Successful companies are ones that have a consistent market position and image in the eyes of their customers. Brands live and die by their image, and the car industry is one that has examples of both strong and weak brand images. What is the first car manufacturer that comes to mind when you think of a luxury car, a sports car, and a low-cost car? I think of Lexus, Porsche, and Kia, respectively. Each of these companies is successful in creating a brand image in your mind.
Now think of what the brand image of Ford, GM, or Chevrolet is. In my mind they are domestic cars, which doesn’t give me a clear image as to what the experience of driving one of them would be like, except possibly not as refined as the import. The truth is that they try to be a bit of everything but aren’t the leader of any brand image.
Positioning your video production company in the stage event market is a similar exercise. If you want to compete on price then you need to keep your costs low. A company that shoots with one standard-definition camera in a 4:3 aspect ratio and produces an instant DVD from a DVD recorder is an example of a low-cost production. The customer compromises on viewing experience without multiple angles and editing but benefits from a lower price and fast turnaround. The company is able to keep costs low by using equipment they already own and producing a DVD in about one-third the time it takes to shoot and edit a two-camera shoot.
All things being equal—by which I mean the skill of the camera operator when it comes to camera operation for video and audio acquisition—there is nothing wrong with this strategy. From a business perspective this can be a very profitable strategy, and the company’s competitive advantage is that it can keep the client happy with its low prices and quick service.
Competing with a premium product takes a fundamentally different strategy. A low price is not the goal of this strategy, which relies on differentiating yourself from the competition and delivering a higher-end product. A typical setup for this strategy would be to have 2-3 HDV cameras filming in a 16:9 aspect ratio, delivered to DVD or Blu-ray with titles, chapter marks, and a nifty motion menu. The product would be delivered in a case with a full-color trap sheet, and the customer would have to wait a few weeks for delivery. Customers understand that it costs more to produce this type of DVD and are willing to pay more than they would with the low-cost production. The company needs to charge more as the costs of newer equipment, extra camera angles, and editing time is greater.
In an effort to differentiate, the company might even be providing premium services for the studio, including sending a video signal backstage for the performers, editing a promo video for the studio’s website, and providing complimentary copies for the studio and instructors. The competitive advantage of this company is that they have a premium product and it is difficult for another company to replace them with a product that is inferior.
Now you might be asking yourself which strategy makes more profit for the business owner. In reality, both approaches have competitive advantages and both can be successful. Where companies run into problems is when they try a third strategy, which is to compromise on the competitive advantage and have a product that is middle of the road.
The problem with the middle-of-the-road product is that it is what everyone else is doing and lacks a distinct competitive advantage. You might be able to get work and make some money with this type of strategy, but in the long run, the most profitable businesses are those who position themselves on either end of the low-cost and premium-product spectrum.
Aligning your company setup with your brand image is just as important as selecting a branding position. The choice of equipment and your finished product, along with your customers’ experiences while viewing, are elements of this strategy and are what determine your position in the marketplace.
Regardless of your position, your skill for operating your equipment and your sales and marketing finesse are critical to continued success. Investing in your business isn’t only about spending money on equipment. It’s also about investing in your skills as a business owner and camera operator.
At a recent British Columbia Professional Videographers Association (BCPVA) executive meeting we discussed what topics to present at our monthly meetings to best engage our members and assist them in being successful in their video businesses. The consensus was that video skills and technology are fun to talk about, but what our members really need is more help in their roles as small business owners.
In the end, we decided to strike a balance between these two large topics. Video business owners need to have the right equipment for their markets and brand image, the skill to operate the equipment at a professional level, and the business skills to make sure their business is profitable. Ultimately, small business owners have to think more like they’re Lexus, Porsche, and Kia, and less like the typical local video company.
Shawn Lam (video at shawnlam.ca) runs Shawn Lam Video, a Vancouver video production studio. He specializes in stage event and corporate video production has presented seminars at WEVA Expo 2005-7 and the 4EVER Group's Video 07. He received an Emerald Artistic Achievement Award in Stage Production at Video 08.