How Do You Differentiate Yourself?
I’m going to make a bold statement: put two 5×7 prints of the same image in front of a high school senior – one from a pro lab and one from a big-box store – and ask them to tell you the difference. Chances are, they cannot. To them, a print is a print, and the only difference is the price. It’s like buying milk at the grocery store.
No matter how good we get at providing you with professional color, paper, “green” finishes, and convenient ordering, at the end of the day these are only incremental improvements to the products you offer your clients.
The difference between a $2 store print and a $50 print from a studio has to come from you. The fancy marketing term for this is “product differentiation.” It is the thing that makes what you offer different from both a commodity (like a snapshot) and from your competition.
• Differentiation starts with your photography. If you take an image that looks like “Uncle Bill” could have shot it, don’t show it to a customer. If too many of your images look like snapshots, invest in training. If you’re not sure, enter a print competition. The judging will help you become a better photographer.
• Differentiation comes from the products you offer. We regularly introduce new products (wall clings, metal prints, and float wraps are just the most recent examples) recommended to us by photographers just like you. Order a sample, and put it in front of your customers. Show them that you offer something they cannot get anywhere else.
• Differentiation comes from packaging. Dozens of consumer studies have proven the link between packaging and the perceived value of a product. When you pick up your prints from a big-box store, they come in an envelope. Differentiate your products by making sure no print ever leaves your studio unless it is in an album, a frame, or in an attractive folder.
• Differentiation comes from your brand. From the moment a customer learns about you until they walk into your studio, the entire experience should be one of working with a professional artist. Your studio decor, how you dress, your samples, and any degrees and awards should match your marketing materials and your website.
I encourage you to take a few moments and assess your studio objectively on these four levels of differentiation. If you are weak in any one of them, make changing it your next goal. Only by differentiating yourself and your products can you erase any doubt in your customer’s mind that the money they spent on photography was worth what they paid for it.
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