Thursday, May 14, 2009

Branding and Marketing

I posted this a couple of months ago as part of a series of marketing articles for 1000Markets. With show season upon us, I thought it timely to review some of the basics of branding and marketing.

Before you jump into that complex maze we call 'marketing', take a step back and systematically look at your product and goals. All the marketing in the world won’t help if you have a product that lacks focus, quality and branding. This applies whether you are selling cars, corn flakes or art.

I worked at an ad agency for almost 20 years before becoming a full-time artist. Even though I ran an administrative department, I absorbed the basics by osmosis. After all, most ad people will tell you marketing is mostly common sense. Here are a few things to think about before you start actively marketing your product.

Product: Take a long hard look at your work. Is it ready to be sold, or still in the prototype stage? Have you achieved a high level of craftsmanship? Do you have focus? Or are you still finding your voice? Are you able to balance production work with creative work? If you dislike making something, but make it anyway because it sells, will you still want to be at it two years from now? Be comfortable with your product, but don’t get so comfortable that you lose your artistic vision. If you’re passionate about a style or technique that is not commercially viable, set aside time to work on it anyway. This will keep you fresh and challenged.

Niche and Demographic: In order to be successful, you need to know who buys your product. Sometimes it’s not the folks you thought you were targeting. I started out thinking I would sell to a young, hip crowd, but it turns out my demographic is the 30 plus stylish, professional woman. But I also have several styles that have universal appeal, which balances my collection nicely. Which brings up niche marketing. You need to decide whether you want to cater to a target audience or have a broader appeal. This is where a little market research comes in. Local shows are probably the best way to gauge customer reaction to your work. Ask for opinions. Talk to gallery and shop owners, an invaluable resource for understanding consumer mindsets and trends. Above all, keep an open mind and be objective. Easier said than done when it comes to our art, but necessary!

Branding: Okay, so you now have a viable product and know who you want to sell it to. The next step is branding yourself and your work. Branding is more than a logo and a color scheme. It defines how the public perceives your work. First impressions are usually lasting impressions, so it’s important to get this step right. If you have found your voice as an artist, you will have a recognizable aesthetic in your work and branding should be easy. If you flip flop from style to style, medium to medium, with no consistency, branding will be difficult. This is not to say you can’t have different mediums under one brand. You can if there is something that ties them together. For example, your work is organic and inspired by nature. Your jewelry, handbags and illustrations all have a common denominator and chances are, work well together. On the other hand, if you make opulent, jewel encrusted necklaces and toys for children, you’ll probably need to separate your brands.

Building your brand: Make sure your business name is universal enough to absorb future changes. For example, you are a photographer and call your shop XYZ Photography. Your photography leads you to experiment with digital collage, or you decide to sell your illustrations. Suddenly, your shop name is no longer indicative of your entire body of work. XYZ Designs would have been a better choice. Make sure your business name gives you future flexibility.

Decide on a consistent theme, color scheme and style for you logo, packaging, show displays and collateral (postcards, business cards, brochures, newsletters, etc). It has to fit with your work. I have a friend who makes wonderfully quirky jewelry out of vintage components. Her sales skyrocketed when she switched from solid color earring cards to ones made out of postcards of WWII pin-up girls. Extend your artistic vision to your packaging, displays and shop visuals. Again, if you have a recognizable voice, you will instinctively know what will work. Keep it simple and cost effective. Never allow packaging and displays to take the focus away from your work. I see this all the time in shop banners. If you have a knock ‘em dead banner, make sure your product photography is equally good!

Establishing a sound foundation will make marketing much easier. You are now ready to tackle the myriad of marketing opportunities available to artists today!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tutorial Time

I'm often asked if I teach classes on polymer clay. Teaching isn't really my thing, but I do think it's important to share information about my craft. Particularly in a relatively new medium like polymer clay. I own just about every book published about polymer and have taken workshops from polymer masters like Kathleen Dustin, SL Savarick, Louise Fisher Cozzi, Maggie Maggio, Dan Cormier and Judy Kuskin. Each class I take gives me a greater insight into the wonders of polymer and opens the way to further experimentation and inspiration.

Fortunately, the DIY revolution has given us an audience eager to try new crafts. PDF tutorials on just about every conceivable subject are available on Etsy, so I thought I'd publish one on how to make a polymer clay focal bead and pendant.

It took about 15 hours to set up, photograph and write. Each step was photographed numerous times, usually one handed or with a precariously balanced camera on a timer. Then came all the tweaking and re-writing. It seems that it was well worth the effort, though. It's selling very well on Etsy and several of my buyers already have work for sale using the technique!