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
Branding is the only power artists have.
I’m using the term “power” narrowly here as defined in the book 7 Powers: The Foundations of Business Strategy by Hamilton Helmer.
In business strategy, “power” is defined as this: the set of conditions creating the potential for persistent differential returns.
In plain English that means: You can charge more money than your competitors because you possess a power that they do not.
The book defines several powers such as economies of scale, counter-positioning, switching costs, and process power.
But as I read the book, I realized that the only one of the seven powers available to artists is branding.
Branding, in the sense of being a power, is defined much more narrowly than the way most marketing people use the term.
Branding as a power exists because you’ve created three conditions around your brand:
1. The built-up associations with the brand elicit good feelings about the offering, distinct from the objective value of the good.
2. Uncertainty reduction. A customer attains “peace of mind” knowing that the branded product will be as just as expected.
3. Conditions 1 and 2 allow you to charge a large price premium over competitors. (Without this you have no power)
Helmer claims that these three conditions can only be created by providing a consistent and extremely high-quality product over a long period of time. Typically a period of time spanning years or, more likely, decades.
Once a company has spent decades building their brand, the power comes specifically from condition #3: the the ability of a branded product to charge a large premium price over what competitors are able to charge.
Additionally, only certain types of goods can benefit from the power of branding. Branded power tends to accrue only to luxury goods and further, only to goods that are highly associated with one’s identity. Products like high end clothing, watches, wines.
The example cited in the book is Tiffany. Tiffany can charge nearly double the price for the same diamond ring you can buy at Costco. This premium price can be charged due to the promise behind the powerful Tiffany brand. And it’s taken decades for Tiffany to build that brand (they started in the 1800s).
To illustrate the difference between marketing “branding” and “Power Branding” consider this: Coca-Cola’s power doesn’t come from “branding” because, while Coca-Cola may be the world’s most well-known “brand”, you won’t pay a large premium for Coca-Cola over Pepsi or other colas. In short, you wouldn’t pay $50 for a can of coke. (Coke’s power stems more from its powerful distribution network).
Developing Brand Power as an Artist
Here’s where things get interesting for us: Although the author doesn’t mention it in the book, his description of the type of goods that can be powerfully branded reads like a list of attributes associated with original art.
Let’s go back through the attributes of a product that can develop brand power:
1. High end good
Original art, especially by well-known, “powerfully branded” artists is expensive.
2. Associated closely with identity
Art buyers associate closely with the art they purchase and the artists whom they purchase from. In their social circles, art buyers are often known as “the art person.” Art associates with identity possibly even more than watches, wine or Louis-Vuitton bags.
3. Quality Guarantee/Uncertainty reduction
If I purchase a David Leffel painting, I have no question about the quality I’ll be receiving. Newer artists haven’t created that reputation yet.
4. Years to decades build the brand
Again, I have good feelings associated with the “David Leffel” brand. It’s taken him literally a lifetime to create that. It takes years – even decades.
I recall working with a young artist, whom I call Sarah (fictitious name). Sarah had studied with David Leffel. Sarah’s paintings were excellent. In many ways, I liked some aspects of her work even better than Leffel’s. However, Sarah’s work sold in the range of $3,000 – $7,000 each. Leffel’s works sold in the range of $30,000 – $90,000 each.
That’s literally a 10X price premium for a Leffel. That’s power.
That’s the power of branding. And that’s the only power you, as an artist, have available.
The good news is that it’s not difficult: Keep painting consistently, only sell paintings of the very highest quality, ensure that all interactions with customers are positive and elicit “good feelings about the offering.” (stop posting politics on Facebook!) Do this consistently over a period of years and years and the power will slowly but surely accrue.
Until next time, please remember that Fortune Favors the Bold Brush.
BoldBrush/FASO Founder & Art Fanatic
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