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Thinking Through Features & Benefits to Help Make Us Stand Out

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:

  • 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"

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.

9 comments on “Thinking Through Features & Benefits to Help Make Us Stand Out”

  1. Well said Tony!! The quote about the drill bit really puts it in perspective.

    As a side, almost finished with your course and it has been VERY helpful. I definitely recommend to anyone who hasn't already taken it. Hope I’m not breaking any rules here by saying that!

  2. Great post Tony. I have been using the "so what" for about 5 years now very successfully in all my businesses.
    But rather than thinking in terms of benefits, I think in terms of transformations. That is - how do I get from point a to point b. How do I get from fewer sales to more sales?

    Personally, I wouldn't really say to someone that I use a Canon 5D Mark 3 with a 24mm Tilt Shift lens so that pictures come out better. - I would say to a real estate agent prospective client (or existing client):
    I use only professional equipment so that as you post better images, more prospective buyers will click and view the images.

    I don't think it is important to go into the specifics of technology because most agents even with a so what will get lost in the tech talk and the homeowners may have a bias against a specific brand or technique!

    Here is another example of a transformation:
    Our advanced editing techniques allow you to show your client better images so that they obtain more listings. Or,
    Our advanced editing techniques allow you to show your clients better images so that you list higher end homes and earn more commissions.

    In social media - rather than posting 20 images of one home - you can post 3-4 images of a staged area such as a living room or kitchen using a combination of images of that room from several listings from one realtor. We always recommend that you don't overload the post with images, and that you don't just list the property address with a bunch of home pictures. I always include a link to the real estate agent so that the Agent gets the benefit. Also, Facebook and other social media sites have been cracking down on real estate sales. The transformative statement in the post might be:
    "Living rooms are important to buyers because it is where the homeowners relax and spend their down time. Jane Smith of Remax always uses a professional stager so that her homes look inviting as prospective buyers walk through the home. Professional photographer + professional stager = more views on multiple listings that last longer so that the likelihood of an actual walkthrough increases.#JaneSmithRealtor", #JohnDoeRealestatePhotographer, #ProfessionalPhotographyforRealestate."

    A final example of a transformation might be:
    Using a professional photographer allows you to better showcase a listing so that prospective buyers online will stay on the property longer thereby increasing the chances they will want to see the actual property.

    When do you use the transformative statement:
    1. When you are trying to get new real estate agents signed up with you. In person meetings.
    2. On your website
    3. In social media

    Our content calendars for real estate photographers are based on transformative statement marketing.

  3. @Suzanne

    Can you give us an example of how social media is cracking down on real estate sales? That was a firecracker you lit off there.

  4. Suzanne - great way to spin the your post instead of being about the house, more about the agent. I'm starting to save my videos and collages without addresses to ensure I can get past the target ad limitations. As soon as you have an address associated with the listing, you're marketing the property.

    @Frank, if you post a home for sale, and you mention the address and the agent name then boost the post because you are trying to boost your photography services, Facebook/Instagram will still see it as a marketing boost for a home for sale and require that you meet Fair Housing Guidelines. This means you then can't narrow your ad down to target demographics easily. I used to have great targeted ads, then had to remove a lot of my parameters for my own boosted posts.

  5. @Tony, Thanks for the article. I like the thought process you are illustrating.

    I try to stress aspects of my service to most potential clients over image quality. I like to give the impression that the images I make are at least equal to the other top photographers in the area, but if I'm getting hints from the agent I'm talking to that they are looking more for somebody that shows up on time and delivers the images on time, I'll stress my service and how I'm that much better than the rest. Past a certain point, the majority of agents aren't going to be able to discern any improvements in image quality. Especially if they just work from their phone or a tablet and are looking at images after they've been mangled by the MLS.

    I think I going to run down my practice script and see if some "so what's" lead to changes.

  6. 1. Polite customer service.
    2. Positive attitude.
    3. Showing up on time.
    4. Being patient with agents and the sellers.
    5. Prompt turnaround times.
    6. Exhibiting an understanding of the real estate industry and its demands.
    7. Professional and prompt communication.

  7. @ Tony - Great article. Something every photographer should take to heart if they are serious about the business.

    I'd go one step further - Benefits over features can end up being the same solution from everyone.

    When I was doing sales training for technology products and services we asked the companies to focus on differentiating themselves.

    It's hard to convince someone that your ...
    ... customer service is better.
    ... composition of images is better.
    ... post processing is better.
    and the list goes on...

    What you can do is show your customer how your solution is uniquely targeting their unique requirement.

    Their unique requirement is what you've determined is what they want to do to set themselves apart from their competition.

    Your unique solution is tailored to ensure they have the images they need to uniquely position themselves in the market.

    When it comes down to it, that kind of the definition of commercial advertising photography - Making the pictures the client wants (needs) to differentiate their product from the competition.

    Part of the process, as Tony suggested, is helping the client identify what they need to differentiate themselves.

    i.e Showing them they have a cut, then offering them a bandaid.

  8. I think it's important to be brutally honest about this stuff. For example...let's talk about video.

    Video is the backbone of what I do. I'm a "real estate video company that just happens to do photography too". In my experience, most people in our industry get jazzed up about how video can help homes sell faster and for more money. They sell it to customers that way.

    I believe that that's pretty much false.

    When we think about it...does video REALLY help homes sell faster? Do they REALLY help homes sell for more money?

    Someone will point to some study that says they do. Most of those studies, when examined, prove to be extremely unreliable. Their data gathering methods and evaluation approach would never pass muster in an actual field of science like biology or physics. The studies would never pass peer review and get published in a journal. Think about it....

    Do homes that get listed with video sell faster BECAUSE they have video?


    Do the BEST homes that are going to sell faster ANYWAY...happen to be the ones that agents pay to have video produced for?

    I'm thinking that it's the second one.

    How often does a home sell because there's video when it otherwise would NOT have sold if no video was present? Maybe it would have sold just as fast and for just as much money with or without video. How could you know?'s actually possible that the sun, moon, and stars could align against you such that the home actually could sell for LESS just because you attached video to the listing. Could totally happen.

    How does this apply to the discussion at hand?

    When I sell video to clients...I literally tell them... "Look...if you are thinking about getting video because you're hoping it will help the home sell faster or for more money...this probably isn't for you. The REAL value... 95% of the value...basically ALL the value that you, as a Realtor, get...from paying for in getting the NEXT listing. Sure sure sure...maybe some homes here and there sell for a little more and sell a couple days faster. But it's not that much. And there's no guarantee that that will happen on THIS PARTICULAR listing. So why go into it hoping that lightning is going to strike in your favor?

    In truth, the MAIN reason that my other agents pay for video again and again and again is this. When they're the 3rd agent in the door...and the other two agents did their song and dance about what all they're going to do to get the home sold...and then MY agent does THEIR song and dance about what they're going to do to get the home sold...and then they quietly take out an iPad pre-loaded with one of my videos, and gently press play and slide the iPad over to the customers and say "Oh...and by the way...I'm going to be having a video like this created for you." And they allow the video to play...

    ...when the OTHER two agents did NOT say they were going to create a video for those sellers...but my agent DID...they win that listing almost every time.

    Getting listings that you otherwise would have LOST. That is the MAIN value in paying for video. Sure...there's residual value in helping promote the house. Sure. But it's just that. Residual value. Almost ALL the value in video is in helping you get the NEXT listing...and the next one after that...and the one after that. If you go into this thinking like THAT...that all the value is in getting the next listing...then video won't let you down. If you think it's going to be some secret weapon to actually sell overpriced homes even though they're overpriced or something like that. You'll be disappointed. Does that make sense?"

    I literally sell it like that. I sell the REAL benefit. Every time. Other people in our industry make "video helps homes sell faster and for more money" the backbone of their sales pitch. I literally crucify that idea upfront and sell something completely different. I used to worry that it would drive customers away. I worried that being brutally honest about this would cause me to lose orders because we all know that the customer already WANTS TO BELIVE that video will be the magic bullet to help their overpriced listing sell. So why not tell them what they want to hear, right? I stopped doing that early on though. And my business keeps growing. February 2020 was up 82% over February 2019. I can hardly believe it. So the brutal honesty thing seems to be working. And looking back now that was all from video sales.

    In conclusion, my advice is that whether you're selling photos or video or Matterport/iGuide...or whatever. Find out what the "real" value is. Find out what the "real" benefit is. And then go sell that.

  9. @Brian, Nice write up. I learned a bit about what an agent winds up earning from a sale after every hand has been greased and it isn't as much as people might think. A home selling for ten thousand more isn't a video worth of increased commission. Getting another 1/4 of a listing might if video nails down a new contract 25% of the time. Over time that 25% grows. The hope is it maxes out what the agent can handle.

    I've been working with my best client on finding ways to leverage the least amount of video for the most return. I'm just doing aerial video at the moment and he's editing videos of varying lengths to put on FB/social media to drive people to the listing on his web site. He's finding that short videos of between 30 and 60 seconds get more views all the way through and a better click-through. The photos are still the key visual marketing element. We are continuing to play with different views and moves and will add soundtracks soon to see how that works. When I'm finally doing ground level video, we'll add that in and see how it goes. Both of us know that every market is different and can change over time so we can't just go online, buy a how-to-do real estate video course and expect it to work. Our goal is getting eyeballs on a well presented listing. That's really all you can do. People will buy or make offers if the property suits them. Working with my client on this has been an education. It's nice to see some real feedback in the form of views and clicks and sales.

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