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Educating customers?
Old 01-11-2009, 03:45 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Ever since I began in 1970, I have heard we need to educate our customers.

In what form is this education suppose to take? Do we educate them about composition, or cropping or correct color? I dare say that telling customers about rules of composition, would do little to impress them, and as far as color; I have seen off color portraits and some way underexposed hanging on walls all over town, but yet the customer would brag about how great it was.

I have even had people bring in some crummy shot made at a mart or even by a friend that was so terrible and would ask me if I could do something like that! Oh, I sometimes would invite them so sit and let me show samples and I would mention how rich and warm the skin tones are. Many are not impressed, and since they paid some national studio for it, they suggest to me that is what good quality should be.

Do we show them our really great award winning “artsy” portraits? I have lots of those (not a brag, just making a statement);and what judges consider worthy of awards, most often the customer does not care for. One example: I had a wonderful portrait of two children that was an “award winning” print, but when I used to have it hanging in my studio the most comments ever made were the fact that the children were not looking into the camera, and smiling.

Perhaps I should show them my best canvas print, and talk about the advantages of that. They do like those, but most of the time will opt for the lesser expensive canvas texture. I have few customers who are impressed by surface textures, mounting, or the type of spray I have my lab use on their portraits, and some even say they like "regular" prints, like the ones they had made at... (you guessed it).

Would it be educating them to show magazines with portraits by famous photographers, and tell them that represents quality? Well, some of those I don’t even like!

Maybe I should keep telling the customer how much more dramatic and interesting my portraits are because of the lighting ratio and the fact that by using the correct hair light and back light that I have created some separation. Hummmmm, I am wondering if it is only my customers who complain that both sides of the face are not lit exactly the same.

I considered holding my camera while talking to a customer and letting them know it is not just a point and shoot, but even back in film days, customers would look at my RB, in the camera room, and tell me about cousin Jim who had a very nice 35mm camera that made great shots.

Just last week I worked my butt off photographing 3 little girls that seemed to be on a caffeine high, and I got some really good shots. Even the grand mother said she didn’t know how I did it, but her next breath was…. “Let me show you one we had made at (fill in a mart name), and it is soooooooooo cute. One of the best I ever saw. I was going to educate her to the fact that none of mine had the kids’ feet cut off at the ankle, but I thought better of it.


I suppose I am really wondering what the next part should be when I hear, “We need to educate our customers (next part) by______________________________________.

Maybe I am not understanding what educating customers is all about, and someone can educate me on how to educate them.
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Re: Educating customers?
Old 01-11-2009, 08:56 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Photographers and photography judges have a skewed and detached view of images. We and they look at and for the technical elements of an image, if the image "works" emotionally, artistically, and etc.

The "on the street" customer generally doesn't care a whit about all that, they just want to look good.

This is the sister debate to one of the other never-ending subjects, the fact that "models" and photographers almost always pick different images as being "the best."
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Re: Educating customers?
Old 01-12-2009, 07:07 AM   #3 (permalink)
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I feel your pain Ben, I've been trying to educate customers on the benefits of wall portraits for years now. But it seems that they all want to hang 5X7s on the wall in groupings. Oh every now and then I'll get somebody that wants a Big One and will go ahead and order....an 8X10! I have an inlaw that just loves my work I recently did a nice family session for them. I offered to have a 30X40 canvas done for them as a Christmas gift, but she preferred a 5X7, even after I educated her of the fact that she would only be able to enjoy it while she was doing her dusting for the week. So when you get this education thing figured out, maybe you can learn me a thing or two!
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Re: Educating customers?
Old 01-12-2009, 09:43 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by mfharper View Post
..............it seems that they all want to hang 5X7s on the wall in groupings. Oh every now and then I'll get somebody that wants a Big One and will go ahead and order....an 8X10!....................

So when you get this education thing figured out, maybe you can learn me a thing or two!
Yes, that is the old joke among photographers,.. the BIG 8x10. I do have many customers who purchase 11x14 and 16x20 prints. More 11x14 than larger sizes. I am always amused when I hear platform speakers talk about their 30x40 and 40x60 orders, and naturally that is almost an every day occurance, to hear them tell it. In my part of Texas most of the people who can afford wall portraits do not purchase them.


Quote:
Originally Posted by JonScott View Post
Photographers and photography judges have a skewed and detached view of images. We and they look at and for the technical elements of an image, if the image "works" emotionally, artistically, and etc.

The "on the street" customer generally doesn't care a whit about all that, they just want to look good.
Jon, that is my point, which I said in a cheeky way. The question was how to educate customers, but the comment stops there. As I said, photographers will say we must educate, but never finish by saying, "here is one method of doing that."
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Re: Educating customers?
Old 01-12-2009, 07:54 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Good post. Most of portrait photography for most consumers is the emotion. You hit the nail on the head that most consumers could care less about the technical stuff.

If photography was really that simple, the self photo booths would be every where and they would be filled with people 90 percent of the time. The lighting in there can be technically good, the images are cheap, but what is the booth lacking?

The reason the granny loved the image of her grandchild so much is the emotional ties to the child. She could have had her child in one of those photo booths, but she came to your studio. You have something and can provide something that others in your area cannot provide. Or at least they are not providing it as they may have the potential.

I would have to say part of educating the customer is also listening to the cues of the customer. When the customer was showing the (mart) mill studio shot, she may have been providing a cue to the emotional feeling she wanted. The technical merits of the (mart) mill image may have been lacking, but it had feeling for the grandmother.

Photography is still a craft if photographers know the light; they are artists if they put the emotion into the images.
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Re: Educating customers?
Old 01-12-2009, 11:12 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Educating clients/customers can be (IS) among the most difficult things a pro can encounter. There is a fine line between education and sales techniques and I honestly have no idea where that line is. But here are some thing I and others have done in the past.

An old saw still applies, "Show the size you want to sell". It's almost impossible to show a traditional proof size print, 3 1/2 x 5 and cause the customer to think 30x40! Most just do not have that sort of imagination. To counter that, what many have done is to use a projection device, anything from a slide projector to an overhead projector, to project the proofs onto a wall and into large frame sizes, ranging from 11x14 through 30 x40. That way the customer actually sees how a large print would look on their wall. I didn't do that, instead I had several mounted and matted prints hanging on the wall in the room used to review proofs, including a 320x24, mounted, matted and framed to 30x40, hanging above a fireplace in the room. Letting them actually see the large sizes helps to sell them!

As some here know, most of my portrait work was boudoir. I had a number of mounted, matted and framed discrete nudes hanging in my shooting room. I never mentioned them, they were just there, in easy view. My practice was before ending a boudoir (lingerie) shoot, I would take a break and ask if the customer had anything in mind which we had not yet shot. At least 40 percent of the time, she would timidly point at the B&W nudes and ask "Can we do some like that?". I loved it when that happened as I could explain since we were almost finished with the shoot, we would have to go to the next session level, which would add from 50% to 75% to the session fee and almost always guaranteed added print sales.

One simple little gimmick I learned often added greatly to my print sales. I could show a sample, with a conservative print mounted on one side of a sheet of foam core, with a nude print mounted on the other side, along with matting on each side and a frame. That way the customer could hang a conservative shot in their home, most often ion the bed room, but when expecting visitors could flip the print over to show more conservative print. That simple technique allowed me to triple the framing charges while also increasing print sales!

Advertising: I made an expensive mistake here when I began my studio operation. I had a long time close friend, a highly experienced graphic artist design my ads. They were excellent, but after about a year with little return, I made a discovery. They were too damned good! I was creating a name, but not customers. I later learned through feedback that many saw the ad but didn't call because the ads were so good they thought I was a large, expensive studio. A new lady friend who by coincidence was an advertising consultant, told me to keep the same ads, but place a banner on them saying 10% or 20%discount with this ad. Suddenly they began to work!

Advertise, but advertise with care! What is your market? Who are you after as customers? Bands and musicians? A photo session with me ended up being a prize in a highly promoted band contest. Yes, I did a free shoot, but it brought in probably 10 or 15 other full rate sessions. I did a set of free PR shoots, actually a barter with a local AM radio station. I did head shots and some other PR stuff with the station's disc jockeys, weather and news people in barter for on the air talk (chatter) about me and the photos I was doing for them. That brought in additional musicians, actors bands and God knows how much otehr work, again at full rate. Having a couple of popular disk jockeys talking about how great their new PR shot sere is advertising on one could buy.

Identify your market! I was doing a little fitness stuff for jocks along with the boudoir. With that in mind, I did my most successful ever ad in one of those free fitness mags which are given away free at spas, gyms and such all over the greater Atlanta area. It was a large, expensive ad, almost a quarter page, with the below photo on a black background with white text on the right side. The text was simple, "you have worked hard for that body, is it time to show it off?"



It brought in a world of business, both male and female body builders along with all sorts of jocks.

Finally, don't even try to compete with the low cost portrait mills, you just can't! They can provide portraits for loess than your actual out of pocket cost. Instead find a way to show why they should come to you. How is what you offer different from a Walmart portrait? That's where they education comes in.

The internet: The net is a truly great place for us, but most are not using it to the best of our ability. How are new customers finding us now? They are doing it with Google searches! They are not finding up on the forums or on free sites, they are finding individual sites! For example, I've had www.distinctiveimages.com as my personal site since about 1993. It has brought me paying clients since about 1994. Paying clients have found my site on line and traveled to Atlanta from almost every state in the country. No win retirement, I've long ago identified my market and address it with my web site. I have had my home phone number and address on it since inception and have never had a problem. For example, one lady traveled to Atlanta from Utah three different times over a period of four years for shoots. Another lady came to me from Texas last year. Just yesterday I received an email from her asking about returning for another session. In addition to photo sessions, I've sold prints world wide, both to collectors and others interested in acquiring one of my prints to museums, hotels and a music producer, all of whom found me through my individual web site. For what it's worth, to the best of my knowledge I've never made a dime through any forum or any other free site!

Once again, identify your market and go after it. Expecting to make a living through a forum or sitting back and waiting to be discovered is a direct route to bankruptcy. Educate your potential customers by forst identifying them, them showing them how you are different. Show them what you have to offer is different from what others have to offer. Photography is about emotion not intellect. Appealing to the intellect is a road to bankruptcy, find the emotion and go after it!
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Re: Educating customers?
Old 01-13-2009, 01:50 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Jon, that is my point, which I said in a cheeky way. The question was how to educate customers, but the comment stops there. As I said, photographers will say we must educate, but never finish by saying, "here is one method of doing that."
I gave up on trying to "educate" customers. They really don't care, and the time spent is more often than not lost.

So, here is my method of "doing that:"

I tell them "it's special" and they buy it. People like things that are "special" and if it's "special" that almost always sates them as to the cost.

"Why do I need this?"

"It's special, and not everyone has one, because it's special."

"Holy cow! Why is it so expensive?"

"Well - it's special. It's just for you."

It really is that easy.

I've not once had a person demand a line-by-line justification for a price once they understand that...It's special.

Your mileage may vary of course, but it works very well for me and where I'm at.
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Re: Educating customers?
Old 01-13-2009, 09:26 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Doug_Lester View Post
Educating clients/customers can be (IS) among the most difficult things a pro can encounter. There is a fine line between education and sales techniques and I honestly have no idea where that line is. But here are some thing I and others have done in the past.
Doug, All excellent comments. Thanks. I also purchased a digital projector and screen. Darn... I don't use it all the time because I get so busy, and that is such a poor excuse.

Thanks again for the reply, I hope evryone reads it.

I think I will just copy all the text and print it out so I can read it often.
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Re: Educating customers?
Old 01-14-2009, 10:14 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Ben, this is truly an excellent post and Doug your response is excellent as well. Both of you have made some great points and I would like to add one point of my own.

Over the years that has been a noticeable decrease in the class and sophistication of customers everywhere. it used to be that a professional was revered for their education, knowledge, and commitment to their craft but no longer. People are in so much of a hurry and they want everything now and they want it their way. This is why we now have Internet Lawyers and Internet Doctors and Digital Debbies and a plague of other posers who make life a living hell for those out there who are the true professionals and who have paid their dues and have the education, knowledge, and commitment to their craft. People used to go to professionals for advice and guidance but no longer. Everybody thinks they can do it better themselves.

When I was married my wife who is a Doctor used to come home so mad she had migraines and could barely function. She got so tired of her patients coming in with articles they had gotten from the Internet and then try to tell her how she was going to treat them.

Just because a person has read a book doesn't mean they have the experience to put what they have read into practice but it happens everyday and we are so much the worse for all of it. Customers simply don't know the difference anymore and the sad part of it is most of them don't care. All we can do is try and save the ones who can be saved and feel sorry for the ones who can't be or don't want to be saved.
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Re: Educating customers?
Old 01-16-2009, 12:53 PM   #10 (permalink)
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I am going to engage in some "loser talk" for a moment, at least I am sure that is what some motiviational speaker would call it. But the photography profession is really in a bad place right now and has been for a few years. With the advent of the digital age in particular in which people actually think they look good on a picture they took by holding their cell phone at arm's length and snapping a picture it is really difficult to "educate" people on good photography. Bad photography is everywhere any more and the masses don't seem to think anything of it. I don't really know if there is any solution to that fact. There will always be people who seek out quality and those are the ones you have to be at the top of your game to attract. We live in an age of particle board furniture and cookie cutter photos from Wal-Mart and people buying both and thinking they are fine.

As far as selling prints I would have to agree with the idea of showing the sizes you want to sell. Make sure your studio waiting area has plenty of 16x20 and larger images. Project your previews. Keep everything big and you may help the customer think big.

Now I will turn this around a little. Maybe we shouldn't be so interested in educating our customers as we should be learning from our customers. If they think their shots from Wal-Mart are great, why are they great? Act excited and say "Yes, please show it to me" and then when looking at the pictures forget about the technical details. Forget the lighting, the pose, look for the feeling and then ask the person "What do you like most about this picture?" Get them talking and you might find out what is important to them and then once educated with that you might be able to tailor things to that and make some additional sales.

Some people will always want a collection of smaller images instead of one or more larger images. Learn to love the montage. Offer X by Y custom montages. Lumapix has some pretty good software for creating these quickly and easily.
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