited. Marketing doesn’t work that way, really.
Steve, do you expect a bride to remember or care about half the stuff you just listed? You want to have a single point of focus, the rest of the stuff is tucked in under the package. Look at BMW, the word they own is “driving” and the marketing slogan is, “the ultimate driving machine.” Yes, they have a list of a features, like you do, but when they market, they focus on one thing: the driving experience. They list a few supporting items, but they don’t expect those to sell the car.
FedEx, before they screwed up, used to own the word “overnight.” Remember, “when it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight.” Yes, they had planes and trucks and guarantees and special boxes and special services–just like your list of all the things you think separate you; but when they were communicating, they talked about overnight–and their market share increased rapidly.
KISS owns the word “simple.” Yes, we have amazing leather, and binding, and paper, and customer service, and turn-around time, and etc. — but those are just features, and all our competitors sell from a feature-standpoint, so if we talk about all that stuff, we get lost in the crowd.
Swan Photo owns the word “luxury.” Shaun Reeder owns the word “outdoor.” LaCour owns the word “legacy.” Bussink owns the word “celebrity.”
Owning a single word is infinitely more powerful than owning a list of USPs. Finding that word is tough, and it’s why advertising agencies make billions of dollars.
Read: “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” for more insight.