The 5 C’s of marketing for artists

Creative content marketing for artists that engages browsers and turns them into buyers

I’m gonna venture a guess here – and correct me if I’m wrong… Somewhere deep down, there’s a part of you that’d luuurve to be a household name. And that little part’d be pretty chuffed to know that your creative work was being recognised (and requested) by both big galleries, and corporate brands and the small, loyal guys too.

You might be worried that to make it you’d have to sell out. You’d have to stray from your creative roots, or agree to do something that’s not your thing. But what if I told you that the secret to marketing for artists and creatives isn’t about selling your soul?

Sing it with me!

Say my name! Let it roll, let it roll off your tongue… Wear it out like a sweater that lurve cos I can’t get enough of ya… Say my name!

Rather than selling out, these 5 C’s (stop thinking about cookies, yo) give you licence to market your creativity, and share your creative work while staying true to who you are. That’s it. Attract buyers – without the BS. So, what’s the first gourmet ingredient?

#1. Creative magic

Have you ever had someone compliment you by saying, “I wish I was creative like you.” They look at you and your work like you’re channelling some divine spirit that can’t possibly be taught.

On one level this is flattering. And it’s kinda nice to think you’re unique, and that no one can do what you can do (and that’s 100% true). But… on another level, it completely disregards all the time, the hard work and experience you’ve gained. It disregards all the money you’ve spent on materials, the wins and the failures you learned from – everything it took to get you where you are today.

This ‘creative magic’ that people see in your work is a quality they don’t have (but want) and while this does give your work value, it’s only one way to measure it’s worth.

The problem with this is that your work’s worth then becomes tied to this magic, and it’s completely subjective. What’s worth something to that guy with the beard, might not be worth the canvas it’s created on for the guy scowling beside him.

What does this mean for you? It means they view your work like it’s an overnight success story. It means that when they see your finished painting on the wall, they don’t understand the journey you took to create that piece.

They underestimate its true value.

The thing is, your journey is what gives those browsers the opportunity to identify with you, and this gives them the opportunity to become emotionally invested in you and your work.

It’s your job as the creator to take your browsers on that journey.

Marketing for artists I wish I was creative like you

#2. Communicate and connect

Making that connection with potential buyers can be difficult for artists, because art culture still has a certain stigma attached to it, and because many creatives lack the confidence they need to put themselves out there. Let’s face it. Galleries can feel stiff, pretentious and unapproachable – and this isn’t helping anyone.

Good art culture inspires conversation and breaks down barriers. Good art stirs something in people. It connects with them. And good creative marketing does that too.

But here’s the clincher. The journey you take to create is emotional, and while some art is able to forge an instant connection through visual appeal – some of it needs a bridge between it and it’s viewers.

Your journey is emotional but for people to care about that, they also need to care about you.

During my time as a local arts blogger, I interviewed over 50 artists and musicians in my local area. Although this creative community was very supportive and welcoming of each other, we found that engaging the general public in discussions around art was often difficult.

We found people are reluctant to talk about art because they didn’t want to admit that they had no idea what it was supposed to mean to them. Part of this is because a lot of art still feels unapproachable, and the other part of this is because so many creatives have a communication problem.

Marketing doesn’t come naturally to many artists because it’s hard to share your work when you’re so unsure of it yourself.

And so many artists either lack that confidence, or they assume that their work will do the talking for them. Unfortunately, that’s just not enough. When people see your portfolio of work on your beautifully designed website, they’re taking it at face value.

They have no context, no way of feeling that connection with you and your work. So, how do you communicate this with your potential buyers?

The secret to marketing for artists is to create an open dialogue and invite people into your creative world.

Remember that ‘creative magic’ I mentioned? Although your potential buyers might be hesitant to open up about art themselves, they’re more than happy to learn more about your processes. By inviting people into your creative world, you’re inviting them to see what it takes to create your work, and this has multiple benefits:

It makes your art approachable, by showing potential buyers that you’re real and your process isn’t perfect – it’s full of mistakes and lessons. It helps them connect with the narratives of each piece and as they identify with that story, they form that connection with you.

It makes them emotionally invested in you and your work.

The mere-exposure effect shows that the more frequent a person is seen by someone (ie. the more often you show up in a person’s Facebook or Insta feed), the more likeable that person appears to be. And if research indicates that we buy on emotion and then justify with logic then the more your potential buyers like you, the more they’ll feel a sense of connection with you – and voila! the more emotionally invested and loyal they’ll become to you as an artist.

Already we can see how important it is for you to share your journey. Think about it. If as humans we’re looking for connection, for a feeling of belonging, then your buyers are also looking for something that has meaning to them and makes them feel connected to something bigger..

#3 Confidence

One thing that I find really fascinating is the buying psychology of people (or is that just me?). When you’re struggling to feel confident that your work is worth the price tag, I’ve found it’s helpful to remember that the buyer needs some reassurance too.

The strange thing is, that by making your buyers feel good about their decision to purchase from you, it often has the knock-on effect of making you feel better about their decision too. How do you reassure your buyers (and yourself), without doing the hard sell and justifying your prices over and over?

It comes down to the way you talk about your work, and share your creative journey.

Be human.

Stop thinking about all the things you should say, and just write as if you’re talking to your best friend about your creative work. Your friend will be supportive right? They’ll laugh along with you when you stuff it up, or kick your ass if you’ve taken a shortcut you know you shouldn’t have. They’ll tell you when your work is worth the price tag and question your motives if you decide to underprice yourself. They’ll also keep you in check if your ego starts to get in the way. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Write down your journey for yourself before you share it.

This is a trick I learned from Valerie Khoo’s book, ‘Power Stories.’ Your creative journey is part of your brand, as Valerie explains – you’re the hero in your story. Writing it down in order can help you organise it in your head so that it’s easily shared, with prospective clients, with galleries and co-workers, in press releases or bios.

Your story might look something like this:

    • As the hero (aka creative rebel) you have entered the big, bad world of business and shunned the standard 9-5 job because a) it was sucking the life out of you or b) your creative calling was too strong etc etc
    • You faced many challenges with setting up and growing your business. You had a) no clients b) no idea of how to market yourself c) no business processes etc
    • Despite all of this you persisted (Hell yeah!) and learned to put yourself out there (even if it was hell scary at first) and you slowly built up a regular client base. You learned on the go, and became better at surviving the rebel lifestyle
    • With an exciting deal just on the horizon something goes wrong! (cue iconic 80s horror music) and you must learn to survive another day…

      Of course, that’s your highlight reel, but the thing to remember is to be yourself.

      Share your highs and your lows.

      When things are going well, it’s damn easy to share those moments. They make you look and feel great and people love cheering you on. But when you get knocked back on another partnership program again because your work doesn’t have *quite* the right vibe, then it’s not really something you’d automatically think about shouting out to the world. It’s tough to find your vulnerability and share it.

      And communicating like this is scary at first because it’s probably more real than anything you’ve done. But it’s also the most effective way to market your work because it’s REAL. And real just works.

      #4 Consistent content and flow of traffic

      The fourth C in marketing is consistency. If you’re anything like me, you love social media and hate it at the same time. It’s a necessary evil in business, but it can also be a really simple and fun way to connect with other like-minded people.

      Nothing makes you feel better than sharing your work with people who just *get* you. The real secret to marketing online and on social media is to just show up and be yourself. And do it consistently.

      Where are your buyers hanging out?

      Find out where your potential buyers are hanging out on social media but also on other sites and forums – and go hang out with them. Chat with them, help them out.

      There’s no such thing as being too helpful. The more value you bring, the more people will connect with you. Being there consistently keeps you top of mind – they’ll remember you’ve been there when they needed it.

      And that’s how you start to form connections.

      You’ll get better at judging whether your time and effort is worth the payoff for your business – but making biz friends and connections with others is part and parcel of this journey. Take advantage of every opportunity you can.

      What questions or problems are your buyers asking?

      How do you know if you’re being helpful? Listen and pay attention to what people are asking. Talk to them, or ask them about their problems and see if there’s a solution you can provide that will help them out. Can you work on a commission, a custom design or specific project with someone to help them out?

      Can you refer them to a colleague, or provide some insight into your technique? The smallest act of kindness is often worth so much, and it makes you memorable.

      #5 Clarity comes from data

      Once you’ve been working for a while to create consistent content, the next step is to measure what’s working best. Each social platform has its own analytics to get your head around (and these guides by the Social Media Examiner will get you started: Facebook, Instagram, YouTube).

      It’s time to understand what metrics are important to you. For example, you might want to compare the percentage of people who’ve shown interest in your work (or have bought it), to those who are also following you on social media?

      When you’re just starting out, it’s best to pay attention to:

      • Who is engaging with your content
      • What content they’re engaging with
      • Where people are coming from
      • What questions you’re being asked
      • What questions are others being asked
      • How people found your website
      • What pages they visited

      And then you can go deeper with more specific tools and analytics when you’re ready.

      When you get to know your buyers better, you can begin to analyse where they fit into the buying cycle and have a better understanding of the journey they took to find (and buy) from you.

      As you go, you’ll be able to tailor the content to your audience by the things that generate the best results. It’s all trial and error.

      Over to you

      Do you have trouble marketing yourself as a creative? I hope these marketing tips have given you some more ideas. Let me know what has (and hasn’t) worked for you, or if you’d like me to answer any questions – pop them in the comments below. 🙂

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