How to always sell prints, even if your clients say they want digital

You know that giving away digital files is a disservice to your clients; it’s not the best representation of your work, it does nothing for the longevity of the photographs for your client and it ultimately leaves money on the table. So how can you create a demand for a beautifully finished product, and not just a flimsy DVD?

You love to offer a beautifully finished product to your clients. You know that it’s the best representation of your work, the most meaningful keepsake for your client, and by doing so, you are able to make a sustainable living as a photographer. In today’s digital age though, many clients call asking for digital files, and converting a “digital-seeking” client into a “product-seeking” client can be a difficult.

Giving just digital files is a disservice to your clients and leaves money on the table. You must create a demand for a beautifully finished product.

You know that giving away digital files is a disservice to your clients; it’s not the best representation of your work, it does nothing for the longevity of the photographs for your client and it ultimately leaves money on the table. So how can you create a demand for a beautifully finished product, and not just a flimsy DVD?

There are many ways to become a full-service studio, many of which I teach, but in this article, I wanted to dig deeper than tactics and look into the psychology of selling the printed product instead. I want to put some clarity to the decision-making process and through understanding it, how you can increase your likelihood of selling printed products and guarantee your success as a full-service studio.

The only way to book clients and have them buy printed products

I’ve organized my experience, research, theories and discoveries on this topic and have developed a formula that will easily illustrate exactly how you can create a demand for your printed products. I call this the Propensity to Print Formula. When you follow and apply the principles in this formula for each client, I guarantee that you’ll be able to create a high demand for your printed products and that you’ll give yourself the greatest possibility of booking your clients.

The formula to calculate the likelihood of a client booking you and purchasing a printed product is as follows:

Propensity to Print Formula:
(P – 2D) x C x T

The variables in the formula are:

  • P = The client’s Desire for Printed Product
  • D = The client’s Desire for Digital Product
  • C = The Context of your presentation
  • T = The Tone in your conversation

This is the formula that every client goes through (whether you know it or not) when they’re deciding to book you, and it’s what influences their likelihood of purchasing a printed product.

When you add quantifiable numbers in to this formula, as we’ll do for the rest of the article, you can see how the likelihood of booking and purchasing a physical product is influenced by the different variables. The higher the number as the result, the higher the likelihood of a client booking and purchasing a physical product. If the result is a negative, the likelihood is very unlikely.

The No-Negativity Stipulation: If any one of the multipliers in the formula (P – 2D, C or T) are negative, then it automatically turns the result into a negative. Excuse the bad math on this one, but unfortunately there’s no conditional logic in a math formula, so we must define that stipulation explicitly here.

Your client’s bias will affect their likelihood to book

Understanding that your client comes to you with a pre-determined bias is the first step in understanding how to influence them.

In the Propensity to Print Formula, the first two variables are P, which is the client’s Desire for the Printed Product, and D, which is the Client’s Desire for a Digital Product. Each of these two variables have a starting value that is already established when the client first inquires.

The starting values are a combination of your client’s past-experiences, their social influences, their understanding of the photography industry and their own worldview. Understanding that the client comes to you with these biases and expectations is the first step in learning how to influence their biases.

In our digital world today, often the starting point of the desire for the digital product is higher than that of the desire of the printed product. If you plug this in to the Propensity to Print formula by giving P a value of 1 and D a value of 2, the equation results as follows:

P = 1
D = 2
(P – 2D) x C x T
(1 – 4) x C x T
–3 x C x T

You can see that right away, the likelihood of a client booking you and purchasing a printed product will be unlikely because the first multiplier is negative, and according to the No-Negativity Stipulation, this makes the entire equation automatically negative.

How you can influence your client’s biases through education

Although it may be true that your client comes in with a higher desire for the digital product vs that of the physical product, you have the ability to influence these desires. They can change, and usually they need to change in order to increase the likelihood of your client booking and purchasing a physical product.

Understand that you have friction here, though. You’re usually working against the fact that the desire for the digital product is heavily weighted and already established. You need to influence your client’s desire for the printed product to be more than double that of the digital product, hence why there’s the 2x multiplier in front of the desire for the digital product.

In addition to positively influencing (increasing) the desire for the printed product, you can also negatively influence (decreasing) the desire for the digital product, which will also affect your results. But you can’t just decrease the desire for the digital product … more on that in a few moments.

The most important contributors to your success

The C variable, which is Context, represents the application and visualization of the photographic experience. The T variable, which is Tone, represents how the whole message is communicated.

Context and Tone are both multipliers because they are extremely influential in affecting the likelihood of your client booking and purchasing the printed product. Applying the No-Negativity Stipulation, we know that neither of them can be negative, but furthermore, because they’re multipliers, they also can’t be non-existent (0) because then that, too, would give an undesirable (0) result. The positive existence of Context and Tone is crucial.

Context means taking what your client tells you about what they want, and reframing what you offer to meet that need.

Context means putting the discussion about the digital and physical product into perspective for your client. For example, if your client tells you that they don’t like large traditional, framed portraits, and then you try to have them visualize a cherry oak framed 30×40 of their family wearing blue jeans and white shirts hanging in their living room over the fireplace, you’ve missed the context. You need to talk their language, not your language. Context means taking what they tell you about what they want and reframing what you offer to meet that need.

Tone is the wrapper for the whole conversation, and it’s how you have the discussion with your prospective client. When you have a positive tone, you are positively affecting the likelihood of your client booking, but when you have a negative tone, you will negatively affect the likelihood of your client booking.

You’ll remember earlier when I said that you can increase the desire for the printed product or decrease the desire for the digital product, but unfortunately it isn’t as cut-and-dry as this. If you only decrease the desire for the digital product, you will likely end up having mostly a negative conversation, and while that might decrease the desire for the digital product, it also gives you a negative value in the Tone multiplier.

Tone is all about using the right words, stories and perspective. Always try to be helping, inspiring and educating.

You must use the right tone; the right words, stories and perspective. Approach the conversation with a positive outlook and always be trying to help, inspire and educate your client. Think good things about your client and don’t make assumptions about what their intentions are when they first inquire. This will allow you to keep a positive Tone throughout the whole conversation.

How to book a client and create a demand for your printed products

You can run the formula through an unlimited number of scenarios that will illustrate how you might get a negative result by having the wrong approach, but in light of having a positive tone here in this article, let me give you a scenario that will give you a positive result.

Here’s a practical 5-step process to follow, that will give you the highest likelihood of a client booking and purchasing a printed product:

  1. Approach with the right tone – positive, helpful, friendly, genuine.
  2. Understand the context of your client’s needs and desires.
  3. Increase the desire for the printed product in the context of the stated digital desire.
  4. Briefly educate about how digital isn’t the best option for this application.
  5. Increase the desire for the printed product in other similar and related contexts.

When you apply this 5-step process and put quantifiable numbers in to the Propensity to Print formula, it illustrates how effective this process can be. Let’s pretend that the client here initially has a greater desire for the digital product than that of the printed product. Let’s say that the starting value of D is 2 and the starting value of P is 1.

In step #1, when you have the right tone, this gives your Tone variable (T) a value of 2.

In step #2 and #3, when you understand the context of your client’s needs and increase their desire for the printed product in the context of their needs, this gives your Context variable (C) a value of 2, and also increases your Desire for the Printed Product variable (P) from the initial value of 1 to a new value of 2.

In step #4, when you briefly educate about how digital isn’t the best option for their application (understanding the context again), your Context variable (C) increases in value from 2 to 3 and your Desire for the Digital Product variable (D) decreases in value from 2 to 1.

In step #5, when you positively discuss the value of the printed product in similar and related contexts, your Context variable (C) increases in value again to 4 and your Desire for the Printed Product variable (P) also increases in value to 3.

Your finishing values for each of the variables are therefore:

P = 3
D = 1
C = 4
T = 2

And when you put these into the formula, you get the following result:

(P – 2D) x C x T
(3 – 2) x 4 x 2
= 8

A result of 8 is great! This means that you are very likely to book your client and have them purchase a printed product.

Beware: don’t follow the formula and you will miss out

You can see that if you didn’t follow the 5-step process, even a small changes or variation would have negatively affected the outcome:

  • If you skipped step #5 and didn’t re-visit the printed product after educating about the digital product, your Desire for the Printed Product variable (P) would be 2 instead of 3. This means that your P – 2D multiplier would be 0 and therefore your result would be 0.
  • If you had spent more time time talking bad about the digital product, your Desire for the Digital Product variable (D) may have decreased to 0, but your Tone variable (T) would have been 0 as well because you would have been mostly negative throughout the conversation, and therefore your result would be 0.
  • If you had not consistently talked in terms of your client’s needs, your Context variable (C) value may have been lower, perhaps around 2, which means that your result would have been 4.
  • If you had talked all about yourself the whole time and didn’t apply context to the conversation at all, your Context variable (C) would have been 0 and therefore your result would be 0.

How you can exponentially increase your likelihood of selling prints

There are 4 variables in the Propensity to Print formula, and because the equation has multiplication in it, it means that an increase in a variable’s value can exponentially increase the result. You can further increase the results by “stacking” the variables and positively influencing more than one.

The approaches are limitless in how your conversations can feed into the formula, and I hope that by giving you the framework to work within, you can get creative and have fun with your approach.

It’s simple – if you want to sell more physical product, then you must work within the Propensity to Print formula. Talk positively about the printed product, educate about it’s digital counterpart, and do so all in context of your client’s needs.

This article is the first installment in this series, and it sets the foundation of the theory behind how to sell prints. In the next article, I’ll be going into specific tactics, and showing the Propensity to Print formula in action. Sign up below to be notified once this follow-up article goes live.

13 Comments

  • The principles you’re laying out here make a lot of sense to me, this whole site is really helping me structure my photography business as I take it from side-thing to real-thing. Thanks!

  • Mary Ann says:

    Thanks Bryan… I’m always running into this problem and I just didn’t know how to steer people away from the digital DVD. Seem like that’s all they want, but I can see by creating enough value for a print, that can change… Going to give it a try on my next client.

  • Hi Bryan! I recently came across your web and podcast and love them! I was wondering if you could give an example of the actual wording you would use to add value to the printed product. All of my clients want and get the digital images, and I am wondering a good way of educating them to buy prints as well. Thanks!

  • petra says:

    hello .. looking really into it the 2 day..all other your page and love it truely deeply …even here in spain with the crisis hard times and more living in a smal village with an super high end photographer in weddings makes it not really easy.. but I will try… it was always my dream to do awesome Wallprints with little newborn babies..

  • Tianaina says:

    Hi Bryan,
    Thanks for the post.
    However, till the end of the post I hoped to see a long list of why Digital files are not the best options and also a list of the reasons why Prints are better (for the client).
    (I know you have listed 3 reasons why Prints are good here : http://sproutingphotographer.com/photographer-digital-files but I doubt these 3 reasons will increase P enough).
    I mean those reasons are not different for each photographer, those reasons are true everywhere and for everyone.
    There should be some “speech” (scripts) that every photographer should know (explaining to clients why prints are better and digitals are not the best options).

    I think such speech / script and two lists are more than helpful.
    Translating what I mean to “How to decrease D and increase P”.

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