One of the ongoing challenges for any real estate photographer (or for any business, for that matter) is really thinking through our answer to the question: "How can I stand out in the marketplace?" It’s my sense 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. It’s been said that customers don’t buy products or services, they buy solutions to their issues. Theodore Levitt, a professor at Harvard Business School once said: "People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill bit. They want a quarter-inch hole."
Distinguishing Features and 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 about 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/claims. If photographers are always talking about their use of high-end cameras, lenses, lighting equipment, editing software, etc., they all 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 real estate photography, it might go something like this:
Benefits Satisfy the Client’s "Wants"
Great salespeople know 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 "artsy" 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.
Tony Colangelo is a residential and commercial photographer, as well as a photography coach, based in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is a long-time contributor to PFRE and is the creator of The Art & Science of Great Composition tutorial series.