I’ve been traveling for the last week to a conference in Austin, and as often happens with work trips, I’m brimming with resources and ideas. The Association of Performing Arts Service Organizations (or APASO) is unique in that it’s for all of the organizations who serve individual performing artists and other performing arts organization. Like C4, their primary purpose isn’t necessarily to present or produce art, but to provide services and resources to the field.
While there, I met with a group of folks working in adult education and professional development training from around the U.S. Most of us worked with individual artists by providing workshops or trainings in things similar to what C4 offers: business planning, understanding your career needs, fundraising, budgeting and finance, fiscal sponsorship and more.
And one thing we all seemed to land on: Marketing is perhaps one of the most misunderstood concepts that we teach. And yet it is also one of the most common things that artists say they need.
At C4, we often see marketing listed on our surveys as one of the concepts in which artists want more training. So we have a marketing class, AIM Atlanta, which provides artists with the tools to determine their market. AIM is also designed to walk artists through creating a marketing plan based on their current size and budget using tools/techniques they can put into practice immediately. But when artists show up for class, they often say their primary motivation in taking the class is learning how they can make more money by selling their art.
Let me be clear: Marketing is not selling. Marketing and sales are different tools you need to run your business. BUT marketing and sales are both important and feed off one another. Sales is a component of marketing but it is not interchangeable by definition or function with marketing.
What I’m not saying is that you shouldn’t take a marketing program if your goal is to grow your sales. But I’m a fan of realistic expectations when it comes to career growth. And in order to make sure you set realistic expectations, it’s important to know what you need and what you’re asking for.
So hopefully, the following info can help with getting the most out of marketing programs and education such as our AIM program.
WHAT IS MARKETING?
Marketing, in the simplest definition possible, is relationship building. And if you think of it like dating, it makes total sense. Sometimes you date folks, and it leads to a fruitful relationship in which both of you mutually benefit. In the marketing world, a fruitful relationship might be getting larger appeal for your work, write ups in journalism, patrons that are loyal and return buyers.
Sometimes you date folks and realize that they aren’t for you. There’s lots of reasons for this, but at the core, no one person is right for everybody. Likewise, as much as we would like to believe that art holds universal appeal, that doesn’t mean every artist’s work will appeal to every person. And it’s ok that it doesn’t. Imagine dating all 7.6 Billion folks that currently walk this planet. HOLY MOLY GUACAMOLE (did I mention I was just in Texas?)…that’s a lot of dates. Dating, as with marketing, takes time, energy and maintenance. Dating that many people at once would be exhausting. Likewise, marketing to the masses also takes a lot of time, energy, maintenance and resources (read: MONEY!!). That’s a long list of things most of us artists tend to be deficient in most of the time. Competing with someone else who does have those resources puts you at a huge disadvantage. So how can artists and small arts businesses compete?
Never fear! Just as you wouldn’t go out with every single person you see on Tinder, you also shouldn’t treat your business marketing that way either. Think of your dating “type” (and I do use that word in the LOOSEST sense possible to demonstrate this analogy) as what we would refer to as a marketing persona. Personas are based on who has been interested in your work before, and who might be interested in your work in the future. Why target folks who ALREADY seem poised to be into your work vs. those who aren’t familiar yet? It’s likely to take less of your resources initially to convert a customer who already demonstrates interest. And most of us don’t have the time and money it takes to launch a brand loyalty campaign that would make us attractive to folks who weren’t our “type” in the first place. Not to say that those folks definitely won’t be interested. But when time and money are in short supply, go with trying to find the folks in your market who are already interested in what it is that you do or create. From there, you can begin to branch out, and those “early adopters” will be your best advocates to the customers/stakeholders who don’t know you as well. Think of this as your best friend who tells everyone how great you are.
You end up with a great relationship through hard work and building trust. Likewise a great marketing relationship is built on spending time to earn your market’s trust. Trust requires constantly showing up and being consistent. Your work as an artist should reflect a consistency on which your stakeholders can rely. Being dependable in what you offer, how you offer it, how you present yourself – it all matters in building a relationship with your market. Just like it all matters in how you build a relationship with another human being. And some of the same rules apply: be the best version of yourself, treat people well, present yourself genuinely and be honest. Marketing isn’t about tricking people – it’s about finding the ways in which they authentically connect with what you already offer.
Sales is the act of actually trading a good or commodity for money. It may or may not be based on having a good relationship, and it is dollars focused.
The best businesses know that a good marketing strategy and hard work over time to implement it can pay off in sales. And that is where I would like to identify an opportunity for realistic expectations about your marketing. It takes time to get to the sales part. It takes effort and intention. And if you’re patient, over time you can hope to begin to see increased sales and interest in your work based on the strong relationships you have built. But without putting in the work, the payoff isn’t as secure. And, it isn’t an overnight happening.
FORMING THE RELATIONSHIP
Here’s the best part: focusing on relationship building instead of sales is WAY better for artists. Why? Well for starters, the value of our work is not based on it’s material worth but on the relationship that our patrons have with what we are trying to present. They aren’t paying for 1 paintbrush, a half pint of green paint, a couple splashes of blue, some graphite pencil, and a piece of canvas attached to some wood. They’re paying for a connection to a greater understanding of connection of heritage and culture of our ancestors to the present day. Or maybe they are into your work because of the symbology that is significant in their own life, too. That relationship to the subject matter of your work is a powerful one. And that is the most genuine and honest value on which you can form the basis of a solid relationship that will lead somewhere mutually beneficial for the both of you.
So, what do you do to find the person who wants what you have to give? Focus on incorporating that relationship foundation into all aspects of what you share and do. Don’t just have a Facebook page: have a page curated with topics and posts that related directly to the work you do. With your website and logo, pick fonts, colors, images and layouts the express the kind of experience someone might have with your work. Flyers for a performance? Again, give your audience some kind of indication of the experience to be had through what you are handing them to get there. Let your marketing materials speak for you when you aren’t there to explain yourself. And stay connected by giving your audience multiple ways to engage with you through email newsletters, responding to comments, regularly updating social media, blogging and more. Remember how much your significant other hates when you don’t call? So does your following. Feed that connection regularly as a part of your day-to-day business operations. Some artists even approach these communication channels as another creation opportunity. Others see it as a means of connection to a community outside their studio/work environment when what you do requires being sequestered from the rest of the world for long stretches of time to create.
So many of us get into the arts for reasons that are not money, so it’s somewhat surprising to see how focused it we sometimes become when asked about growing our careers. And I get it, because at the end of the day, we all need a means to pay our bills and our rent. But I challenge you to change up your focus from making more money off of your art to building stronger relationships with your market that can lead to increased revenue. Long term, the work you put in now can benefit you over the lifetime of your career.
C4 Atlanta focuses on this type of relationship building in our AIM (Artists In the Marketplace) class. Marketing is an important skill for every artists, whether you’re doing your thing as a freelancer on your own or as part of an organization/collective. Understanding how to build relationships with your work is essential to building your arts career and building sales. Over four weeks, we’ll dive deep into the tools artists with small marketing budgets can use to do this. As you grow, your tools and techniques can be scaled along with you. At the end of four weeks, you’ll walk away with a fully fleshed out plan for marketing your artwork based on your own creative offering. Join us this May for AIM. Click here to register or find out more about this program.