You’ve probably heard the term “branding” thrown around a lot when it comes to business startups and entrepreneurship. But for those of us that are making the effort to monetize our creative endeavors (or are interested in learning how), the topic of branding might feel slightly abstract.
So what exactly is branding and why should you develop one for your creative enterprise?
Branding is basically the process of creating a unique style or identity for your product or service in the minds of customers. Branding is what differentiates your presence in the market from other enterprises.
Why branding is important for artists and creative entrepreneurs:
- Branding improves your recognition
- Branding allows you to present central themes to your audience in a perceivable message
- Branding creates trust and loyalty among your customers
- Branding increases your available advertising platforms
- Your brand becomes an asset – building financial value for your creative business
- Lastly, branding protects your content from being stolen by other entities
Q: Can you build a brand around any art form?
A: Yes! Whether you’re a filmmaker, sculptor, writer, musician, or any other type of artist, brand building applies to you.
And the good news is, anyone can build a brand for their business – even if you don’t quite know what you’re doing yet.
This doesn’t mean it’s won’t be challenging, though. Building a successful brand isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight. Because your brand is going to represent you as an artist, it’s important to spend time putting thought into each action.
The six steps below are meant to be the building blocks towards creating a brand that reflects your individuality – to set up your creative business for success.
1. Know Your Audience
The first step towards building your brand is determining your target audience. Who will buy your paintings or comic books? What kind of customers will book your photography services? Most importantly, who does your art speak to?
Defining your ideal customer really comes down to figuring out how your product or service meets an exact need. This is obviously much easier when your business offers a tangible solution to a problem. But you’re probably thinking, how does this relate to artistic mediums?
I’ll be perfectly honest here, when I first started out as a writer, I struggled with this concept a lot! I didn’t feel like what I had to offer explicitly met anyone’s particular need. Nobody needs a story, I thought.
I thought long and hard about it and still came up empty-handed. Until I did two things:
1. Spent some time exploring and reflecting on what needs of mine are met by some of my favorite artists and writers.
2. Completed an exercise in determining my ideal customer by building a customer persona.
Both of these took less than an hour each, but after I had completed them, I had a rush of confidence to move forward with building my brand.
Spend some time listing some of your favorite artists and what their work has meant to you personally. How has their art affected you or changed your perspective? What keeps you coming back to that author’s work or that band’s albums?
Once you feel you have a good grasp on what you get from your favorite works of art – you’ll have a better understanding of what people have to gain from what you’re creating yourself.
Now, moving on to building a customer persona. When you’re building your customer (or buyer) persona, you’re creating a generalized, fictional description of your ideal customer. This description includes things such as demographics, interests, habits, and values. All of this information helps you internalize what sort of person you are trying to attract to your product.
Your customer persona helps you relate to your potential buyers as real humans with real problems. Developing this persona is what helps you understand how your art impacts people – how it will enrich their daily lives.
If you’re wondering where to even start on creating a customer persona, I’ve created a helpful worksheet that guides you through the entire process. This is the same worksheet I use with my business clients to help them develop the best content for their audience.
I highly recommend completing your customer persona before moving on to the next steps, so you’ll have a clearer idea of what direction you’re heading with your brand.
2. Define What Your Brand Has to Offer
Once you define your ideal customer and have an idea of the problems they might be facing, it’s time to focus on what exactly your brand has to offer.
The above worksheet should help you understand how your art will benefit people’s lives. From there though, it’s time to start thinking about what you have to offer that no one else does. You might have an idea of this in your mind, but you need to come up with a way to express that to your potential customers.
Know How to Validate Your Art’s Value
1. Provide a value adding solutions. How does your product or service enhance the lives of others in a way that is meaningful to them?
2. Create a Unique Selling Point/Proposition (USP). Identify what makes your art original and present this in a customer-focused way.
As a novelist, for instance, you might write romance stories for middle-aged women who feel like they’ve missed out on love. Your product’s value will be in the way that your reader can experience those unrequited sentiments through the stories that you write.
A great example of a creator using a successful USP for her business is Etsy seller Emily Stoneking, who owns aKNITomy – a shop that sells knitted versions of animal and human anatomy. Her products are certainly a draw for anyone looking to set their home or workspace apart with a unique conversation piece. But, according to her seller’s profile, her USP is summed up as, “using cuddly materials to create objects that many people are usually squeamish about.”
When crafting your own USP, take into account the culture of your creative business, your personality as an artist, and what you promise to deliver to customers. Other criteria to include would be the materials you use, your brand’s values (more on that later), or your creative process.
Get Customer Feedback
If you already have a customer base (even if it’s small) – have a conversation with them about your brand. Engaging in dialogue with people who’ve purchased your product in the past can help you gain insight on why your art is important to them.
Connecting with your audience not only provides you with valuable feedback but also helps create a sense of community with your customer base. By reaching out to them and showing them you value their input, you’re only building greater brand loyalty.
3. Establish Your Brand’s Message
When people ask you to describe your artistic vision, what do you say?
Even if you’ve never been asked this before, I’m sure at some point in your creative journey, you’ve given thought to the core themes or message of your work.
Establishing your brand’s message is basically summing up the core values of your creative business:
- Your Purpose. What drives you to create? What focuses your creative energy?
- Who You Are. How do you define yourself as an artist? What words would you use to describe yourself?
- What You Provide. Like we talked about above, how does your art relate to people. What feelings does it evoke? How does it enhance their lives?
- Why People Should Care. How has your work impacted your audience? How has it impacted you? Do you seek to influence culture or society in some way with your art?
The Importance of Shared Value
As a creative professional, it’s essential that your business values align with your customer values. Anyone who owns a business understands that having goals is what spurs growth. Goals drive you to attain and achieve success in your creative endeavors.
In its most basic form, your business goals might simply be to sell products and services and earn a profit. Likewise, your customers also have their own goals.
When thinking about your brand’s message and the value that it provides, you need to consider how you can align your personal business goals with your customer’s goals to create shared value.
Write a Mission Statement
Your mission statement should be a definition of your purpose as an artist. No matter what kind of creator you are, your mission statement exists as a reminder t yourself of why you create.
A mission statement works to:
- Focus the vision of your creative business
- Provide a guide for decision making
- Shape your business strategy
When crafting a mission statement for your brand there are a few components to consider. An effective mission statement will include most (or all) of the following elements:
1. Your identity. Who are you? Let your individuality shine here and think of what you’re about as an artist. Sum this up in a distinct description of yourself.
2. Your originality. Focus on what makes you different. This could be a unique life experience, a special skill, or a distinct philosophy you possess. Don’t be afraid to get creative with this part.
3. Your audience. Who is your art for? Use your ideal customer persona to make a statement about what kind of people you’re trying to reach with your creative business.
4. Your goals. What are you trying to achieve through your art? Where do you want your creative business to take you in the following months or years? Make your goals clear.
5. Your plan. How are you going to achieve your business goals? This can be a broad statement but must be made with clarity.
Here are few examples to get you started:
Honest Tea: “Honest Tea seeks to create and promote great-tasting, healthy, organic beverages. We strive to grow our business with the same honesty and integrity we use to craft our recipes, with sustainability and great taste for all.”
AirBnB: “For so long, people thought Airbnb was about renting houses. But really, we’re about home. You see, a house is just a space, but a home is where you belong. And what makes this global community so special is that for the very first time, you can belong anywhere. That is the idea at the core of our company: belonging.”
Red Hat: “To be the catalyst in communities of customers, contributors, and partners creating better technology the open source way.”
You don’t need to overthink your mission statement. Just focus on making it clear and concise. A mission statement can be as short as a single line but shouldn’t exceed two brief paragraphs. Most importantly, your mission statement should feel like it captures your essence as a creator and showcases your individuality.
4. Research the Competition
Once you understand what your brand stands for, what it has to offer, and what audience you’re targeting, you’ll want to spend some time researching your competition.
You can learn a lot from analyzing other artists in your industry. Not only can you discover and educate yourself on their successes, but you can learn not to make the same mistakes they’ve made.
Where Do You Find Your Competition?
As an artist, competition is all around you. Spend some time on Etsy, DeviantArt, Patreon, or any other platform that supports creative professionals and you’ll encounter thousands of creators similar to you.
If you have followers on social media platforms take a look at what other kinds of artists they’re following to get an idea of who you’re competing with.
For local competition, attending trade shows or art expositions can expose you to other creative professionals in your field.
Once you have a pool of competitors to work with, you can use their websites and social media profiles to perform a competitor analysis.
Ways to Analyze Your Competition
Analyzing your competition gains you insights on potential customers, an understanding of your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses, and an idea for how you can develop a successful strategy of your own.
- Visit their website. Have a good look around and observe. What’s on their homepage? Do they have a blog? What does their sidebar look like? Is it mobile-friendly? Observe their layout, design, and content as well as any services or plug-ins they’re using.
- Subscribe to their newsletter. Sign-up for your competitors’ email lists and see what shows up in your inbox. Pay attention to their sign-up form, their subscriber benefits, and newsletter layout and content to get email marketing ideas.
- Follow them on social media. Get ideas for what kinds of posts are successful and which ones fall flat. How are they engaging their audience? How frequently do they post? What hashtags are they using?
- Check out their social media followers. If you have a similar brand, chances are those are the type of people that will potentially follow you in the future. Take note of their demographics, interests, and social media habits.
- Watch for their promotions. What kind of discounts or offers are they providing to their customers? Does it seem to increase their engagement with followers?
- Buy their product. What sort of buyers experience do they provide? What’s their customer service like? How do they process payments and deliver their product or service?
- Read their reviews. Take a look at what their customers are saying. Read their book reviews, Etsy seller comments, or testimonials on their website.
5. Create a Unique Brand Identity
The basics of your brand identity are your brand name and logo. But other aspects include your fonts, colors, graphics, and voice.
Your brand identity differentiates you from the competition and becomes something that your customers come to recognize you by.
When deciding on the following elements think of how you want your brand to look, feel, and speak to your audience.
Choosing a name for your brand can be one of the most difficult decisions out of the entire brand-building process.
Q: Should you use your own name for branding or come up with a business name that describes what you’re about?
A: Honestly, it’s entirely up to you!
As an artist, you may choose to use your actual name to brand your creative works. But when considering your actual name, you have to decide if it’s marketable or not.
For example, I wanted to use my name for my writing because of the personal component it provided. Unfortunately, my given name is long, difficult to spell, and almost impossible to pronounce. I realized that searchability would be complicated and marketing would be frustrating.
So after some careful consideration, I chose a pen name. Not only did it provide my personal life a slight degree of privacy, people can actually read it without getting confused.
The truth is, a lot of creative professionals choose to use a pseudonym or an alias for one reason or another.
Whether you choose your real name, an alias, or pseudonym – branding your art with a personal name can make your audience feel immediately more connected to you and your work. If you want more info on choosing your name as an artist this article has some great advice on choosing what to name yourself.
On the other hand, you may decide to choose a business name for your creative enterprise. If you want your brand name to reflect more on the services you provide or the products you sell – rather than on you personally – this might be a better option.
When choosing a name for your brand, go with something that truly captures the essence of what your brand is about. Take into account customer perception, what you have to offer, and how it reflects on your brand values.
Things to consider:
- Is it still available? Do an internet search to see if any other entities are using that as their business name. Make sure that the name isn’t already a registered trademark.
- Is it future-proof? Will your brand name still be relevant in 5 or 10 years?
- Is it customer-friendly? Your business name should be easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and memorable to your customers.
When deciding on the right logo for your brand, keep in mind that your logo is going to the first recognizable characteristic of your business. Your logo appears on everything from your website to your merchandise, so it needs to be distinct. It also needs to be a good representation of what your creative brand is all about.
Be willing to put in the time and resources to produce a logo that will be a timeless component of your brand identity.
If you’re a graphic or visual artist, creating a logo will come easily to you. If you aren’t a graphically-inclined sort of artist though, don’t worry. You can use online resources like Canva to create a simple yet recognizable logo on your own. If you have the funds, you might consider hiring an independent artist or freelancer to help you create something unique and exceptional.
Fonts, Colors, and Graphics
When you’re establishing your brand identity, fonts, colors, and graphics are often overlooked. But just as when you create a work of art, each of these elements plays a crucial role in presenting the big picture of your brand identity.
These elements aren’t meant to apply to the actual art you produce. I’m talking about the platforms where you present your brand: social media, your website, printed materials, etc.
For fonts, try to stick to between 2-3 different typographies that you use in your materials. You should pick one specific typography for your brand name that you always use. And have one or two extra that you combine for the rest of your content.
When it comes to your color palette, I’d recommend sticking to 3 specific colors that you use across all your branding. Record your chosen color’s RGB codes to make sure you’re using the same exact colors every time.
Your graphics should be consistent throughout all your branding materials. Use the same headshot of yourself on your social media profiles as you use on your website, for example. Make sure to watermark your images as well so that people viewing them can immediately recognize their source.
Your voice is an intentional and consistent expression of your brand’s identity through the words you use to represent your business. The voice of your brand should reflect your message and theme, as well as the values of your audience.
Ultimately, your voice is how you communicate with your customers – be it written or verbal. And the main key here is – again – consistency.
Your voice could be:
The words you choose to engage your audience will leave a lasting impression on your brand’s personality. You want to choose a voice that makes sense for your brand and resonates with your target customer.
Elements of a Good Brand Identity:
- Continuity. Each component – from your logo to the color palette you choose – should complement each other in a coherent fashion.
- Distinction. Make sure each element of your brand is distinct and different from your competitors.
- Notability. Is your brand identity memorable to your audience? Is it designed in a way that will leave a visual impact on your customers?
6. Make Your Brand Stand Out
To successfully stand out from your competition, you’ll need to focus on what makes your art truly original. The internet is not a place you want to blend-in so emphasizing your individuality is essential.
Inject Your Personality and Be Genuine
The one thing that you have to offer, that no one else can match, is your personality. There’s no one else quite like you that’s had the same experiences or overcome the same obstacles. If you aren’t letting your personality shine through in your brand, it’s going to quickly become boring to your audience.
One way to inject personality into your brand is by using your personal story to give a unique perspective. No one has the same story as you, and when you share that story it makes you relatable – allowing your audience to connect with you on a personal level.
Remember though – you have to be genuine. People value and appreciate authenticity. Don’t be afraid to let your freak flag fly or go against the grain. Be true to yourself and it will make you much more satisfied with your brand – and confident in what you have to offer.
Create Quality Content
What sets your brand apart and helps you gain authority in your creative field, is the ability to generate quality content that appeals to your audience. I’m talking about content that adds value to their lives in some way or another.
You can do that by providing your followers with a selection of free content through your website or on social media platforms. Providing your audience with meaningful content increases your perceived value, making followers more likely to buy your art or creative services.
Try experimenting with some of these content ideas to engage your audience and give them value:
- Custom images
- How-to’s and guides
- Humor and anecdotes
- Videos and stories
- Free trials
When your audience looks to you as an authority in your industry, they tend to trust your brand more and are more likely to become paying customers. Quality content leads to brand loyalty.
Tips for Generating Quality Content:
- Ask yourself – is this something I would find useful, helpful, or interesting?
- Stay relevant by creating content that keeps up with current trends and events
- Always strive for quality over quantity
- Avoid sub-standard content – it will only hurt your brand’s image
- Be consistent with the message of your content – keep it pertinent to your brand
- Make your content actionable, giving your audience a sense of how they should use the information
Get Started Now
Even if you haven’t started your creative business yet, it’s never too early to start creating the foundation of your brand.
Here are some quick tasks you can do now to start building the creative brand you’ve always dreamed of:
- Join the conversation. Interact with people on social media, post comments on creator’s blogs and websites, get engaged in artistic communities now. There’s no better way to start gaining visibility as an artist.
- Register your business name. Get your small business license – it’s easy to do and you can do it all online.
- Become a subscriber. Sign up for email lists on websites that provide content similar to what you create. Seek out artists you admire and follow them on social media. Utilize their tactics and techniques for your own platform.
- Sign up for social media. Even if you haven’t nailed down your brand identity, get started on social media sooner than later and begin building your following. Start by posting samples of some of your creative works. You can always update these platforms as you proceed to reflect your new direction.
- Ask for feedback. Use your existing network, your family, your friends to get insight into branding yourself. Sometimes the people closest to you will have a better understanding of what unique qualities you have to offer. They could point things out that you might’ve completely missed on your own.
Alright, that’s a wrap – I hope you gained some knowledge and understanding from this post about how you can build a brand around your artistic endeavors.
What kind of content do you create and do you have a desire to turn your artistic passion into a business?
Hit me up with any questions or comments about branding your creative genius – I’d love to hear from you!