Photo by Trey Ratcliff on Flicr.com (CC BY-NC-SA)
Last Friday already (time flies) Isabelle Conner and I hosted a series of round table sessions to help young artists with their marketing, personal branding and the successful use of distribution channels. Isabelle is a genius. The questions she asked the young artists are well worth thinking about once every while. It’s like, marketing 101, suitable to put anything ‘small’ in the market, such as yourself, a project or exposition or even a small museum.
1. Introduce yourself, please
Who are you? What do you stand for? What makes you unique? Whatever you are and do, there’re a lot of others doing the same. Take the average conference, what makes people come to you, apart from that they know you? What have they heard about you beforehand?
You should be able to tell others in one sentence who you are, or what the activity is you’re working on. This doesn’t mean it should be brief: be specific. There’re a million photographers in the world, so when you say you are one, you might as well let people know why you stand out between the others.
Be surprising, dare to stand out. One of the artists present made art using her voice to create sounds. So I asked her if she could make a special sound and she made the sound of breasts. I will never forget that and just told you about it. That’s marketing.
2. What’s your story?
Big corporations often have a hard time thinking about a story, the reason they exist. Small corporations, such as yourself or your activity usually don’t have that trouble. The story is already there. Especially for individual artists, your life is your story and probably it’s appealing to people, because the ‘artist life’ is appealing to people.
Small activities and expositions are often closely related to the people involved in them, so their story (or the story of how the thing came into being) is the story.
You don’t have to tell everything. Tell stuff that matters and makes an impact. (Read more about telling stories that stick.)
3. Distribution channels
Let’s say you have a product (art, yourself) and a story. Distribution is how you get potential customers to buy that. Probably, the most important distribution channel is your network, which I’ll address next. Others, again, come down to creativity and a couple of common ones:
- Publications such as local newspapers, specialist magazines, branded stuff with contents (such as airline publications) often respond positively to high-quality personalized press releases (include a hi-res image!) Aim at the small ones and grow from there. Forget about the big national newspapers for now.
- Take the streets. There’re a million things going on every day in your city or community, from fairs to Sunday morning markets to cultural manifestations. Again, the smaller ones are often more than happy to host you if you have a good story. Forget about the big music festivals for now.
- Work together with (other) entrepreneurs such as small shop owners. They’re happy with your attention, and you’ll be happy with that of their customers.
The bottom-line: start at the ‘bottom’ and move up from there. And don’t consider the bottom the bottom. It’s often where the coolest stuff happens.
4. Your network (is bigger than you expect)
If you’re trying to market something small, probably a lot of it comes down to your network. But who are in your network? Most people underestimate the number of people they know, and especially the strength of the people your network knows. LinkedIn (among many others) can show you how big your “friends of friends” network is. Sure there’s somebody in there able to help you distribute.
Make a list of your network’s network. And start helping them out. It takes some time to build a network, but it’s worth the trouble.
More importantly, however, maintain your network. People who “bought” you are probably willing to help you again. Approach them for help, especially if they bought your art. They’re already talking about you to their friends. Use that.
And be creative in maintaining your network. That influential CEO you met a couple of months ago isn’t going to remember you if you send her an automated Christmas e-mail, but she might when you send her a Valentine’s Day card.
5. Summary, what do you need to do small-scale marketing?
Most people start with a business card or flyer, but even a good-looking card doesn’t make people remember you. You don’t need printed stuff, rich people in your family, a website or a lot of guts to make sure you stand out.
You need to be able to present yourself. You need a solid story. And you need to connect with the right people and ask them for help.
One of the participants asked for marketing faux pas. Over-promising is one. As is lying. Trying to do marketing like the big guys probably is, and not doing anything because you’re not like them even more so.
Online offers many opportunities to connect with your network and find your niche. Louise McGregor did a session of starting out with social media. Her notes will help you get started there.