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The Importance of Distinguishing Features & Benefits When Marketing Your Photography.

By Tony Colangelo

In a recent PFRE poll, readers were asked which topics would be most useful to them in future posts. The results of the poll found that one the dominant wishes was to get more info on “the business of RE photography.” When I read that, the first thing that came to mind was the day-to-day challenge of working in such a highly competitive field and the challenges we all have in marketing our photography. Indeed, one of the key questions that we must ask ourselves regularly, is: "How can I stand out in the marketplace?" It’s my strong belief that what ultimately distinguishes a photographer is the connection that s/he has with their customers. Part of establishing that connection is really understanding the customer's needs and wants. Indeed, it’s been said that customers don’t buy products or services, they buy solutions to their issues. In a recent marketing article that I was reading, the author referenced a great line from Theodore Levitt, a professor at Harvard Business School, who once said: "People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole."

Distinguishing Features & Benefits
This wonderful quote underscores the need to understand the difference between features and benefits. To highlight this, let’s say you’ve given your mom a lovely framed photo of your baby daughter. She wants to hang that photo on a particular wall in her home but that wall is made out of brick. To do so, we need a drill bit that can make a hole in the brick without cracking it. The drill bit’s capacity to do so, it’s length, tip-style and tensile strength are all simple facts that describe it -- these facts are features of the drill bit. The benefit of using it, though, is that it can drill the required hole into the wall without damaging it. We can even say that once the photo is properly hung, the ultimate benefit of using that drill bit is that your mom can enjoy viewing the image whenever she likes. You could talk to your mom about the features of that drill bit all day long but she’d likely tune you out. All she wants is to be able to enjoy the photograph of her baby grand-daughter!

One of the dangers of us always speaking to the features of our work, is that not only will our customers tune us out, they’ll also likely be hearing our competitors making virtually the same statements. If photographers are always talking about their use of high-end cameras, lenses, lighting equipment, editing software, etc., all of them end up sounding the same. When a client perceives all vendors as being the same, they tend to make their selection based on price and, as we all know, no one wins in a race to the bottom!

How to Determine a Benefit
Probably the simplest way to get to the heart of a benefit is to list a core feature and keep asking the question, “So what?” In the world of RE photography, it might go something like this:

• I use a the Canon 5D, Mark IV. It has a 30 mega-pixel sensor (feature) … So what?
• It allows me to capture 67% more detail in a photo than my last camera, the 18 mega-pixel, Canon 6D (feature) … So what?
• Getting more detail in an image gives me greater latitude in my editing (feature) … So what?
• Getting more latitude in my editing allows me to deliver better images to my client (benefit) … So what?
• Giving my client better images allows her to have tangible evidence that she’s living up to her brand of “doing whatever it takes” to sell her clients’ homes. (ultimate benefit.)

Benefits Satisfy the Client’s ‘Wants’
One of the bits of psychology that great salespeople know, is that most people tend to make buying decisions based on their underlying wants (the ultimate benefit) and then justify their purchase with the facts (features.) The only way to know what those wants are, of course, is to make an effort to get to know our clients. We may find out, for example, that a particular client’s underlying want is to get highly creative and distinctive photos as a means of distinguishing his MLS listings when compared to other realtors.

With this knowledge in hand, we can describe to that client that we use lenses that allow us to create a very soft, blurry background, called “bokeh” (a feature) that gives us the ability to deliver a handful of detail shots at every photoshoot that satisfies his underlying want for creative and distinctive images for his listings (his ultimate benefit.)

In closing, while it’s relatively easy to wrap our heads around the importance of distinguishing features and benefits, the truth is, actually doing so is easier said than done. I hope this article will be helpful in your thinking through the particular benefits that you bring to your clients!

11 comments on “The Importance of Distinguishing Features & Benefits When Marketing Your Photography.”

  1. Brokers want to do business with people they *KNOW LIKE & TRUST*. If you present yourself in a way that accomplishes those 3 things, you'll have more business than you can handle. Overnight.

  2. @Dave Spencer. I wish it was that easy. Brokers and/or Realtors have to get to know you and the way you work before they fall head over heels. This takes time. It's not something that can be accomplished overnight. Broker clients have to be groomed just like anyone else. And this means bending over backwards to please them. But.. and a very big but... brokers are not bound by contract and can walk away at anytime. Reliability and consistency are two things that will keep them coming back.

  3. @Joanna Michl, I know, sounds crazy, but; it really is just that easy. Though I should have said 'almost' overnight (but that's still pretty good, right?). And let me apologize to the flippant way I posted this rock-solid advice- but assure you it's based on about 4 decades of strong sales experience, intertwined with timeless principles. "Grooming', to me sounds like a pretty complex project. Most of the time people form their views very quickly (and why referrals are so golden). They just want to like you, know you and trust you. It's simple. Maybe not easy, but simple. Really 🙂

  4. Dave Spencer wrote: "Brokers want to do business with people they *KNOW LIKE & TRUST*. If you present yourself in a way that accomplishes those 3 things, you’ll have more business than you can handle...."

    I've taken a lot of business away from amiable, trustworthy photographers by being amiable, trustworthy, and a better photographer. You have to be able to deliver a better product if you're going to compete.

    Speaking to Tony's post -- one important thing that clients are looking for is a photographer who knows what's best. This is another area where I was able to take clients away from other photographers -- I shot a tighter, BETTER set of photos. Instead of taking 2 shots of a bedroom and forcing my client to be responsible for deciding which one was good, I made the decision, and shot the better photo. They appreciated not having to sort through 40 or 50 photos to find the "good ones". Just think about what that tells a client... "Yeah, I'm a 'professional' photographer but I don't know a good photo when I see one, and/or I don't understand your business enough to know which photos will work for you and which ones won't."

  5. @Dave Spencer, I should have mentioned to other important factors which are price and weather. Let me focus on the latter first as this has been one helluva nasty winter here in the mid-Atlantic with 4 nor'easters this month. Mounds of snow do not make for good exterior photos and all shoots have been pushed back to April. So, it's been a lean month and Feb wasn't much better with temps in the single digits. A lot of Realtors took off for warmer digs, others decided to just ride it out.

    On the issue of price, you can lose a client faster than the blink of an eye by just raising your price for one MLS package. Even if you offer extra add-ons to compensate it's a turn-off for agents who are more intent on getting more for less not more for more.

    It's a tough business no matter how you slice it. Marketing is a major factor in bringing in new clients to replace the old ones. There's a BIG turnover in this business.. always has been. For us the average duration of a client before they decide to move on is one year. The determining factor is usually budgetary. If we shot free photos we'd have a zillion clients. I don't know about your area but that's how it works around here.

  6. We no longer use features and benefits for brining on new agents. Instead we use a transformational formula which combines:
    Problem + Our Solution = Your Results
    We've divided our new agents into four categories and have four different transformational statements based on the avatar for that category.
    We are having great success with this method.

  7. Scott: great food for thought, as usual.

    Joanna: we raise our prices regularly, and have never had any dropoff in revenues. We raise prices every time we are getting booked to the point where we can't handle any more volume. We typically raise prices a small amount, like $10. Some clients fall by the wayside, some wander and then return, but overall we keep growing steadily.

    I don't think good photographers should ever be afraid to adjust their pricing. We have been doing this professionally for 3 1/2 years, and we get better all the time. Why wouldn't we raise prices for better quality?

    Our goal is to provide agents is ease of use and scheduling, and consistent quality.

  8. @Dave Specncer ... thanks for taking the time to comment, Dave.

    @Joanna Michl ... Thanks for your comments as well, Joanne. I hope the weather (and business) turns around soon for you... has been one hell of a winter in your part of the world, for sure! I would also respectfully suggest that there is wisdom in @Jeff's reply to your comment. 🙂

    @Scott Hargis
    Scott, I completely agree with your comments! Quality of work is a key distinguishing element -- and for many clients, likely THE distinguishing element, when choosing a vendor (regardless of field of endeavor.) If I "know, like and trust" two vendors roughly the same, then the odds are, that I'm giving my business to the one who produces better work. Thanks for your insights!

    @Suzanne Feinberg ... I'm pleased to hear that your new model is working well for you. Whether you call it "benefits and features" or the terms that you've noted, at the end of the day, I think we can all agree that we must be able to articulate to the client, what's in it *for them* by using our services. It sounds like you found your own way to "frame" the discussion for your clients, so good on you! Either way, the framing still requires us to know the difference between the features and the benefits of our photography services and presenting the benefits in a way that will resonate with the client/prospective client. Ultimately, that was the main thrust of my article. I appreciate you taking the time to add to the discussion!

    @Michael Yearout ... Thanks so much, Michael, for your kind compliment... I'm glad you enjoyed the article!

    @Jeff ... thanks for your comment. It's good advice!

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