To truly thrive as illustrators, surface pattern designers, and other creatives in the field, we have to embrace marketing. This involves more than just promoting one’s work; it encompasses a deeper understanding of your target audience, building connections, and creating art with purpose.
We can use marketing to tell stories, provoke thought, raise awareness, and even inspire positive change. I have found a few ways to share meaningful content online with my audience, in an easy and impactful way. I’ll share five effective methods that have worked for me and provide detailed explanations on how you can implement them into your marketing strategy.
1. Creating Value
Marketing is all about creating content and putting it out there in your unique way. Content refers to any material created and shared to inform, entertain, or engage your target audience. It can take different forms and can be shared through different channels like social media platforms, websites, blogs, and email newsletters.
The purpose of creating this content is to provide value and connect to your audience in some way. What you need to get out of your marketing efforts depends on your business.
Do you work exclusively with clients? Are you looking for licensing opportunities? Do you want to make direct sales, be visible, establish credibility, build a community, build brand awareness and tell your story, or something else? These all require different ways for you to market your work, sometimes in different places.
Without a clear goal in mind, marketing can feel aimless and meaningless.
Everything you do should have a reason; this will make it much easier to spend time on. It’s always okay to try something new, but if what you’re doing doesn’t align with your long-term goals (and only benefits the platform), it’s time to abandon it.
When you are clear on your goal or goals for marketing yourself, you can think about the kind of information that’d be helpful for your audience to see. Bringing value helps you establish a connection with your audience, rather than solely focusing on selling.
You might think you’ve got nothing valuable to show, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Your audience wants to find a way to connect with you and understand you and your work better, so simply showing backstage footage of your creation process, or getting a sneak peek into your world is enough.
When giving value, no matter what format you pick, keep the 80/20 rule in mind: 80% of content should be useful to your audience — meaning, it educates, entertains, or offers a solution to their problems — and about 20% can be actual selling if need be.
2. Sticking to Your Strengths
A while back, I was starting to feel tired of the effort it took to reach my audience on Instagram, as did a lot of other illustrators and designers. I started putting my efforts into a newsletter and blog posts, to find a different way to give value and share value with my audience.
What changed is that I figured out what was important to me and where my strength lies: To be able to give value through writing. Formats such as blog posts, newsletters, interviews, and podcasts made more sense for me to showcase my artwork and online classes. Find a way to do what you love and use that as your marketing tool.
Making this content can take up a bit of time, so if you don’t enjoy or don’t like the type of content you’re making, you’ll likely get tired of it after a while. When we think of marketing, we often only think of social media, but there are lots of other routes you can take. If you don’t enjoy making and editing quick videos and it doesn’t serve your purpose, don’t waste your time creating reels for Instagram or TikTok.
There are lots of ways you can use your strengths to your advantage — find a way to keep showing up consistently and use it as a way to express yourself authentically. Finding your specific strength or niche will also make it easier for you to just share instead of ‘sell’, which will be easier for your audience to connect with.
Try not to get too ambitious all at once; don’t start a new channel or thing you don’t have time for (I’m guilty of that!). Start simple first, and see if it works for your goals and level of commitment.
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3. Using Different Channels for Different Results
Different ways of getting your story out there have distinct benefits. Are you looking to pop up in search results, share your new work with only a dedicated group, or something else? Here is a combination of channels and options that have worked for me:
As I mentioned, a newsletter allows me to contact my audience directly, and to share personal and valuable content that my audience can be a part of. It allows you to be a bit more personal; people are already signed up, so they want to hear more from you and are more likely to be interested in what you have to offer.
Furthermore, a mailing list allows you to have more control over your marketing, because you don’t need to worry about algorithms controlling who sees your content.
I regularly publish blog posts on my website and collaborate with others on articles about illustration and creativity. This helps people gain a broader perspective of my work, and the content can be incorporated into my newsletter, serving as an extension of the material covered in my classes, or offering additional intriguing information about my products.
In this way, I ensure people can easily find me when searching for a specific topic related to creativity and illustration. Having an SEO-friendly platform is very important when you want to show up in search results!
I use Instagram to share quick updates and reach new audiences. I also regularly update Pinterest and share my work in related communities or platforms like Discord and LinkedIn. Social media is best for keeping in touch with people on a more superficial level, but it’s also a good way to reach new audiences and research what your audience is interested in.
For me, these three channels cover my marketing goals, but there are other options out there. Pick only a few ways to reach your audience and stick to those; this will create consistency and make it easier to keep up your efforts.
When it comes to managing your commitments, prioritize intention over overwhelm and avoid spreading yourself too thin. Start with the audience you already have instead of starting somewhere new with weaker ties and less engaging communication.
4. Repurposing Content
Once you find the one format that works for you; repurpose that content whenever feasible, so you don’t spend all your time on creating new content for different platforms. Usually, your first and biggest valuable piece of content can be turned into multiple smaller bite-sized pieces.
Ask yourself: What formats can I transform my primary focus into, which I could then share with my audience? Perhaps your video tutorial can be turned into a blog post, an Instagram Live video, a freebie for your mailing list, an interview with a fellow surface pattern designer, or a series of social media posts.
You can also start with a product you have (a course, tutorial, etc.) and divide that up into small social media posts, as a way to give your audience a sneak peek into what you’re offering. This allows you to share your content in numerous ways, on different platforms, and to different audiences.
There’s plenty of valuable information you can use by simply changing the format. Keeping this in mind helps you to dedicate your time to making valuable content for your audience, instead of spending it on coming up with numerous ways to be visible again and again. You’ve already done the hard work of creating your main piece of content, so use that as much as possible.
You might feel like you are ‘oversharing’ and repeating yourself, but most likely, you’re not. We usually think we post things too often when repeating content, but it’s mostly not seen enough. People need to see or hear about you or your brand 7 times on average before they’ll take action or remember you and your work!
5. Community Over Competition
Share the marketing workload with other people in the industry and collaborate wherever you can. All too often we see competitors as a threat instead of an opportunity. By working together, you can reach new audiences, come up with ideas together, keep each other accountable and make marketing more fun.
Perhaps you can promote each other’s artwork, conduct a joint interview, or organize a giveaway — these are only some possibilities for potential collaborative endeavors. If you haven’t done so already, find other illustrators, surface pattern designers, or other potential collaborators in online communities and send them a message to see if they’d like to work together. (Don’t forget about local in-person communities or events either!) There’s always a network of people you can reach out to.
Marketing allows illustrators, surface pattern designers, and creatives to connect with their audience on a deeper, more meaningful level. It’s a way for your potential clients, customers, or community to see more of your unique perspective. By sharing the stories behind your art and engaging in conversations, we can not only make people understand our work better, but it can also lead to greater opportunities for collaborations, commissions, and long-term success.
Written by Claire van Kuijck
Claire, of Claire Makes Things, is an illustrator and teacher from the Netherlands, based in Madrid, Spain. She creates murals, chalkboard designs, greeting card designs and more, and teaches illustration and graphic design. She loves all things retro, cocktails, and riding her motorbike.