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Better Marketing Advice

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Recommended:  Small Business + Small Marketing = Really Big Losses an article by Danny Iny

Most of the advice I’ve seen on marketing for artists has been the “market plumbing” and narrowly tactical variety.  (The link goes to an excellent article by  Dov Gordon).

When the tactic doesn’t work for the majority of people, you see lots of folks questioning the value of marketing art or of an artist’s “brand” etc.  But marketing starts from a strategy, especially for artists.  After all, our work and “product” is all about identity.  I’d argue that identity  is a cornerstone of marketing strategy for artists.

So the linked articles may not be “marketing for artists”, but they are good marketing advice and very relevant to artists.

Let’s dissect these bits of advice and see how all the items mesh up with an artist’s image and practice.  I’ll use Danny’s headers from the article so we can all navigate.

Alignment:    Start-up people and high risk entrepreneurs are always looking for a pain point.  What frustrates whom and how can I fix it?  If there’s a point at which consumers waste time and become frustrated, businesses leak money and resources, industries accumulate risks;  these are opportunities for big “hockey stick” growth.

Many artists just want to be fairly compensated for their skill and labor, make a decent living off their art, and just possibly to leave the door open for fame and fortune.  We’re not building the next Google.  Our collectors are purchasing luxuries – things they want – and not necessarily needs.

For artists  “alignment” is less focused on problem solving or driving someone else’s profits, and more about identity – your collector’s identity.

Who are your collectors?  Are they the people you think they are? (Don’t assume – get some data!).  Who do you think your ideal collector is?  Why do they purchase art?  Why do they choose you?

Why do they purchase art?  What does it deliver for them? Is it collectable, an investment, a decoration, a marker of an event or timepoint,  an expression their taste, a way to communicate and share their world view,  a desire to be surrounded by beauty, a desire to own something moving?  If you look at these “whys” and try to imagine the collector behind each impetus, you should begin to discern different collecting behaviors.

Once you understand who your collectors are and what drives them, you can look at how you present your art, your vision, and your “you, the artist”.   Are you a match for your collectors?  Are you even a match for your ideal collectors?

At this point you may have to stop and decide where to focus.  Perhaps  you have a solid stream of existing collectors and you want to present your artistic identity to them and people like them and grow your audience.  Perhaps you have aspirations that don’t match your existing collector base and you need to tune your message for that ideal audience.

Align your artistic identity with either the collector base you want to grow or the one you want to discover.  (Or align your strategy for pursuing collectors with your artistic identity, yes?)

Attraction:  You know who you are, you know who you want to reach, and your website, blog, image presentation, descriptions,  etc. are all a perfect match for your potential fans.  Now you have to go out and find them.  More importantly, you need to discover the most effective way to portray your artistic identity and grab and hold their attention.

For most businesses this would involve terse yet catchy descriptions paired with delivery methods that target both their ideal audience and the way that the audience is engaged.  How much of somebody’s attention do you get from Twitter versus a local newspaper write-up?  Twitter may have a larger potential audience and be more targeted by interests, but the paper receives more focused attention and provides the advantage of locality.

Artists have an advantage.  We create compelling imagery.  The product is much more the message for us.  However not all of the compelling, beautiful, unique work you create is an iconic representation of your artistic identity.  And … not all of your iconic work translates well into every marketing tool.  Some gorgeous subtle works just do not thumbnail well on the internet, others do not print well in the limited color space of a newspaper.  Lovely muted works may not work well on a poster or postcard.  The work that gets you the most attention from internet viewers may not translate into a growing collector base, nor does it necessarily mesh with your most collectable work.  Popular does not always equal iconic.
In addition to iconic imagery that represents you, you will want to use your words.  Do you have a long artist’s statement detailing your every inspiration, your relationship with Jupiter’s moons, and your prodigal preschool achievements?  Edit it and focus on your work – how does your work express your identity and audience?  How is it made?  You get the idea.

Now take your statement and pare it down even further.  How would you describe your art to someone sharing an elevator for 3 floors.  You have less than a minute – is your elevator pitch effective?  What would you say over a handshake?  See if  any of these really short succinct introductions can translate into a bit of text to use in your marketing.

And don’t forget that exhibits and networking can be part of a marketing strategy.  Networking is a tool that requires tactics – be polite, let an opening develop before diving in and talking about your art, don’t glom attention at someone else’s show, do build meaningful connections  with other artists, and all the obvious niceties of networking.  Networking, as opposed to just making friends, also has a strategic element.  Cast your “net” to a network of people who can actually impact your marketing and professional development goals.

Finally, keep track of which marketing tools and tactics actually work for you and what they deliver.    Which tools are most useful?  Do they deliver a dedicated fan base?  sales? web hits? valuable networking contacts?  How much of your time does it cost to get something valuable from a particular tool?

Engagement:  In his article,  Danny describes engagement as a process of getting a series of small commitments and returning a series of desirable rewards.  Most of us aren’t going to give away prints or originals in return for a facebook page “like”, and we have to be careful about diluting the value and perceived quality of our work.  Low res screensavers and printable copies are also questionable ideas as potential “give aways”.

We can try things like exclusive content on the Facebook page, blog or newsletter.  How cool would it be if new signups for your newsletter received an article showing the steps in your latest work in progress?  Or if your blog subscribers received your guide to the best related blogs you’ve found on the net, … or?

Providing added value without giving away your work hinges on that classic start-up advice about fixing a pain point.  The offline art world can be frustrating to navigate.  The online art world takes it past frustrating into overwhelming.  As a dedicated artist you’re a bit of an insider.  You’ve already navigated paths through the chaos.  Lead an interested party down a path you’ve discovered and you’ve cured some frustration and pain.

I really urge you to read both the articles linked above, then think about all of the art marketing advice you’ve seen focused on specific tools and busywork.  Now breathe, consider, and strategize.


6 Responses

  1. pickledcucumber

    Thanks for articulating and sharing your wisdom. I read Danny’s base article about small business too. I have just turned in my resignation letter to my employer AND symbolically to my career as an engineer in order to set the life priorities right: passion(art) first & money to support from the other way around. Tons of anxiety with tons of excitement. Seeing someone else’s tactics working, the level of anxiety seems to chease.

    • nerdlypainter

      I saw the handwriting on the wall for my science career after years of trying to persuade NSF and NASA to fund research that was sort of about protein folding and self-assembly, but really I knew how to design molecules that would make cool spirals in the polarizing microscope, and cool textures in the TEM (sort of going for a nano Kiefer). This is a better fit, and it sounds like a better fit for you as well.

      However, bankruptcy doesn’t help the creative process, it makes people drop out. The whole starving artist thing is a Romantic era myth. Don’t buy into it. Do have a plan. I hope you have a plan to go forward that includes financial management. As an engineer you’re probably comfortable with project management, so spreadsheet your investment and pricing models and look at how and when you can get to break even, GaNTT chart out your goals and progress milestones (it’s nerdy, but I won’t tell).

      I will say that so far, getting to a stable place financially through art is a bit harder than some things, but not unimaginably so. All businesses are hard to start. Very few people are blessed with fast luck, fame, and followers. The same would be true if you were opening a card shop or a bakery, starting aboutique law firm or … fill in the business start blank.

      The special challenges in art revolve around the “niche-ness” of what you’re trying to offer the world. There are none of the commoditization disadvantages of mass=produced uniform goods, but you also don’t get economies of scale. And you have to produce the work that you sell. And you need to have a critical mass of that work – a body of work arranged in coherent series – in order to access most channels for publicizing and distributing your work. There’s a need to start with a body of work and meet production milestones before you can reasonably approach a gallery, or try to make an agreement with a publisher or other useful activities. This means that for several months or even years you may not have enough art for your art to speak in the world. That’s a big hurdle. You need a plan.

      • pickledcucumber

        How do you know that I’m doing protein folding and designing? It must be Julia (your former MIT dorm mate). Anyway, no I don’t have a body of work yet. My plan is to build a solid foundation, experiment and make a lot of mistakes, find my true voice, build a body of work (a dozen to 20 paintings that I can depart) and put marketing stuff in place by the end of 2014. I am counting on the liquidation of my second home going favorably this summer. Your and Danny’s articles corrected my initial impulse to start “plumbing” before planning and building the foundation.

        • nerdlypainter

          I didn’t know you were working on protein folding. interesting. I spent a few years working of foldamers that would form rigid secondary and supersecondary structures then pack into complex patterned chiral materials as they were dried down. This was post PhD and Post MIT. Julia lived downstairs from me at MIT. Is “pickled cucumber” a reference to the electrified glowing pickle experiment at steer roast roughly 17 years ago, Runkle upstairs kitchen, roughly 2-3 AM? Which has now become a standard lab demonstration in several Universities? No drunk alumni were killed in the study.

  2. pickledcucumber

    That’s really interesting. You mentioned Protein folding out of nowhere and hit a right person! I was (oooh, past tense) part of Baker lab on UW, worked on their flagship simulation & modeling software called Rosetta. You might know it through FoldIt (protein folding online game) which is an application. I think these day’s lab practice involves bagels and latte more than cucumbers. How did you come to the moment of zen? Quitting decades of research field and associate professor position should have been a huge huge deal. my email is, by the way, from gmail (pickled… at gmail).

    • nerdlypainter

      U W as in Wisconsin? I left a soft money research professorship to found a bionanotech, which failed after a few years and a round of VC for a variety of reasons (looking for Round 2 just as the economy crashed sure didn’t help). I didn’t really want to go back so I tried consulting with room for art on the side, but the art started taking over. Now I have to hit break even on the art, but it’s still easier to market than bionanotech