Getting ahead of cheap competition

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  In today's video market cheap competition appears to be the biggest complain and problem amongst video makers. The reality is that the market is changing constantly, the days of sitting in our offices and waiting for the phone to ring are gone. In the past we always relied on our skills and quality to keep our business going, unfortunately those days are gone.

Today to make it we have to be proactive. 

If 15 years ago I would have gone around saying that one day guys with little knowledge and with toy cameras would put many of us out of business I would had received the same reaction as if I would had said that Kodak one day will file for bankruptcy, guess what.

Cheap competition is nothing new. This problem for us started back in the late 80s when SVHS and HI8 cameras were first introduced. Manufacturers categorized these new inexpensive cameras as “industrial”. They also had inexpensive editing VCRs to form complete affordable turnkey production packages. 

A new wave of “producers” started springing up, that’s when cheap started. We started feeling the effect of this new technology as many of our clients opted for cheaper productions. None of these new guys with inexpensive equipment were marketing themselves as lower quality producers, their sales pitch was that inexpensive equipment made cheaper productions possible. We had to fight back. What we did was, we went to one of our previous client and asked if we could redo their video our way and for free. The only condition was that we would had to be able to use both videos as comparison to show potential clients. Of course it was a no brainer and the client went along. What we did we used the same script that the client owned and reshot the entire videos as we normally would. We then used the comparison to show clients the real difference, we had a 100% success.

Quality alone wasn’t the only part of our new sales approach. We also added statistical information from marketing and advertising organizations showing that quality videos will engage the viewers while badly produced videos will drive them away.

There are also studies made today showing that bad videos could potentially have an adverse effect on businesses, they could actually drive business away.

Let’s take food as example. On higher budget productions and photography there are people who specialize only on visually enhancing food preparations just for the camera. Take Red Lobster and Olive Garden as example, even when you order the same dish as advertised it will never look the same as it did on TV, not even close, but you’re in there ordering it, mission accomplished as far as the photography is concern. This is what the viewing public is accustomed to see, high quality images. Now take some of the small restaurants using cheap videos to advertise their menus. I see it everyday and most likely their food taste much better than Red Lobster or Olive Garden, but it sure doesn’t look that way. Most of the stuff I see on these videos I wouldn’t eat it if it was free. 

Visual perception of quality is a very important marketing tool, this is why many companies spend more in the packaging of their product that in the product itself.

The problem today, and this should be to our advantage, is that most people doing cheap videos, mostly for web sites, have no clue about the aesthetic of video and how important the right quality is to engage the viewers. This is not only art talk, this is visual psychology, it has to do with composition, lighting, depth, pacing and a lot more. It’s about visual marketing, it’s about engaging the viewer.

Setting yourself apart from your competitors.

Let’s face it, if your entire skill is based on storytelling and are trying to offer your services to the broadcasting or business community then take a number, a very long number because there are thousands like yourself doing exactly the very same thing for a hand full of available jobs. This is why you’ll see all the “no pay” ads on Craiglist. Even a “no pay” gig is hard to get these days.

So what’s the solution?

First and most important, THIS IS A BUSINESS. Start thinking like a businessman first and photographer last.

I can’t really tell you what’s happening in your neck of the woods. Each area is different with different needs. This is why you have to be a businessman first. The basic for marketing remains the same regardless where you are or what you do. I can only tell you how to deal and how I dealt with the changing market in my territories and what I had to do to get and stay ahead of the crowd.

The first thing that any businessman would do is to analyze and study his territory, don’t just throw the hat into the ring.

Understand what the needs in your market area are, even better create new needs. The most basic rule for success has always been “find a need and fill it”.

The old say in the business world is that competition is good for business, makes people sharper. I might question this but to stay ahead of your competitors you have to be sharper than the rest.

Study what the competition does in your market area and do your damn best to be different, not necessarily better but offer potential clients something different, something that they are not getting now. If you are a good businessman you will find something, if not, then take a number and get on line.

Remember, cheap is not a skill.

Understand that because in the eyes of other professionals in your business you are a “better shooter” and get a lots of praises from your colleagues it doesn’t necessarily make you better in the eyes of a client. This is why many great photographers are broke. Being good doesn’t necessarily make you useful. Some of the elements that make us better shooters might mean absolutely nothing to a client, or not enough to get the job or pay a higher rate from what they can get from somebody else. To impress a new client from their point of view you have to be substantially and positively different from your competitor, and whatever you have to offer must benefit him.

Talk intelligently. Do what successful marketing people do. Once you target a commercial client do your homework long before you make your first contact. Learn as much as you can about that client and the industry he is in. Learn about his competitors and what they do that he doesn’t. Don’t stop at the local level, study what larger or national firms within the same industry do in terms of videos. Chances are that they have a much larger budget. Study the video techniques and do your best to give the same look at your budget level. I’ll explain how I coped with this challenge.

Most industries have associations, newsletters, web sites that talk about their industry, study those too.

Always present yourself to a new client from a position of strength and not weakness. Selling a video project just because you want their money is weakness even if you don’t say it. Give the impression that you’re there to help them achieve a goal or fill a need that they might not even know they have. The more you learn about their business the more confident you’ll be and the more they’ll be impressed with you.

I can’t emphasize this enough, but find something that make you different, not for your benefit but for the benefit of the client.

It wouldn’t hurt to read a few books on salesmanship and marketing.

Wasn’t always lighting for me, actually I started concentrating on expanding my lighting skills after moving to Florida in 1997, and the reason was that most shooters down here were horrific with lighting. I simply analyzed the market and grabbed the opportunity. When I worked in the Northeast everybody had basically the same lighting skills, every one was good at what they were doing. But down here it was a different market with different opportunities.

Opportunity number two came from budget cuts. This would normally put people out of business, or create opportunities for others.

Before the mid 90s on every medium to large job we had a grip truck. Budgets eliminated that but did not eliminated the needs of what a grip truck had to offer. Gradually we’ve expanded our equipment package to include a lot of what a grip truck was offering and made it part of our regular package.