Tag Archives: marketing

Small retailers – it’s time to smile!

Yes, a lot of retailers are finding it tough out there.VitreusArtGallery

Despite recent reports that new car registrations are higher than ever suggesting that the UK economy is booming, the underlying story is that cheap finance is driving much of consumer behaviour, but that’s only benefitting sales of high-value goods – like cars and kitchens, and white goods and massive TVs too big for most UK living rooms!

Down at the lower-cost end of the scale, shoppers are being careful what they spend their disposable income on and that’s affecting many smaller shops.

Today we learn that M&S has had a woeful set of Christmas results; even my beloved Waitrose didn’t have such a brilliant Christmas, which was a surprise to me.

Doubtless there are lots of reasons for the prevailing sense of doom among many retailers but not being qualified in economics, I’m going to refrain from speculating. What I do know is – there’s a lot we can all do to help ourselves.

Part of this is marketing – I’ll come back to that.

Most immediately for me, having experienced extremely lack-lustre service in more than one smaller shop lately, and with Jenny prodding me to write about some of her experiences too, I’m going to ask you some questions…

  • Do you greet a visitor to your shop (or your stand at a craft fair?!) when they first step inside?
  • Do you offer to help, or ask a friendly question a minute or two after?
  • Do you manage to smile when on duty, and especially when customers are present?
  • When you see a potential customer is in need of help, do you get up off your chair and talk to them?

I hope so, but on the example of shops I and Jenny have visited recently not all independent shopkeepers do…

A key part of the appeal small, independent shops have for customers weary of high-street homogeneity is friendly service from people who are willing to help.
Product knowledge, genuinely helpful service and a cheery welcome are key differentiators – essential when we small retailers really need to stand out!

In our case, as a working studio-gallery with our own and other artists’ work on sale, going the extra mile to help a customer choose, or transport a piece of art, finding out if the artist has ‘something similar in different colours’  or getting something broken fixed efficiently, these are all aspects of service we consider to be the minimum necessary – not extras.

Given a chance, most consumers will moan and complain about the service they receive in our chain stores; I hear that and think – then come to our little shop and be treated like a human!

And that brings us to marketing. We need to get that point about treating customers as humans across to our future customers, and gently remind our current customers about it too.

So many small retailers are hoping that customers will find them, and then spend money in their shops. For me, hoping is not a strategy.

I do detect an element of ‘I have a shop – people will come in and buy things’ without the ‘I need to make sure people know about my shop’ among some of the small retailers I know.

Again, in our case, we advertise locally, we use national and local ‘what’s on’ websites and Facebook pages, we continually develop our email subscription and regularly (about every two weeks) email our list with news, questions, updates on our art courses and much more.

We speak at WI and U3A events about our craft, we take part in craft shows and cultural do’s.

We host events where visitors can see art being created and even have a go themselves, we get together with our neighbouring retailers to put on open days and outdoor events, we use our own social media pages too of course, but we don’t rely on them, and we do everything we can to encourage word-of-mouth promotion.

This is especially important – although we’ve only been in our gallery for a year, we’re increasingly getting visitors who tell us their friend (or relative, partner, neighbour) recommended us. Lovely!

But this only happens if we give good service and make our gallery a fun and interesting place to browse. And on top of this, we make sure we always have some work in progress on the bench. We’re a working studio-gallery and it’s proving to be a real winner for us – seeing work being made is a great conversation starter, it allows us to demonstrate our competence.

And another blessing – when we’re running classes at our studio visitors see what we’re doing and some of them want to get involved; we almost always take booking for classes when we’re running a class that day!

So the take-away from this last point is – activity. What can you do in your own shop to get activity going, get interest going, get customers asking you for more?

Demos? Have-a-go sessions? Events and talks, taster days?
Special products that the chains don’t or won’t stock?
Offering true expertise in your field that the staff in the chains just can’t provide?

An interesting, fun, quirky environment far removed from the corporate boxes on retail parks?  Yes, that all might sound like a lot of work, perhaps?

Maybe a better way of thinking about this is – marketing is a fundamental component of every business; just having a shop and putting things in it isn’t going to cut it any more (if it ever did).

It’s tough out there so get on with the marketing, make your offer really distinctive and fun, and remember to smile!

Artists – what are you selling?

Are you selling your work or is the customer buying it?
But more importantly (in my view) – what are you selling?

Yes, I know I have a reputation for being obscure sometimes, so let me explain by asking some more questions.

When you cost up a piece, especially if it’s an original, or something like the stained glass my partner in crime and I make, part of the price covers the materials used, and some more takes care of the time you spent making it. That’s mom-and-pop to most artists of course, and the mark of a good business-minded artist is how carefully and realistically they account for all their costs – electricity, rent, the other running costs of their studio and so on.

But there’s another element to pricing that’s overlooked more often than not – your standing in your field, and the years you’ve spent honing your craft, developing your ‘eye’ and acquiring the skills that elevate you above the hobbyists.

Time for a characteristic digression to illustrate what I’m getting at.

There’s a probably apocryphal story in industry concerning a factory owner who’s production line has broken down, and it’s costing him big money every hour it’s not churning out products.
The factory owner calls in the engineer who spends 10 minutes examining the control panel, opens the door and presses a button. Hooray – the production line cranks back into life and products begin piling up at the end of the line.

The engineer writes out a bill for his work: £10,000.
“What – for 10 minutes of your time?” yells the factory owner.
“Ok – I’ll give you an itemised bill” says the engineer.
£75 for pressing the button; £9925 for knowing which button to press.

And here, loyal fans, is the point – it’s not just how much time you put in to that piece you’re selling – it’s how much time you’ve put in to developing your skill. And how do you value that, when pricing up a piece, or negotiating with a gallery?
And how do you communicate that to prospective buyers, who may not have heard of you until now?

Back in the commercial world, branding is how companies seek to communicate the sometimes intangible values of their products and services.
What’s your brand as an artist, and how can you build it, reshape it, and communicate it?

The first step is to think about what it is you do, and how you do it.
Do you draw on inspiration from places or things, or natural phenomena?
Do you have a unique skill or approach that gives your work distinctiveness?
Is your work born out of challenges in your life, or times you’ve endured or enjoyed?

All of these combine to make you the artist you are. And if you add in your command of technique and training you’ve had, we can build a picture of why your work is the way it is.

Branding gurus (not that I’m one, or advocating you become one either) have a structured way of distilling the essence of a brand or a business and finding ways to promote those as values that consumers will respond to.
Applying  a simpler approach to our artist endeavours, it’s still possible to identify some key points that we should seek to get across in each of our communications, or ‘touches’ as marketing folk might say.

Some of the basics include always using a sign-off for press releases, emails, artist statements, websites pages, printed catalogue or gallery entries that centres on the uniqueness of your work as an extension of you, rather than the materials you used.
Instead of describing the brushstrokes, the brushes themselves, the gouache, the gesso, the hand-stretched canvases, you could instead cut it right back and say: This piece was created using a technique I have developed over 5 years involving a light box and a negative image print.

When you’re composing written content for brochures or your website, make the content about what the customer gets when they buy your work – the experience, the vision, the uniqueness, the clothing for their walls or windows,  the colour that makes their homes interesting places to be – not just the canvas and the frame.

When you meet people and they ask what you do – how about saying ‘I create pictures that capture the remarkable colours and textures of the earth’s  geology’ instead of ‘I paint stones using sable brushes and expensive paint’?

It’s easy to dismiss those artists who’ve found a popular niche that’s become recognisable, and stick to it. But they’re doing two admirable things – they’re managing to combine customer demand with expressive desire, and they’re creating a recognisable style – a brand.

Some quick bullets to point us in the right direction:

  • Make your descriptions of your work about the intangibles the customer gets
  • Make your website about how your experience has shaped the work, not just about how it was created
  • Avoid getting too personal about the work, put its presentation in the terms the potential buyer thinks about – where will it go, how will it look, what will it say about my choice, tastes and prefernces?
  • Think about what it is that makes your work unique and find ways to get those across when meeting people
  • Find opportunities to demonstrate your work, not just show it
  • Work with potential buyers to understand what they’re looking for,  and then sell the story of your work in terms the buyer has shared with you
  • Finally, find a narrative – a brand concept – brief, not too flowery, but not aloof either, that sells your hard-earned expertise; find places and ways to use it, consistently.

I always think of Vermeer in this context – the aspect of his work that we’re most likely to think of is his use of the camera obscura to achieve dramatic perspective effects. Maybe that was Vermeer’s brand concept.
What’s yours?

Feel free to leave a comment or get in touch via my website if you want to work on your brand concept and communicate your uniqueness!

Social media – can it work for artists?

A highlight of my week is getting my hands on (metaphorically, because I read it online) Mark Ritson’s Marketing Week article.
Ritson takes a distinctly ‘the emperor’s got no clothes’ stance on many things to do with marketing, and the newer or more fashionable it is, the more his hackles rise. He provokes comment, he makes me laugh, and most of all, he causes me to think. What a writer!

This week, he’s been examining if social media (although he really focuses on Twitter) works for big brands. And his conclusion is – no. He cites the examples of some of our biggest brands – BP, Vodafone and BT. It turns out they have a pitiful Twitter following, and he concludes this is because we’re just not that interested in these faceless organisations.

You can read his post here…I recommend you do!

He goes on to say that, by comparison, celebrities attract huge numbers of followers, all intent on vicariously living the life they lead. Ritson offers the observation that ‘Celebrities are people and social media works on a person-to-person basis.’

So, the point I am meanderingly groping towards (keep up dear reader) is that artists are people too. And people are interested in people who do things they wish they could, like make or paint or photograph beautiful things. That’s you, my artist friend.

So should all artists use social media to promote themselves?
I’d say they should, if they feel confident in having a conversation with their public.

They definitely should if they have something to say. A major chunk of the volume of Tweets clogging up our internet are trivial to the point of tedium, so the value is down to what you have to say.
If you can talk eloquently about what makes your art special, in a way that others will be inspired by, or if you can invite people into your world by being engaging, charming, insightful or just plain interesting, then go for it.

But please, make sure what you say isn’t just about you.  Because, if you look at how those big brands Ritson castigates ‘communicate’ with their audiences, you’ll notice that it’s all about them. Yawn.

Next time, I’ll talk about some of the marketing techniques I’m working on to promote my own art and that created by others I work with.

Until then, if you want to know more about marketing for artists, get in touch via mike@artcraftweb.co.uk or have a look at my website – www.artcraftweb.co.uk.

Oh, and have a look at Mark Ritson’s post about the 2012 London Olympics mascots and tell me if you agree with him.  (Note – it’s not for the easily offended!)

Happy selling,
Mike