Companies, artists, freelancers, whatever – they all need a brand for two main reasons: location and longevity.
Location – People need to be able to find you easily. If they can’t locate you, you can be damn sure they won’t be buying anything from you.
Longevity – Even if they can find you, what’s the use if they then don’t remember you? You want people coming back, recommending you to their friends, staying in touch, and wanting more.
You want to do this artist thing full-time? Then you have to be a savvy business person too and branding yourself will give you a major leg-up.
How to Build Your Brand
1: Define yourself.
No matter your genre, you yourself are your brand when it comes to the arts. Product companies like Nike or Apple have the advantage of not being people. While they certainly want consumers to choose their products, Apple Inc doesn’t get its feelings hurt if someone prefers a PC to a Mac. On the other hand, putting yourself out there as an artist is extremely personal – and scary.
So it’s important not only to identify your brand but also to believe in it.
Think about questions like:
What are my values? What do I really care about?
What’s important to me aside from my art?
What’s my look? Is there a certain group of people I like to identify myself with stylistically?
Don’t get too existential about it, but do take some time to sort it out in your own head.
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2. Be you - but simplified.
People are complicated. You are complicated. Your answers to the previous questions prove that. But your brand can’t be. If you’re trying to be all things to all people, you’ll never make anyone happy.
You are complicated . . . But your brand can't be.
You need to develop what’s called your “elevator pitch.” Imagine you get into an elevator with the biggest agent in your industry (hey, it could happen). She presses the button for floor 15 – you’ve now got 15 floors to explain in small words what you – your brand – is. And this chick has heard every pitch in the book, so you better make it good.
The key to a great pitch is putting the unique quality of your work into a context that others will understand; keeping it simple.
“Rural survivalist painting the Midwest. Lone ranger with a paintbrush.”
“Trippy ambient techno sampling the ‘60s. A fairy colony on acid.”
“Four-piece Americana band with a splash of Elton John.”
“Gruesome, sweaty, visceral photography. Macbeth with a camera.”
3. Figure out who you're talking to.
Now that you’ve got yourself figured out, it’s time to define your audience. And be honest – you know it’s not “all people everywhere all the time.” Who’s going to respond most enthusiastically to your work? When you’re first starting out, you’re going to want “super-fans”: people who will stick by your side, follow your every movement, and generally be as stalkerish as possible without alerting the police. These are the people who will come to your shows, buy all your merch, and – most importantly – recommend you to their friends.
So is it:
Apathetic grunge pre-teen boys? Or trendy urban young females?
Hippie nature enthusiasts? Or corporate suit types?
The Twitterati? Or the Palm Springs elderly?
The more specific the better in regards to gender, age group, subculture etc.
4. Make all the things! (Staying on brand)
Okay. From this point on, everything you do, say, make, think – if it has anything at all to do with your work and your brand, it’s got to be cohesive. So as you continue to create your beautiful masterpieces and fill up your Talenthouse portfolio, remember who you are, remember your elevator pitch, and remember your target audience. The more pieces you have that reinforce your brand, the more opportunities you’ll have to cement yourself into a potential fan’s noggin. Some famous ad-man once said that a brand is the most valuable piece of real estate in the world: it’s a corner of someone’s mind. So get in there and claim that land in the name of Spain. Or where ever.
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5. Judge your book by its cover.
How you present your work matters. Whether you’re in music, photography or film you’ll need a portfolio (link). Talenthouse is a pretty amazing resource for this. They’ve got it all laid out for you already, so you won’t have to worry too much about the structure of it. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to also link to your Talenthouse portfolio on your own website that’s branded in your style. Some useful tools for site building include Wordpress and Wix: two great, easy, free options. Just make sure your site is mobile-optimized!
You should also think about a logo for yourself, if you haven’t already. If you’re a graphic designer, you might already know something about branding identity, but if not consider inviting a visual artist to help you develop your brand image.
Once you’ve got your look, put it everywhere – on your site, on business cards, on stickers, on your notebook, your purse, your forehead. You’ll see why in step 6…
6. Sell yourself.
Starting out as an artist requires a small amount of aggressive prostitution. This means going to shows – whether it’s fashion, art, music, whatever – and bringing those business cards. This also means learning your industry inside-out. Are there people you absolutely idolize and would like to be one day? Find them on Twitter. Follow. Comment. Retweet.
If you never try, you’ll never find those few gems out there who will absolutely be your guardian angels.
Get in touch with agents, get in touch with people who tried to start in your field and failed, get in touch with artists in your genre that are just starting to make it big, get in touch with gallery owners and see if they’re doing a show for up-and-coming artists soon… get in touch. Get your name out there. Ask for help. Ask for reviews. Ask for constructive criticism. (And sit tight through the destructive criticism.)
This is not easy. It's pretty hard, actually. But if you never try, you’ll never find those few gems out there who will absolutely be your guardian angels and help you through.
7. Never say no.
All of this selling yourself is bound to get you some offers of work. And some of that is bound to be kind of strange. But when you’re first starting out, well, beggars can’t be choosers. As an old advertising teacher once told me: “Never turn down a brief.” All work won’t necessarily be good work, but all work is work, and you can always learn from work. Then you'll get to the point when you can happiily turn down offers because you know the client, project or fee isn't right for you.
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8. Be flexible.
Building your brand is all well and good, but it won’t do you any favors if it gets you stuck in a rut. A simple revision or update every now and again won’t destroy your hard-won brain real estate forever – and besides, if you’ve done step 1 well, you won’t need sudden, massive alterations.
But people do change. You and your work will change. You’ll learn what your audience really loves and what they could live without. You’ll discover new sources of inspiration for whole new bodies of work. And that’s great! Just don’t forget to bring your brand along for the ride.