5 Branding Tips for Booking High-End Weddings with Michael Anthony
I often get asked by photographers how to book “high-end” or “luxury” weddings. I honestly hate that term, because it is a bit short-sighted if that is the goal for your business. In reality, our business focuses on creating a luxury experience first for our clients, and as a result, we happen to stumble across weddings that are of a more luxury experience. The majority of our clients are not rich. They are not all doctors, lawyers or engineers. Most of them are regular people with regular jobs, but the caveat is that all of them respect what we do, and they value photography. Those are the clients you need to get after.
So to sum up this article before it even begins: treat all of your clients like they are “high-end” clients, and more high-end clients will find you. Once you have that mindset, then I can teach you how to create that luxury experience, and you will begin to find success.
So today, I am going to teach you the branding secrets that have helped us to secure the ideal clientele. Keep in mind that I am going to share recent failures with you, because failure is the best teacher, and learning from my failure will help you to get there faster.
1. REFOCUS YOUR MARKETING EFFORTS TO A DIFFERENT TYPE OF CLIENT
We often hear the phrase, “You are not your client.” That is a true statement for many. Not all of you looking to book five-figure weddings are into paying for stays at the St. Regis, driving luxury cars, or shopping at Gucci and Christian Louboutin. I want to be the first to tell you that that is OK. My parents, for example, are complete and polar opposites. My mom has a mentality that if something is less expensive, it is definitely not as good. My dad, on the other hand, wants a deal on everything. These two could not be more different in their consumer mentality; however, that doesn’t mean that my dad wouldn’t be an ideal client for your business. Let me explain.
See, even though my dad wants a deal on things, he caters to luxury brands that position themselves as “better value.” For instance, he balks at the idea of buying an Apple iPhone. “Overpriced garbage,” he says, yet his Samsung Note costs exactly the same as an iPhone.
However, Samsung has packed their phone full of features that don’t cost them much, but provide “value” to their clients, and that attracts users like my father to their products.
Let’s bring this back to photography for a second. The rock stars in the industry claim they shoot $20,000 weddings. That’s great, but I know them, and many of them shoot 3-8 weddings per year. Some may shoot 10-15, and you may think that is a great living, but guess what happens to those weddings the next time the economy hits a recession? You already know.
Instead, I believe the key to sustainability in our industry is to do a combination of volume and higher price points.
There are a lot more consumers out there like my dad than like my mom. Look at the photography world for an example—Sony cameras cost the same as Canon cameras. Canon offers better build quality, better service, and a much better legacy, but switching to Sony is all the rage these days, because they have catered to the demands of the industry: more dynamic range and better autofocus. The intangibles like what happens when your camera breaks are not as fun to think about when considering a brand.
So you want to look for clients that want a deal, but are willing to pay more to get more value, not less money. Does that make sense? Good, because once you grasp that, you now can target that demographic. What creates value? Albums, prints, coverage time, diversity in style, and willingness to create an amazing experience.
2. TAKE INFLUENCE FROM OTHER LUXURY BRANDS
Now that we know which clients we are after, let’s focus on creating an experience for them. Many of you reading this have probably never stepped foot into a Merdeces-Benz dealership, stayed at a Four Seasons Hotel, or shopped inside a Louis Vuitton store. That’s completely OK, but in order to understand what that experience looks like, you should take a stop by these places and see what they all have in common.
They all are extremely clean, well laid out, and organized, and they feature luxury décor. Their staff are friendly, and they greet you right away when you walk inside. They have coffee, tea or other amenities ready for you once you enter the premises, and they typically feature a limited selection to purchase from. That last part is really important when creating your price point and menu.
The point is, you need to immerse yourself in this culture of opulence if you really want to understand how to recreate that experience for your clients. Make sure that you spend some time in these environments in the next few weeks to put together your branding strategy for 2020.
3. PUT YOUR NAME IN YOUR BUSINESS
Many of you know that we tried a rebrand last year to Studio 23 Photography, and subsequently killed it off after three months. I haven’t publicly shared the story of why until today. The Studio 23 rebrand wasn’t a complete failure in and of itself, but it created a disconnect between my business and my ideal client.
Three months after making the change of brands, notifying vendors and clients, and changing marketing material, we noticed a trend. Our average package booking had dipped by 25 percent. In addition, after looking through my clients’ style sheets, I kept seeing preferences for bright/airy imagery. Sure, we can do that, but so can everyone else.
So after noticing these trends, I decided to survey our clients, both our current S23 clients and our past MAPhoto clients. Over 150 surveys went out—the results?
Ninety-one percent of our clients preferred our original branding. Even of the current clients that had booked with Studio 23, 84 percent of them preferred the Michael Anthony Photography brand.
The reason? Overwhelmingly, they all stated something to the extent that it created a sense of exclusivity, that they were working with an artist rather than a brand.
But let’s look at this further. We sent image preferences, and of the 91 percent that chose MAP, they all preferred our cinematic style of imagery. Of the 9 percent that chose S23, they overwhelmingly preferred natural-light, traditional portraits.
Talk about an eye opener. Studio 23 was dead the next week. In the four months that have followed, we have booked more weddings than we have ever booked in a summer, by 30 percent. This is called learning from failure and (insert Sal Cincotta Voice) … pivoting.
Why did this happen, though? Remember the last step? One thing that every one of those brands does is create exclusivity. Not many people drive a Ferrari. In a crowd of 100 people, maybe a few have a Louis Vuitton bag. And yes, everyone has an iPhone, but in 2008 when they first came out, it was reserved for just a few tech-savvy, well-off individuals.
Exclusivity is something that all luxury clients want. What are you doing to create it? If you say your personality is different, then sorry to break it to you, but that is not enough to move the bar. Find a way to give an exclusive experience, and you are well on your way to booking luxury clientele.
Additionally, in terms of your logos and branding, choose a simple color palette with modern fonts and tones. Avoid a cheap-looking logo. Signature logos tend to look good, but just keep in mind that everybody is doing that these days. Look to hire a professional designer to really help you target your client.
4. DROP THE 99’S IN YOUR PRICING
Let’s go back to our luxury brands real quick. Many people in our industry and others advocate ending your pricing in 99 because of the psychological benefits. I am sure there are studies done on it, but I want you to notice what luxury brands are doing.
A luxury buyer knows the difference between $5,000 and $4,999 … and $4,999 is what you list a used Honda at. A Bentley, however, has even-number pricing, as do many other exclusive luxury brands. Ending your pricing in 99 feels cheap, and as a consumer, when I see that, it screams sales tactic to me.
Millennials will put up a blockade the minute they detect sales tactics—they don’t want to be sold to, and once they detect you are selling them and that blockade goes up, you will never win.
So stop trying to be like a used Honda dealership, and treat your business like Prada instead.
5. DRESS TO THE NINES
Stop dressing like you are at your sister’s baby shower when you shoot weddings. I honestly get frustrated when I show up to a wedding and the videographer is wearing jeans and tennis shoes, because the guests will automatically associate them with the camera team and thus with my business. I make it a point that everyone on our team dresses well.
Again, go back to luxury brands—see what people are wearing when you walk into a luxury store. Your clients should see you dressed like that when they meet with you as well.
And photographers, stop wearing all black to weddings. I hope that seems like I am shouting at you, because I am. Unless you are a ninja, Johnny Cash, or Darth Vader, you don’t need to wear all black. It’s a wedding, not a funeral. Yes, I am guilty of doing this in the past, but then I remembered when I used to work in sales, and all the training I received was that that all-black attire sends the wrong message to a potential client, because it’s associated with funeral wear.
I know what you are thinking—you do it to blend in, right? Guess what, wearing a ninja suit doesn’t make you any more invisible. Don’t believe me? Go put one on and then go look in the mirror. Surprise, you are still there. OK, now stop wearing all black to weddings.
My attire at a wedding is a suit, with a tie. If it’s 115 degrees in LA in the summer? Still suit and tie. Ladies, you have a lot more flexibility when it comes to this, but gentlemen, please put on a suit when you are shooting weddings. And not just any suit—make sure it fits you correctly and is not extra baggy. Believe me, the first time a planner compliments you and shoots a referral to you the next week, you will understand why I am harping on you about this. It does make a difference.
SUMMING IT UP
Alright everyone, I hope you now understand a few simple changes you can make to help better brand your business to find the right clients. To see more info on branding to luxury clientele, please make sure to check out the video on BTS’s YouTube page.