There is no overstating this, if you want to be successful at selling your artwork and have a long, prosperous career as a working artist, you absolutely must do these three things (This is so important that I even dedicated an entire chapter to it in my book Secrets of the Art World):
- Define your brand,
- Design and then implement a strategic marketing plan, and
- Build and maintain strong relationships through your defined brand and subsequent execution of your marketing plan.
I could leave it at that. But, I know better. I know what you’re thinking already. What’s a brand? I don’t need a brand! I am an artist, not a business! Marketing? I am not a marketer! I don’t need to do that. If I just create great work, people will come to me. In a word: NO.
As an artist, you can’t underestimate the power of branding, marketing, and relationship building. It’s how I have built and grown my art business. It’s how every successful business grows. It’s everything! Without branding, marketing, and relationship building, I have seen many talented, hard-working, and amazing artists flounder. They’ve hosted solo gallery events. They’ve paid for booths at trade shows. They’ve launched expensive websites. They’ve poured money into their studio. All well and good, but without a distinct brand, without a story to tell to captivate an audience, and without a killer marketing plan and execution of that plan to reach their target audience, their work went largely unnoticed. It’s no surprise they grew despondent and ultimately quit. (Don't miss the key takeaways at the end of the blog!)
I don’t want this to happen to you. And it doesn’t have to happen. In this blog, you’re going to learn a lot. Consider it a crash course in branding, marketing, digital marketing, marketing analytics, consumer trends, and relationship building. Does this sound overwhelming to you? I will break it down so that even a person with absolutely no prior business knowledge or business acumen can understand it. No jargon, I promise.
The Difference Between Marketing and Branding for Artists
Before I go any further, and before I launch into a discussion of the importance of defining one’s brand (or as I like to call it in the art world, your “signature style”), I must be clear on an oft-made mistake when it comes to understanding branding and marketing.
They are not the SAME.
Let me repeat, marketing and branding are two distinct aspects of business. People tend to lump them together when talking and I am not going to do that. I know that each is important and distinct in its own way. One can have a marketing plan without branding (though, it won’t be successful). However, one can’t have a successful business without a distinct brand or signature style. Every single aspect of your business depends on a clearly defined brand.
"Appalachia" by JD Dennison
What is a brand?
Branding is behind everything you do – it’s your identity as an artist. And branding should underlie every marketing effort. (A marketing effort is basically another way of saying “an attempt to reach buyers through various channels,” i.e., social media, advertising, direct mail, etc.) Branding tells people a story – a consistent story. It is not, contrary to popular opinion, simply a logo, a special font, a design layout, or a business card. Yes, those are aspects of branding design, but behind all that is the message, style, and a story your organization is trying to convey to the customer. A brand communicates the characteristics, values, and style or attributes of a person, organization, or in your case, your artwork. If implemented effectively and consistently, it becomes so iconic one can easily recognize one’s “brand” or “style” within seconds. And more than that, as soon as they see this style and brand, their brain automatically connects words, phrases, ideas, beliefs, and yes, even stories, to that brand.
Pretty powerful, right?
However, a brand doesn’t say buy me, click here, sign up now, sale or join me at this event (that’s all marketing and we’ll dive deeper into that in the coming weeks). Rather a brand says:
This is me. This is who I am. And because it’s who I am, you connect to it too on some basic level. You are part of this brand. You too are defined in some way by your connection to this brand. You support me. You recommend me to friends. You’re loyal to me.
Your brand is the first thing and the lasting impression a customer or a potential buyer has. Your brand communicates all you want the buyer to know. It’s strategic and well-thought out. It also determines who is going to be a loyal customer or note. By defining your brand and story, you’re defining your target audience.
What do I mean by a target audience?
Say you’re a car manufacturer, and you have decided your brand is going to be uncompromising luxury and performance – only the best mechanical parts, only the finest leather, and details, right there, see what you’ve done? You’ve done it. You’ve defined your target audience. Your audience is attracted to luxury. They only want the finest of everything, and therefore they have wallets to do so. Your brand attracts your audience. Say you paint dogs. Your “target audience” will be dog lovers. Say you paint dramatic seascapes. Your audience, when it desires seascapes, will come to you. They know you can deliver the goods. And the opposite holds true. If you try to be all things to all people, you don’t have a brand. And without a brand, you don’t have a target audience. Without a target audience, you don’t have buyers to market to.
"Blue Sun" by Bette Ridgeway
So what makes branding so different from marketing?
A marketing effort might include a commercial, a Facebook ad, an email, a few social media posts, and a newsletter. Those things will bring a customer to the gallery. But the brand is what they want. What they are attracted to. If the brand type lives up to one’s expectations – the sculpture is, in fact, the ultimate art piece of their dreams – then the owner becomes a lifelong customer and a person who will forever sing the praises of their preferred “brand.” Good branding is like evangelization. The message grows and spreads, even when the brand isn’t in the room or nearby- and it will last for generations if done well.
As I have said many times already, all works artists are entrepreneurs. And that means you’re running a business. And all business must sell to survive. How you sell your work defines your brand. In fact, every thought, every piece, every ad, every email, every Facebook post, every event should reflect your brand or your signature style.
Your branding is what generates a timeless connection. Even if your current marketing efforts are designed to engage, it is the ongoing branding that keeps customers coming back. Think about it as a “promised delivered.”
Competition in the art world is fierce, and the fact of the matter is that there are artists who offer comparable artworks and techniques—or even the exact same artwork that you offer. It is your branding that will keep your customers returning for more. It is your branding that builds loyalty and trust. It is your branding that makes you unique.
Okay, so now that you understand what a brand is, you’re ready to define yours. I can help you with that.
Key takeaways from the difference between marketing and branding for artists
- Your brand is your identity and your marketing is the message you try to convey about your identity.
- Branding comes before marketing.
- A brand defines how people should ideally feel about your business and artworks, and makes devoted customers, supporters and even evangelists out of them.
- Marketing discovers and stimulates buyers.
- Branding is NOT a one-time practice. It’s an ongoing process that pervades your methods, your philosophy, and most importantly your progression as an organization.
- Marketing should be based on your brand’s identity, values, positioning and pitch of voice that have all been well thought out and planned.
Stay tuned! This branding versus marketing blog is a three-part series! Next week we'll go over how to define and test your brand as an artist.
2019 Talent Search for Blink Art Resource
Blink Art Resource was created as a promotional platform for artists in 2015 to have their work seen and sourced by designers for a variety of corporate, healthcare, residential, and hospitality projects. Even though there is an online component, we’re not just another online art marketplace. Each year we publish a print catalog and distribute it to 10,000+ top-grossing interior designers, art consultants and art dealers in North America. Not only does this put your artwork at their fingertips, the best thing about Blink Art Resource is that you work with the designer directly and get to keep 100% of the commission!
If you are interested in being a Blink Artist, contact our director Amy Whisenhunt at email@example.com to discuss details and review your portfolio.