Clients Will Choose Trust Over Talent Every Time

Many photographers, as well as other creative professionals, operate under the assumption that talent alone will carry them through their careers. While this may be true for a lucky few, I wouldn’t suggest you count on it.

Today’s photography customers — from corporate clients to individuals — have a lot of choices. Too many choices, in fact. Buyers simply don’t have the time or inclination to filter and weigh all their options when choosing a photographer.

Not only that, but many clients don’t have the eye to distinguish good work from great work, particularly based on a review of an online portfolio. At a glance, they see lots of photographers offering what appear to be similar quality and results.

That’s why clients choose trust over talent in selecting a photographer. Which makes branding your business more important than ever.

Branding for Trust

Much has been said and written about branding — but ultimately, a brand is a person’s gut feeling about you or your business. Your brand isn’t what you say it is on your Web site or business cards; it’s what other people say it is.

Your clients ultimately forge your brand. When they are selecting photography services, they will ask themselves (consciously or unconsciously) a range of questions, from “What is this person promising me?” to “Will I get what I am promised?” — and even “What would people think of me if I (or my product, etc.) were shot by this photographer?”

Your role in creating your brand is to make it easier for clients to answer these questions — by being clear and consistent in what you promise and what you deliver. Just like people, brands have personalities and characters, and like people they can create relationships.

Four Elements of Perception

The brand perception is molded from four essential elements: positioning, clarity, consistency, and trust.

  1. Positioning. One of the most important functions of the brand is to position yourself relative to competitors. Your customers should know what makes your brand special in the same way that your friends and family know what makes you special.
  2. Clarity. Most of us don’t like it when people are wishy-washy, and the same is true of clients and brands. How can you expect to communicate a clear message to clients if you’re not sure what that message is?
  3. Consistency. Even worse than being wishy-washy is having strong opinions but constantly changing your mind. Even if people like you, they’ll begin to take you less seriously. Same for brands.
  4. Trust: Trust is the intersection of reliability and satisfaction. It’s where you want your brand to be.

Two Kinds of Values

Building trust is about communicating values that your clients can connect to. Clients look for two types of values:

  1. Threshold values. These are the values that underpin the very existence of the brand. Unless these values are delivered time again without fail, the brand will not last. For example, threshold values can be your artistic vision and integrity and your commitment to your clients.
  2. Differentiating values. These are those values that set you apart from the competition, giving you an edge in marketing your services. For example, differentiating values can be your absolute commitment to deadlines, your unique understanding of particular types of assignments, or your mastery of technology to better serve clients.

In today’s fiercely competitive economy, more photographers are crossing over to shoot different genres, styles and subject matter. This makes it more important than ever for you to know your values — and to hold true to them.

Start by asking yourself these questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Why does it matter?

By exploring and answering these questions, no matter what direction or tangent you go in, you will be touching on the issues that really matter to your customers. At the same time, you will be filtering out all the non-essential trappings that you have tagged onto your brand — often without realizing it.

6 Responses to “Clients Will Choose Trust Over Talent Every Time”

  1. When a customer or client feels a certain level of trust, predictability, or comfort with an individual or organization, he or she is much more likely to return to that same provider for additional products and services. Study after study has confirmed that consumers put more emphasis on a positive "experience" than on the quality of the goods or services received from the provider. This holds true for all businesses, not only photographers and artists. Starbucks coffee is bitter and served less than hot, but customers keep going back because they know what they'll be getting every time (ie., quick, friendly service). Even in medical settings, a patient's overall experience is more important than clinical outcome when deciding whether to return to the same doctor or hospital.

  2. Great points, pertinent for anyone who like myself is thinking about their brand identity.

    As Mr Langer pointed out the "experience" is more important than the delivered product, "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell expands on this concept.

  3. Martin:

    Just an awesome, mind opening article. Thank you for posting !!


  4. I just read your article and feel it is quite good. I do a lot of graphic design and letterpress printing for photographers and I like to build flexibility into any logo design I do. It has to work in color or in B&W, in horizontal situations and vertical ones, on a billboard or on a business card. For me, branding is a tool, like a tripod or a screwdriver, that has to do a job for you and the job is to delineate you from the competition and to speak powerfully about the quality of your work when you are not there in person. A business card is an ambassador. It has to be persuasive and attention-getting when you leave it in a potential client's hand. I like what you say about incorporating trust into the design. I will remember that.
    Zida Borcich
    Studio Z Mendocino

  5. Nice one Martin, but it is a knife with two cutting edges. I agree on most points especially: clients don’t have the eye to distinguish good work from great work!
    Thats for clients the perfect excuse to keep what (who) they got. If there is no apparent reason , no matter what you're branding is, our how much one differentiates in every way, even to their advantage, they wont hire you (me).
    Here in Belgium, there are a very limited number of magazines. As far as I know, they al have long term agreements with only a few photographers, maybe a dozen for the whole country. And all the work goes to them, because they build a "name" working for these magazines.
    On many occasions, I pointed out why certain images were no good, even unsharp. I proofed that I could do a lot better with the same budget, but no use, nothing happened. One time I was with the photography responsible ( don't know how this is called in English) and I showed him one of his own magazines, one from the actual date, and one from 10 years ago. The poses and the lighting were exactly the same over all those years. Models complained on numerous occasions that they had the feeling that it was all hush, hush. A quick make up, to the studio, the lighting was set ( I believe it is since 10 years) some quick shots and done....
    They continue to work with the same photographer.

  6. The people that worked with me when my technical skill was limited are still working with me today. I have clients that have worked with me for so long that I was around to document the beginnings of their relationship, then their child and now their wedding. The thing is they know and love other photographers but continue to come to me. That says something about customer loyalty when they could easily go somewhere else and still don't.

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