Have you noticed that the yogurt trend is in deep freeze? On decline for the past two years, stores have been shuttering and sales dropping. In New York City, Pinkberry’s closest competitor, Red Mango, has closed down 4 stores. Meanwhile, Pinkberry has managed to keep all its stores open. Why? Two reasons:
1. It was the first mover.
2. It preserved that lead by creating the most distinct brand.
Pinkberry was meticulous about their image. Their flavor was unique to their market. They used chairs designed by Philippe Starck. They created a club-like experience. They created their own ordering system. They took the time to be original and stand out. Other competitors tried make modest upgrades in flavor with questionable success, but none created the same depth of experience and hit the market with the novelty that Pinkberry did.
If that’s not a parable for the wedding photography world, I don’t know what is. When I started shooting, I looked at all of my competition and screen capped the best work I could find. I figured if I could shoot like that, I would be set. So, I spent the next year working non-stop to build a portfolio similar to the work I loved. There were three things I learned in the process.
First, I was pretty late in the game. I didn’t realize it, but by the time I had caught on to this work, there were probably tens of thousands of other photographers trying to shoot the same sort of thing. One against ten thousand is not good odds. First movers don’t have that problem. Since their look is unique, they have little competition.
Second, I learned that their are no constants. I thought what was good was good, but I later realized that good changes constantly. What’s good one year can be questionable three years later. The market is a moving target, and I was aiming at something that would be years past its prime by the time I could achieve it.
Finally, I didn’t understand that the pictures were just the tip of the iceberg. The people whose pictures I looked at had so much momentum by the time I noticed them, I couldn’t catch up. They knew how to shoot their way in any circumstance. They had a brand in place. Their process was developed. There was no way I would be able to figure out the process, build the brand, and adjust my shooting before the market would change directions.
Wedding photography moves fast. The speed of evolution is amazing, and there’s no way to keep up with every new trend. But everyone has the ability to be a first mover. The trick is creating a deep brand that reflects your unique point of view and being willing to take a risk. No one knows for sure that a novel product will succeed. You can’t, because it hasn’t been done before, but in my mind, it’s safer than chasing after the sure things. The sure things are mirages that reappear in the distance the moment you get there.