Branding is key to creating a product of perceived high-end value. It is through branding that consumers buy into the notion that there are distinctions of value between one product and another.
“When you buy a Prada purse, a Hermés scarf, a Hugo Boss T-shirt, a Fendi belt, an Armani coat, Ferragamo shoes, you are really buying the ‘story,’ the advertising,” states James B. Twitchell in Living It Up: Our Love Affair with Luxury. As Twitchell points out, what consumers may crave many not be the object at all, but what that object stands for. “New luxury in this sense describes objects whose value is almost pure magical story, and, in so being, satisfies a very particular desire, the yearning for fixity.”
Tell a story.
The “magical story” is where branding comes into play. Telling a story, creating a signature look, these are the things that give meaning to an object, which, in turn, adds value (however illusory or fictional that value may be) to a product and enables businesses to charge such high prices for it.
Language and imagery are the tools through which the story gets told. In branding, the goal is to do such a good job of creating an image of differentiation between your brand and another brand that consumers end up accepting your claim; they perceive yours as better, and you improve your position on the luxe ladder.
Leave your mark.
Numerous elements combine to create a brand. For an artist, these would include your (business or artist) name, logo, artist statement, obviously your artwork, your signature, and even where your artwork is displayed (as we mentioned in Do You Make the Luxe List? and also in Back to Basics: Tried and True Marketing Principles in the September 2009 issue, placement is a key element of the marketing mix).
Numerous books have been written about marketing, branding and advertising. I would especially encourage you to read Martin Lindstrom’s Buyology: Truth and Lies about Why We Buy (Doubleday, 2008) to understand how consumers respond to brands. In the meantime, here’s a three-step summary for creating a strong brand:
1. Describe your work in a word or a phrase.
What is the adjective or phrase that comes to mind when you think about you and your work? For me, it’s the word “snappy.” For me, snappy implies short, quick and to-the-point. It also means, “I’m having fun but getting things done.” I write in a snappy style, the logo on my business card logo is snappy, I converse in a snappy way, I wear snappy clothes, I have a snappy haircut. Identify the core component(s) or element(s) that make(s) your artwork recognizable, appealing and different.
2. Appeal to all five senses.
Branding is language and imagery. Sense plays a role in whether we decide to buy products, which is why companies have spent oodles of greenbacks researching how consumers react to different aromas, flavors, colors, sounds, and textures. Does your artwork — and your brand — trigger pleasurable emotional responses or aversions?
3. Tell the same story.
Branding permeates everything. The story you tell through words and imagery needs to get told and re-told everywhere (your Web site, your blog, through your artwork, your signature on your artwork, your marketing materials, your portfolio, etc.). The same story should come through in every aspect of your business — think unity and consistency.
Remember also that you yourself can be (or already are) a brand; you can create and maintain that personal brand in many spheres of your life — during gallery receptions, on Twitter, on Facebook, on the art fair circuit, and in the classroom when you teach, just to name a few.
Luxe brands motifs: grandiosity and decoding
Throughout this series on luxury marketing, we have emphasized that luxury brands create an aura of grandiosity. Luxury impresses us. It inspires awe and wonderment. Recall SeaFair, the mega-yacht art venue we discussed in Do You Make the Luxe List?. Imagine yourself in an evening gown or tuxedo, sipping champagne and being served caviar by waiters in tuxes as you gracefully promenade through galleries. You are the lady or gentleman of the yacht. The magnificence of that experience is going to evoke awfully pleasurable vibes.
In Living It Up, Twitchell notes an interesting phenomenon in luxury retail over the last few years: As trademarks like the Gucci G or the LV of Louis Vuitton have become status symbols, their value has actually diluted because so many people now have them. To retain the status of the brand, these opuluxe designers have diminished the size of their logo on some products while also upping the price. In essence, you pay more to have a smaller TM on the product, but you join the elite cognoscenti decoders, those who don’t need the LV because they can identify the other signifiers for a Louis Vuitton, Prada, Guicci or other high-end handbag. Granted, you’ve got to be luxe already to take the step to ultra-luxe, but it is a point worth noting.
Avoid brand pitfalls.
Branding is big business these days. “In 2008, an estimated $654 billion will be spent on branding,” writes Lucas Conley in his book Obsessive Branding Disorder published that same year. Branding, when done successfully, can help you rise to the top. But many companies have also wasted a lot of time and money on image overhaul.
In my estimation, the two biggest branding-related mistakes that you as an artist may make are: 1) beginning a marketing campaign prematurely; and 2) relying on your brand to the detriment of your product. As to the former, we pointed out in Studying Your Target Market that first you’ve got to know what your market wants and track what your market is purchasing, then you plan your campaign. Regarding the latter, heed Conley’s findings: “Although the branding movement grew out of our desire for consistency, consistency and reliability are among the casualties of the current obsessive branding disorder.” When a company is so caught up in manipulating its image, it tends to cut corners and forget about the core substance — the quality of the actual product. Do not fall into that trap. AC
Contributing writer and communications consultant Ligaya Figueras specializes in business writing, marketing and media relations for visual and performance artists, writers, nonprofit organizations and specialty service providers. Follow Ligaya on Twitter at twitter.com/LigayaFigueras, or friend her on Facebook at facebook.com/ligaya.figueras.