Sunday, January 19, 2014

Grudge Match: Branding vs. The Eyeroll

I've been reading with interest a conversation started by clay blogger Tracey Broome and chimed in by  Michael Kline over at Sawdust and Dirt. It's about branding and how it relates to studio artists, and seems to dovetail with the thoughts I've been mulling lately.

First, I have to make a confession: I don't exactly know what branding is. I mean, I know the definition of the word:
brand´ • ing : v., burning a mark into the skin of an animal (such as a cow) to show who owns the animal
Wait, that can't be right....they probably mean this sense of the word: 
brand´ • ing: n., :  the promoting of a product or service by identifying it with particular qualities or values. 
Which is all fine, but what I have trouble with is how it applies to a studio artist. I mean, it's great if I say I want people to think of my work as creative and well crafted, but...who doesn't? Nobody's slogan is, "I'm a Hack!" And the only way to claim those qualities is for the work to actually be creative and well crafted. Which I would do anyway. So I'm missing something, here.

To figure out what, I did some more reading. Most of what's out there on branding is positively eye-rolling for potters, and artists in general, because it's not really aimed at us. (Even the one aimed at artists was not much better.) Integrate your brand into how you answer your phone! That's if I ever did answer my phone, which I don't because it's never for me anyway. And here's a scary quote from the Bloomberg Business Week article: "Branding is about getting your prospects to perceive you as the only solution to their problem." Gaaaaaah! That is literally impossible for me. There are thousands of excellent potters from whom a person could purchase a sugar bowl.

Maybe I am being too literal.

Part of the problem is that obvious efforts at branding seem laughable and hokey. An artist with a tagline? Come on.  Cue the eye-roll.

Ouch! A thought just hit me, hard. Have you ever gone out with friends to Karaoke Night? Karaoke night is no fun if you can't quit rolling your eyes, drop your self-consciousness, and belt it out. Part of my resistance to the whole idea of branding is that it will be obvious what I am doing, and generate eye-rolls out there in TVland. But, so what? I love karaoke. I don't care who thinks I'm a cornball up there crooning Total Eclipse of the Heart.

But, flip! It does matter. The people who I need to like my work are pretty sophisticated. If I send out an email to stores or galleries, and the signature line contains a tagline, an eyeroll in that situation is near-fatal. It seems like any obvious attempt at branding could cause a potter - even a good one - to be perceived as a hack. A cornball hack.

It seems like I need to do more thinking on this matter. Back atcha tomorrow.


Brenda Neall said...

The closest I've ever come to branding was a conscious effort to make sure my marketing materials (business cards, rack cards, print ads, website) had a consistent look and feel. The website went out the window when I had to take it on myself and I rarely advertise any more but the rest are still in place. For potters I think 'brand' would be synonymous with 'voice' and I ain't there yet!

Unknown said...

Marketing material definitely needs to be consistent like d2eclaylady says. Color schemes, fonts, etc. should relate to your art and can make you more easily identifiable.

However, as an artist, your work is more your "branding" than anything else can be. vanGogh and Monet didn't have catch phrases or slogans. People know them by their style and, Lori, your style is very identifiable. I'm still working on this aspect of my work but I think you're already there.

Sheri Bare said...

Lori, in reading your blog and those about the branding I find it paralleling with my profession. I also find it interesting because I have been working with a graphic designer redesigning my business cards, letterheads, etc and it has given me time to pause. She and I have been calling it "branding" because of the logo, fonts, and colors.
What I am realizing in the wake of these blogs, and a pottery workshop I attended yesterday at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, your branding as a potter and my branding as a decorator is not about the consistency of our blogs, Facebook, online stores, etc.
it is about our style and consistency as artists. This area knows my style when they see it. Your style, and those in this discussion, can't lose site of what you have established with your craft and the style that has emerged from your wheels, glazes, and firings. This only occurred to me yesterday at the workshop I attended, as I too have been struggling with this issue. Jimmy Clark is a potter that pinches all his is his "brand". That's what he does, it is all he does, and is known for it.
You have a very distinct "brand" yourself. No one makes and glazes pieces like you do. It is your "brand".
Isn't the question more about how to expose your brand, not about the actual branding. You already branded yourself. You just need more people to be exposed to it.
Didn't mean for this to get this long, just some reflection after yesterday and what I also experience in my own business. Besides, it's Monday a day for the weekly anticipation of projects, deliveries, appointments, and...another snowstorm!
Have a good day.