"What's your take on how to educate clients about quality? A lot don't see the difference between mediocre and good."
The question was in response to Zach and Jody Gray's article, You're Not a Second Class Shooter.
There is no easy answer, but I do have some good suggestions. The challenge is this instant-fulfillment, I-want-it-now society we live in. People are willing to settle and often let themselves get sucked into the issue of price and believing a picture is just a picture! So, your challenge is to convince them that nothing could be further from the truth.
Everything has to start with your presentation. Uncle Harry might have the same gear, but that's where the comparison ends. You've got the finest suppliers in the industry to choose from for albums, frames and your lab. They're companies who should all be in your network and most of them Uncle Harry doesn't even know about. From my perspective the way a client sees your work initially has a lot to do with how quickly you're going to get them educated.
If you're a wedding photographer, you've got help them understand what an album really is. Think about this, a wedding album is the first family heirloom of a brand new family! Come on, you should be able to hear the angels blowing trumpets right now in the background. It's so much more than just a book of photographs. It's a collection of memories. It's the first and most important story of the start of a new family. It's the first family heirloom to be handed down to future generations.
A potential client needs to hear that message. Your work is the only thing to last following a wedding. The gown will never be worn again. The food is gone. The flowers will die and Grandma will be back at the nursing home, but the memories through the work of a talented photographer lives on. Seriously, with today's divorce rates your work will outlive 40-50 percent of the marriages!
Leslie Milk, life-style editor of the Washingtonian, wrote a book called "It's Her Wedding But I'll Cry If I Want To!" Published in 2005, it's definitely still worth reading. Her target audience was brides and she starts out the section on photography by saying:
"Here's the most important thing you need to know about wedding pictures: Book the best photographer you can afford as soon as you set the date. The wedding music will fade, the flowers will die, and you won't even remember if you ate, let alone what you ate, at the reception. But the wedding pictures last forever."
Let's move down the list. My wife and I love a great bottle of wine and there is a difference between "Two Buck Chuck" and a decent cabernet. There's also the same comparison between a photographer who's going to shoot a wedding for $500 and hand the bride a disk versus a photographer who knows what they're doing. It's another point to be made as you're showing a client your images.
It's all about not missing the shots and capturing the memories. It's about storytelling versus just handing over a bunch of pictures. It's also about know what to do when things go wrong.
I've done a lot of scuba diving in my life and there's nothing difficult about diving. Getting certified is about learning what to do when something goes wrong. Great photographers are in the same boat. They have back up gear if a camera body, lens or flash go down. They know how to get the shots they need no matter what happens.
That's the general idea, but how about more specific things you should be doing?
Every wedding is unique. Every story of every couple is unique. As a wedding photographer your goal is to make sure your potential client understands there are no two wedding albums anywhere in the world that are the same and you need some great props to make your point.
You should always have at least 2-3 different albums for your clients to look at. This is about marketing and you've got to show your very best work. Every album company and lab on the planet will work with you on a reduced cost for the album you're going to show clients.
Remember you're a storyteller. In fact, you're the ultimate storyteller and if a picture is really worth a thousand words then a good wedding album should match the complete works of Shakespeare!
If you have a home studio or some kind of show room, have a couple of large images matted and framed for your walls. This applies to your booth at a bridal fair as well. It's the Tiffany's window concept. You don't need to show everything in the store, just your most beautiful work. A few large images on display will do two things. First, they highlight your work and really show your skill set. Second, they plant the seed for big prints, something you might want to work on selling later on.
Remember to sign those big prints on display. Joe Buissink does one for every client when they come in to pick up their proofs. He picks one of his favorite shots just to surprise them and have it on display. Why does he sign it? Because he wants to establish himself as an artist, not just a photographer. A signature adds to the perceived value of the image and sets the tone for the work being more than just a photograph. It becomes original signed art.
Coverage of any wedding should always start with an engagement session. When engagement sessions first became really popular I think a lot of photographers saw them as an additional income stream. In fact, I remember one well-respected young photographer planning to just shoot engagement sessions, but in all honesty, that's not the biggest benefit. An engagement session builds trust with your clients. This is about getting to know the couple and them getting to know you. By building trust in the relationship early on, it positions you as a friend on the wedding day. The bride and groom already know you and you know their tastes, their style and have already established their comfort level months before the actual event. The result is a more relaxed couple, better expressions and a far easier wedding day than if you just showed up cold for the first time.
The last point to remember, while the topic here is a traditional album, you have so many more tools to help you tell the story. Your skill set needs to match technology with the potential to offer your clients video, slide show presentations, mixed media and just about everything printable. Stay on top of new products from your lab, frame company and album company and learn how to really tell the story!
I've used wedding photography for most of my examples, but the truth is, they apply to just about every photographic specialty. Professional photography, especially in the portrait/social categories is a word of mouth business. It's all about exceeding client expectations and never compromising on the quality of the story you've been hired to tell. In regards to weddings especially, without photographers, pictures from a wedding would like drawings from a murder trial!
I apologize for this being such a long post, but helping your clients understand quality and why you're more expensive than Uncle Harry isn't an easy process. It's your job to help them understand why they don't want to trust their event or even a simply portrait session to anybody but the best.
I wish there were simply a few one sentence explanations that would have made this post shorter, but as Senator Howard Baker once said in a story he told about an usually long memo he sent another Senator, "I wish I could have made this shorter, but I didn't have the time!"