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A few thoughts on marketing

Asked in a online forum recently:

I am thinking about what I could do differently for the next year for my shows and I am thinking about whether involving a marketing company to do some marketing in the city where the show is held would make a large enough difference to sales to cover the costs. […] Not sure how much the cost would be, but my thoughts are to do a test with a local show, use a marketing company to work on a solid branding as well as get an article in the paper as well as give me a couple of ads to run, that I could then in other towns/cities in advance of shows there. Has anyone had any experiences with this to say that the increase in sales outweighs the cost for the kind of business we do.

Based on my experience in agencies as a creative director, you may find it difficult to find a full-service marketing company affordable enough to make it cost-effective. It sounds like what you may need is a freelance public relations person, who can get you placements with the local media. Buying ads is probably not going to help you as much as personalized appearances and mentions in the news. Think about your audience. Do they read the newspaper? Is there a local magazine? Will they see your ad and remember it when the show comes around? Radio and television advertising is too scattershot to do you much good, except as news.

Free Publicity

If you can get interviewed a day before the show, or during the show on the local news, that’s always good. Free publicity will work better than paid advertising IMHO. Even advertising in the local show program is not generally as effective as you might think. Sure, you’ve got targeted eyeballs in the show program, but most people spend a few seconds at most with each page, often scanning the information, and saving it for when they get home.

Develop Your Own Brand

You might be better off hiring an artist consultant rather than an agency to help you define what differentiates you from similar artists. If you’re creative (and what artist isn’t?), you can do a lot of the marketing part yourself. Especially the branding and design of your materials. (See http://www.wishfulthinking.co.uk/2010/06/07/artists-creatives-internet-marketing/)

Most importantly, you want your brand to reflect your work and your personality as an artist.You may want to hire a designer to help you work on your branding, if you feel that you can’t handle it on your own. Designers, while good at working with the look and content of your materials, may not be the best fit for ad placement and media advice however. It should start with a logo that clearly defines you as an artist, and extends to the look and feel of all of your marketing materials. This includes your business card, letterhead and envelope, your artist statement, booth signage, price tags, your postcards, leave-behinds, portfolio, web site  — anything that finds its way into your customer’s hands. Separate your branding assignment from your advertising needs. Once you have a solid brand, then think about how best to increase awareness of it. Is advertising the best vehicle? or should you spend more time working on direct marketing? What about social networking?

Advertise Only as a Last Resort

If you do decide that you want to run some advertising, make sure that it matches the rest of your branding. Developing ads takes a while — there is a systematic process that you go through to determine what you need, how to get there and how to execute. Many marketing companies do this in a similar fashion, but call it different things. Essentially: Discover, Define, Design, Develop, Deploy. (An example can be found at re:group, an Ann Arbor marketing agency). If you shortcut the process, especially the first two, you may not get what you need. The main thing to remember in advertising that multiple impressions is what usually drives traffic (and sales). And for artshow artists, that’s difficult to do on a limited budget.

Focus on Public Relations

My suggestion is to work on your brand, and focus your attention on public relations & networking activities in those cities that you want to target, rather than spending your hard-earned money on fleeting media placements. Work on getting in front of your target audience through local appearances, interviews, speaking engagements and social networking.

For more advice on marketing, check out Alyson Stanfield’s web sites, or sign up for Ariane Goodwin’s Smartist Summit 2011:

http://www.artbizcoach.com/
http://www.artbizblog.com

Alyson’s book “I’d Rather be in the Studio” is also a good read and well worth the money.

Ariane Goodwin’s blog can be found at:

http://smartistcareerblog.com/
http://www.smartist.com

Michigan photos, southwest images now available at Yellow Door

Yellow Door Art Market is now open in Berkley. Yes, it’s true! April and Steve McCrumb, owners of the fab gift outlet Catching Fireflies, have opened a 60+ artisan market two doors down from their flagship store. It’s on Twelve Mile in Berkley — you can’t miss it. April’s been blogging steadily for two months, and created a huge buzz, so I’d be surprised if you locals haven’t already heard the news. She’s amazingly organized, and the store shows it. I jumped on board as soon as I heard about it. There’s a full store walkthrough video on YouTube…

James Parker photographs at Yellow Door

Photographs at Yellow Door

I’ve got a full core space on the lefthand corridor — the entry is in the back of the store and there’s plenty of free parking. On display are many of my classic Michigan photographs, as well as a few new ones. Stop by and take a look.

The official grand opening is Saturday, November 13 from 10-6. There’ll be food and drink, live music and some give-aways.

But, here’s the secret grand opening (shhh)! You are welcome to come on Thursday, November 11, from 5-8pm, for the friends and family open house. I’ll likely be in attendance, and there will be food and drink served at this event as well.

Yellow Door - James Parker Photographs

Bin prints also available at Yellow Door

The store is at 3141 W. Twelve Mile, Berkley MI. Hours are 10-6 M-Sat, Thursdays 10-8, Sunday 12-5. If you need to call, the phone number is 248-336-2038. Tell ’em I sent you!

More than one way to skin a cat

I was asked recently if WordPress can be used to create a whole website, and a shopping cart. The short answer is yes, you can build a website from scratch on it. The bad news is that you’ll need to learn how to design a template around their existing structure if you don’t use an existing one and modify it. WordPress is a platform that separates content from presentation. The content structure doesn’t change much, but the way it is displayed in the “presentation” layer can be styled using CSS and the built-in template editor for the theme. That said, the structure itself is somewhat limiting. Thinking about how you want to display your content may ultimately make the decision to go with WordPress for you.

WordPress creates a very good basic site almost effortlessly. If you only need simple pages that match the WP structure, it can work very well. It eliminates the need for creating your own navigation elements, as you can create “pages” that will appear in the correct places and update when you add new ones. You can also create “child” pages, so that fairly complex sites can be built that are not really blogs at all. This can get you through the simple stage of creating an “about” page and some images to represent what you do. But WordPress is designed for text and images, more than ecommerce. On the good side, WP has a great search function built-in. Tagging your pages and using a third-party keyword plug-in like All-in-one SEO Pack will go a long way towards making your content very findable.

Getting to the next level with a good  ecommerce function with WordPress will be a little harder. I have not seen any good ecommerce sites built entirely on the WordPress platform. That’s not to say that you couldn’t mimic the look of the WordPress template within the blog format. But WordPress is not really set up to display grids of images with database descriptions, pricing and the other minutiae that make an ecommerce site searchable. Embedding a full scale ecommerce site within WordPress, or just linking to it might be the best bet, should you choose to start out with a basic WP site. Once you start adding multiple products and product categories, adding all of that navigation to the WP structure will be nightmarish.

Enter the WP ecommerce plug-in. While I have not examined any of these, you may be able to make one work. There are lots of third-party developers that have already spent time working on this problem. A quick search on the WP Codex for “ecommerce” in the plug-ins section turns up about 70 solutions. WP-ecommerce looks like it’s had a ton of downloads, and some extensions built into it. There are other plug-ins to enable various ecommerce platforms, including Magento, oScommerce, etc.

You will probably discover that it’s much easier to use PayPal or Google Checkout to enable payment on your ecommerce site than it is to go through the security requirements necessary to host your own site and use a full-fledged merchant gateway like Authorize. It costs more per transaction to use PayPal, but it offloads the stringent requirements to the payment processor, while letting you set your own pricing and do your own fulfillment. In the long run, it may be more cost-effective, unless your site starts doing hundreds of transactions a week.

http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/search.php?q=ecommerce&sort=

Another alternative might be hosted ecommerce. There are tons of these out there, not all good. Yahoo Stores, Volusion, Shopify are a few that come to mind. Wayzala is a hosted solution with a WordPress plug-in integration. It looks as if Wayzala’s website is built on the WordPress Platform. Photographers often turn to SmugMug, PhotoShelter and ZenFolio. Your hosting provider may also offer something along these lines, using Miva Merchant, or some other hosted solution. Many times these are also template driven and not easily customizable, aside from the monthly expense. I customized a Kurant Store Sense site once for a client. It didn’t use standard code, but Java compiled code, so was almost impossible to test! It took months to get it right. I suspect the survivors in this market are better now. Kurant has since been acquired (by eBay I think) and is marketing under a different name. It’s still the same kludgy product.

One very good thing about hosted ecommerce solutions is that they will handle the payment gateway security issues. Come audit time, you have less data security to worry about. Of course, you pay for this convenience in the monthly charges. Keep in mind that even if you have a merchant account for selling products at retail, that you will need another account for selling online. The two are not linked as a general rule, and if you want to accept credit cards online, you have to use one of the following: PayPal or Google Checkout; a hosted gateway through a third-party provider, or your own merchant service linked to a payment gateway through a secure server. Many hosted ecommerce solutions will offer options one and two, depending on how you want the customer experience to flow. IMO, using PayPal is very secure, and most customers don’t object to being redirected to a third-party site, as it has a good reputation for buyer-bias.

One place to look for more ecommerce info, including rundowns on many popular shopping carts, is Practical Ecommerce, online.

One other thing to keep in mind, is that SEO is NOT the same thing as site search. If your site is built on a database platform such as SQL or MySQL for your product line, or even if it’s imported from a flat-database such as Excel, you should have good search terms built in for your main user-centric search function. Name of product, description, short description, price, size, breed, etc. should all be built into your product database already, and can be used to provide searchable terms for your site specifically. Search Engine Optimization, on the other hand, takes into account popularity, in-bound links and a host of other information to provide the best destinations for those searching the entire web for their interests. If your key search terms are buried in JPEG images, Flash code or a Java app, they won’t be searchable at all.

>See Search Engine Watch for worthwhile info on SEO and other related topics (some of this is paid content). Google also has extensive information on how to optimize a site for their search spider. While SEO is a worthwhile endeavor, building a site that is easily navigable, searchable as to product information and loads quickly is a much higher priority for most small businesses. There is so much competition in the web universe now that even with the best optimization efforts, you still may not see a lot of traffic coming from cold leads.

There are many many books on this subject, so recommending just one or two is a tough job. For CSS, the CSS Zen Garden is a great place to start learning about separating content and presentation. The above-mentioned sites are good reading for SEO and Word Press integration issues. For any other subject, you may need to drill down into fairly specific areas to learn what you need to know. I’ve found the Peachpit Press Quickstart books very helpful over the years; the O’Reilly books are also well-written and researched.

Good luck!

Four reasons why art shows may be a good fit for your work

How often have you heard an artistic friend say that they don’t sell at art shows because [insert reason here]?

Overheard in a forum today:

I have not been successful with art shows, because I have only done flee [sic] markets and Craft shows with very poor results. I have had success in the Commissioned paintings dept. I visit people I know with 3 or 4 of my latest pieces. If they like it, they commission me to do a painting for them at reasonable prices. This saves on the very expensive overhead of having to do shows where you invest a lot of money upfront.

From the sounds of this statement. the artist is probably approaching the art fair market from the wrong direction. Flea markets and craft shows typically don’t attract patrons willing to spend lots of money on original art, but typically are looking for small bargains and “finds”. Fine art festivals, on the other hand, pride themselves on quality artists. You have to find a good fit between your work and the potential audience.

Reason #1 — Quality. If your work is really original and unique, you have a great chance of standing out at an fine art show. Shows that are 1) juried and 2) fine arts and crafts only, will attract customers more amenable to browsing thoughtfully, and spending on art that appeals to their decorating tastes and emotions. Juried shows are also tougher to get into which may eliminate some of the low-end imported crafts. IME, it’s impossible to compete with dried flowers and manufactured cutting boards if you’re an artist. The top shows weed out the buy/sell junk, and feature only the best of the best.

Wells Street, Chicago. Saturday crowds make it hard to walk -- too much of a good thing?

Reason #2 — Traffic. Fine art shows are one of the best ways to attract buyers and potential commission sales. It’s one of the few ways an artist can expose his work to a mass audience in a few days. Most of the people that come in your booth and speak with you are qualified buyers. They may not have the money now, but they are interested in YOUR work, otherwise they wouldn’t have walked in. Many people are there for entertainment value, it’s true, but there is always a small percentage that is there to consider and purchase art.

Nowhere else can you get the maximum amount of exposure for as little money as an art show. Some top shows attract as many as 70,000 people in a good weekend. If only 1% of those people come in your booth, that’s still 700 interested people. If you make sales to only 10% of those interested people, that’s still 70 purchasers. Many galleries don’t see that kind of traffic in a week!

Reason #3 — Cost Effectiveness. Balance the overhead of exhibiting at a good show with the added benefit of post-show sales and you have a very effective advertising opportunity. Not all good shows will cost an arm and leg for booth space. Local art museums, community organizations and non-profits often stage very high-quality opportunities at low cost, to support their artistic community. But the bigger shows tend to attract more people than the smaller local shows. You want enough people attending to make it worth your while. A show with only 2,000 attendees is not going to generate the sales that a show with 10,000 people will. Sunshine Artist, The Art Fair Sourcebook and other resources can help you research a cost-effective venue.

And, while it’s true that doing shows carries with it its own overhead of canopy, panels, bins and transportation, this is an amortizable business cost. After all, you are in business, right? Here’s a post I wrote a while back with some useful reading on getting started.

Reason #4 — Exposure. In our increasingly visual world, artists are competing not only with themselves, but with Target and Walmart, television, the internet and social media. Everywhere you look there is visual stimulation. Broadcast advertising is simply not cost-effective for most small-business owners, unless you buy many spots on late-night cable. Art shows and galleries are two prime areas in which people actively seek art in which to create a calm oasis for themselves. They choose to be there, to view art. Maybe your art. You owe it to yourself to seek out markets in which your work will be a good fit for the audience, and to take steps to expose yourself to that audience.

Sure, you can do it one person at a time. In fact, selling is all about conversations between you and the prospective buyer. But in order to make sales, you gotta have leads. And the more exposure you have, the more leads you will generate. Remember, if you’re keeping your paintings stashed in your studio, no one is seeing them at all.

I have a friend who is a painter who has been doing shows his entire life. He and his wife work as a team, and typically the Monday after a show, they will be showing paintings at two or three private residences. If those showings don’t generate an immediate sale, often they will generate a commission. This is frequently the only way to sell larger work, as the customer can’t carry it home in her Porsche Carrera convertible!

You have a Facebook page. So now what?

Patience, commitment, belief

Faith

Your business page is up on Facebook, and it looks fantastic. Now you need to tell people about it.

First off, you can invite your Facebook friends to become a fan. Send them a link to the page and ask them to refer you to anybody else who might love your work. Add some content to your main page — talk about what you’re doing now, your marketing ideas, your current projects, the meal you had last night — anything. Keep it short, and try to tie it into what you’re already selling. Remember, anything you push to Facebook is public, so keep it clean.

You can promote it on Twitter (sign up, and link your FB page to your Twitter profile, or use ping.fm). Tweet about your new page and your work, and what you’re doing. This doesn’t need to take much time, but it may help you get connected to other sources. Try signing up with as short a name as you can, cause Twitter messages are only 140 characters long, including your name if folks reply to it. Follow other people with the same interests. List yourself  at wefollow.com.

Keep adding comments to your page’s wall. Practice writing a little bit on a regular basis. Keep feeding content to your other streams. You can add status updates to LinkedIn, Plaxo, Facebook and Twitter simultaneously using Ping.fm. It’s bit tricky to set up, but if you follow the directions precisely it is a timesaver.

Start building an email list. Use it to send out regular updates on your business, what you’re doing, promotions, whatever, to clients, potential clients, whoever. Vertical Response lets you pay as you go, has templates, and makes it easy to manage your list as it gets larger. Emma and Constant Contact are also good. You can do this on your own, but after trying this route, I do think that the online method is more efficient in the long run. It’s very tough to keep up on this.

Check out these inspirational resources:
http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/ – Chris Guillebeau
http://www.fluentself.com/ – Havi Brooks & Selma
http://www.ittybiz.com/ – Naomi Dunsford
http://www.problogger.net/ – Darren Rowse
http://www.artbizcoach.com/ – Alyson Stanfield
http://www.artbizblog.com/ – Alyson Stanfield
http://www.squidoo.com

Chris Guillebeau’s blog is awesomely good. Check out his free guide to World Domination. Seriously.

Havi Brooks is just plain fun to read. Like Chris, she’s from Portland. Must be the water. She always, always makes me think, and always makes me smile.

Alyson Stanfield’s book, “I’d Rather be in the Studio” is VVG, even though it’s slanted at artists. She has a lot of useful information that relates to marketing, working practices, etc. (artbizcoach.com)

Naomi Dunsford (ittybiz) has great insights into marketing. Plus if you buy Darren Rowse’s book from her, she donates the full price to charity. Wow.

Squidoo is a new kind of site dedicated to expert opinions — a little like about.com, but much much better. Started by Seth Godin. Oh yeah, he’s a good read too:

http://sethgodin.typepad.com

That should give you plenty to think about it. More than I can handle in a day. Be patient. It takes time to build a following, but if you truly truly believe in what you’re doing, business will come your way. Have faith.

America Creates

America Creates - a new site for artists, craftspeople and patrons of the arts

America Creates - a new site for artists, craftspeople and patrons of the arts

Two refugees from the corporate world have started up America Creates, a new artists site with some interesting features.  The website is unique for a number of reasons, and stands out among the crowd of wannabe art destination sites. For starters, its creators, Sharon Sinclair and Larry Hitchcock both have extensive creative backgrounds. Larry worked as Creative Director at Disney for years, and was a veteran of rock concert staging before that. Sharon, his partner also has a background in stage design and interior design. Together, they share a love for handmade objects and American craft. 

But the site is more than a pretty storefront. They’ve thoughtfully included whole sections on resources for the creative community, forums, blogs and even a way for artists to post video of themselves working in the studio. In their own words:

America Creates is an Internet business that connects American artisans with a local, regional, national and worldwide markets.

America Creates is a showplace for creative goods and services produced by independent American artists and artisans.

America Creates raises awareness of the people, places and events that support creativity in their own communities.

America Creates fosters the education of future generations with learning experiences in the classroom and apprentice programs with local artists and artisans.

America Creates revitalizes the concept of community, inviting all to participate.

The site is still in its infancy, and is looking for talented artists to participate. It is a juried site, so you must go through a vetting process before you are allowed to post work. For more information on how to join America Creates as an artist, click here. If you don’t already have a website, or ecommerce abilities on your current site, this is a terrific opportunity. Joining the site as an artist or crafter is free, but America Creates takes a 25% on any sales made through the site. There is no charge for listing items, unlike Etsy, so limited editions or multiple sizes or colors is not an issue. Creating variations on a single piece is still a bit kludgy, though, as there’s no way to add your own attributes if the pre-filled ones don’t cut it for you.

But there’s more to America Creates than just a store front. Larry and Sharon hope to enable the site as an information hub for events; creative services; guilds and co-ops, galleries, museums and art centers; art schools and associations, and any other resource that you can think of. Listings are free, and it’s a great way to promote your artistic endeavors to a broad audience. The concept of making it an art-based community is unique and sets it apart from sites that are mainly designed to sell. 

Larry and Sharon have recently hired a SEM (Search Engine Marketing) firm to help get the word out. They have ambitious plans for publicity, and the practical experience to make this a great place to find information on anything art related. Their goal is give artists the best marketing tool they ever had, but they need you and your work to make it wonderful.