Studio Talk #9: Market Research

 

First of all, I'm SO sorry I missed last week's post! Being on the road is such a... strange experience. It's incredibly exciting waking up in a new city each day, but it makes it difficult to keep track of the day and time. 

I mean.... can you blame me??? 

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This past week has basically flown by me. And now the tour is almost over and I'm already mourning it! 

I've gotten to see so many amazing places and meet amazing people and learn amazing things about my business!

One of my favorite parts about being able to travel to do shows all over the country is that I get to experience, first-hand, the reactions of VERY different demographics to my work. For those of you who use social media as one of your main avenues for getting new business, you've probably at least thought about running ads on Facebook and Instagram. If you've already done some of that, you know that for your ads, demographic info. is required. 

To really get the most bang for your buck, you have to know a little bit about your audience. This same info. helps you whether you're doing shows in person, pitching shops and galleries throughout the country, or running digital ads. 

  Your audience doesn't have to be a mystery.

Your audience doesn't have to be a mystery.

For example, my jewelry just doesn't do well in rural areas. In rural areas, people tend to respond better to big and bold, which really isn't my aesthetic. They love statement pieces (which are v. cool!!) but aren't as taken with the minimalist work I produce. Soooo, having seen this result repeated a couple times throughout the trip is confirmation that, as I move forward, I probably shouldn't apply to craft fairs in rural areas or pitch galleries in smaller towns.

And as independent makers and business people, strategy matters, because we don't have time to waste!

Put me in a big city or an arts district, though, and it's go time.

I'd be remiss not to mention that this research wouldn't even be reliable if I didn't have a clear aesthetic -- a defined brand.

Like, Apple is about SO MUCH MORE than just the products. Apple products represent a lifestyle -- a creative lifestyle -- so they're not advertising to farmers. Look at their ads. They're hip. They're contemporary. They're edgy. They push boundaries. There's nothing safe about them and that's exciting! I mean, their tagline is, "Say hello to the future." 

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So yeah, more Apple stores in big cities. Less in rural areas.

For years I just made whatever I wanted rather than creating to a specific aesthetic with a clear collection in mind, and although it sometimes made the making part more fun, it was never clear to me which designs worked where, for whom, or why. There was no clear aesthetic to test. 

So if you find yourself feeling totally in the dark about why some things work and some things don't but you really have no idea why, you could try a couple things:

  • Narrow down. If you have a super broad collection that includes a bunch of different styles, i.e. something for everybody, then it might appeal to nobody because the aesthetic is too confusing. Perhaps try bringing your more contemporary, minimalist products to your more metro shows and your more boho-leaning work to more rural shows. See what happens!
  • Define your aesthetic. Create with your ideal customer in mind, then try the products out in the market of that ideal customer. For example, if you're creating something super modern, reach out to some shops or galleries in a larger city and see if they'd be opening to try a pop-up with you. It wouldn't cost them anything, and would provide you an awesome market research opportunity.
  • Be willing to let go. Once you really begin testing your products in different markets, you have to be willing to let go of the designs that don't work. It doesn't mean you have to quit making them. I mean, hobbies are great. But when it comes to your business, your collection, you don't want to be putting energy into pieces that aren't going to get purchased. After all, you're not living alone in a cabin making these things for your health -- you're trying to create a sustainable livelihood!
  • Ask somebody in your field. Collaboration and mentorship is SO IMPORTANT when it comes to growing as an artist and business person. Why not reach out to your ideal stockiest and ask for their opinion? Not all of us have the flexibility of market-research-while-traveling, so this could be perfect for makers who are more home-bound. 
    • Here's a sample email that you might send to an ideal stockist:
 
Dear ______,

My name is ____________, and I’m the founder/designer for ______________. I’m reaching out because you’re the kind of stockist I dream of working with and I’d love if you’d take a minute to take a look at my work and give me some feedback on how I could become an ideal contributor to your beautiful gallery/shop/space.

Mainly, I’m looking for your initial reaction to my designs, photography, packaging, and branding.

Again, any insight at all is super appreciated. Artists can’t grow without feedback and my 2018 mission is to up my design game to reach some business and design goals I’ve set for this year. Your feedback will help me do that 👏👏👏

Thank you again and have a great day!

Truly,
_________________
  • Here's an email you might send to a fellow maker:
 
Dear ___________,

My name is _____________ and I’m the founder/designer of ______________.

I’m reaching out because I really admire your work and have noticed that you seem to have killer marketing and a real clear direction for your business.

I was wondering if you would mind taking a look at my website and products and give me your first impressions.

One of my goals for 2018 is to up my product and marketing game and I’d be so appreciative of any insight at all.

Thank you again!

Truly,
_________________

Some of you might be wondering why in the world a stranger would want to help another stranger, but most of the makers I've built relationships with understand that when one of us succeeds, the whole ship rises, and we WANT to see each other do well. 

 I learned a lot from collaborating with this lady, Paris of  Paris Woodhull Illustrations , and it even led to a DIY kit concept I'm exploring in 2018! Behind her is  RALA , a shop where I sell jewelry and teach workshops!

I learned a lot from collaborating with this lady, Paris of Paris Woodhull Illustrations, and it even led to a DIY kit concept I'm exploring in 2018! Behind her is RALA, a shop where I sell jewelry and teach workshops!

And the worst thing a person can do is to say, "No," to a request. Just look at this as a type of market research as well. If you reach out to a gallery or shop and you receive an unwelcoming response, that might be a place to mark off your list. Now, I'm not saying a rejection is NECESSARILY "unwelcome." Sometimes small biz owners truly don't have time to help you with an assessment. But tone/intention is everything, right? 

So maybe you could make a list for yourself for 2018 to help grow your biz. Mine looks like this:

  • Hire a brand specialist to consult on my brand 
  • Re-brand with new logo and packaging to suit new brand direction and narrow my jewelry collection to fit within that framework
  • Learn a new jewelry-making skill to help my collection positively evolve (metal-smithing, perhaps!?)
  • Send a survey to recent customers to ask for their experiences with my jewelry to help improve quality and aesthetic

The worst thing you can do is to stop asking questions, and stop listening to feedback. Because as soon as I start to think I know everything I need to know, I start missing out on valuable feedback and opportunities!

Ok, good luck! And if anybody out there wants me to take a look at their branding, just email me at info@smartandbeckercreative.com

Happy marketing/branding/developing/making :)

Ryan-Ashley