Sunday, September 29, 2013

How Marketing is like City Planning, by Guest Artist Tara Reed

The word "marketing" can bring up a wide variety of emotions from artists - some cringe and think of marketing as a necessary evil. Others look at it as a fun challenge and others may wonder if they really understand it. Regardless of how you feel about the concept, it is an absolute necessity if you want to license your art - or do anything at all with your art other than create it and give it as gifts to friends and family.

Marketing simply means letting others know what you have to offer. If you sit in your studio and create and never tell a soul, you have no need for marketing. If you want to earn an income with your art, you need to figure out how to make marketing work for you.

When Alex asked me to write on this very broad topic of marketing, I thought about it for a few days. What part of marketing did I want to talk about? Selling? Promotion? Choosing target markets?

For whatever reason, I thought about marketing as the flow of information and how it grows and evolves with your business - especially if you are a solo-entrepreneur which many of us are in the art licensing industry. My analogy of marketing being similar to city planning was born!

Consider yourself as a house in the country - you aren't a big business, it's you and maybe your dog and your family, living in a house, in a lightly populated area. To get what you need you probably only have some 2 lane roads that get you to the store, the gas station, some restaurants, shopping. You can go to the things you need and if they need you, they can come to you too. (Gotta love food delivery when you are in the groove!)

Marketing starts out that way. You decide you want to start licensing your art. You might go on the internet and look up some companies you would like to work with. You find their submission guidelines and send some art for review. You just sent your art out on the two lane road and you hope something comes back…

As you build your portfolio and your knowledge and interest in the business, you might decide sending submissions now and then over the internet isn't enough. You want more. So just as cities need to plan for growth in their communities - more roads are needed as subdivisions of houses are built and more industry comes to the area - you need to plan more marketing avenues to grow your business.

Two lane roads lead to highways that lead to inter-connected roads and highways and city grids. Without proper planning, congestion, confusion and frustration can ensue. The same can happen with your marketing.

The time to develop your marketing message - who you are and what you offer to manufacturers - is now. It's not when you become a booming business. It's hard to become a booming business without knowing who you are and what you do!

The time to make a plan for how to tell others that you have art to license is now. What roads will you travel to connect with the people in need of art?

Three basic marketing tools every artists should have include:
  1. A clear message about who you are and what you offer. Are you a coastal artist who specializes in lighthouses? Do you do surface design in Illustrator? Are you building a character brand?
  2. An online presence. It's 2013. You HAVE to have a website or a blog or both. You need to set up a shop online so people can see some samples of your art, get to know who you are and contact you. You need to OWN that space - don't rely on Facebook or other social media sites as your only online location. Things happen and you could be shut down or they could change the rules and the look and you might not like how things are presented.
  3. Email and a phone number. People need to be able to contact you to discuss what they need, so you can explain what you have and you can work together to find a way to make a deal happen!
Those are the basics. After that, you are building your marketing infrastructure. What other ways can you get the word out to manufacturers who need art that you have?

Here are a few other ways artists can get their message to manufacturers and retailers they want to work with - think about them and decide which might make sense for you and where your business is now.

Exhibit at trade shows. While art licensing trade shows are not inexpensive ventures, they are a way to get your art in front of a lot of manufacturers who are actively looking for art in a very short time. You get booth space and for three days, manufacturers walk the aisles and stop and talk with artists whose work they think might be a fit for their business. The two art licensing industry shows are SURTEX and the Licensing Expo.

Email Marketing. Start a list and email your clients and potential clients as you create new art. I recommend using an "opt-in" system - you won't get as many names on the list as if you just add everyone you meet or hear about, but you are less likely to get on lists of spammers. I use opt-in eNewsletter systems and STILL get on spam lists from time to time. It's a hassle to get removed and embarrassing when you can't email your own friends and clients! Do whatever you can to stay off blacklists!

Direct Mail marketing. Direct mail marketing is anything you send by regular mail. It might be a postcard, a presentation you create for a specific company or a calendar you send to clients at the end of each year. It's a physical "something" that will hopefully get into the hands of the person you want to connect with.

Advertising. If you know where the eyes of your target audience are, you could consider placing an ad. It might be on a website they visit regularly or in a trade magazine. Trying to decide how and where to spend your money to get noticed can be a bit of a guessing game so be sure to find a way to measure how it is working. If you are contacted by someone you haven't connected with before, ask how they heard about you - that's the most basic way of finding out what is working.

Use social media. Like advertising, you have to figure out where your target audience spends their time on social media AND EQUALLY IMPORTANT - where they are open to being contacted. Many industry contacts are on Facebook but put boundaries around it - they don't want to have friend requests from artists looking to tell them about their art. LinkedIn, as a business-to-business site, is a more logical place to make those connections. Also look for group discussions and boards on different social media sites and see who is chiming in.

These are some broad-stroke ideas about how to get the word out about your art. Don't try to implement them all at once. Be like a good city planner and plan for growth, while still allowing life - and art - to go on during construction. :)

Here's to your creative success!
– Tara Reed
artist and founder of

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