A couple of life times ago, in a galaxy far far away, Polaroid was a real live company with over 20,000 employees. I was with them for close to 18 years. When the Polaroid Spectra was launched, it headed out to retail after significant research on consumer buying habits. In fact, the night it was introduced on all three major networks at the same time, we roadblocked each one with the Spectra commercial. No matter what station you turned to you saw the same commercial. (And yes, my children, there was a time on this planet when there were only three networks! LOL)
One of the principles behind the launch, of what was at the time the most extensive accessory collection in instant photography, was based on findings that consumer opinion was enhanced by the potential for the product to expand into other areas of creativity. The product's value was raised by the number of gadgets you could add to the system.
I promise you there's a point here. While it might seem a little far fetched to link research for what at the time was an expensive instant camera to the buying habits of your customers today, is it really that far out there? A client is about to hire you to photograph their kids, their family or a wedding and you're just going to offer them one 8x10? Okay, that's an extreme that nobody would do, but I absolutely believe there are too many photographers not taking advantage of all the incredible products out there.
- Albums: There's everything on the planet available, giving photographers the ability to virtually customize a client's order. Check out the full line from Venice Album, including creating an image box. And, when you're thinking about their album, think plural. Everybody thinks multiple albums for weddings, but what about everything else you photograph? Why would you only plant the seed for them to think about one album? Doesn't Grandma deserve one too? Isn't it the perfect holiday or birthday gift following a "Day in the Life" shoot of the kids?
- Image Boxes: Here's how I'd love to see more photographers using the image box concept. First, let's agree on what it is. For this definition it's a customized box holding up to a dozen or so matted prints. The mattes can be blank or a photographer, especially at an event, might have people sign them. Second, let's include not only the images, but certificates that bring the client back to you. For example, a first anniversary sitting is the perfect place to start for a bridal client. If it's a Day in the Life album, then a first day of school is perfect. Maybe a birthday portrait. The list goes on and on, but you have to be the one to plant the seed.
- Frames: Here's one I've never understood, photographers who don't take advantage of framing the print for the customer. Everybody procrastinates about hanging prints and your clients are in the "everybody" category. So, why wouldn't you offer them a custom frame for that print they're going to want of the family sitting? Ever attended one of Michele Celentano's workshops? She's very open on being a full service artist, right down to the frame and showing up with a hammer and picture hook when she delivers the client's big portrait!
- Hybrid Technology: Here's one I absolutely don't understand - photographers who are dragging their feet to deliver something new and exciting with a mixed media video and Photodex couldn't make it easier with ProShow Web. Check out the ProShow Theater and watch any of the short videos. Is there any client who wouldn't love a product like this?
- BIG prints: It's another point I must be missing. I realize that big prints aren't for everybody. In fact, I never liked them - that was only until Helen Yancy gave me a gift of an over-sized watercolor print of my grandson and me. And, it was matted and framed, ready to go on the wall the minute I got it home. Remember that you're going to sell what you show. Make it a point to show some big images on display on your website. Again, you've got to plant the seed.
- Canvas, metal and novelty prints: Again, like big prints, it's not for every photograph or client, but it represents one more exciting element in the process of added value and enhancement to the consumer experience. There's a lot we take for granted as photographers, because we see it at every convention, but your clients hardly know about any of this and a big canvas print, or an image on metal or wood might just light a fire for more business with you. That's one of the big arguments for attending a convention like WPPI coming up - you need to check out every new product out there.
- Multiple prints: It seems like an obvious choice, but if you don't remind your customers of the various print sizes you have available, they won't figure it out themselves. Make it easy for them with pre-selected packages. And as Sal Cincotta says in his short video on pricing, "We've got to punish bad behavior!" In other words, get your customers out of the idea of a la carte ordering.
- Tech-stops: I've heard some great stories about photographers finding ways to tie in a free iPad loaded with the wedding images, for example, to their clients. It's another product that can help make you different, but why stop there? Digital picture frames are so affordable they've become "no-brainers". Sheila's got a picture frame in our family room that runs non-stop with over 600 images selected at random of family, friends and vacations. It's actually old technology at this point, but that won't change a client's appreciation.
- Novelty items: From watches to mugs to mouse pads and calendars - while you might think they're hokey, think about the impact of a surprise gift from you to a client you've loved working with. How's this for a scenario - you just shot a terrific engagement session and the couple loves their dog. You're working on building the relationship with them, both before the wedding and because we're a word-of-mouth business and the bride has 8 bridesmaids ALL in their 20's and all single! Can you imagine the word of mouth advertising you're going to create if you sent them something as simple as a watch with the pup's face on it? Or a coffee mug? This isn't about classic imaging, this is about being able to take something most people would think of as cheesy and make your clients laugh!
- Websites and web pages: Yes, I'm suggesting you really go high tech and utilize a template to give them their own custom page. It's minimal work and again, represents something you can offer to further enhance the experience.
I've written a lot about each of these added value pieces over the last few years, but in another couple months you're going to be out of the seasonality of what's the slow season for most of you. This is the stuff that helps build your business. Take a lesson from any product you're into as a hobby...you tend to buy more of the brand you love the most in everything from the actual gear itself to logo baseball hats and t-shirts.
And for those of you who honestly believe all the Uncle Harry's of the world are your competition...
In the hierarchy of reasons why consumers hire photographers it goes Brides, Babies and Pets - in that order. There's no faster way to shut Uncle Harry down than to put together a complete imaging experience for every client. And, if we've learned nothing else from McDonalds, we've got to ask every client, "You want fries with that?"
Photo Credit: Left image: © Oleksandr Troshchylo - Fotolia.com Right image: © mikibith - Fotolia.com