The Unicorn Effect

I bet you’re expecting rainbow sprinkles with a title like that…

But THIS, this is serious.
This is something impacting our industry & we have to figure out how to out-think it. The Unicorn Effect, as I have dubbed it, is the need, desire, or drive to be as unique as possible; to think of an idea that others have not; to plan, devise, & create something that no one else will know about until it’s posted on social media and to do so before someone else can find out & copy us… to be THE original, so that all others are simply duplicates. To be so unique that you are the UNICORN.  But… I’m not talking about PHOTOGRAPHERS trying to be unique here. The Unicorn Effect is actually taking place WITHIN OUR CLIENTELE & it spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E for you & me!

Let. Me. Explain.

About 3 years ago, I was interviewing a junior & her mom about becoming part of my upcoming Senior model team. She told me that she didn’t want her friends to know about me because then, they would all use me for their Senior portraits… Okay, so she had my FULL ATTENTION at that point. She went on to say that if she did something, most of her friends would follow & she hated being copied. So, she didn’t want to tell her friends who her photographer was; she wanted me all to herself. That was the beginning of my experience with The Unicorn Effect.

Fast forward by one year and I had Seniors/Spokesmodels/Regular clients telling me that it was not cool to refer… they didn’t want to pass out model cards or show off their portraits… they wanted to wipe away any trace of logos on their images… they were seen as uncool if they tried to tell someone about their experience and/or they didn’t want their friends to know anyways because… you guessed it – they wanted me all to themselves. If a friend came to me, it had to be casual – it couldn’t look like a referral & I had to make EXTRA CERTAIN that the entire session was completely 100,000% different than their Senior friend who had taken their portraits with me previously… Now, my sessions are already built on who the Senior is, what he/she loves to do, their style, etc. – but the only thing the Seniors were concerned with was that they not do ANYTHING SIMILAR to a previous Senior they knew.

Then came the worst news yet… Seniors were choosing photographers simply because ‘no one they know had used them’. They wanted them all to themselves. Which meant they weren’t choosing me because someone they knew already had. In essence, I belong to another senior – I was ‘so & so’s’ photographer.

{If you know me or follow me you know I specialize in Seniors & Weddings – you need to know this now for the next part:}
As of about 2 years ago, I actually started noticing this trend in my brides, as well. They wouldn’t book a venue if anyone they knew had been married there… they wouldn’t dress shop at the same boutique as their friend had… they hired different photographers because none of their friends had heard of them before… they would even go so far as to keep their vendors/style/theme/decor a secret until the wedding day so that no one getting married before them could figure out what they were doing & do it first. What did this mean for me? Well, it meant if I shot a wedding with 15 bridesmaids – not a single one of those bridesmaids would even contact me when they got engaged. I used to be almost guaranteed they’d at least contact me – if not all book me for their weddings. Now, I’ve become their “friend’s photographer”… as in: “Oh, that’s Sarah’s photographer. I can’t use her…  I want my own photographer…”
UMMMM, what?! (And we aren’t talking about unhappy customers here. We are talking about brides that run up to me at the store to hug me, bring me gifts & tell everyone about me… Bridesmaids who rave over my portraits of the weddings they were in and give lavish compliments… but simply want something no. one. else. had.)

I started to mention this strange phenomenon at different get togethers, workshops & conferences. This past October, I mentioned it in part of my presentation at Conference 12. Theresa Marie Jasper of Tampa, FL, spoke up & said she was having the same issue. Her seniors wanted to keep her a secret – to keep her all to themselves – and other seniors didn’t want to book with her because someone they knew already had. Being in the wedding industry, I’ve discussed this with other wedding vendors: wedding planners, venue owners, etc. and they’ve all seen and felt the trend. This slippery slope of wanting so badly to be unique that a client will choose any photographer, any venue, any dress shop, any fill-in-the-blank, so long as they are the first/only one to do it is dangerous to our businesses. I coined the phrase The Unicorn Effect – because everyone is looking for something different, something SO UNIQUE that’s it’s never been done before – never been seen before – never been heard of before… or in the case of vendors, i.e. – especially the photographers, the Unicorn Effect means that brides/seniors/other types of clients may not be choosing you because you are KNOWN & used… Ummm yay… used. #WowThatSucks

A bridesmaid at a recent wedding of mine (who was also planning her own wedding) told the wedding PLANNER, “you know I’m getting married soon!!! 🙂 But… I can’t use you because you’re Sally’s coordinator.” Yes, she was Sally’s bridesmaid. She was Sally’s bestie & she didn’t/wouldn’t/couldn’t copy her… so every vendor at that wedding was automatically out of the running to work with this bridesmaid when it came to HER wedding. {Insert gigantic frowny face with tears here!} #SeriouslyCryingInMyCoffee

It used to be that brides would only work with vendors they had personally seen at their friends’ weddings. Why? Because their friend was over the moon about their portraits, the dj was incredible & the cake was fantastic. They put their own spin on everything, of course, – every bride chose different colors/themes/styles… but now, the brides want their very own vendors – no duplicates. It wouldn’t matter if one of them had a wedding in the mountains with snow – they wouldn’t want me to photograph their wedding on the beach in Florida because I belonged to their friend – the one whose wedding was completely different and the photos couldn’t have possibly looked similar…

It used to be that the only thing Seniors had to worry about was that they hoped no one else bought the same prom dress… but now they want shop at a different dress STORE; a different COLLEGE; a different makuep ARTIST; a different PHOTOGRAPHER… and this Unicorn Effect has become the death of my model team. Seniors do NOT want to refer – they want to keep me a SECRET and they’ve voiced that over and over and over… (Don’t worry – I’ll blog later about what I’ve done INSTEAD of having a model team – and how you can do it, too!!!)

 So what can I do to combat this crazy UNICORN CONUNDRUM? Be different. Be unique. BE THE UNICORN… Well, duh… but how do I do that???????? Check out SOLVING THE UNICORN EFFECT blog post HERE and make certain to sign up HERE for my next post about SAYING GOODBYE TO MY MODEL TEAM (and what I’m doing in it’s place)!!!