Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I don't have a subtitle on this one, mostly because there's no real room to put a subtitley thing, but if there WAS room, I'd subtitle this post Hype, Consistency, & Flexibility. Don't wince. It's not that bad.

So, hype first. This is particular pet peeve of me in marketing and sales. Not just marketing of art, but of all things. I hate sales-speak and I hate ad copy that looks meaningful but is really just fluff. Example?

Evergreen Wallabies. The pet that gives back! Check out our family friendly Wallabies today -- they'll give you a taste of Aussie style! If you order one Wallaby before Valentine's Day (Wallabies make great Aussie gifts for your world-loving spouse), we'll throw in a free "Care Package" -- a value of $25.00!

What does that tell me? Nada. Zip. It's a bunch of buzz words and a time limit thrown in to encourage sales. It looks tacky, and moreover, it's the sort of marketing that Americans have grown immune to in a phenomenon that online sellers call "ad blindness." Obviously I don't think any of my charming readers would ever shove their product down someone's throat this way, but if you find that your marketing efforts tend towards the general and the impersonal, you might want to reconsider your strategy.

Okay, enough with hype. Onto consistency. I'm not talking about doughy versus crunchy here. Rather, I'm talking about branding. This links in very stongly with my earlier post series on artistic style. If you take away only one thing from these posts on marketing, take this one away: you need to build a brand for successful marketing, and you, baby, are that brand.

Let's say you have ten different places you're pushing yourself. One's a gallery, three are public hangings (no jokes about Jack Sparrow here, please), and the rest are various online ventures. If you're displaying watercolor florals at one, acrylic macro still lifes at another, and pen and ink military art at the rest, you're really only marketing your military art. The other two efforts are wasted. You're violating two marketing rules here.

1) You should always have at least three different places to find current artistic style that you're marketing.

2) You should only have one artistic style being actively marketed (for greatest efficacy).

Anyway, this goes back to the concept of branding. Think about some successful brands: Martha Stewart. Ikea. Pier One. I don't have to tell you what's on sale this week for you to guess what kind of things each of them have available, do I? They might occasionally have something out of character, but they've built their brand so well that you can say, "That doesn't seem like Ikea."

That should be you. Even if you don't have a consistent style yet, you should be able to eyeball the pieces that you have and see which ones hang together enough to start building a brand. Somewhere along the way, I got a great piece of advice from a successful artist. She said, "Professional artists always work in series." And this is absolutely true. If you work in series of 5-10 pieces, it gives you a nice body of work to market and allows you to change your style subtly from one series to the next. Let's say, for instance, that I wanted to market that crazy surrealist piece I'm working on for the Bauer/ Nielsen project. Ideally, I would do a series of them, using the same palette as my absolutely realistic stuff, but using the same concept as the Bauer piece. Then I could take that series and

  • name it
  • market it as a slight departure
  • have enough images to build a "mini-brand" for the series
  • have enough images to fill a booth with originals and prints that all look related (and thus look professional)
  • have a cohesive series to present to my gallery, if I went that route (click here to see my interview with the owner of the wonderful gallery that represents me)
  • subconsciously create a sense of urgency, because once that series is done, I'll be onto the next thing and the buyer will have lost out (this happened with my Cats of the Old Masters series last year)

Last point for tonight's post is: flexibility.

I know, flexibility sounds like the opposite of consistency, but I'm not talking about style now. I'm talking about keeping my ears open for marketing options. We all have in our heads the idea of an ideal marketing situation or an ideal client, etc. Well, sometimes that ideal doesn't come along. Professional art isn't like selling shoes -- I don't get all my income from one type of sales outlet. So I need to be flexible, always looking for new and interesting ways to market myself. You never know when something weird will turn up -- a festival you'd normally never think of going to, a commission for something that's really on the very edge of your style, a chance to be on the radio, a cheap billboard in your area, a really popular art group that you can weasel your way into, etc. It's hard to talk to would-be professional artists on flexibility because you don't know where you'll have to use it until you see it.

I can tell you this. Opportunities & work & sales don't come along by accident or good luck. I've seen too many envious artists simperingly congratulate other artists on their success and then snark about the successful artists' good luck behind their back. It's not good luck, folks. Sales and success come along because:

  • preparedness
  • consistent branding
  • honesty
  • a willingness to share your knowledge
  • a passion for your product
  • a desire to honestly please your client
  • networking
  • acting & passive marketing
  • a constant drive to improve
  • a willingness to listen
  • and absolutely last on the list, because I really believe it belongs here and not at the top -- talent

The best artist in the world will starve on a diet of Ramen noodles if they don't have the above qualities and a mediocre artist who shines with all the others will happily dine on cookies and sweet tea.

Naming no names, of course.

Questions and comments?


Alison said...

Wow! Great post! It sounds like the wisdom from your post is coming from someone about 60 instead of so young. Once again, I love your writing style. Thanks!

Katherine said...

another excellent post! 80% perspiration, 20" inspiration. That's the message - not you!

Now am I linking to two or three of these next Sunday?

Debbie Goode said...

Wow is right! I think I actually understand the meaning of "brand" as it relates to an artist. I have many interest--the idea of doing a series never occurred to me. Thanks so much for the insight! And--your dog is way too cute!

Stacy said...

Another excellent post Maggie! Brand and style - makes a lot of sense.

It did bring up one question for me though. Say you are starting work on a new series and you only have one or two finished pieces. What is your take on entering one of the pieces in a juried exhibition - you know, one of the ones where you only get to have one entry? Would you wait until you had other pieces from the series showing different places (your rule of three)or would you enter this new, kick-butt piece into the show?

Barbara Pask said...

Great stuff Maggie, I enjoyed reading the interview with the gallery owner too. A question for you, how do you feel about joining art clubs? Would you get involved in any and all? Thanks, Barb

Tracy said...

Wonderful, wise post Maggie! And I'm sure most all was learned from experience.

I ditto your thoughts about working in a series. Although I'm usually consistent with medium, I'm all over the board with subject matter.

Last year I reined it in by working 4 or 5 within a theme helping me to really explore. By then I'd be ready to move on to something else. Funny, though, a few months later I'd be back adding to the series. Been a good way for be to start building cohesive shows.

Jael Bendt said...

Excellent post! I am so definitely adding this to something but it's so worth another read.

I don't plan on selling my things and marketing anything, I'm still too young a student to be able to really get a name out there for myself...I'm in the learning stages of the process, but even *I* can get really good advice out of this.

Great stuff!