I recently joined in on an online forum discussion about how to respond to clients who ask "What's your photography style?" That may seem like an easy question to answer, but, as the conversation proved, it's surprisingly tough for most photographers to actually describe what they do in any sort of meaningful way.
In the discussion, some expressed an attitude of "Style is for the artsy-fartsy types so I'll just tell the client what they want to hear. After all, I've got to make money, not worry about being an artiste." Besides being completely misguided, this statement serves as a great starting point for our discussion on how style and business impact your photographic career.
Understanding and being able to clearly communicate your unique photography style is absolutely important for you both as an artist and as a businessperson. Artistry and business are two sides of the same coin - you can’t separate the two and you need both to succeed.
Style from a Marketing Perspective
First let’s do away with this notion that, “style” is only for esoteric artistes not operating in the real world. If you’ve studied marketing, you’ve probably heard of what’s referred to as your Unique Selling Proposition aka USP. As the name implies, this is the one thing that makes your product different from all the others and thus gives the consumer a clear, compelling reason to purchase.
To help us better understand the concept, let’s look at the USP’s of common brands: Volvo - safest car; Walmart - low prices; Target - hip but cheap; Neiman Marcus - expensive clothing; Dyson - best vacuum; and Hooters - large breasted women (it’s not the buffalo wings no matter how many times you attempt to convince your wife).
Now, think about the USP’s of failing brands. Name the USP’s of the following: Chevrolet, Kmart, Circuit City, and AOL. Does anything clear come to mind? Kmart may have low prices but Walmart owns the low price USP so it’s not unique to Kmart and thus not compelling to the consumer.
What's the Real Question?
When a client asks, “What’s your style?” What they’re really asking is “Why should I hire you?” Or, as we’ve talked about, “What’s your USP?” Seems to me that this is an important question that you should have a ready answer for. If not, you’re either going to miss out on sales or charge less than your full potential.
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