Sell out or selling art? It seems as though there is sometimes a perception that being a successful artist entails selling out. I find it difficult to believe that the two options for artists are sell out or starving artist. In order to be a successful brand, corporate companies often spend billions of dollars on promoting, advertising, and marketing. However, the assumption is that the same rules shouldn’t apply to small business or independent artists. In fact, the same rules do apply. That is not to say a small business or independent artist should spend a lot of money or go in pursuit of a huge advertising campaign. What it does mean is that all companies and artists should pay attention to their personal brand. As an artist, whether you believe it or not, you are a brand and you are creating a perception of a brand.
As much as it may make your hippy-dippy, free spirit sensibilities cringe to hear it, your art doesn’t sell solely based on the work itself. In the words of Picasso: “this idea of art for art’s sake is a hoax”. Granted, there are exceptions to every rule (including Picasso), but the truth behind selling art and brand building, in general, is that most people are buying a story, the promise of a message or the emotional connection to an experience. Consumers, guests or collectors are buying what you stand for and what your brand promises. They need to know you, connect with you and feel as though they have had an emotional connection to you and your work. When I say: “feel” I really mean feel. This is not something one can pretend. In today’s society, we all understand the difference between brands, products or services that advertise something other than what that they are. I cannot stress enough that brand building is not about advertising. In fact, it can often be contradictory.
What I am suggesting is that you take personal accountability and a vested interest in how others engage with you and your product, your work and your brand. Just as with personal relationships, engaging with a brand should come down to fundamental values. What do you or your work stand for? What are your values? What are your shared interests and what is your connection and promise to your art collectors? You all have something in common or you wouldn’t be drawn to one another. Even the largest and most successful brands all started with a smaller, more poignant brand message; one that typically spoke to the heart of their core company values and, yes a…mission to engage with consumers. That said it often takes some of the biggest and most public companies a swift kick sideways before they realize they have sometimes moved too far away from their original brand values. The examples are endless – Apple®, being the top of mind for brand turn around 101.
I won’t digress to the ABC’s of brand turn around, as that can be an even more cumbersome task. I will however, make an attempt to expound on the long-term effects of proper brand building from the onset. First, it is important to know you need to think strategy. Ask yourself the “who” and “why” questions prior to setting out to build your personal brand. Who am I as an artist? Who am I as a person? Or a company, and what or who do I want to resonate with on a deeper, more experiential level? Then, after you have done your “who and what” DNA, the most important question becomes the WHY. Why do I do this, why is my brand message important and why do people want to engage with my product or company? Not to beat a dead horse, but dare I say think of…Picasso? Andy Warhol? Any musical artist? It’s not that artists who have been successful are sell outs, in fact some of them (self proclaimed) weren’t even the best at their craft, but they had the ability to build compelling and lucrative brands based on their stories, and creativity telling those stories. Most people won’t call it branding and even shy away from the term, but at the end of the day everyone who is doing it – are very well aware of the significance in having a clearly defined product or service. This goes for any corporate brand or individual artist, if you do not take control of your brand message or story, someone else will do it for you. In the years I have been working within the brand-licensing industry, the number one and two hurdles I witness are: 1. An artist or the people within a corporate organization do not believe in the brand and 2. There is no proactive brand messaging. All too often brands spend time being “reactive” as opposed to proactive and honestly, (not that we haven’t been saying this for years), but consumers are much more savvy and dialed in now more than ever. Google it. Consumers are researching who you are. If you don’t let them know, someone else will. Whether it is the press, bloggers, or other consumers, you do not want someone else determining your brand message or how people engage with you. Take charge of your brand positioning and let people know how transparent you are with sharing information about your brand and product. Authenticity is key. As most people do – we grow, artist’s grow, work changes. Every individual or company has a past and that is okay. What matters is honesty about the past, and handling the future with dignity and grace. It is the dedication to being authentic in your original message that helps deepen the connection with people – and consumers.
After identifying the importance of your personal brand messaging…where in the world are you? If you are not telling people the WHO & WHY of what it is that you do, chances are good that they do not even know how to find you. What does your consumer-facing message look like? Your website? Is it consumer friendly? Do people know how to find you, reach you, and buy your work or product? If not, make it happen – and do it in a way that is engaging. The days of hiding prices or making a consumer “call” for a price check on art or a product are long gone. In 2012, B2C e-commerce sales grew 21.1% to top $1 trillion for the first time, according to new global estimates by eMarketer*. Consumer facing messaging does not need to be overly complicated. Prices can vary as the economy does, but price your product and get it out in front of people. Don’t make potential consumers go in search of something that should have been handed to them in the first place. Understand your own website development, search engine optimization, web marketing, and If you don’t, consult with someone who can readily advise you and make this process turn-key. Are you on social network sites in a prominent way? Are you communicating regularly, can your website be found? Can consumers buy your product?
And finally, stop thinking lack and start thinking abundance. There are so many large companies and independent artists who are continually espousing what CANNOT be done. The multitude of excuses are endless: the economy, the real estate market, the press, the lack of press, the naysayers, the activists, the tourists aren’t coming to the festivals, “here is the church and here is the steeple where are all the people”…the list goes on and on. My suggestion is to stop finding excuses to fail and start aligning with possibilities to succeed. Think abundance, not lack of. Yes, there are hurdles in business, obstacles in creativity, and challenges in LIFE. Now, is the time to really align with the original mission and vision, align with the optimum dream for your company, your brand, your art, and your life.