Image Courtesy of MommamiaA while back, Cory wrote a massive, awesome article called How to Sell Art Online, chock-full of great tips on how to get yourself organized to move forward as a creative entrepreneur. One of the tips, the one I’ll be delving into this week, was “figure out what makes you unique”. Personal branding is so important to monetizing your practice! Above all, it is the hallmark of a businessperson who is both self-aware and aware of their particular niche, whether that is hand-done brush calligraphy, jewelry made out of discarded computer parts, abstract metal sculpture, or whatever.
So how do you attain and exude this aura of expertise? The first step is information gathering. In his post, Cory talks about putting together a list of keywords for the purposes of search-engine optimization. You should also make a list of keywords that will form and inform the cornerstone of your “brand portfolio”, the resource you refer back to again and again for content that guides your branding choices at every juncture. The more descriptive, specific, and and strong the better. Think about the tools you use to make what you make. The materials. Your inspiration. Think about the kind of person who would buy your work- Do you see it on the walls of an urban fashionista or a rugged outdoorsy type? Check out Thomas McEvilley’s article “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”, which breaks down the ways in which we receive and transmit meaning from art, for more ways to define your corner of the world. Think of these keywords like a tag cloud, and remember, there are no bad ideas in brainstorming.
Market Research = Playtime
Once you have this nice big list, narrow it down to the five keywords that set you most apart from other artists in your medium or genre. This is a lot easier if you are aware of the other artists working in your medium or genre. In some sectors, this is called “market research”. Reason #23225 why it’s awesome to be a creative professional: For you, “market research” means looking at lots of art and researching the things you’re already interested in. Don’t just look at who’s making work alongside you, though! Know the history of your tools, techniques, processes, and aesthetics. Consumers want you to educate them. Plus, this will give you lots of ideas for topics and articles to blog about and/or post to your online social networks.
Now that you’ve gathered research and listed the five descriptors that form the cornerstone of your brand portfolio, it’s time to fill up the rest of the portfolio with the details that make your brand come alive. These include the icon that you use for blogging, your business’ facebook and twitter accounts, etc., your typography, your color scheme, even the titles of your pieces. Speaking of titling, every last piece of copy that makes up your online presence should be infused with the cornerstone of your brand. Do you send a newsletter? Use some of your branding keywords in the sign-off: “with love from the workshop”, or “with spirit and strength”. Make sure your words match your work. For some tips on this, see my post on Artist Statements.
When you have a very facile grasp on your brand portfolio, decision-making becomes so much easier! Now you know what kind of online communities to network with, what kinds of art direction to use in product shoots, and whether or not an online merchant will carry your wares, just upon giving them a cursory glance. You can use every opportunity to connect people to your unique vision. Radiate your brand. If you make wearable art, wear it. If you don’t, think about how to style yourself to reinforce your brand. You don’t have to put on an artist’s costume, but consider how employees in other industries use dress to project messages about themselves. My work is colorful, maximalist, and soft without being overly feminine, keywords which I use as principles to guide my wardrobe. Do you have a name for your business other than your own name? Get a shirt, smock, hat, or other applicable (as in, aprons for bakers) item of clothing printed with your that name and/or logo, for when you appear in videocasts, at art fairs, and during networking events.
By the same token, avoid diluting your brand. If your bff shoots dramatic black and white photographs and you make brightly colored children’s toys, don’t add their page to your page’s favorites on Facebook! You can “like” them from your personal account, but save your favorite pages, links, and blog content for organizations, things, and people who would look right at home inside your brand portfolio. You are building a world for your product to live in. You want your audience to see that world clearly, because they are buying your product in order to access that world. Make sure that this world is harmonious.
So remember, branding yourself as an artist begins on the inside, with the identification of the core values that drive your passion. It extends outward into the world through precise, authentic, and systematic re-affirmation of these values. You can know a ton about making AND marketing, but there is no substitute for knowing yourself.