LEARNING TO SEE #4: Be Like Steak-umm

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

How a frozen food company is taking the internet by storm

(5 minute read)

I wish I could let people know how these artifacts FEEL in hand!

 

We all wish we knew the exact marketing techniques that would create a perfect storm of new collectors, admirers, and galleries clamoring for our work.

And there are a whole lotta people out there selling their expertise on how to do that, from SEO (search engine optimization) to the best hashtags to use. Some of these are free, but most want your money first.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: “Branding” and “driving people to your website” are terms from the cattle industry.

And people know when they’re being treated like cattle.

If you’re like me, right now almost everything in your email in-box has ‘Covid-19’ or ‘coronavirus’ in there somewhere. It’s still important, it’s still with us, and will be for a long time in one way or another.

And everyone is desperate for people to buy what they’re selling, from future airline trips, magazine subscriptions, masks and sanitizing supplies to the foresaid ‘perfect’ marketing plans and expensive business coaching advice.

And yet, guess who’s taking the internet by storm this week?

A Steak-umm Twitter account.

Yup. That Steak-umm.

Created by the company owner’s son, the strategy is an unusual one in the biz world. Because it is totally honest about its end goal (it freely admits that it’s “…a frozen meat brand posting ads inevitably made to misdirect people and generate sales, so this is peak irony.”) And honest about its intent: “gonna keep preaching from the frozen meat pulpit until this account runs into the ground because that’s marketing baby.” (Which is another important aspect of marketing: Perseverance!)

And yet their tweet series created a Twitter storm the internet, with thoughtful insights that amount to a coronavirus PSA, on how to trust science; how to research the sources of questionable information;  and even why we should have compassion for those who spread ridiculous faux “facts” instead of ridicule. (My personal favorite? The shout-out to creatives tweet.)

Why does this strategy work? (One commenter said, “Because you rock on Twitter, this will be the first purchase in about 40 years!”)

And my last quote from a commenter, “Guarantee you at least 300 intense Zoom meetings with marketing managers brainstorming how to fake @steak_umm ’s intellectual sincerity.”

What are the insights we can harvest here?

Focusing on integrity vs. sales.

Practicing vulnerability vs. “perfection”.

Telling our story vs. how many awards, prizes, and prestigious galleries as credentials.

Recognizing, and sharing what is unique in our work vs. SEO and other “tricks” to play the system.

Creating real connection with our audience vs. focusing on how much money we’re making today.

The slow, not-so-shiny-or-glamorous human way of connecting with other humans vs. big budgets, “sure-fire” marketing strategies, and glitz.

I had inadvertently mimicked this approach this week, before my husband mentioned how Steak-umms was blowing up the internet.

I realized I was under-utilizing certain aspects of my FASO website. I got more serious about uploading new art (which is then sent as a brief email to my email subscribers.) I tried to post on Instagram daily (which reposts to my artist-and-writer page on Facebook). When I realized this looked like “sell, sell, sell” in overdrive, I added, “I know this looks like it’s all about hoping you’ll buy. But I also get a lot of joy out of making. I figure if I share that with you, maybe it will give you a little joy today, too.”

And of course, all my marketing shares not just my artwork, but the stories, inspiration, and my own personal ethos that goes into it.

In fact, this part may be even harder for many creatives to adopt. We may instinctively (and wisely) shy away from the big, bad-ass, brag-ish strategies that we’ve come to consider “marketing”. It may feel even weirder to simply be who we are in the world, to share what we yearn for in the world, and to show what we care about, in our art, our techniques, our style, and our voice.

But if a mega-frozen food company can gain a huge and appreciative audience in these wild and weird times, for a steak sandwich, fer-cryin’-out-loud, by showing integrity, humor, and a human heart and soul behind the screen, just imagine what we artists can do!

Today, make a little space to share your work with others. Post a work of art on social media (including your email newsletter!) Tell the story behind it: Think about what was going on in your mind, your heart, your life when you made it. Muse about what you think of now, when you see it.

Shine a little light on why you do the work you do, so others can see, too.

Remember this bit of wisdom from Willy Wonka himself:

We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

If this article inspired you today, please pass it on to someone else who might like it, too. And if someone sent this to you today, and you liked it, you can see more advice on art marketing at Fine Art Views, more of my articles on FAV, and subscribe to my email newsletter at my website at LuannUdell.com.

There’s an Audience for Everything: Mourning the End of Regretsy.com and Celebrating What It Taught Me.

It may take time to find your audience, but it’s out there somewhere!

Years ago, I came across a bizarre and funny website called Regretsy.com. Don’t bother looking for it, it’s long gone. And I still miss it today.

The author, the multi-facetted and multi-talented April Winchell, created the site, inspired by (duh) Etsy.

She regularly researched the popular handmade/vintage website looking for the most awful creations she could find, and reposted them with a snarky description. The site’s tagine was, “Handmade? It looks like you made it with your feet.”

You can see at least one sample of her posts here.

The site is long gone, but she compiled her fan favorites into a book  that you can buy online. More affordable options here.

Here’s the book blurb on Amazon:

“A chicken poncho. A painting of a corn dog. A clock made out of an old “mostly clean” cheese grater. All this and more await you in the pages of Regretsy, a veritable sideshow of handcrafts gone wrong. Based on the eponymous hit blog and arranged in categories such as Décor, Pet Humiliation, and Christmas, Regretsy.”

I miss Regretsy for several reasons.

One, it was simply hilarious. Winchell found the most bizarre examples of bad aesthetics, poor quality, obnoxious, revolting, weird handmade items I’ve ever seen, and encapsulated them with funny captions and faux descriptions.

Two, it proved there’s nothing you can’t find on Etsy, or the internet.

Three, though she openly made fun of the creations (and by extension, the creators who thought they were making something wonderful), almost every single person whose work was featured in her blog actually saw their sales increase. I’m sure at first there was some humiliation or hurt about their work being presented so….um…honestly. But they all wrote back to Winchell, thanking her for the increased visibility she gave them. Their sales soared as visitors raced to see the actual listing and descriptions, and many people bought those items.

What could have been hurtful and harmful carried a gift for these wacky, out-of-the-box-and-the-entire-ballpark makers.

But the fourth reason is today’s insight:

There is an audience for everything.

You just have to find it.

Regretsy drew so much success to these clueless makers, that eventually some makers actually intentionally made faux crap handmade work, hoping to be featured in her blog. But Winchell was wise to them, as this article (with a sample post) in The New Yorker Magazine, “Embracing the Culture of Fail” so eloquently states:

“… as a result, some try to drum up items to tempt Winchell’s eye. Winchell is rarely fooled: ‘I’ve seen a lot of pieces that have been created to get my attention (readers call it “Regretsy bait”). Generally speaking, the stuff that’s intentionally trying to get on Regretsy is just trying a little too hard. The real stuff has an earnestness about it that’s very hard to replicate.’”

Do you see it? That last sentence?

The real stuff has an earnestness about it that’s very hard to replicate….

Do you see how powerful it is, for artists of all kinds?

Even bad work has an audience. But it still has to have its own integrity, reflecting the true spirit of its maker.

Why is making the work that matters to us is so vitally important now?

At some point in our creative path, we’ve all fallen victim to believing other people are “doing it better”. When someone else’s work is selling fast, we tend to look at what they’re doing, and try it ourselves.

The first person to paint shoes, or rusty trucks, or a vineyard, the innovators, probably had some success with that subject. So did the early adaptors.

But as trends catch on, and everyone jumps on that boat, it can be much, much harder to stand out from the crowd, especially if the artist doesn’t have a cohesive body of work, a style and process that makes them unique.

There are not only trends in subject matter, but trends in media and materials, and technique.

The trick is to give our work the “touch” that only we can give it, that ‘earnestness’ Winchell quickly came to recognize, even within all the trashy creations she curated. And there are many ways to do that.

We can treat the popular subject in an entirely new manner, with our unique style.

We can skip over making what everybody else is making.

We can do it cheaper, of course, and that may bring us some success.

-We can use different media, we can make it smaller, or more colorful, or heck, not use color at all. In fact, I love how this artist, Diana Majumdar, paints scenes that remind me of the beauty to be found in the gray, dull season of winter, encouraging us to look beyond the drab and discover the miraculous. It’s not how Californians experience winter. But it’s definitely the winters I’ve lived for most of my life, and I find her work hauntingly beautiful in its own quiet way.

But here’s the easier—and deeper—way (which, by the way, is also the heart of Majumdar’s work):

Do the work you truly love, using the subjects you really care about, with the medium and techniques that feel “right to you. Create powerful titles that connect emotionally with viewers, and do it all in the way that is unique to you.

 And then go find your audience

 Yes, it’s time-consuming. Yes, it can be hard….although with the internet, and the ability for someone on the other side of the planet to see our work, today, it’s not as hard as it used to be. And yes, it can feel pretty random.

But someone, somewhere in the world, will feel the authenticity of what we do.

Someone will see our work, read our words, hear our song, and it will raise their hearts, just as the actual making of it raises ours.

Don’t give up. This is your own precious and amazing life. Share what you’ve learned, what you care about, what you believe in, and why.

Be your authentic self in the world. Because you are the only “you” there is, or ever will be.

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THE BIGGEST SINGLE MISTAKE YOU’RE MAKING TO GROW YOUR AUDIENCE

Don’t be an asshole. Be respectful of those you’re building on.

This was a convoluted journey today, that got me to this thought. Bear with me!

I somehow signed up for something called Medium.com. It looks kinda like Flipboard, Kos, Upworthy, etc., a news-and-ideas aggregator sites that let you select the kinds of stories and news you’re interested in.

Medium’s Daily Digest somehow got me to a newsletter from Josh Spector, digital strategist, creator and collector of ideas) called “10 Ideas For You”.

I browsed the ideas, and found some that intrigued me. Especially one by Alex Turnbull, founder and CEO of Groove. The article is called 8 Wins That Helped Us Grow Our Email List to 100,000 Subscribers.

Normally, I don’t click on something like this. So much of the information out there is too vague or too ridiculous for very tiny (art) businesses like mine. And the most useful advice you’ll get is the obvious: Be yourself, be unique, be authentic, and be persistent. (In other words, it can take years to become an “overnight success.”)

But this particular article was enjoyable and helpful. The title was irresistible. In fact, it inspired the flashy clickbait title I used today. (What the heck? It’s true, I’m gonna come through, and you don’t have to pay for anything. A girl can have some fun, right?)

One huge suggestion Alex gave, was to reach out to already-established “influencers” in your field, to encourage them to check out your article, comment on it, and link to it from their platforms.

The trick is to be authentic, open, reciprocal, and succinct. And it reminded me of one big mistake people often make when doing this, a strategy that’s historically been a huge turn-off for me.

It’s when people engage with what I’ve written, on my blog or another art blog I write for (link)….

And then blatantly redirect my readers to their own blog.

I’ll be honest. I used to do this, years ago. In fact, we were encouraged to do this. I actually pissed off a few people doing it. (I am so sorry!!!) Times have changed, thank goodness!

It’s one thing to contribute substantially to a conversation, to build on what’s been said, to offer another point of view or thought.

It’s another thing to argue, to bring up a contentious point I’ve already addressed, and then to overtly suggest people leave my site and go to your site.

Here’s where the authenticity part comes in:

If you build on what someone’s already published, you’re helping them. Especially if you are an expert or influencer in your own right, your comments (in a perfect world) validate their efforts. It’s win/win, since people will want to visit your site, to see more of what you have to offer….

Because you’re doing it right.

You haven’t shanghaied the conversation for your own self-aggrandizement. You’ve given before you (subtly) suggest you might have something just as useful to say, yourself.

People will see your enthusiasm, your integrity, your respect for the author’s work, your professionalism.

You’re not telling them or implying you do it better.

You’re showing it, in your modus operandi.

Think about it. I get comments all the time on my blog, comments that go directly to the spam folder. Why? They make general comments that are obviously boilerplate stuff, with almost no connection to the actual post.

Then they post their own website, and urge my readers to check it out. It’s a blatant redirection, with no contribution to what I’ve created.

So when ordinary, oblivious people do it, it looks like spam.

I want to tell these people, “Back in the day, we were encouraged to do this. Times have changed. Catch up!” That’s why I’m embarrassed to admit I used to do it, too. But to my credit, it always felt contrived and awkward.

So check out Josh’s space, if these ideas intrigue you. (There’s one on Bruce Lee and his personal journals, where he constantly encouraged himself to be the very best at what he did.) (Originally posted on Brain Pickings, another great site for big thoughts and ideas.)

And visit Alex’s article on the tried-and-true method they created, for growing your audience. Yes, they’re geared for businesses large enough to outsource their customer service services. (Er…what would that be like??) (Wait. Never mind. That’s not the “big” I’m aiming for.) But I found something useful, and you might, too.

And the next time you try drafting on someone else’s good work, think about what you’re doing before you hit that “post” tab….

Because you’re doing it wrong.