What Artists Can Learn From Marketers

You’re an artist, not a marketer. You’ve got songs to sing and paintings to paint and screenplays to screen. You don’t have time for Google Analytics or AdWords, right?

Many artists are hesitant to market themselves for fear of seeming too aggressive, of “selling out”, or of wasting their talents and time. Plus, “if you’re a creative person of any kind then ‘creating’ is a lot higher on your list of priorities than ‘selling,’” writes business coach Mark McGuiness. But, yo! We all have bills to pay…

Smart, measurable marketing is so much more than pay-per-click—it requires creativity and ingenuity (talents you already have, bae!) Stop neglecting your marketing efforts and missing out on potential growth. It’s easier than you think! Here’s how to tap into your inner marketer—no selling your soul required…

Remember Your Edge

Marketers are constantly trying to invent new content, images, and experiences to draw in new customers. For you as an artist, the “content” is the easy part! You’re creating songs, sketches, drafts, and storyboards all the time.

McGuiness writes, “Your creativity gives you an unfair advantage.” The internet can be redundant re-post loop, so people are looking for fresh, interesting content that’s worth sharing. As a creative, you have so much new content, it’s almost unfair. Remember your edge, and don’t be afraid to use it!

Put a Tiger in Your Tank

Old Spice Guy Hello Ladies

We remember the brands that are visually striking, easily recognizable, and full of personality. Frosted Flakes’ success is thanks to Tony the Tiger. Brands who create mascots and characters become part of pop culture itself. And the strategy isn’t reserved for breakfast cereal: think Mac vs PC guys, the Old Spice man, the Taco Bell dog, or the Travelocity Gnome. Use this “mascot” idea and apply it to your projects. Alter egos or personas establish a running narrative from season to season or album to album.

They can be permanent, exist for a short stint (think Beyonce’s Sasha Fierce or Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust), or revived from the archives later in your career. Creating an iconographic presence helps keep your work top of mind as your audience grows.

Articulate Who You Are

As an artist it’s important to package who you are. You may have already done this with a vision statement or a mission. Make it bold. Make it loud. Put it on your About page and your business cards. And remember this: it’s okay to be exclusive. You have a unique voice, tone and style—and you should capitalize on that. It helps you attract the right crowd.

Third Wunder co-founder Liesl Barrell says, “If you market too broadly you may never find your ‘tribe.’ It’s better to start by building your core fanbase before reaching outwards.” Take Grey Poupon for example. Infamously snobby turned discernment into a marketing strategy. They ran a snooty campaign that only accepted the crème de la crème of Facebook users into their “Grey Poupon Good Taste Society.”’

“This shows that even being exclusive or elitist can work for you in the right context. Especially if you have a sense of humour about it,” Liesl says. With your own vision clearly stated, your fans can find you more easily.

Find Your Tribe (With Data and Research!)

We’ve all heard “know your target market”—but that’s easier said than done, right? High-level assumptions are easy to come by: Lululemon should target female, yoga-loving yuppies (duh). But more granular market research can provide valuable insights into what your audience likes—and, most importantly, how to make your content relevant. Netflix, for example, analyzes what people pirate on torrents to pick titles per market.

Marketing is more than just promotion. Especially as an artist, you’re also a tastemaker. “Forecasting and trend reports offer insights that will help you develop work that is topical or meaningfully on-zeitgeist and then capitalize on that during promotion as well,” says Liesl.

We’re not talking about fads (“high-waisted bikinis are so in this season”), trends are bigger movements or paradigm shifts that influence public consciousness (like sustainability). Check out think tanks like the JWT Trend Reports and Faith Popcorn.

Use these resources to understand societal shifts and draw ideas from market researchers. This will help you better create and position your work.

Give Them the Goods

Remember your edge? Now it’s time to deliver. Give your audience fresh content regularly. Feed their curiosity. Pique their interest. The Oatmeal does an excellent job of this. Artist Matthew Inman is basically giving most of his work away for free. But his sharp wit and incredible talent as an illustrator have earned him such a loyal fan base, his audience visits his website daily, subscribes to his email list, and shares his comics across their networks. His fans do his marketing for him, freely and happily, because they love his work. This pays off, as they also buy t-shirts, books, and posters from his online store, too. Cha-ching!

About The Oatmeal, aka Matthew Inman - The Oatmeal 2015-05-27 08-21-09

I’m not saying give away all your work for free. But feed the fire with sneak-peeks, demos, and sketches to keep your audience involved in and aware of your projects. Plus, everything you share doesn’t have to be new…

Repurpose Old Shit!

You’re creating shit-tons of content. Photos, videos, articles, music, and more that can be used and packaged in different ways. Marketers are good at transforming a blog post into a slideshare deck, then into a conference talk, and into an e-book. But artists can sometimes forget their catalog of existing content can be powerfully reused. Consider the value of behind-the-scenes footage, even scenes from the cutting room floor. Check out how outtakes were powerfully repurposed in these PSAs:

“Outtakes From the ‘No More’ Campaign Are More Powerful Than the Original PSAs”

We love the behind-the-scenes cuts from Red Bull’s film about mountain biker Danny Malone, revealing a playful, poignant side of the fearless rider. Not only does it bring you closer to Danny himself, but it makes you reeeeally excited for the full-length film #doublewin

Make It Actionable/Applicable

Releasing content to generate buzz is a good move. But it can’t happen in a vacuum. The Oatmeal comics are so effective because they are easily sharable, hilarious, and applicable to daily life (Coffee Flowchart, anyone?). But say your work isn’t so bite-sized? Marketers are great at making their content juicy, fun, and actionable. Take the #lowesfixinsix campaign for example. “Home improvement” is a huge sector. But they created tiny, six-second Vine videos of fix-it hacks that anyone can do. It gave away new ideas but stimulated excitement, creativity, (and ultimately a trip to Lowe’s).

William Gelner, chief creative officer at 180LA, told Forbes, the key is “hitting a nerve and becoming both share-worthy and meaningful.”

Expand Rather Than Repeat

Artists sometimes have spotty, inconsistent online presences. (I know I’m guilty…20 tweets on Tuesday, then silence for a week). And reposting the exact same content across different mediums? That’s just ineffective. Screenshoting your FB status to post on Instagram isn’t using either platform to it’s full potential. Well-crafted, thoughtful campaigns utilize multiple channels to communicate a similar message, while leveraging each platform’s different strengths.

HBO’s Voyeur campaign, a Grand Prix winner at Cannes Lions 2008, is a great example. The integrated campaign involved an interactive website, dedicated blog content, exclusive cell phone videos, MySpace character profiles (yeah, back when MySpace was a thing) and a public film screening. Each iteration successfully communicated the Voyeur campaign, without repeating itself so they all added new dimension to the experience. When used effectively, all your platforms can show a different side of the story—whether it’s outdoor, social, web, or mobile—deepening your fans’ appreciation and understanding each time. Play to each channel’s strength, rather than rehashing the same graphics across all platforms. The case study video below heralds the Voyeur campaign as “an immersive experience that demonstrates HBO’s unequalled storytelling craft well outside the usual platforms.”

Remember to “treat social media like a cocktail party” – it’s a platform for conversation, not just rebroadcasting the same message. Check out this awesome Culture Days video about how to get the most out of digital marketing conversations:

Experiment on Emerging Channels

Artists are great at using new platforms as opportunities. But sometimes these tests can be uncoordinated or off-brand. When experimenting on a new platform, consider the marketing angle. Strive to deliver consistent, coherent, and measurable campaigns in new spaces. Consider demographics, reach, and results.

Snapchat has successfully sloughed off it’s “sext app” reputation, thanks to the creative ways brands, marketers, and even news outlets use the 10-second bites to deliver information.

Heineken ran sneak peaks of Coachella on their SnapChat channel, and hosted a contest to win tickets to exclusive events.

And on the flip side, Michael Platco started as a SnapChat artist and is now hired by brands to promote their products using his SnapChat art.

The Takeaway

As artists it’s easy to feel that marketing yourself is a distraction from your actual work. But remember, you have that creative advantage! With a little dab of strategy and a stitch of market research, you can expand your reach and grow your audience in a snap (or a ‘gram, or a Vine) (…see what I did there?). Invest a few more marketing hours wisely and watch your fanbase grow, and if you do it right, maybe you can even turn your marketing into an extension of your artform.

Any other tips to share, examples you love? Let me know what I missed! And don’t miss the other side of the story: What Marketers Can Learn From Artists.

Keep the conversation going in the comments below…


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