Nancy Hytone Leb

An artist wants to produce art. It’s that simple. Regardless of discipline or level of success, what drives an artist is a deep and personal passion to express themselves creatively. For many artists, thinking of themselves as a business entity brings about a shudder or two. The idea of self-promotion makes them run and hide. It’s the classic right-brain, left-brain conundrum.  

In classes and workshops, artists often ask why they need a "brand." My answers are many:

  1. Because you already have one. Like it or not, everyone has a perception of you, so you must do your best to control it.  Your reputation speaks for itself - keep that in mind as you try to grow your arts business.
  2. Because you want (and need) Brand Advocates.
    Brand Advocates can be early supporters, buyers or donors. They are people who believe in you and your work and recognize your potential.
  3. Because social media and the internet have both simplified and magnified how critically important self-promotion is for an artist. Social media makes you accessible everywhere. It is expected that you have an online presence if you’re in the business of selling something or increasing awareness of a product or service. 
  4. Because a brand makes a direct connection to your audience. A brand helps you build awareness both as an artist and a creative entrepreneur. 
  5. Because a brand will help you focus your message and your unique artistic voice. It represents the essence of your art business.

To state it simply, brands are all about perception. Your brand represents what you are known for.

The Starting Point
Before an artist starts to tackle the brand identity process, he or she should step back and think about both vision and values.   Artists need to define what they want to do and why it’s important to them. Without that concrete foundation, a brand is less authentic and doesn’t truly represent the artist. And, brands that don’t represent the artist (or the company or the organization) struggle to survive.   

Brands also need to consider mission statements (who you are, what you do, why you do it and for whom you do it) so it helps to have those key points defined. While mission statements look internally at the organization and are based on facts, brands reflect an external viewpoint and are based on customer emotions and benefits. Brands are about finding alignment between what the customer is thinking and what the artist is saying.

A Process

Figuring out how to best communicate your brand isn’t easy.  Writing a brand statement is a good way to begin the process.  List your attributes and strengths. Think about your target audience and decide to whom you are talking. Above all, remember honesty is the best policy.

A brand statement is rarely a tag line but it is a tool to help you start focusing your communications in customer-friendly terms.  

A brand statement needs to fill in these blanks:

To (my target audience), I (or my product) offer (uniqueness).

Another way to focus your brand is to develop your elevator speech. Wikepedia defines an elevator speech as an “overview of a product, service, person, group or organization, or project and is often part of a marketing, fundraising, or public relations program.”

In other words, you need to introduce yourself, talk about your art or your project and its uniqueness in 30 to 60 seconds. You never know when you’ll meet the dream collector, investor or presenter.

When the elevator speech is mastered, make sure you also develop a written version. In today’s technology-driven world, e-mail is often the first communication with someone. You need to be able to quickly introduce yourself and your art, and convince the person to continue reading.  

As you begin the process to develop and refine your artistic brand it’s essential to keep an objective perspective. You make art, and that’s an incredibly personal and passionate pursuit. You might not have the best perspective on your work. It’s important to consult with friends, family or associates who know you, know your work and understand your business and marketing intentions.  

Keep in mind that your brand might evolve as your work changes. What represented your thinking five years ago is possibly not as relevant today. As long as you remain true to your professional values and vision and don’t try to change your brand once a year, you should be fine.  

You also need to remember that your brand is reflected in every aspect of your arts business. Everything from your e-mail communication, to your voicemail greeting and all your promotional materials should reflect the same thinking and clarity of ideas. What’s most essential is that you both believe, and live, your brand.

Portions of this article have been reprinted with permission from The Business of Art: An Artist’s Guide to Profitable Self-Employment published by the Center for Cultural Innovation, 2012 www.cciarts.org.


Smart AND easy on the eyes. What a combo !

Thank you, this is a very important topic especially for young artists still in school. I am in a master’s program and I am required to teach some courses for the undergrads at the university. Many artists still in school don’t realize how hard it is to make it as a freelance artist. I severely stress to my students how important it is to have a vision and know how to market yourself. You have to be able to eloquently speak and write about your art if you want to make it into galleries and exhibits. Part of my curriculum is teaching my students how to be professional artists. I require them to create a blog about their artistic vision which needs to be regularly updated. This pushes them to view what else is out there and critique work other than their own. In case any networking opportunities arise, they must create personal business cards that they can design themselves or they can use an online printing site. I typically recommend Tinyprints business cards, since they have great, customizable designs ready to go. They must also attend some portfolio reviews which helps them learn to talk about their work and deal with criticism. It may sound silly, but I always wish a professor had pushed me to do these things.
In regards to supporters, you can’t always depend on others and sometimes you have to make things happen for yourself. There are great platforms like Kickstarter, that allow others to fund your creative projects. But again, in order to get funded you need to have some good communication and marketing skills to get others on board.

I wonder if artists would be more excited about building a brand if they saw what people who live in the corporate world experience going through the process. The traditional businesses I've worked with are often torn between the suspicion they need to create something unique and the fear of making any kind of statement that would challenge or offend anyone. Many of them are completely overwhelmed by the idea of creating a real expression of themselves.

Your brand is a complex, original piece of art. It consists of ideas, images, feelings, and words. It's constantly evolving and (if done well) an artistic expression of who you are. Many people who lived in the buttoned up corporate world are completely ill-suited to this type of creation. The result is an ocean of dull, safe logos and meaningless catch phrases. If that's what the word "brand" means to you, then of course that sounds like a tragic waste of time.

If you're an artist there's no reason in the world to hold back on branding. This is what you do. You create things that are revealing and evoke an emotional response in anyone who sees/hears/feels it. Your goal in branding is to make a business card like no one has ever seen before. Most people can't do that, but you can.

Having been an entrepreneur for 40 years (retired now), I can relate to Nancy's informative and well-written article for the artist. Unfortunately, I never did have the artistic talent that many of you possess, but I did have a talent in branding (having started numerous companies and developing numerous innovative products). The only advice that I can pass on to everyone is that a brand identity, logo, etc. is a 15 second process. You see it, hear it and love it within the first 15 seconds. If you have to make excuses, think about it for a while, etc., then it is not right for you. It has to jump out and grab you the minute you think of the brand phrase or the brand logo. Also, a brand and logo will not replace the product. It can create an interest in your product, but if the product is not at the level of the brand identity, you will be out of luck.

Since I've retired, I have focused on helping all the Artists (visual, performing, culinary and literary). Everything I've done was a give back to the industry (no cost to the artists). My latest project is for the town of Estes Park, Colorado. It is a vision, plan and benefits to help all the artists of Estes Park. You can read about it at: www.imagineestes.com. The brand, logo, name and 4 word message appeared in my mind in about 1-2 minutes. I knew that was what I wanted to convey to the artists and the town.

Keep up the good work with these articles and good luck to all the artist endeavors.

Brand for social media and internet is something ridiculously obligatory. Having a name doesn't mean you have a brand. If we take D. Trump. he has a name and a brand, cause his real name isn't Trump. Our professor always told us about Trump as an example of a person who could write his speeches well and we knew how to use proper writing on Politics and Finance and many other subjects.

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