What Makes a Luxury Brand? 5 Ways to Raise Value and Justify Charging More with Vanessa Joy
The secret behind creating a luxury boutique-style brand isn’t classified information. In fact, it’s fairly obvious because most of us know what to expect when we walk into a high-end retailer. If you don’t, take the time to check out a luxury boutique clothing store, or pretend you’re shopping for a car at a Porsche dealership.
Last year, I photographed 20 weddings ranging from $6,821 to $18,482, with an average spending of $11,379.15, in an area where the average price paid to wedding photographers is $4,000 to $5,500. With my couples spending more than double the average, I know a thing or two about a luxury brand. Let’s break down the luxe experience I offer.
Show Me the Wow
This is where the rubber meets the road. The start-to-finish experience you give your clients either holds your brand true to its word or calls its bluff. Your brand sets the expectations for your clients, and you have to follow through with it 110 percent.
One way I maintain my brand image is through client gifting. I want my clients to feel special. I want their decision to be validated throughout our time together. Better yet, I want to give them tangible items to share on social media and brag to their friends about, which further establishes my brand recognition and reputation. I give them a hello gift, a goodbye gift and a “It’s almost your wedding day” gift. Gifting is one of my favorite love languages, and I love showering my clients with surprise presents.
However you want your clients to remember your business and however you want them to share it with friends and family is how you’ll want to tailor their experience. Do you tout yourself as being an expert in your field? Continually offer tips and tricks to your customers. Is your business about quality of life? Then look for ways to help improve your client’s wellbeing outside of the service or product you’re providing.
Go above and beyond for your clients in a way that superbly represents your brand mission, and you won’t go wrong.
When I first started charging for my work, I was 15 years old and a Realtor wanted headshots. So I set up my white backdrop (that I had no idea how to light, by the way), got my exposure on my Canon 10D and promised the client that we would keep taking pictures until we got one she could use. All for $50. I remember cringing when I told her that’s what I would charge her.
Spouting off the number in your price list may not be the most natural thing in the world, and that’s okay. However, that doesn’t excuse you from learning how to confidently give your pricing to your prospective clients. State your fee without hesitation. If you hesitate, so will they. If it’s easy for you to say, it’ll be easier for them to pay.
Along those lines, be extremely careful about discounting. Luxury brands don’t discount. Christian Louboutin shoes are almost never on sale. When you walk into Gucci or Prada on Fifth Avenue in New York City, you’re not going to find clearance racks (and if you did, shopping from them would almost be considered tacky).
If you want to throw in something additional for your clients to sweeten the deal, offer them a “gift” rather than a discount. Gifts come from friends and family; discounts come from used-car salesmen.
You want your clients to value the product and service you’re offering, especially if you run a boutique business and are charging a premium for it. Part of being able to get your customers to pay your luxury price is conveying to your clients that you too value what you’re offering.
When you’re selling high-end fashion apparel, you can’t do it while wearing off-the-rack. You need to wear staple pieces from high-end brands to be convincing to your clients and to relate to them. (Too bad clothes aren’t typically a tax-deductible purchase.) Likewise, when you’re selling top-dollar photography, you have to show your best personal work. Hang your most treasured pictures of you and your family in your studio, and talk on social media about your next planned time on the other side of the camera.
The brands that you buy, wear and support say a lot about you and your business. Political affiliations aside (not to belittle the effect that can have on business), the brands and type of brands you visibly support communicate something to your audience. Make sure that they’re communicating that your brand is luxury from start to finish.
Would You Smile Already?
When I do my initial consult with clients, I always tell them about my second photographers who will accompany me on the wedding. In a second shooter, I look for people who are great at what they do, but also people with a similar personality and demeanor to me. If I’m trying to get my clients to pay me for who I am rather than what I do, then who I am needs to be seen in my employees too.
I often tell the story of an amazing photographer I chose not to hire. Typically, before I hire a photographer, they come along on a test wedding not only so I can see the work they produce under the same circumstances that I’m shooting in, but so I can see how they work. Once, I had a photographer join me for this on-the-job interview who wowed me with the images that came back. What I didn’t love was that throughout the whole day, the photographer looked angry. When I addressed this, the photographer stated he was so focused on creating great imagery that he was in “the zone” and didn’t realize he was coming off negatively. Okay, fine. I could accept that, so I gave him another shot. The second time around, it was unfortunately still the same. His images were fantastic. His inability to smile through the stress was not.
One of the biggest day-of perks my brides experience is that I am calm, collected and seemingly in control the entire time. Even when everything is going haywire, I’m still smiling just as any experienced luxury photographer should be. Being a rock for my clients is part of my brand, and indicative of the experience I want my clients to have—so every member of my team needs to know how to do the same.
Who Are You?
You are your brand. You are the face of the company. You are what makes it unique. The best part about this is that you can simply build the luxury brand around who you are. The most well-branded small businesses I’ve seen are ones where the owner has done exactly that. A high-end wedding planner I know—who’s an Anthropologie nut with Restoration Hardware all over her house—became wildly successful by making her business an extension of herself and her lifestyle.
It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many people I’ve seen attempt to create a business that’s the opposite of who they are. One of two things will happen in that case. Either the business owner changes who they are to be a reflection of their business, or there’s a disconnect between the owner and the brand that leaves clients subconsciously confused.
Take Steve Jobs, for example. That man looked, dressed and acted like everything we know the luxury brand Apple to be. He was simple and sleek, with an intelligent sophistication about him. He practically was a black iPhone. Could you imagine if he was the opposite? If he wore Free People clothing and acted like a flower child? Or if all of a sudden he took up the hipster trend and traded his black shirts and wire-frame glasses for plaid and thick frames? He wouldn’t be Apple anymore, and there would be a huge disconnect with the brand. A luxury brand doesn’t have loose ends. Everything, and I mean everything, is strategically placed in a beautifully decorated and presented package.
This isn’t to say that you need to script your life. It’s just the opposite, because when you make your business about you, all of the above will easily fall into place—it’s just you being you.
To quote Gary Vaynerchuk in his book Crush It!: “Watch me for two seconds and you know exactly who I am and what I stand for. Authenticity is key…. I’m not putting on a performance when I do the show or my blog posts—I’m just being me.”
Luxury branding is a continuous task that evolves with your company. I’m working on a new brand at BreatheYourPassion.com, and I’m starting from the ground up. You can create or adjust your brand at any time. That’s one of the best parts about owning your own business. What you do can be as small as the type of Post-it notes you use or as large as the billboard space you just rented.
For me, these three words perfectly describe the basis of luxury branding in photography: Just be you. Start with you, end with you and be true to you everywhere in between.