LEARNING TO SEE #4.5: How NOT to Market Your Work

How can we do better? Be human.
How can we do better? Be human.

LEARNING TO SEE #4.5: How NOT to Market Your Work

It’s critical to keep the “human” in our marketing.

Last week, I wrote about how Steak Umm took the Internet by storm, because a guy incorporated his own personal ethic, authenticity, and inclusion into a national frozen food marketing campaign.

Yes, he wants you to buy their product, and he says so.

Bu he’s going to make your life better even if you don’t.

Let me share the exact opposite of that experience today.

Awhile back, I found a jar of honey at TJ Maxx. (Yep, quite a while back!) My husband uses honey in everything, so I bought it.

He loved it, so I searched for it online to buy more. It was expensive, and so was shipping. So I bought in bulk so as to a) stock up, and b) to meet their minimum order to save on shipping.

Now we’re almost out. So I went back to the website to order more. But they were out of stock.

I searched the entire website, trying to find a way to contact them. Most websites have a way to “sign up” for when items are restocked, but not this one. I couldn’t even find a way to email, call, or fill out a form to get that information. Just a form to sign up for their email newsletter.

I finally found a way to contact them, but it wasn’t easy. I asked how I could find out when they restocked the honey.

A week later (yep, you read that right, too!) I got a response, (Yes, it’s the pandemic. But they were still selling online and still filling orders, so why not responding to a shopper who wants to buy something?)

Here’s their email:

Thank you so much for your email and your interest in our products! I encourage you to follow us on Social Media (Facebook & Instagram) as well as make sure you are signed up for our newsletter because we do have some new products in the pipeline that I think you might be very in.  Thanks again for your continued support of our small business!

See anything wrong with this picture? (Hint: LOTS!)

  • For us grammar nerds, there is no need to capitalize “social media”. Also the incomplete sentence at the end of that first paragraph.
  • There is no mention of “honey”, the one product I inquired about.
  • I was asked to “follow” them on social media, AND subscribe to their newsletter, because
  • They have new products coming soon that I might be interested in (Might.)
  • Which may or may not be “honey”.

So after I showed my “loyalty” by buying a shit-load of their product, at full-market price (did I mention it was expensive?) and trying to order more, and having to spend enough time looking for how to find out when I could buy more (bad website design), and waiting a week for their response with no apology or explanation (email needs no shelter-in-place violation).

I’m being asked to add their newsletter to my email inbox (which I did not sign up for on the website), did not address my request (“Can I sign up for notifications when it’s restocked?”), asked me to follow them on two social media websites (which felt like I had to “prove” my loyalty to their brand) and I still don’t know if or when they will have that dang honey again. And they added me to their newsletter, even though I did not sign up for it!

When I told my husband, he said, “It’s good honey, but really, I don’t care that much. I can get some at Trader Joe’s.”

So this “luxury honey” company just lost a customer. Unless I can find it again at TJ Maxx!

Consider this “marketing strategy” compared to Steak Umm.

Steak Umm guy was transparent. (“Yes, I want you to buy our products.”)

But Steak Umm guy also cared about people over product. We didn’t have to “do” anything to get the information he shared on Twitter.

(“Even if you don’t buy our product, I want you to be safe, and I want you to have good information about this situation to keep you safe.”)

Steak Umm guy didn’t ask us to buy a Steak Umm before we could get this useful and compassionate information. (He asked for us to be kind and patient with people who were “doing it wrong”.)

In fact, while researching this for last week’s column, I discovered Steak Umm also did a marketing campaign along the same lines I did with my series on millennials. They urged people to not judge and ridicule millennials, and to better understand the difficulties those younger generations are dealing with. Hurrah!

Steak Umm treated us like people with needs, who offered to help with those needs, above and beyond their product line.

Honey people just want me to buy more stuff. They don’t care about my needs, they only care about their sales. I only want honey. They want me to buy anything else instead.

The honey company person who emailed me never even used my name.

How can we apply this to our marketing?

When we load an image to our website or other social media, and all we have is an image and a price tag, we are following the honey company protocols.

When a customer asks about our work, and we respond with, “SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER!” we are showing them our priorities matter more than theirs.

We are asking them to trust us before we even give them a reason to.

How can we do better? Be human.

  • When we post an image, we can share a story behind it. “I did this series because of my love for horses. They represent courage in my imagined Paleolithic world.”
  • Give what’s free to online visitors (that’s also free for you): “I wanted to catch the feeling of space, and wonder, the feeling of joy we get from nature, and a sense of wild freedom in this landscape, especially during these hard times.” Or, “I hope this still life gives you the same sense of calm and serenity as I did when I painted it, whether you buy it or not. Enjoy!”
  • We can offer layaway to people who can afford our work, just not right now.
  • We can show appreciation for customers who do buy our work. “I love this piece, and I love that it is going to a loving home! Thank you!” “Let me know if you have questions, or if there’s another, similar work that might work better for you.”
  • Reward loyal customers over new customers. (This is like the magazines and newspapers that offer a huge discount to new customers, rather than loyal readers that have subscribed for years. Yes, it works to get new sales. But trust me, your loyal customers have earned a reward, too.) I had recently raised my prices on certain pieces, but honored the original price to a recent customer who has some major pieces of mine in their collection. They were ecstatic!
  • When people land on your website, their first connection with you should NOT be a request to sign up for your email newsletter. (Even Clint Watson’s series, which focuses on how important our email newsletter is, says he hates that!) You’re showing them you care more about ‘the numbers’ than their needs. Trust me. It’s annoying!
  • Finally, be human. Yes, sales are important. Sales are wonderful. Sales help us either pay the bills or at least help us pay our materials. But sales are a transaction, between one human (us!) and another human (our collectors.) Mutual admiration and respect are critical.*

When we learn to see from a different perspective, when we see people instead of just numbers, when we understand people have to trust us before they spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on our work, then marketing is just another way to help people who will love our work, to find us.

Show them we don’t see them a faceless bucket o’money. I hate the people who dismiss “Lookie Lou’s”** as time-wasters and annoyances.

First, not everyone wants to, nor can, buy our work. And all collectors start out as “Lookie Lou’s”—until they decide to purchase our work.

They arrive, they look, and if they like what they see, and like how you handle their inquiries, if you resist not judging how/when they actually buy something, then they become our passionate audience.

There is not enough money in the world that can “buy” a passionate audience. It can’t be bought. It has to be earned, with respect, integrity, and a viable product.

Tell them, “I see you.” I. See. YOU. And let them see you, too.

Have you formed powerful connections with potential customers, especially during this insane time? Share in the comments! I’d love to hear what worked for you, and so will others.

p.s. *Maybe I will follow them in Instagram. I just checked their account, and found this: “ATTENTION ALL DADS. Your children will not be bringing home homemade Mothers’ Day gifts from school this year. You have less than 15 days. You have been warned.” Ahhhh, that’s better! (Oops, all the other posts are just “buy me”.  Maybe not.)

**I looked up the spelling before I posted this, and it’s spelled every which-way you can imagine!

As always, 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.

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.