“Heretics are the new leaders, the ones who challenge the status quo. Who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements. The marketplace now rewards and embraces the heretics … and for the first time it’s profitable, powerful, and productive. This shift might be bigger than you think. Suddenly, heretics, troublemakers and change agents aren’t merely thorns in our side—they are the keys to our success.”—Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us
Is it OK if I preach a little today? I might step on some toes, but I believe that now, more than ever, our industry needs to hear it. Ready? It’s exhausting producing mediocre, average products. Isn’t it? When you think about it, isn’t that true for your video business? And it doesn’t matter whether you hear that we are out of the recession or not; we already have an uphill battle fighting the perceived value of wedding video or being last on a corporate client’s budget when things get tight. But I want to say one more thing that might make you squirm: The problem is you!
Please keep reading, because it gets better, my talented video friends. When I say the problem is you, I don’t mean you aren’t talented, aren’t respected, or don’t know how to run a business. What I mean is—or should I say, what I am asking, is—are you a heretic?
The word “heretic” brings some preconceived ideas to our minds to be sure, but I’m not talking about being some crazed, religious zealot from the Middle Ages. I spoke in detail about being a heretic during my last seminar at the IN[FOCUS] Video Event in New Orleans in January. I spoke on my passion for this business and the reason I got into filming weddings, which is rooted in doing videos and emotional promo pieces for nonprofit organizations. Finding emotion in human stories just came naturally to me, and weddings seemed right up my alley.
But doing meaningful video work that raises awareness, changes lives, and impacts the world is built into my soul. And it’s even better that I get paid to do it. But as the years passed, I soon realized that by giving back and using my video work for the “bigger” picture, it was changing my world. And in turn, I began to do more to change the world of the clients I was privileged to serve through wedding filmmaking. I began to see different reasons for wanting to film weddings. I began to see different ways of capturing emotions from people. I began to see things that my local/regional competitors, to my knowledge, hadn’t realized yet. Thus, I carved out a niche. I did things differently here in Wilmington, N.C.
Now, people have followed, and if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll have seen how many times I had to learn my lesson to put a watermark on my demo, because it’s become a favorite of unoriginal videographers to claim as their own.
But this brings me to my point. I too am sometimes guilty of not being a heretic—of not doing things my own way, of getting complacent and letting another trailblazer dictate what my films look like. It’s easy to see myself slip and correct myself. But one thing I hope I am never guilty of is wanting to create “average” videos. I learned a long time ago that it’s tough to survive in the wedding video market as a middle-of-the-road company that does, more or less, what everyone else does. Consider how this quote from Seth Godin’s business leadership manifesto Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us applies to our industry and to your own business:
The market is now way less impressed with average stuff for average people. … Today, the market wants change. The market demands change.
Although I speak to a ton of clients who don’t consider me a good fit, I do know one thing about why I don’t end up booking them: It’s not the economy, and it’s not that they don’t value video. There are a lot of successful video companies out there swimming against the current and having some of their most profitable years in business yet. If you aren’t one of them, let me share with you a simple formula to creating a niche for yourself and becoming a heretic.
Evolve. If you’ve been in the business longer than 5 years—heck, even 3 years—you’ve seen styles come and go, and you’ve watched technology change. Have you noticed that the companies on TV and radio that grab your attention are the ones that are doing new and innovative things? Established in 1985 doesn’t mean much to anyone anymore. I know it’s easy to keep the same template and to use the same plug-ins and filters that you bought 8 years ago so you can justify your investments, and, of course, it’s easy to keep editing the same way you have for ages. It’s easy because it’s familiar. You’ve figured it out. You have wedding video production down to a science. But you may be hurting yourself, not to mention limiting your creativity. Keep changing. Keep your finger on the newer technology and the new capabilities that your old shouldermount cameras might not be able to provide you. You will be inspired, and your clients will thank you after they start flooding back.
Follow the 80/20 Rule. One of the most important things I have ever learned from Patrick Moreau of stillmotion is the 80/20 Rule. After hearing Patrick explain what keeps his team from being stagnant and becoming burned out, our team at Life Stage Films has adopted the same approach. On 80% of the events we shoot, we film the same way we always have. But for the other 20%, we open things up and push ourselves to film a moment, set a scene, and use the camera in a way we have never done before.
Think about how hard that is! But also consider how rewarding it can be, not only to your clients when you give them a unique product but also for yourself, working out your brain in a way it never has exercised before. At your next event, film the vows from a new perspective. Take a different approach to the first dance. How can you make the image your clients see of the father/daughter dance more powerful?
Know your competition. Do you want to stand out? Do you want to have “fans” of your work? Do you want to stop competing on price? Make a list of your top three competitors. Write down what makes them unique, what they do that makes them different from you. Now, write down what makes you different from them. Put onto paper things that would make a potential couple book you over them. Be brutal, and be honest. And finally, once you figure out what you’re doing that’s not setting you apart from them, stop doing what your competitors are doing. If they copy you, it’s their problem.
Give people a reason not to perceive you as stereotypical videographer. There’s no point in ignoring the fact that video is last on the list for most brides’ wedding budgets. We do a great job of complaining about it on forums, but what are we doing about it? It’s easy to see that our industry has a long way to go to get away from the bad habits that have given us a bad name—randomly applied black-and-white filters, slow motion for no reason, and, most importantly, lack of storytelling. Do you think you’ll be able to get genuine, emotional moments from your weddings with a huge camera and big lights in people’s faces? These are the main things that deter brides from booking us. And even if we want to decry these things as perception rather than fact, the truth is, they can perceive them all over our websites. Invest in yourself, your craft, and your branding to stay as far away as you can from the old videographer stereotypes.
Soon, you’ll notice that you may be creating a monster: a company that becomes a heretic, with a product to match. And your couples want that. They want to brag (especially the higher-end brides that have the money to spend) that they booked “the most unique” videographer around. Live up to that billing, and you’ll see your business soar!
Why is it that you can tell a “JMag” wedding film from a “Ray Roman”? Why is it that Adam Forgione is not only dominating his market in New York but filling up seminar rooms all over the country as well with his infectious style of teaching short-form weddings? Why does Dave Williams stay successful in one of the most talent-rich and saturated videographer markets in the world? Because they are all heretics, and they’re the best at what they do. They don’t want to produce average work because they can’t afford it.
You can’t either. It’s your turn. Become a heretic. Be the best at what you do. And blow your competition out of the water by producing work that no one has ever seen before. You’ll always put food on the table, and you’ll have a fulfilling career as well.
Matt Davis (coaching at lifestagefilms.com) of Life Stage Films has been described as the “head coach of wedding videography,” providing one-on-one business coaching as well as group coaching webinars. A featured speaker at both WEVA 2009-10 and IN[FOCUS] 2010-11, as well as a multiple CEA award winner and 2009-10 EventDV 25 All-Star, he is based in Wilmington, N.C.