Words: J. Scott Stratton
Selling out. It’s that stigma that signifies that an artist has compromised, commodified or sacrificed their artist integrity for the promise of fame or fortune. However, it usually associated with promotional tactics, which are more commonly associated with business and capitalism, and shouldn’t be confused with promotional ideas that can benefit artists.
Unfortunately, it is this stigma that has lead to many artists viewing certain types of artistic promotional or marketing tactics as corrupt–or unfit for the purity of artist creativity. For many, being a “starving artist” is more like of a badge of honor, rather than a byproduct of underestimating, or miss-understanding, the tools that are available for artistic self-promotion.
This article is not for those artists–the martyrs. It’s for the others, the ones that are interested methods of promotion that allow you to maintain your artistic freedom and integrity.
You’re an artist, but you’re also a brand. Own it.
This is controversial, as the term ‘brand’ is a capitalist construct. However, I use the term ‘brand’ for lack of a better word.
Regardless of what artistic genre you work in, it is essential that you come to terms with the fact that your artistic work creates a kind of identity around who you are. This is important, not only moving forward with promotional strategies and tactics, but also for checking your work against your larger oeuvre.
The term “staying on brand” isn’t as one-to-one as it is in business, but an element of it still applies to artistic work. As you develop your work, your audience will begin to apply and expect a certain set of values, styles, or influences to it. In business this is called ‘Brand Identity.’ 99design has a great article describing the specifics of brand identity more clearly, but it is not necessary for understanding the remained of the article.
When it comes to artistic or ‘brand’ identity, fortunately, the art market is much more forgiving than business. Pivots in style, influences or values aren’t leaden with the same amount of consequence. Although, they do open the door for critique, and this is where thinking of yourself as a brand comes in handy.
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When you begin to view your work as the foundation of your artistic identity–or “brand”–it will allow you to make tactical choices, and apply strategies to how your work will evolve in the future. Pivots in style, technique or influence will seem intentional and planned, and much easier for your audience, and critics, to understand.
Share you research. Share your insights.
I cannot tout this enough, but transparency is a major key to building an audience. When someone is given a peak behind the velvet curtain of an artist’s process and methods, they establish a sense of ownership towards that artist and work. They feel as if been given something special. They are part of select group that “understands” the foundations of the work.
The most effective, and artist friendly, way of doing this through what is called Content Marketing. It’s a marketing method most commonly used to establish a ‘brand’ as a thought-leader and provider of worthwhile information.
Content Marketing, when applied to artistic promotion, is essentially a blog–but the content on it is carefully crafted to appeal to Google search algorithms, while guiding the reader through a specific informational path. To understand this better, think about Wikipedia. Hyperlinks within the copy allow the reader to follow through page after page of information.
Artists can use Content Marketing by writing about their work, linking to their references or other articles they have written about their references, and creating a content path for you audience to better understand the foundations of your work.
Social Media promotion
The opinions regarding social media being a truly effective way for artists to promote themselves are divisive–different people will claim different things. There is no doubt that social media can be a powerful tool, but there is one caveat to be aware of when leaning on it for promotion.
You have to play by their rules.
If you’ve got the money, social media can be an incredible powerful distribution tool to point people to your content, events, portfolio. But you’ve got to pay to play. On Facebook, organic reach (meaning the amount of followers you have that will see one of your posts) is at a whopping 2%. Meaning that if you have 1000 followers, only 20 of them will see the post. Comments and engagement increase this percent, but not by much. But if you can pay to Boost the post, then things change.
Instagram feed is slightly better, but over the last few years, it’s organic reach has been steadily declining as well.
For the artists that have reached success of Facebook and Instagram, they follow systems that have been show to work on these platforms–particularly on instagram. They post at specific times. They analyse post statistics, and post more of what works, and less of what doesn’t. They follow hashtag trends. They respond and engage with every comment or interaction.
Essentially, it’s a fully time job. Which begs the question of whether you want to be an artist on Instagram, or an Instagram Artist. Both are viable, but it is hard to have time to be both.
Make plan, and follow it
This is business 101, and as boring as it might seem, making a long goal can be extremely helpful. It will allow to create a timeline leading up to that goal, establish milestones along that path, and regularly check up on your progress.
Once you’re able to establish that your artwork is both yourself and your ‘brand’, then you can begin to think of your artwork as your business–and every business needs a plan. It needs goals, and a method of tracking those goals.
For some artists, establishing KPI’s ,or Key Performance Indicators, could be useful. KPI’s ssentially the business term for the ‘measurement of progress.’ Its a professional way of establishing ambitions and objectives and tracking them.
Say that you want more people to sign up to your newsletter. There are a myriad of tactics that you can go about doing this, and if you track each of them, you will be able to see which ones work the best for you…then do more of those things.
If you like to learn more about getting more newsletter signups, read this article.
Marketing isn’t a swear word
Independent artist promotion doesn’t need to be painful, and it definitely doesn’t require you to make compromises to your artistic values. It will take a bit of time and education to understand how specific tactics can apply to your timeframe and process.
The key takeaway is to remember that your artwork is your livelihood. If you want to make a living off of your work, then you need to think of it as your business and your brand, and protect it as any normal business would.
Of course, there are an infinite amount of other out-of-the-box marketing and promotional tactics that could help you succeed without resorting to the ones mentioned above. But in most cases, one often needs a thorough understand of the basics of marketing, in order to apply more unconventional tactics.
As they say, you need to learn the rules to break the rules.
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