Zag is a great book by Marty Neumeier (also read “The Brand Gap") about brands, and what you can do to make your brand stand out for long term success. I give artists a recap of how the principles of Zag can be interpreted for your own success:
Even though the book was written for Brands - businesses and companies selling products or services, it is very relevant for artists and creatives because at the end of the day, you are marketing yourselves as a Brand. An artist IS a Brand. You have to think that way, because that’s how you will achieve success on any level, and especially on the commercial level. You have to know how the market and businesses and consumers think, so that you can speak on their terms and do business with them.
A brand is a reputation. It’s what others think of you, how they perceive you, and what they say about you. More than ever, your brand is what people say about you when you are not around! It is largely out of your control - the best you can do is influence it. The good news is that for an artist, this is easier than for a corporate brand. You are much more in control of, and able to influence, your ‘brand’. You also have a leg up because art has an immediate, visceral reaction whereas a company has to employ departments of people just so their ‘brand’ gets a reaction and can start being seen as a brand at all - and not just a product or service. Art has emotion. It is an Emotional Brand.
Back to the book: There’s lots of great information, and though it goes into detail about communicating brand, the main point of the book is that for a brand to succeed, it must be radically different. Radical differentiation. How true is this for artists? Very but with a caveat from my own experience and observation - radically different doesn't mean shocking, tasteless, gimmicky, or flashy. Radical doesn't mean "out there for the sake of being radical".
I agree with the author that the marketplace (our world) is too cluttered, especially in today’s social media, social network, instant commenting and blogging world. The clutter, as defined by Neumeier is: Product Clutter, Feature Clutter, Advertising Clutter, Message Clutter and Media Clutter.
There are more choices than we can handle - products and services are all similar, there are tons of copy-cats, and there’s always a tendency to complicate products, to add stuff to them. There is marketing beyond what our brains can process, and more channels than ever where brands can ‘market’ to us. There’s tons of noise out there and it makes it harder to make the ‘right’ choice, and in my view, makes us all ‘skimmers’ just so we can try to cut through the crap and get to the bottom of what’s out there and whether we like it, need it, or even want it.
Takeaways from the book:
1. Find the White Space. Also, You can’t be a leader if you’re following the leader. You must find the space in between the others, where you can differentiate yourself. Artists will understand the white space analogy better than anyone! It's crucial to know what’s already out there, who the leaders and followers are. Go where others aren’t already. You have to find the ‘white space’, just like the negative space that artists are trained to look for. Do this for your art, do something that isn’t currently out there. Do it well.
2. Get in front of the parade. In other words, identify trends and get in front of them. You have to know what’s going on out there, whichever area or niche or market you want to be in. Ride the wave of trends, to help push you forward. This means being aware of trends, and to some degree, trying to anticipate the next ones. It’s definitely important for artists - apart from the obvious ones like color trends, fashion trends, design trends - you should also make note of trends in society, culture, consumer behavior, pop culture, and technology.
I highly recommend that all artists who are serious about becoming commercially known and successful get into the mindset of creating and promoting themselves as brands. Identify your brand, and while you're at it, identify your Emotional Brand. It isn’t as technical as it sounds, but getting into that way of thinking will help shape your choices and your communication to the outside world - ultimately - your Brand and what people think of you.