Four years ago I wrote a post about educating your target audience, and after some of the conversations with artists at the recent ShutterFest conference, I'm long overdue to get back to the topic. The Internet has given people more choices when it comes to shopping, especially finding a professional photographer.
On a relatively regular basis in some of the Facebook forums, the question will come up about ideas to educate your clients on quality. A lot of customers don't see the difference between mediocre and great, but the challenge goes so much deeper, and there's so much you can be doing.
Two previous posts are great to read. The first is Zach and Jody Gray's article, You're Not a Second Class Shooter. The second is by Simon King from the U.K. Time to Act Like a Head Chef.
The challenge, in addition to thoughts from Simon, along with Zach and Jody comes from the 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! Your challenge is to convince them that nothing could be further from the truth.
Everything starts with your presentation!
Galleries: Most consumers are going to visit your website first. Uncle Harry might have the same gear, but that's where the comparison ends. Start with your galleries - and NEVER show anything but your best work! Every image should be so good; it's the only one you'd have to show to get hired!
Ideas on displaying images: You've got the finest suppliers in the industry to choose from for albums, frames, and the actual printing quality of your lab. They're companies who should all be in your network and most of them Uncle Harry doesn't 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. So, utilize your website and blog to share ideas on displaying images.
There's no such thing as "just an album." If you're a wedding photographer, you've got to 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 NOT 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.
Leslie Milk wrote a book called "It's Her Wedding But I'll Cry If I Want To!" Published in 2005, it's 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."
Pricing - You get what you pay for! 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 $350 and hand the bride a disk versus photographers who know 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 knowing what to do when things go wrong. Calling yourself a professional is a big responsibility and the best artists have backup gear if a camera body, lens or flash go down. They know how to get the shots they need no matter what happens or where they're shooting. They even have a backup plan should something happen to them personally and they need a friend/associate to fill in during an emergency.
Every wedding is unique. Every story of each 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.
Do a marketing slideshow for your website and blog. Today, thanks to great companies like Photodex, you've got the ability to create great slideshows demonstrating your work. Combine their technology with today's camera features, like switching from still images to video with just the push of a button on Panasonic's LUMIX cameras, and you've got all the ingredients for a hybrid experience to leave clients speechless.
You should always have at least 2-3 different albums for your clients to see. This is about marketing, and you've got to show your very best work. Every album company and lab on the planet will cooperate with you on reduced costs for additional albums 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 works of Shakespeare!
If you have a home studio or some kind of showroom, 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 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.
And, if you're having a hard time educating clients about printing images rather than just going digital, then read Michele Celentano's "I Believe." She's even given you the right to plagiarize and use it with your clients. Click on the jump drive image to the right to read "I Believe."
Remember to sign those big prints on display. Joe Buissink does one for every client when they come in to look at 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 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 confidence 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 - Stay on top of new products from all the manufacturers you work with, along with your lab, frame company, and album company. Keep working on your skill set, so you 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.
When it comes to quality, your clients do know the difference, but you've got to help educate them and teach them to recognize what makes your work the best!