A Conference on "The New Normal" for Creative Professionals

How Your Brand Story Translates to Sales

Do people “like” your art on Instagram but never buy a single one of your pieces? CHF’s Marketing Director Daniel DiGriz pinpoints the weak spots in the sales strategy and suggests specific ways to counter them. (This is part three of a three-part series on brand stories. Be sure to check out parts one and two as well.)

Some artists say, “I think that people are into my story, because I have high engagement on Facebook, and I have a bunch of Instagram followers, but neither result is translating into sales.” If people aren’t buying the art, is there a problem with the story?

If people aren’t buying your art, one of three things is happening:

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Number one: You’re not reaching the people who would buy your art—your target audience. Number two: You’re not telling a compelling story with the art. It’s not enough to just thrust the pictures in front of us with no other explanation. (I’m going to come back to that one.) The third reason is that the art’s no good. And that can be changed, too. That’s not an insurmountable barrier.

So it’s either the product, the audience, or the pitch, which is in the form of a story. So let me come back to point number two that I mentioned above: Social media is not the answer to anything, nor is an email list. I give the brand story priority (in the sense that it comes first), because if I have the brand story, when I go into a channel the question then becomes, “Can I convey that story compellingly in this marketing channel?” I see a lot of, what I call, “lazy marketing,” or a belief that the marketing tool itself will create the effect you want. The myth is that if I just use Instagram and post pictures of my art, my art will be enough—that I’ll never need anything more than the art. My portfolio will be enough, and the channel itself will be enough.

Artists are visual storytellers, but they must also be multimedia storytellers. If they aren’t, they aren’t doing marketing and they will not succeed in translating their marketing into sales. 

The truth is that, aside from whether the art is good and whether you have an audience, it’s NOT enough. What I need to be able to do is to get past my reliance on the tool to do the work. I need to avoid lazy marketing, and I need to have a compelling reason for everything I post.

For instance, I might post a picture of my art in progress, before it’s finished, while I’m still making it. It’s not enough to say, “This is day four…this is me making the art.” Sure, you’ll get a lot of likes, but they won’t translate into sales. And likes can be an illusion. At some point, we were told that we were supposed to get a lot of likes. That likes would make us popular, and that popularity would result in sales. That’s a mythological stream of thought: “Like = popularity. Popularity = sales.” Nonsense.

The above is true if you’re selling cars. It works for selling cars because there’s only one Ford Ranger and all the Ford Rangers ever sold are just clones of that. You could get somebody interested in a Ford Ranger and sell more of them just by posting pictures of the darn things. You know, “Here’s a Ford Ranger under a tree. Here’s a Ford Ranger at a mountain. Here’s a Ford Ranger at a picnic.” That works for cars.

But each piece of fine art is an original, one of a kind. For that, I’ve got to do more. I’ve got to be able to say, “This is where this story is going. Here’s this piece of art, I’m in the process of making it, and this is what I’m striving to convey. Here’s the narrative for where I’m headed.” I’m not just saying, “Next, I put on the gesso. Next, I put on the paint.” Or, “Next, I add the steel rods to this sculpture.”

When people get excited enough to tell somebody else about your work, to show it to their extended audience, or to buy it themselves—that’s when you’re hitting the right audience. 

Rather, you need be answering: “What am I conveying by adding the steel rods? What’s the point?” Otherwise it’s just, “Yep. Here’s the Ford Ranger. Let’s start with the tires. Okay, now we add the transmission. Now, we add the engine.” So what?

The same thing is true when I publish images of the finished artwork. People post images and say, “Here’s this latest piece,” with nothing else. That’s lazy marketing. That’s relying on the tool to do the work. Instead, the artist has to become a storyteller. There’s no way around this. Artists are visual storytellers, but they must also be multimedia storytellers. If they aren’t, they aren’t doing marketing, and they won’t succeed in translating their posts into sales.

When people get excited enough to tell somebody else about your work, to show it to their extended audience or buy it themselves—that’s when you’re hitting the right audience. You’re giving them a compelling reason to be interested. If all cars were one-of-a-kind—if there were no Ford Ranger or Honda Civic model, but every car was a unique piece and would never exist again—most of us would be very reticent to buy one; just showing us a picture of it wouldn’t be enough. “Here’s the Ford Schmegan. It’s one of a kind. We’ll never build another one. Don’t you want this?” We answer: ”No, because I don’t know if it’s reliable. There aren’t any Consumer Reports test results, so why would I want it?” It’s only works when they hit the narrative about the Ford Ranger again and again.

With a one-of-a-kind piece, you have to market it differently than if you are marketing a commodity. You have to give me a compelling story about why this piece, and not some other piece by some other artist, should interest me.

How to Sell More Art

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AvatarDaniel DiGriz
Daniel DiGriz is CHF's Creative Director and Director of Educational Programming. He's a founder at corporate consulting firm Free Agent Source Inc., and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe which provides creative direction and marketing leadership to multiple firms. His background in Fortune 500 life is in sales and education. Daniel is a corporate storyteller and collector of brand stories who speaks at conferences and hosts podcasts, including The Thriving Artist™ Podcast. His personal website is DiGriz.com.

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