Vera Wang is the quintessential high-end, couture bridal designer. Wearing a Vera Wang dress on your wedding day is a dream come true for a woman. But it ain’t cheap. You could easily spend $10,000 for a Vera Wang dress (my whole wedding cost that much). Everything Vera does is expensive. Until about four years ago when she launched her “Simply Vera” line of clothing at Kohl’s department store. And it didn’t stop there. This year she’s launching her “White Collection” at David’s Bridal, the mass volume, low-end bridal store for the budget conscious bride. Can you believe that? It’s just crazy. What is the world coming to? Vera Wang offering dresses at David’s Bridal would be like, oh, I don’t know, famed celebrity and Kennedy photographer Denis Reggie offering photography services at wedding photo giant Bella Pictures. Oh snap! He did.
Going High and Low
When you commit to offer a service to a high-end clientele you quickly discover something: you have to say “no.” A LOT! Day, after day, after day, you have to say “no” to people who love your work, but can’t afford your services. At some point you get to thinking, “How much money am I throwing away every time I say no? Perhaps there’s a way I can say “yes” to these people, but still maintain my high-end brand?” If that is what your goal is, to offer a low-end service, thereby capture perhaps thousands (or even tens of thousands) of dollars of business, yet still maintain a high-end brand, then I hope this post offers some useful guidance.
As my opening paragraph has already shown, you are not the first one to consider this high-low strategy. More prominent and successful brands, both in and out of this industry, have done it. Some with better success than others. But it’s prominent enough where you don’t need to feel secretly guilty or “a failure” if you feel compelled to offer it. I use that word because I think to some extent, there’s a part of you that may feel like that–a failure. Like you couldn’t cut it in the high-end market so no you have to offer the low-end service, one that you were never too crazy about offering in the first place. Whether or not there is some truth to that doesn’t matter. There’s nothing wrong with making that business decision. And if you’re in the visual arts industry, you would be in good company. Denis Reggie, LaCour, Mark & Trisha Von Lanken, 50 Foot Films, David Robin, yours truly, and many, many more, are all “high end” studios who have spun off some kind of lower-end brand, or offer some uber-low end package.
There are two common ways you can go about this. This advice is particularly geared towards wedding and event work. Tomorrow I’ll address ideas for commercial work.
Same Brand, Low-end Package
The first way is to just offer a lower-end package, sold under the same brand, i.e. company name. This is what Vera and Denis have done. When you buy a $300 White Collection Vera Wang dress at David’s Bridal, you are still wearing “Vera Wang.” The obvious downside to this strategy is the possibility of hurting your “high-end” image. I think the best way to avoid this from happening is making sure, in both the marketing of that service and the delivery, that what the client gets is significantly less than the “norm.” For an event filmmaker, this could mean a less stylized video (assuming your normal films are more “cinematic” and epic). A simple, documentary style approach, that requires significantly less work on your part. This is the strategy The Von Lankens of VonWeddingFilms do with their “A Bridal Movie” package. (This is not counted as a separate or spin-off brand because it’s marketed on the same page as their main business, with all the same visual branding). You could also do Same Day Edit only packages. These are great (and very popular with StillMotion). You go in, shoot and edit a 4-5 minute wedding clip shown at the reception, maybe you offer raw footage of the ceremony as a kicker, then you’re done. Not bad. For my wedding services, I offer a “Matinee” package that is a greatly reduced amount of shooting time and a final edited film that is 1/3 to 1/2 the length of my main service.
Another form of this strategy is the “Associate” approach. This is where you have associates under you and your brand that shoot for you, but cost less because they are not you. This is very popular in the photography world. The main artist may cost $10,000, but the associate is only $3,000 to $4,000. If you do this, it should be very apparent to your clients where the difference is. Either the brand you’ve created for yourself personally has to be on a practical celebrity status (e.g. Denis Reggie, Joe Buissink, etc.) so that regardless of the associates’ work, there’s a perceived value difference. Or, the work the associate does needs to be visually different enough from yours to justify the difference.
A Completely Separate Brand
The other strategy is spinning off an entirely different brand. That means making it different—in look, feel, website, etc. (You see this strategy in the auto market a lot: Toyota/Lexus, Honda/Acura, Volkswagon/Audi, etc.) This could be the trickiest and most challenging to pull off. To do it right requires recruiting a team of people to work this new brand. That requires managing them. And it may require some training too. Not to mention investing in all the additional branding like the website, business cards, etc. In marketing the two companies, you may verbally refer clients from your high-end to your low end, even referring to them as your “sister” company. But it should be clear that it’s a separate company. I don’t suggest putting on your main website a link to the low-end company, e.g. “Can’t afford our regular rates, well then click here.” (There are no links to the Kohl’s or David’s Bridal collections from Vera’s main website.)
What’s Right For You?
When determing what’s the right strategy for you, keep these points in mind:
- Resources. Do you have the financial and/or human capital needed to manage a separate company?
- Marketing. In strategy #1`, you’re marketing to clients who want your style, but can’t afford the whole enchilada, so you give it to them in little chunks. All the marketing you do will be similar. In strategy #2, you could very well be reaching clients who want something very different than your main style. Clients who read The Knot vs. Grace Ormonde’s Wedding Style. Do you know how to effectively market to both demographics?
- Systems. Can you effectively put systems in plance to maintain high customer service, for either strategy?
- Value. Is the extra money you make worth the additional trouble? Can you objectively quantify how much money you could’ve made if you took the business you originally turned away. And is what you’d offer them at the inexpensive rate something they would want? (some clients want a $5,000 video for $2,000 and won’t like your Same Day Edit only package for $2500 that only gives them a 5-minute clip. Other clients may be thrilled with a 5-minute clip they can watch over and over so don’t mind the $2500 investment.)