Marketing Art Sucks

But it doesn’t have to

Most artists struggle with marketing because they’ve been sharing their work randomly online. Post on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook and get crickets. Or maybe a few likes. Or worse, a few trolls.

They maybe post a few times a week, following some random advice about how often and when you should post. Maybe they use hashtags, maybe they don’t. But nothing seems to work.

Clearly marketing sucks.

But it doesn’t have to suck. If you know who your target market is and get your work in front of them, you will have more success.

One of the basic steps in running a business is defining a target market. Now, stick with me here because I’ve taught this to so many artists and it feels to them like terrible advice but it isn’t. It’s essential in selling your work.

Think of it this way: if a diaper or nappy company tried to sell their products to, say middle aged, single people, how much success would they have?

Not much.

If they try to sell their products to everyone, thinking people know people with babies, how much success would they have?

A small percentage. All that advertising and only a fraction of people would need their product. Let’s face it, while there are a lot of babies, most people don’t have a connection with them that includes buying diapers.

But if they try to sell to families with babies, new grandparents and institutions like daycare centres and hospitals? The people and companies that interact with babies and their care givers every day.

So. Much. Success.

This is where marketing comes into play. Knowing who your target market is does NOT limit your work and make it harder to sell. It actually makes you a selling machine, connecting with the people who want, love and need your art!

If you’d rather spend more time creating your art than selling it, doesn’t it make sense to spend your selling time reaching out to people who would actually buy?

That’s the first step: accepting that not everyone wants your art or likes it. So how do you find the people who do want to buy it (or at least are more likely to buy it)?

You define your target market.

Now, with people who make pop culture art or religious type work, the target market is probably a bit more obvious. Make Star Wars art? You put yourself in front of Star Wars fans.

But what about landscape painters or portrait painters? Or, I don’t know… abstract artists or people who make very large outdoor sculptures?

There’s two sides to defining your target market in those cases: who do you want to work with the most, and who resonates with your work? And this is where you get very specific.

So there’s an artist I follow online. His work is absolutely stunning. Huge abstract paintings done in bold colours designed to add drama and impact to indoor spaces.

Large, bold paintings won’t work for most people. Think about the space you live in, could it take a giant painting and do it justice? Maybe? So is this dude crazy for making his art NOT for most people?

Hell NO!

His work isn’t marketed as “not for you”. It’s marketed for people and corporations with discerning taste who want something special, unique and that adds impact to their indoor spaces.

These large paintings become status symbols, if you will. You better believe that when I buy one, and I will be buying at least one, I will make everyone who comes into my home stand in front of the piece and experience it fully.

When buying this artist’s work, people become part of an exclusive group of collectors. This marketing works really well because it appeals to a very specific type of buyer. They have money to spend, they know quality art when they see it, they have the right space to display the work.

So what about a landscape artist? How do they define their target market?

Let’s take a Canadian landscape painter for this example. Immediately, the target market narrows to people who love Canada with her trees and lakes and rolling hills. Maybe they have memories of going to the cottage every summer, swimming from dawn to dusk. Maybe they have moved away but their heart is still full of Jack Pines and the call of loons.

So we’ve got people who are nostalgic. People who love nature. People who have ties to Canada, past or current.

And you can define them further, as an artist. Do you prefer working with a specific gender? Do you resonate with people of a certain age group?

When I started selling my own work, my target market was men in their mid 30s with a disposable income, well educated and into sci fi. What quickly became apparent was the fact that I much preferred working with women in their mid forties who loved sci fi deeply and emotionally. They had forged connections to the stories but also built communities with each other. Once I redefined my target market, my work took off.

Sure, I still had men buy my work. They resonated with my posts and art and that’s fine. A target market doesn’t mean you exclude, but it does mean you talk to one specific group of people. Anyone outside of that who feels connected will connect.

In business, this step is called defining your ideal client avatar. In art business, we call it defining your ideal collector. No matter what you call it, once you get specific, you turn into a selling machine.

I’m going to take this one step further: if you know who you want to work with, and who resonates with your work, then you also know where you need to show up with your art. Defining your ideal collector helps you choose the best platform.

LinkedIn, for example, would be a terrible place to sell Star Wars art but a fantastic place to sell art that appeals to business owners. If you make zen art designed for yoga studios and mediation spaces, you will want to be on LinkedIn connecting with people who own those kinds of businesses.

See where I’m going with this?

You do not have to be invisible. In fact, it’s up to you to make sure you are visible. Up to you to make (MAKE) people see you. And you do that by being very clear about who your ideal collector or target market is.

And then, best thing ever, you can spend more time in the studio doing what you love best.

Paula Mould

Paula Mould

Paula Mould is a fine artist, published author and business coach for Leigh & Paula.

She also swears, mostly on purpose.

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