What a strange new world we live in, here in the 21st century! In addition to [staying on top of our work load], maintaining our inspiration, and being consistently prolific, artists and creative people are now expected to present a cohesive vision of our personal brand whenever we do business. If done correctly, branding can make clear to the world who we are and what we do, attract our ideal customer or client, and help us stand out above the competition. But there is a dark side to branding, one that can take a toll on our well being and sense of self if we're not careful. Because of its intense focus on image, and because of our culture's belief that it's the only effective way of doing business via the internet, branding can sometimes be extremely intimidating to sensitive creative people (especially at the beginning of our careers when we're not exactly sure who we are and why we make art!). The very concept of branding comes from corporate America, and has long been a potent marketing strategy employed by everyone from greedy advertisers to shady politicians. Branding something as personal as our cherished work can feel uncomfortable and even phony, as we try to condense the many elements of personality, inspiration, and aesthetic tastes that comprise our artistic Self. We might fear that something essential will get lost in the translation, and we'll end up feeling like an impostor, hiding behind an ill-fitting costume.
Fortunately we already possess a magic power that can help us make sense of branding: our creativity. Using the same instincts that drive our artistic endeavors, we CAN take control and craft an image that reflects our authentic Self. Here are 5 ways to build your brand without losing your soul:
1) Perform regular updates of your brand's aesthetic
- Just as our sources of inspiration (and the ways they affect us) are always changing, understand that your brand is constantly in flux. While it's true that our core creative values and fundamental objectives for our business should remain steady, the ways in which we express these things through our brand, such as images, fonts, and the text we write to describe our work, can and should keep changing. Not only will we honor our natural aesthetic evolution, but our audience will stay engaged with our journey if we keep it fresh and compelling. An occasional re-fresh of our brand's look and feel can also attract new fans who are drawn to our new look. Follow some artists and creative people whose work you love, and stay up-to-date with their brand changes. Consider a regular, twice-yearly re-fresh, and collect some fonts and images for use along the way.
2) Make activism part of your online presence
- Are you passionate about environmental causes? Would you do anything for the ASPCA? Do you care about social justice, and the conditions of homeless people in your community? Make this clear on your website, and blog, Tweet, and email about your cause. Don't be afraid of turning off prospective clients or employers. Creative people are valued for our passion! Typically we contribute to community wellbeing through our art and creative work, so it's natural that we should take an active interest in our community. You might even consider partnering with your chosen cause and putting together a benefit event for them, featuring local artists. You'll attract new eyes to your work, and gain valuable insight into ways that art and business can work together in service of the greater good.
3) Endorse products and services that are not produced by corporations
- Little companies and local workers need your help, so give them a boost with occasional shout-outs. Devoted to a certain acupuncturist? In love with a magical skin care product? Collect the work of a talented glass maker? Mention their work on your blog and in your Tweets, and don't forget to include links. Consider being photographed with some of their products and post them on your blog and/or website. Let them know how much you value their work, and publicly thank them for contributing to your well being. Don't forget blogs and other sources of information and services. AUTHOR'S NOTE: one of my all-time favorite beauty blogs is BeautyLiesTruth.Com, run by two Brooklyn women who are devoted to products that won't harm us or the environment. They've done thorough research and are constantly updating their list of excellent items for all your beauty needs.
4) Promote the work of esteemed competitors and colleagues
- It may seem counter-intuitive, but promoting work done by your competitors is actually good for your professional reputation. It's a strong statement about your knowledge of, and engagement with your corner of your industry. Whether you're an author, blogger, designer, musician, actor, or craft maker, take time to look around at other professionals and identify people whose work moves and inspires you (if you're not quite where you want to be in your career, it's OK to chose people whose level you aspire to reach). It's important to curate your choices, because they are an indication of your personal aesthetic. Make sure that you include a description of exactly why you enjoy someone's work, and where their work can be found online and in the world. Keep checking in with your choices, and follow their work as it progresses. You might even attract their attention and be able to collaborate with them, a great move toward growing your audience.
5) Keep a sense of humor
- You're not an automated robot creator, you're a human being with real live feelings and a genuine sense of humor. Don't be afraid to show it once in awhile. Blog, Tweet, and talk about your favorite sources of funny stuff. This is an area where prospective clients might be turned off, so keep in mind what is NSFW and don't cross that line.