Sunday, January 26, 2014

More Thoughts on Branding

I realized a few things about this topic after I posted about this last time, and those are these:

  1. Most (not all, but most) of the potters I know who are making an actual living, as opposed to having a higher-earning spouse or family money (not that there's anything wrong with that - believe me, no snotty judgement here) or working another job, are potters who have a line, or a few lines, of production, the work from which is very, very consistent. You might say these are the most well-branded potters: customers know what they are getting, and they know they will get the same thing every time. I am thinking of outfits like Union Pottery, and The Potter's House (owned by my good friend Mary K. Spencer) here in Maine. Purchasing from these potteries is more like buying from a big retailer: you chose the style you want, as many as you want, and trust that they will be exactly the same. You can order matching pieces, and you can feel confident that, if you want to order six more mugs later, you can still get them. These potters have found a road between creativity and commerce that works for them.And:
  2. Part of the reason it works is because it fits in the model shoppers are comfortable with, because most of their buying experiences are with big, consistent retailers. Buying a one-of-a-kind piece from an individual, it's different. It's outside of the comfortable predictability. And:
  3. I already tried that road, and it doesn't work for me. Remember Cottage, Lodge, and Sweet Life? I designed three lines, going on four, so I could pursue all of my aesthetic inclinations, when I realized it was too limiting. After a short while I didn't want to make any of them, even if they started selling like hot dogs at Fenway. This put me in mind of all those silly books in the 80s about how to make a man fall in love with you. The strategy may have worked, but by the time it did you'd despise him.
But I digress.
I've received several comments and emails to the effect that having a very recognizable style and body of work is what passes for branding among studio as opposed to production potters. (Again, no judgement. Just examining what works or and what doesn't for me.) I think I am approaching that point, so maybe branding is not my problem at all.

Instead I think I need to spend more time thinking about marketing: the process of getting the work in front of the people who might buy it, and  selling: the process of convincing those people it's a good way to spend their money.

I remain convinced that the work itself is not the problem, in part because of some good advice I got from Bob Briscoe, a near-legend of a Mingei-soda potter. I was getting discouraged and wondering aloud if maybe the work was just not good enough. I can't remember his exact words but Bob said something to the effect of: Never do that. Nothing good can come of it. If you're in the studio every day, committed to making the best pots you can, what more can you do?

Sort of scary that that was 20 years ago, and I still have the same problems now. On the other hand, I'm still standing, still throwing, still firing.

That's something.


smartcat said...

Do you think that old New England thing of not putting ourselves forward has anything to do with this? My partner P. was always much better at selling my work than I was. One time when I took a short break to eat etc. I came back to find that he had sold three of my most expensive pieces! Go figure!

Lori Watts said...

Yes, I'm sure it does. A willingness to speak highly of oneself is a necessary quality of promotion - and one which we were taught is unseemly.

d2eclaylady said...

I think I'm on board with you Lori. My best salesman is my 9 yr old grandson. He loves to meet customers who come to the studio and he loves to go to markets and fairs with me. He chats folks up, shows them pots and talks about how they might be used. Funniest day was when I had a customer come into my showroom (and E was only 6 or 7 at the time). E was showing him this pot and that and as the customer was heading out the door E was still chatting away. The guy turned to me laughing as he went thru the door, saying, 'he's still selling!". I guess my point is some people have the gift of the gab as my Gram used to call it and some of us don't. :))

Conni Whittaker said...

I am fascinated by your last couple of blogs on branding and selling and marketing because I am going through the same process now. The marketplace mystifies me with what people love versus what they will buy. So I am looking forward to following your journey through this topic.

- Cindy - said...

Branding doesn't need to mean that you have a bunch of pots that are all the same that people can order over and over. If I run across your pots online, I know they're yours. You have a style. You have forms that you go back to every time. Some people out there DO want unique pots. That you don't make exact duplicates should be an advantage, not a weakness.

On the topic of being bad about putting yourself out there, I find my boyfriend chatting people up at my openings and selling stuff... and he knows very little about pottery. Last opening, my little brother did the same thing. There's something very difficult about doing this with your own work, and I need to get over it!