Content strategy for artists and makers: Three areas worth exploring
People in marketing circles often talk about the power of solving customers’ pain points. For some creatives, particularly those in B2B (business-to-business) spaces, this is pretty straightforward. Through creating content that shares your expertise, you can literally help solve potential clients' problems and take them on a journey from prospect to paying customer. For example, let’s say I'm struggling to resize a photo for my blog in Photoshop. I might discover a great tutorial from a designer, which not only solves my problem but leads me to more relevant, helpful content on their blog. From here I sign up for their email list and enjoy their free content for several months. And when they release an e-book sharing even more insights into creating a strong design for your blog? I immediately hit buy.
But when it comes to content strategy for makers and artists whose customers are consumers, how does this work? Unless you’re specifically looking to reach creatives who want to start their own business or learn your craft, content that teaches may not feel right for you. When you’re selling your creations rather than your expertise (first and foremost, of course there’s always an element of both) the pain points aren’t always as obvious, nor is the type of content that would attract or engage your ideal customers.
So if you’re an artist or maker whose content isn’t having the impact you’re hoping for, here are three approaches to content strategy you may want to explore, complete with examples of artists and makers who are creating awesome stuff along these lines.
1. Sharing your story and vision
There’s a great episode of The Fizzle Show podcast that talks in-depth about pain points: Wants vs. needs: How to spot the “pain point” in hobby businesses. While not every artist or maker will necessarily identify as a hobby business, there are lots of relevant insights to take away. One involves figuring out whether what you’re selling is a painkiller (which solves a specific problem) or a vitamin (which generally enhances your life), and what that means for your marketing approach.
Even if your offerings feel more like a 'nice to have' than a 'must have', thinking about the pain points you can address is still an extremely valuable exercise. But it might be less about the pain points your content/offerings can solve directly and more about the frustrations that typically come with buying a product or service like yours (ie what makes people choose one business over another).
Once you understand this (and there's no better way to find out than speaking to real or potential customers) you can use these insights to create authentic USPs for your business and inform your content marketing strategy (for more on this, check out: how to set your creative business apart).
Your content - whether blog posts, podcasts, videos, Instagram posts or whatever you choose - gives you the perfect opportunity to share who you are, what you stand for and the meaning behind your work.
Now more than ever, many people prefer to buy from independent businesses. Maybe they want a custom piece they know is one of a kind. Maybe they want to feel connected to the artist or story behind the artwork, so they can share that story with their own friends and family. Maybe they care deeply about buying from vendors who use locally sourced or sustainable products. Or perhaps they simply want to buy from someone they like and trust.
Your content - whether blog posts, podcasts, videos, Instagram posts or whatever you choose - gives you the perfect opportunity to share who you are, what you stand for and the meaning behind your work. It enables you to build trust and attract and connect with customers around shared values. If people can get to know who you are and understand the process and vision behind your work, it can help to create true fans around things that really matter to people.
There’s a great discussion on this approach to content marketing as a visual creative in this episode of Jen Carrington’s Make it Happen podcast with Asia Croson, a photographer, and Paige Poppe, an artist. Both Asia and Paige share how a big part of their content strategy as visual creatives centres around sharing their story and behind-the-scenes insights into their work, life and process, and how this has helped not only to attract customers but to build trust and relationships.
One thing to note is that sharing your story doesn’t necessarily mean writing / creating content about whatever you feel like all the time, nor sharing things that feel too personal. it’s always helpful to keep your ideal customer in mind and think about what will resonate, inspire and connect with them.
Sharing who you are as an artist, your influences and ethos, what’s made you the person or creative you are today, what you stand for and the meaning behind your work can all be powerful ways of attracting people who care about the same things as you.
You could also consider using your artwork/images in your blog posts to help showcase your work and skills at the same time (more on this below).
2. Showcase your work and skills
When it comes to sharing your creative work online, a curated, well-organised portfolio can be hugely valuable. I can’t speak for everyone, but as someone who’s commissioned a fair number of visual creatives over the years, I’ve always been way more interested in seeing relevant examples of potential freelancers' work than where they went to school etc on their CV.
For artists and makers selling physical products, it's also essential that people can see exactly what they’ll be buying with clear images or product photography. Nasty Gal and Airbnb, two of the fastest-growing startups of the last decade, have both cited the quality of their photography as being huge drivers of their companies’ success, and this can be a key differentiator for any creative business.
Artists and makers are ideally placed to create content that not only showcases their work and skills, but also builds an engaged audience
But if your work only sits in your portfolio or online shop, you’re relying on people coming to you to see it. Content, in whatever medium you choose, can be a great way to share your work to help people discover you in the first place.
So how can you do this effectively and authentically? There’s nothing wrong with simply letting people know on Twitter/Instagram/your blog that you’ve created a new piece of work, but there’s also scope to get creative and go deeper than this. In fact, artists and makers are ideally placed to create content that not only showcases their work and skills, but also builds an engaged audience.
I’ll be sharing more specific ways you could do this in my next post, but one idea is to set yourself creative constraints or challenges. Lisa Congdon’s ‘Experiments in blue’ series is a great example of this. Every week in 2016 she’s set herself the challenge of creating a new piece, using mostly the colour blue, (she's also allowing herself to use white, black and one other colour in each piece), giving readers something to look forward to each week and crucially, challenging her own creativity too.
She says: “I am feeling a tremendous need to push my paintings (and my art practice, in general) to new places, and I find that self-imposed constraints (in this case, painting mostly in blue) are helpful in forcing me to think outside my normal go-to box of tricks, colors and imagery.”
You could also take this a step further and create a challenge that other people can join in with. Hand-lettering artist Miranti Kayess’ 52 Hand Lettered Project is a great example of this. For each week in 2015 she released a new prompt and encouraged participants to create a hand-lettered piece around this theme, then share their work on Instagram using the hashtag #52HandLettered.
I find that self-imposed constraints (in this case, painting mostly in blue) are helpful in forcing me to think outside my normal go-to box of tricks, colors and imagery.
Instagram is an ideal playground for this type of challenge, because you can easily track submissions via a hashtag, but there’s no reason you couldn’t accept submissions via email or other means, or host a challenge on Instagram then do a monthly round-up of the best submissions on your blog.
3. Consider customers’ wider interests and needs
I recently discovered a brilliant blog by photographer Laura Babb. I was looking for wedding reading inspiration (one of my best friends is getting married next month!) and came across this awesome post sharing quirky and alternative readings on Laura’s blog.
Her blog in general really caught my eye. Whereas many photographers stick to sharing photos/collections from their shoots, Laura’s gone a step further and also thought about other content her target audience might be interested in, like wedding reading ideas or the case for an unplugged wedding.
Her posts don’t necessarily all relate to photography or her own story; some speak to other helpful and relevant topics her target audience will be interested in. These posts are accompanied by her photography, so still serve as a great marketing tool for her skills and services.
Her posts don’t necessarily all relate to photography or her own story; some speak to other helpful and relevant topics her target audience will be interested in.
I love this strategy because it gives you so much scope for creativity. The idea is to think carefully about who your ideal customer is and consider their wider interests and needs that relate to, but aren’t necessarily directly about, your business, products or services. It’s about becoming a destination and attracting relevant leads to your site through content that helps people to discover and fall in love with your brand.
As an artist or creative, your eye for detail and killer taste (as Ira Glass would call it) is also a valuable asset. You may find people are interested not only in going behind-the-scenes of your business or creative process but also your lifestyle and insights, or your recommendations around style, beauty, home decor, literature and more. You could even create a standalone magazine, blog or podcast to serve your ideal audience.
Jewellery designer Sophie Davies of Oh My Clumsy Heart is a great example of this. Through her blog, The Private Life of a Girl, she shares content about life, style, travel, self-improvement, planning and more. While the posts don't promote her products directly, her minimal style and ethos carries across both her blog and business site, making it a natural extension of her brand. It's likely that people who are interested in her blog will also connect with her creative vision, values and designs.
There are different ways this approach could work for your business. It could serve primarily as a creative outlet or space to help you hone your writing or craft (through the discipline of creating regular content); it could even become a revenue stream in itself through advertising or affiliate marketing.
While the posts don't promote her products directly, her minimal style and ethos carries across both her blog and business site, making it a natural extension of her brand.
While it's a great way of helping your ideal customers discover your brand, if you're looking to use this type of content as a marketing tool for your business, it's worth thinking about how you can introduce people to your work in a natural, authentic way while keeping your content interesting and non-salesy.
You could follow Laura and Sophie’s example of using images of your work or beautifully styled photos of your products/process/studio to accompany some or all of your articles. Another option is to signpost routes to your services or shop alongside your content. A great example of this is artist-designed footwear retailer Bucket Feet, which includes a simple ‘shop now’ graphic below each blog post.
Of course, you also need to weigh up the time it takes to produce this type of content against the time you need to create your products or deliver your services to create a sustainable business (and live a happy life). But if you’ve got a heart for content creation and you're feeling stuck for ideas that excite you or your audience, this might just be a way forward for you!
A final note
And there you have it, three areas to explore when putting together a content plan for your art or design business. There’s nothing to say you can’t pick and choose elements from each one (most of the creatives mentioned embrace all three of these approaches in various ways) or go in a different direction altogether; it's all about forging your own path in a way that feels right for you.
And if you want to take a deeper look at how these approaches to content strategy for makers and artists could work in practice, watch this space for some specific prompts and ideas for each of these areas coming soon!
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash