Creative at Work: Haberdasher Kari Bergrud, owner of Belvedere, hard at work making snappy men’s apparel and accessories inspired by the gentlemen of the 1950s as well as today’s modern chap. Her designs include ties, tie-your-own bowties, suspenders, pocket combs, and tie clips made from vintage spoons and forks.
Image credit: Zach Bulick
I was not a tough kid growing up, so as a young boy I survived the school playground not with muscle but with speed. When bigger boys would taunt me or try to make my existence miserable, I would either try to win them over with quick-witted charm or simply run away. One day in the fourth grade I responded with a third tactic: weaponry. I needed a more convincing method of getting what I wanted and, as an avid jackknife collector, I figured if I brandished a blade I’d be able to take charge of my own destiny.
The next altercation happened on the swing set and, instead of trying to make nice, I pulled out my knife, flipped open the blade, and said with a nervous voice, “It’s my turn. Get off.” The older, stronger boy jumped off and ran away. A couple of minutes later the monitoring teacher confronted me about the incident, confiscated my knife until the end of the day, and said I would be serving a detention. After school, she instructed me to come to the front of the class and write, “I will not bring a knife to school” repeatedly on the blackboard for 30 minutes. Lesson learned. The teacher returned my knife to me and off I went.
Creative Work: The Belvedere brand was created by Zach Bulick, a Canadian-Texan designer/illustrator from Vancouver, Canada.
By today’s standards, I got off pretty easy—the school never even notified my parents. But the situation often comes to mind as I think about the current-day creative entrepreneur and the marketplace you play in. Creatives tend to respond to the challenge of marketing their businesses in a couple of different ways: either they run for the hills, claiming it’s too hard to promote themselves, or they take the extreme approach of pulling a stunt that produces short-term results at the expense of building businesses they can sustain.
Putting yourself out there as a talented and serviceable creative is tough stuff. I get it. With more and more small businesses springing up, and skilled people in the workforce, it appears that on a macro-level creative valuation is being targeted from multiple angles; clearly these are forces you can’t control. However, you can control how you present yourself to your sphere of influence and shape the perception of you and your business. This microcosm can act contrary to the general market based on what your prospects need, value, and who they hope to engage. Building a meaningful connection with your target audience should be the focus of your marketing efforts, and you can do that most effectively when they come to you.
Many business owners feel they’d be more successful if they had less competition, but I disagree. I see countless creatives approaching their marketing efforts in ways that aren’t attractive—or worse, aren’t creative. Creatives seem to either run scared from the big, bad buyer or act like a loud, annoying bully trying to convince buyers they’re the real deal. The mediocre ones who don’t fall into those two categories flit about from stunt to stunt, not sure what to do or say or how to get the attention they feel they deserve.
The solution is to stop chasing. Stop spinning your wheels, stop marketing like your competitors, stop regurgitating stale schemes, and stop making noise about your work because everyone else is. A successful marketing mindset seeks to generate a spark in the mind’s eye of an ideal client (and those who influence them), rather than to simply make noise.
All the marketing jargon that has been filling your head for years isn’t useless; you simply need to sift through all the junk and make sure that what you do attempt serves a greater goal than just pulling in some more money. It needs to build your brand, it needs to satisfy your purpose, and it needs to make the long game an adventure you’re proud of. When your actions—both as a creative humanoid and as a business owner—pique just one person’s interest, you’ll have produced the most valuable sales opportunity there is: being in demand.
Demanding attention = illicit marketing
Eliciting curiosity = generating demand
Your creative legacy deserves better. Your creative spirit demands to be handled more deliberately. Your business will succeed as you develop the habit of doing and saying things that make people curious.
To help nudge you in the right direction, consider the concept of push/pull marketing, at least how I see it as it pertains to a creative venture. Pushing your offering onto an unsuspecting network only works if the viewer takes the bait and reaches out to you. There’s no engagement; it’s simply guesswork about which tactic will land in a willing party’s lap. You’re going for volume and you’re hoping for the best. On the other hand, pulling is an action that is customer-initiated as a result of you connecting with the right people, at the right time, in a manner that meets their individual needs. Demand may be scarce but it’s there, and you know it because your level of engagement is high. Defining your target market right down to the companies and the people you want to serve and then taking the kinds of risks that excite you, both creatively and personally, will put you in a position to be noticed. That’s the kind of foundation you can build on. Survival of the fittest has less to do with marketing wizardry and more to do with looking good while making valiant attempts at activities and ideas that convey who you are, what you do, and why you do it.
Scott Stratten, in his book UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging. (Wiley, 2010) reminds us that we need to market in a way we can stand behind. “We’ve been taught to market to others in ways we hate being marketed to (cold-calling, flyers, ads, etc.),” Stratten writes. “So why do we still keep trying the same stale marketing moves?”
Business owners who promote themselves through the very methods they detest convey an attitude of desperation. Marketing efforts that employ means that don’t connect with you will fail at connecting with those you’re eager to reach. It’s a matter of authenticity; it’s off-brand because you are your brand, and as an independent business owner your marketing efforts must reflect your talent, expertise, passions, and ability to deliver on a promise. If “push-marketing” isn’t your style, don’t use it; creatives should never apply marketing strategies that contrast with the character of the person behind the creative work. If you judge the marketing ploys of your competition as cheap stunts, don't use them. Put the same critical eye to your own efforts to ensure they’re producing high levels of engagement; if they’re not, it’s time to hit the reset button.
Leverage your bravery and confidence and rely on your ideation and influences. Put more energy into being more attractive to watch, cheer on, support, brag about, and engage with. Let your creative mix shine.