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Art Marketing Circle V
Your True Fans
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OK, on to the article…..
We’re continuing our members-only series outlining our Circles of Art Marketing framework. If you’re a new member, or missed what we covered previously, I recommend you catch up on the series at the following links:
Alright, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at Art Marketing Circle V - True Fans…
Now that we’ve examined what it takes to turn “your art” into a product. Let’s take a look at how you use the other rings of the Circles of Art Marketing to market and sell your art.
In general, the further in a circle is, the more valuable it is to you. Your art is the most valuable thing you have (in this framework), next is the ring that turns your art into a product, then comes your “True Fans” (these are your buyers and most loyal supporters), then your audience, and finally people who are aware of you and your artwork.
We’re going to work our way through the circles from the inside out, but keep in mind, in most cases, your customer’s journey is going to be the other direction. They will move from the outside in. In the next section of the book, we’ll show you how to put it all together and move people through the following stages: Unaware of you -> Aware & Interested -> Part of Your Audience -> Buyers and Your True Fans.
Let’s start by looking at your most valuable collectors and supporters, aka Your “True Fans.”
What are True Fans?
A “True Fan” is someone who follows nearly everything you do, buys repeatedly, and, if they don’t, or can’t buy from you, they support you in other significant ways by connecting you with people who can help you. This is my definition and slightly modified (for the visual art world) from Kevin Kelly’s original definition.
Kevin Kelly coined the term “True Fans” in his seminal essay, “1000 True Fans:”
To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only a thousand true fans. A true fan is defined as a fan that will buy anything you produce. These diehard fans will drive 200 miles to see you sing; they will buy the hardback and paperback and audible versions of your book; they will purchase your next figurine sight unseen; they will pay for the “best-of” DVD version of your free youtube channel; they will come to your chef’s table once a month. If you have roughly a thousand of true fans like this (also known as super fans), you can make a living — if you are content to make a living but not a fortune.
Kevin’s essay, when it published in 2013, made shockwaves across the Internet as it crystallized, in many creators’ minds, for the first time the following thought: “that’s doable.” In fact, he is credited with “kicking off” what we now refer to as the “creator economy.”
For the first time, creators of all types saw an achievable path to make a living from their art, music, writing, teaching, etc. And moreover, one that did not rely on any gatekeepers’ permission.
So, with gatekeepers removed, your goal, with your true fans, is to connect with these people personally until they purchase again or promote you to others. And, while not technically a business goal, you will probably become friends with many of your true fans. By “connect personally”, I mean (mostly) personal texts, emails, phone calls, etc. Not newsletters or other mass broadcasting methods.
One caveat that is usually overlooked in what we’ll call “True Fan Theory:” Finding, developing and maintaining a relationship with your True Fans is not easy. It is a ton of work and it is not for everyone. Most people who have failed at developing True Fans either have not put enough time into mastering their art, or they have not put enough effort into the work that developing True Fans takes. Kevin’s “warning” about this model appears near the end of the essay:
The truth is that cultivating a thousand true fans is time consuming, sometimes nerve racking, and not for everyone. Done well (and why not do it well?) it can become another full-time job. At best it will be a consuming and challenging part-time task that requires ongoing skills. There are many creators who don’t want to deal with fans, and honestly should not. They should just paint, or sew, or make music, and hire someone else to deal with their superfans. If that is you and you add someone to deal with fans, a helper will skew your formula, increasing the number of fans you need, but that might be the best mix.
- Kevin Kelly
Remember what we covered in the previous circle, “Sales”, when I emphatically said that “Art Needs a Salesperson?” Kevin is saying the same thing here. If you can not, or will not put in the time and effort to correctly find, cultivate, communicate, and close you true fans, then you need to find or hire a salesperson who will do that work for you.
Some artists love doing this work themselves, and some hate it. The key is to be honest with yourself about which type of artist you are.
The good news (which is also “bad” news) is that in visual art, unless you're selling teaching, you likely won’t have a thousand true fans. It’ll most likely be more like a few dozen or maybe even as few as 20.
I hope you enjoyed today’s article! Next week we’ll look deeper into this phenomenon, specific to art, of being able to support yourself with such a small number of dedicated true fans.
Apostle of Creativity
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