This post is by Clint Watson, former art gallery owner and founder of BoldBrush, known for FASO Artist Websites, the leading provider of professional artist websites, the $38,000+ BoldBrush Painting Competition and the free daily art marketing newsletter, FineArtViews. As a self-proclaimed "art fanatic", Clint delights that BoldBrush's San Antonio, Texas office is full of original art, as is his home office. You can connect with Clint on Twitter, Facebook or his personal blog at clintavo.com
While we're all sequestered in our homes, we're all facing the potential for lost or wasted time. So let's ask ourselves: How can we use this time to get better? How can we be of service and use? I know, without a doubt that great art is being created around the world at this very moment. Perhaps by you! Our entire team is focused 100% on whatever we can do to help you market and sell more art. With that in mind, we're focusing FineArtViews on sales and marketing ideas more than ever before. The following article was selected from our archives as it seems quite timely in the current situation and provides ideas we think you can use to improve your own art marketing.
Peter Thiel, Paypal founder, in his book, Zero to One, pointed out the greatest companies are those that create an entirely new category of product so good they end up with a natural monopoly.
He argues "creative monopolists" give customers more choices by adding entirely new categories of abundance to the world. (As opposed to "bad" non-creative monopolists that simply exploit a favored position to prevent new entrants into the market - such as AT&T did for much of the 20th century).
The quintessential example of a "creative monopolist" is Google.
Google created a search engine that was so much better than all the other options available, it has ended up with a search engine monopoly, despite the fact consumers can use any other search engine with a simple click, for free.
The lesson for all of us is if you want to create and capture lasting value, then you can't build an undifferentiated commodity business. And if you don't want to be stuck in a daily struggle for survival, you need to build a business that has at least some monopolistic aspects.
Every monopoly is unique, but they usually share some combination of the following characteristics: proprietary technology, network effects, economies of scale, and branding.
The Lesson For Artists
In visual art, you often hear people telling artists to develop a "niche."
Developing a "niche" is better than being completely undifferentiated, but it doesn't go far enough. In the past, I've suggested artists should develop and "own" a category. It's important enough that owning a category is an an essential point in my Art Marketing Triangle theory (the other two are marketing and mastery).
If you take this idea to the extreme, the ultimate expression of this idea would be to build what David Perell calls a Personal Monopoly.
While Perell is coming at the "Personal Monopoly" idea from the angle of writing online, I think the concept works just as well for visual artists.
Of the four characteristics I listed above, network effects and economies of scale aren't an option for most visual artists.
But could you build your art business' personal monopoly around proprietary technology and branding?
Your Proprietary Style
In the art world, "proprietary technology" translates into your "proprietary style and subject." And most artists do strive to develop a unique creative style and distinctive "look."
Your goal is to reach uniqueness in your art because the modern world, especially online, rewards people who are unique.
You should strive, then, to be the only artist who does what you do.
Find your own creative style, and then double down on it.
One big way you do this is to narrow your focus.
You might think that narrowing your focus is constraining, but, paradoxically, focusing in a narrow area expands your opportunities and your reach because it differentiates you.
For example, which of the following artists is more differentiated?
Artist "A" tells people that, "I'm a landscape painter."
But, artist Michael Blessing (as an example) tells people "I create Neon West paintings."
The second answer is far more differentiated and is a great answer, because now we're immediately left wondering, what is a "Neon West" painting?
Different, Not Better
In technology, we often talk about two paths to success.
The first path is to be better than an existing product. And, to be successful, you generally need to be a minimum of 10 TIMES (10X) better.
If you want to be in the search engine business today, you need to be 10X better than Google. Good luck with that.
And if you want to present yourself as a "landscape painter" then, for ultimate success, you better be one of the best landscape painters in the world.
There's not much room at the top for many companies or artists who try to be successful going the "better" route.
The second, and far more interesting, path to success is to be different: To invent a new category.
Let's call inventing a new category the "iPhone path." The iPhone wasn’t a BETTER cell phone, it was a completely new device, and it got a new name: A "smart" phone.
That's why the second answer above, "I paint Neon West paintings." is a much better answer. It's differentiated. It invites questions. It opens a conversation.
The first answer, "I paint landscapes" is a "me too" answer.
In the BoldBrush Art Marketing Playbook, we constantly encourage artists to "tell stories."
Creating your own differentiated category, such as "painting the Neon West" makes telling your story immeasurably easier because being differentiated is, well, different. And different piques people's curiosity, encourages them to ask questions, and invites them to learn more. And that provides you with a perfect opportunity to tell your story.
Being different, in the age of the Internet, when everybody has Google search and personalized social media feeds, is provides a path to free marketing.
The more specific your category, the more opportunities you’ll create for yourself.
Narrow your focus to expand your opportunities.
The idea is not to simply narrow your focus to a "niche." It's to narrow your focus so much that you become, as Jerry Garcia famously said, "the only person that does what you do."
Do you know why lasers are so powerful? Because lasers focus all of their energy on one, unique point. That's how your turn light into a force that can cut through metal. If you take the same amount of energy as the most powerful laser, and unfocus it, then it's just ordinary light that can't cut through anything. So focus like a laser.
A "common" path to uniqueness can be found by combining things you love. There were lots of painters who painted interiors. And lots of painters who painted dogs. And lots of painters who like to use blue paint. But George Rodrigue combined all three with his love of his dog to become known as the "Blue Dog" painter.
Or consider David Kassan's Facing Survival project. He's bringing an entirely new and important focus onto the Holocaust by not only painting remaining survivors, but also by personally interviewing the survivors, creating interactive video of the survivors (you can ask them real time questions and they will answer using "AI" to respond with the correct video segment), and by writing about the survivors. There's nobody else in the world doing what he does, which is one reason Steven Spielberg and the ShoahFoundation sponsored a huge exhibit of his works in Los Angeles last year. Narrow your focus to expand your opportunities.
The "combination path" also turns out to be my path. BoldBrush's path.
Our path looks something like this: There are lots of people who code, lots of people who write online, lots of art marketing coaches, lots of marketing tools and lots of website builders.
Add all those together and focus exclusively on visual art, and you get, well, what I do. And I'm probably just about the only person in the world doing that exact combination, which has led to BoldBrush and FASO becoming world's first and only art marketing platform.
Now, let's look at the other aspect of monopolies we think visual artists can utilize: branding.
Branding is one of the only true business superpowers available to visual artists. In fact, I once wrote that branding is the only power artists have.
By "branding" I don't mean your logo or your website colors. I don't mean something nebulous like "what your customers say about you when you aren't in the room." (although that's part of it).
I mean something very specific.
True branding requires several conditions to be to be powerful:
1. It requires a high-end good (art) that
2. people associate with identity (which is much easier if you own a category) from an artist who has
3. a reputation for high-quality that
4. has been built by delivering quality over years and years.
If you don't have all four elements above, then you don't have true branding that provides your business with real power.
As you can see, "true" branding takes time. A lot of it.
True branding is an accumulation of building a following of true fans, that identify with your art, and that have learned, over repeated interactions with you that your art will be high quality and that will deliver that unique style they've come to love you for.
Name something to own it
Your branding and your proprietary style can be brought together to create your category.
It's one thing for Michael Blessing to do unique western paintings with Neon overlays.
But creating the name, "Neon West", he made it into a category.
To name something is to own it, and I'd say Michael Blessing now owns the "Neon West" category.
This is how George Rodrigue came to dominate the "Blue Dog" category.
As I described above, he painted what he loved and over time became known as the blue dog painter.
That’s a category that he defined and owned. Nobody else can call themselves the "blue dog painter" now without forever seeming like a follower.
He has a personal monopoly on "Blue Dog" paintings.
And the last time I checked his website, I saw that his original paintings start at $50,000.
That's monopolistic pricing in action.
Until next time, please remember that Fortune Favors the Bold Brush.
BoldBrush/FASO Founder & Art Fanatic
PS - If you have questions, comments or would like a reply from me, I generally limit my online discussion time to Twitter. Follow me on Twitter and ask questions there if you'd like to be sure I see and reply to your question. Thanks in advance. Here's the link: https://twitter.com/clintavo
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