A while back a photographer friend asked me "What differentiates you from other photographers?"
Having just become a full-time photographer long before this question, I replied "I'm not really sure..."
Fast forward many moons later and I can answer this question in a few sentences.
I am a fashion photographer (including but not limited to beauty, editorial, and commercial photography) with project management skills from the corporate world and an MBA (and MA in Psychology) from the academic world. My client list includes many modeling/talent agencies, models/actors, designers, and fashion-related companies around the world. I have a fully-equipped studio in Los Angeles at my disposal to cater to small and medium-sized shoots. For larger productions I partner with several large-scale studios.
I'm a full-time photographer. Not a weekend warrior. Not available only after 6PM to answer your calls. There are plenty of hobbyists out there. I'm not one of them.
I own and shoot a $30k medium-format digital (Hasselblad) system to deliver high-resolution, print-level quality along with tethering functionality for creative directors and teams to preview images.
I retouch my own images which provides vertical integration of pre-production, photography, and post-production. Not only is this more effective for creative direction but this usually translates into a more cost-effective overall production as well. This way, the post-processing is seamlessly integrated into the entire production rather than an "afterthought".
A photographer is only as good as his network of talented individuals. My network of modeling agencies, models, makeup artists and hair stylists, designers, stylists, showrooms, etc. span the globe and are some of the most talented individuals in their respective professions. Together we can procure and deliver any part of a photo-shoot production such as storyboarding, casting, and video.
Above and beyond all however, the quality is in the images. Please see my portfolio for further details.
The question of product differentiation is really a question of monetizing your images. There are a great many artists (much less photographers) that possess gifts from God, yet they are financially dirt poor (like Van Gogh). The vast majority of clients can't differentiate A from B from 2 simple images. Of course as professional photographers we are quick to spot the "better picture" and keen on the differences. But without the ability to translate these differences in a dollars and cents explanation to your client, you probably won't get the sale.
As an example, a good friend of mine runs an online dating agency and recently their company added some high-value services that include individual matchmaking. As part of this service they've included portfolio images for the client. My friend suggested to the client that she should use me as a photographer but requested some old pricing that I had given him a while back. I told him my new rates he balked at them. I was very honest with him and suggested that my services are overkill for what he and his client needed. The level of perfection and fashion-orientation nature of my images are a poor fit for his dating agency needs. If he didn't need perfection, he shouldn't pay for it. I suggested there were plenty of weekend warriors with equally good cameras that could shoot his client for free.
Now that's not a good example of product differentiation. That's a good example of where the client can't see the difference between you and Joe Schmo. Since he was my friend, I was happy to leave things at that. Dating-agency portfolio images fall outside my genre of photography and I don't need that kind of work. But he's a friend and I'm willing to oblige if he can play by my rules. At the end of the day he's trying to save his client money and I can understand that. Interestingly, at the end of the day his client insisted that I shoot her portfolio regardless of the higher rates.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Throughout the workshop, I'll be telling more involving stories where I've had to build the value in the clients' eyes... on the spot. Some of them are funny. Some of them are not :) Hope to see you at the business workshop!