As I expected, the blog post from yesterday about whether you should post prices on your site stirred up some great conversation. As I wrote, there is no right or wrong answer to this most provocative of topics. There’s one key element about the debate that I failed to mention yesterday. That is whether or not your business is viewed as a commodity.
In the most simplest of explanations, a commodity is a product or service that serves a very common purpose and whose value proposition is not particularly different from other products or services in its category. In other words, no matter where or from whom you buy that product or service, you’re getting the exact same thing. And it really has nothing to do with whether or not the product or service is considered “high end.” For example: an S-Class Mercedez, despite being a luxury vehicle, is a commodity. I can go to ten different dealers in my city to get one, and each car will be the same no matter where I go. (Well, not ME personally. I drive a…well, let’s not talk about what I drive, except to say it’s 100% paid off. A commodity service might include something like an oil change. As long as I get the specific oil I need for my car, it doesn’t particularly matter where I go to get it. Granted, in both of these examples there could be subtle differences in how the service is rendered or benefits a dealer might throw in. But, the main thing I’m buying (i.e. the car or the oil change) is in and of itself the same across the board.
When a product is a commodity, PRICE will inevitably be the most important factor when determining where to go to get that commodity. So, if your business is a commodity, competing on price will be a given (in which case if your prices are competitive, including them on your website would be a good idea).
So the $100,000 question is: are you a commodity? If you’re a professional creative, chances are there will be three key aspects of your service that will determine if you’re considered a commodity in the eyes of the prospective client:
- The Final Outcome. How does the final outcome of your product compare to your competition? Does it stand head and shoulders above the rest? Does it have a distinguishable style, or is it not that much different than what the guy down the street is doing? Can it be considered truly unique?
- The Experience. What is it like working with your company? Is it crazy fun? Does your company provide exceptional customer service? Do you provide some additional value that transcends the actual final product? For instance, our photography business Teen Identity specializes in teen girl portraiture, but we’re also about raising the self esteem and confidence of every teen girl in America. Girls don’t just walk away with great photos; in many cases they walk away with an indelible impact on their lives. That’s something Glamour Shots or the local Sears photo studio is not providing.
- You. Lastly, what do you personally bring to the table that sets your company apart? How many years of experience do you have? What is your demeanor? How much of your personal “signature” is on the overall experience and the final product. Pixar is a studio that has a very specific brand and style. But the final outcome and the experience of making a Pixar film will vary greatly from John Lasseter directing (Cars and Cars 2) vs. Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) vs. Brad Bird (The Incredibles).
Jay Maisel vs. Zack Arias
I know a lot of my readers are photographers so I want to offer a quick example that I think effectively exemplifies all three of these qualities. A commercial client looking for a top notch photographer will have a completely different outcome and experience between a photo shoot with Jay Maisel vs. one with Zack Arias. They each have a distinctive style and as artists bring a their own certain je ne sais quoi to the table. Yet neither of them would be considered a “commodity.”
Earlier this year, expert wedding professional Michelle Loretta of Sage Wedding Pros wrote her own blog post about the topic of having a price on your website. Her take was different than mine, which is okay. But I found one of the comments on her post interesting. In defense of putting prices on the website, one commenter referenced a time she and her family were traveling cross-country and looking for places to stay. They didn’t have time to fill out forms or make a lot of phone calls. They needed to know right away if the price was in their budget. That is a classic case of needing a commodity. In this case, the commodity was a safe and decent place to bed the night. In situations like that, price is absolutely a key factor.
However, I bet it’s safe to assume that if they were planning a special vacation, maybe a 10th anniversary trip, or a long-over due vacation, things would be different. It’s not to say price wouldn’t be important, but it’s safe to assume it would be far less important and probably not the main determining factor. It would be worth the time and effort and research to find a unique locale that provides an amazing experience. The right location may be worth paying ten times more than what may have been paid on the cross-country trip. In other words, a Holiday Inn is a commodity. The Rosewood Mayakoba in the Mexican Riviera ain’t.
So my dear blog reader: what are you?