26 January 2010

Kapowing! - The Making of a Brand & Three Rules To Live By

by guest columnist KatieKapow (''')-.-(''').  Follow her on Twitter.

Warning:  This piece is unintentionally autobiographical.  In order to fully explain my position, I had to delve into my own history.  But pay attention, the rules are important.
It’s easy to find the value of a particular model of toaster; you do a quick internet search and kapow, you’ve got it. Unfortunately, making and selling toasters is not my forte. So how does a small town girl with a penchant and passion for photography go from doing portraits for her friends to establishing a brand, determining her art’s worth and begin selling her art online? Good question! I’m not here to give you a step by step guide for setting up your artistic career. That would be impossible. I am, however going to give you a window into Kapow.

In the early 2000’s you could find my physical presence at many functions in my small town. From local festivals to the county fair, I was displaying art and entering contests where ever and whenever they were available. Although in my town, with its mere 20,000 resident population, this exposure was “good,” it was not my target market. These functions offered me little success other than the personal satisfaction of getting my art publicly seen.
Around 2005 I came to the conclusion that I needed a more concrete goal.  I asked myself, “What is it that I’m working toward? Do I simply want to share my art?  Do I want to sell my art?  Would I like my art to be a lucrative business that could support me financially?”  With each goal a bit more difficult to meet then the last, it was easy for that little voice in my head to say, “Forget it, you’ll never get there. Make your art for yourself and be satisfied.”  It seemed obvious to me at this point that my art was not sell-worthy, at least not in my hometown.  Lacking confidence, I reverted to taking portraits and senior pictures for whatever money came my way.

In 2005 I opened up a portrait studio in my home. Using my skills as a photographer, I was mildly successful with this business.  At this point, I was not internet savvy in the least. My husband, however, was quite determined to get my business set up with a website. Once Kate Winters Photography Dot Com was up and running, I started getting comments and contact from sources outside of my little Southern Oregon town. This activity made me once again question my motives.  People liked what I was doing as much as I did. I decided to give my art another shot by adding a spot on the Kate Winters Photography website specifically for art rather than portraits, and quietly hoped my work was interesting enough to demand its own slice of the net.
It was during this time period that I began building an online presence and creating my own personal brand. I had used Twitter with my friends, who made up a very humble 15 followers steadily since the Twitter debut in 2006.  In March of 2009, I completely refocused my intentions in regard to my online presence. KatieKapow became her own person:  An artist, an exciting and explosive personality with few limits and endless confidence. I followed and reached out to other artists in this online community, and soon noticed my brand was picking up speed. Suddenly, people were watching, and lots of them! I replaced my county fair presence with accounts at Facebook, Twitter, Brightkite, Plurk, Digg, Tumblr, Stumble Upon, Flickr, Blip.fm, Linkedin, YouTube, Vimeo, Raptr and a few others. You name it, if it’s a social network, Kapow was and probably still is, there. No network is too small. My idea was very simple in concept, and incredibly difficult in practice: Meet people, keep people interested, and be interested in them.
I created a blog and photo gallery that were separate from my portraiture business and began a daily “photo of the day” post on Twitter. With that simple daily activity my follower count increased dramatically, going from those 15 followers to an amazing 2100 between March and December of 2009. I did this without using spammy SEO marketers or “increase your follower count” tools. I did this by simply being Kapow, loving my art and by reaching out to others like me.
In the summer of 2009, online followers and friends began to inquire about purchasing my art – a topic that I had buried back when I opened the portrait studio. Was my work sell worthy after all? Had something changed in what I was doing? Perhaps my skills had grown. Perhaps it was a simple matter of getting my art seen by the proper audience. Either way I had something new to do. It was time to establish ShopKapow.
So I sat down at my laptop and tried to determine which pieces were sell-worthy and how much I should charge for them.  This was no easy task. It took me weeks to lay out a game plan for the shop. After crunching numbers and labels in my head without results I turned back to the people that helped make me Kapow in the first place and began polling on Twitter to determine my audience’s favorite pieces. Step one for Shop Kapow was complete (determining which pieces to sell in the first place). I had to move on to the more difficult step two – determining my art’s monetary worth.

I learned very quickly that it’s almost impossible to do comparative searches among other artists. Everyone’s art is unique and therefore determining value is extraordinarily difficult. Not only that, but to different people a piece may be worth varying prices. I had an offer on one piece, titled “Meet You There” for $500 in the form of a 16X20 Canvas print. I had planned on selling this same piece for $100 at my online shop. 

With that knowledge I created rule number one: Don’t undercut your worth!
I determined a set of prices to match certain pieces, and got the shop up and ready to live test right around Christmas. This was a terrible time to try to launch an online store and my efforts were met with much criticism from my friends and family. I figured, however, that if I sold anything at all during this time frame I could get a good idea of what people considered a fair price. During the live test week I sold three pieces – not too bad for a small-town-raised, unknown, independent artist. The official grand opening of ShopKapow was launched right on time, New Year’s Day 2010.
It’s been a turbulent month. I sit on pins and needles watching the site, but have been completely amazed by the activity and sales. I’m listening, too:  Listening to the folks on Twitter. I heard a demand for novelties such as calendars, stickers and such. 

Armed with this knowledge, I created rule number two: Constantly evolve! Shop Kapow now offers 2010 Kapowlendars.
I’m no expert and I’m well aware of that. I hold no college degree in business or commerce. What I do have is a passion for what I do and an open mind to opportunity. Shop Kapow is still a baby in a very large online world. Its success will be directly related to what I do with it, and what I do with the site will be directly related to what my audience wants. If I’ve learned anything so far it’s that this isn’t my parent’s world anymore: I can’t just open up a storefront, advertise in the local newspaper and expect to get business, especially in an industry that is so subjective and reliant on niche market. 

This leads right into Rule number three – Use every tool available to you! And if you don’t know how, learn!
You’re worth it!!!
Evolve, be active and learn.
My credo for 2010. Kapow (''')-.-(''')

Random Fact Of the Week About KatieKapow (''')-.-(''')
I see the world very differently from most. Someone could, say, look at a tree and see a tree. I might look at it and see the way the colors and surrounding landscape might make the tree look strong, or towering, or even tiny. It’s an emotional experience, looking at the world through my eyes, for a number of reasons I won’t get into here. As such, when I look, I emote and assign emotion. I can’t help it. It’s what I do best.

all images in this post © 2009 Katie Winters.


The Dark Scribe said...

Great post, Kate.

My step-father (@jpcolando), who retired from teaching about fifteen years ago to devote himself full-time to photography, is also learning to market his work. Your experiences with choosing to market yourself rings true with all Creatives (to borrow a term from Tyler), as we struggle to find the balance between creating for ourselves and creating ourselves as a BRAND.

You've certainly generated a following, and your photography is excellent. I predict much success for you in the coming months and years.

Best of luck!

Maria said...

Kate - Love your photos, and love your spirit.

You've certainly captured the nuances of promotion in a digital age. Something all artists can never get enough information about.

moderndaystoryteller said...

Wow, what an inspiring story. Not really into rules but think I can go with yours... Kudos to Tyler & Multi-Hyphenate for shining the spotlight on your Kapowness!

KatieKapow said...

Thank you all for such kind comments and thanks so much for spending time on Multi-Hyphenate!


Jessica said...

Great post, Kate. It's so important to know that with dedication and persistence, you can make the life you want to have.

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