Does the thought of marketing your art to try to increase your income seem like a horrific scenario of exploiting yourself and prostituting your art in the process? Or do you feel like you have no idea where to begin, feeling surrounded by so many great artists who are making an incredible living? Do you feel like you’ve tapped out your list of friends and family and don’t know where to go from here?
If you’re experiencing any of the above scenarios it’s most likely because you’re thinking horizontally instead of vertically.
Let me explain what I mean…
In the world of business, there are two types of product models: horizontal and vertical.
A horizontal product is a product that can benefit a very broad range of people (and in some cases, this means absolutely every kind of person). Electricity is an example of a horizontal product: everyone, no matter who you are, how old you are or what you do, benefits from having electricity. Con Edison is an example of a company that offers this product, and so they market to absolutely everyone in the areas they cover. Hence they market horizontally.
A vertical product is a product that only a narrow, niche group of people need and benefit from. Jazz shoes are an example of a vertical product: only dancers who are trained specifically in jazz need and benefit from purchasing jazz shoes. And even within the jazz shoe market there are a plethora of companies that specialize in different styles, shapes and fits to suit different types of jazz dancers- the slip-on jazz shoe, the hinge lace-up jazz shoe and the jazz sneaker, to name a few. These companies market only to jazz dancers who need these shoes, meaning they market vertically.
In reality there are only a handful of companies that offer products for a horizontal market. Every other company, including all small businesses, produces products for a vertical market.
This is excellent news for artists, because all artists create work for a vertical market. And the more eclectic your work, the more narrow your vertical market is.
The problem most artists have is they think they are serving a horizontal market, so they market their art by trying to prove how it can benefit anyone and everyone, leaving them feeling like they’ve compromised their vision in order to try to please as many people as possible. And they end up seeing very little return on their efforts as a result.
That’s because they are pimping out their work. And, as you may realize:
You can’t market your art with integrity when you’re acting like a pimp!
The truth is that there are only a handful of people who resonate so deeply with your work that they can’t live without it, and these are the people who will make your business thrive and generate a consistent, sustainable income for you from now until the end of time. This is your ideal client, and once you identify who this is you will know exactly how to market your art in the way that feels authentic, classy and absolutely essential to the life of your art.
Let me share a story with you. I was working with an actor in her late twenties who is extremely talented and could play many types of roles. Her most common role was to play a positive, hopeful woman who had not yet found herself and hid behind comic relief. She often played the best friend who provided comic relief to the lead in dramatic plays. She wanted to start auditioning for television, and started reading for casting directors who were casting for NYC TV shows. She was taking on every audition she could get into, for every role she could read for, including the good-girl lead, the resentful friend and even in one case the evil girl who sold drugs to young children. She was putting herself out in every way possible, but not getting called back and feeling less confident every day. She felt compromised, because she was pimping her art to a horizontal market!
We discussed that TV was one of her verticals for her business as an actor, but that she hadn’t yet clarified to herself who was looking for the kind of role she plays so well: a positive, hopeful woman who had not yet found herself and hid behind comic relief. Once she honed in on the fact that this was what set her apart from everyone else, she began to search for casting directors looking to cast these roles specifically. She crafted a one-liner that explained exactly what she played so well and placed it in the header of her website. She wrote a short, one paragraph note about it and sent it out to the industry directors she knew, and posted it on her blog. She felt so confident with this message that she began talking about it at a party one night. Someone overheard her and asked her if she was free to audition the next day, as he had been part of the writing team for a new TV pilot that was going to premiere on Netflix, and they were looking to cast someone who fit that description. She went in the next day to audition and found that they were looking to cast someone in this guest role they were hoping to develop into a series regular. That day she booked her first TV role, and she knew she had found her path toward marketing her art to a deep, vertical group of casting directors, writers, directors and producers (her ideal clients).
The best-kept secret of all successful artists is that they know their ideal client inside and out. For actors, this is the small handful of casting directors, producers, writers and directors who create the characters you were meant to play. For photographers, this is the kind of person who lives for the specific kind of inspiration you capture in your photos. For writers, this is the reader whose life is transformed every time they read your specific book, article or poem.
There will certainly be others who will love your work and want to purchase your art, but your ideal client is the one who will give you long-term sustainability and the freedom to work and evolve as an artist forever. Once they find you, they will never let you go. You just have to let them know where to find you through your marketing.
For now, just begin to consider who your most ideal client is, based on those who have already bought from you in the past, those who have hired you repeatedly or those who faithfully come to see your shows or become fans of your work online. Think of what they all have in common and begin to put a profile together that embodies these qualities. This will get you to start to shift your focus toward those who want to hear from you and understand inside and out who you are and what you have created for them. This is the beginning of a true, authentic and worthwhile marketing plan.
Now, I’d love to hear from you. Share who you think your ideal client is in the comments below. Tell me their gender (could be both male and female, or just one), age range and two unique qualities they have that draw them to your work.