When I started to study marketing in the 1990s the marketing world was clear:
you could either market products OR services.
The biggest difference between the two being that the latter was more intangible, and therefore you had to work harder to explain the differences with your competitors and the benefits for your clients.
Fast forward to 2015 and the marketing world isn’t that clear anymore.
The distinction between a product and a service has nearly disappeared …
Let me explain:
I create and sell online courses for creative professionals.
Is that a product (you can print slides and worksheets off)?
Or is it a service, where you learn new skills?
You create personalised wedding rings.
What’s more important to the bride and bridegroom?
The wedding ring or the personal service they will get?
Are you offering a product, or a service?
My husband recently went to a specialist shop in Oxford Street to purchase some trainers. He had been running on his old tennis shoes for over a year, but was starting to get pains in his back and knees.
When he entered the shop and had a look around he saw a couple of pairs he liked. However, a shop assistant approached him and asked him what he was looking for. My husband explained, and the shop assistant invited him to run on a treadmill for 30sec while videoing his running feet.
When they watched the video together, he pointed out to my husband how his feet went slightly in (bare with me!) and suggested three pair of shoes that would support his feet and knees better. My husband tried each of them on, ran again while being filmed, noticed and saw the difference on the video, and selected the best pair for him to purchase.
What did my husband buy that day?
Yes, he bought trainers (a product), but he bought so much more too!
He bought into the expertise of the assistant and the brand he was buying from. His knee and back problems have disappeared.
He didn’t just buy into the product and service he received, but also into the experience.
And he told loads of people about it! In person and on social media.
Welcome to the 21st century!
Where we are no longer just selling products & services,
but where ‘the experience’ has become the main selling point.
Last year at New Designers a new furniture designer maker approached me. “Patricia,” he said, “I have a marketing problem. Since graduating last year I have been working on this wooden table. But nobody wants to buy it. What should I do?”
He showed me a picture of the most beautifully crafted table, about 5 metres long, in oak.
I asked him how long he had been working on it. He told me that it had been a 6-months project. He had had no other jobs on, and kept doing what he knew best: keep making.
I suggested that for a unique table like that, with the time he had spent on it, and also to cover his rent and materials, he would need to charge around £15k.
He seemed shocked, and obviously hadn’t really considered the price up to that point. (He admitted that he probable had ‘overworked’ it a bit, and probably could have made a table like that in 8 weeks.)
I asked him who he thought would be interested in a table of say £10 – £12k. He wasn’t really sure.
I explained to him that obviously one can buy large extended dining tables for far far less on the High Street. But that’s not who you should be competing with as a designer maker.
He wasn’t really selling a table.
Back to the question about who is client could be.
People who are most likely to commission tables at that level, have obviously money. To buy the table with that price tag, but also who have a big house with a large dining room to put it in!
But don’t make the mistake that only rich people buy high-quality craft products!
The table was large, but rather minimal, so they would need to be quietly sophisticated in their design choice.
They would very likely commission a table like that when moving house or extending their kitchen.
It’s likely that they like to entertain and cook.
It’s likely they have a large extended family, very likely empty-nesters or new grandparents who have the space, but also dream of family dinners and Christmasses to come, spending precious time on this table. Reading the Sunday papers.
He wasn’t selling a table.
He was selling a dream of happy family occasions for many years to come.
This table would become part of this family for a very long time.
Lovingly created, lovingly carved with scratches from decades of use.
Putting it in that context, this table wasn’t expensive.
It was a good investment.
I actually told him to forget about trying to sell this table!
I suggested that he needed some great pictures of this table in a suitable environment. In a minimal penthouse in London, adding a bit of warmth to a very white environment. Or in a barn-conversion in the Cotswolds. You get the picture!
I suggested that he should present this table in different homes, where his dream clients could live.
The images should really show the sheer size of this beautiful beast. But also his eye for detail. The grains in the wood.
I told him to sell the dream instead.
I suggested that he would start to dig deeper to get to understand his potential audience and clients better:
Who they are.
And more importantly: Who they want to be.
When they buy.
Where they buy or commission.
Who they would ask for advice.
What magazines they would read, the press cuttings they would keep (for years, dreaming about that future kitchen extension and commission.)
To think about a broader group, not just his specific clients, but als high end interior designers, specific luxury kitchen installers, potentially also boutique hotels and B&Bs, magazines.
To think about family dining tables, but also tables for the library, hall way or garden patio.
To think how he could increase his profile, credibility and trust with each of these groups.
Showing his sketches and inspirations.
With testimonials from his clients.
Send in the post, with a personalised letter.
Marketing isn’t a quick fix. It needs to focus on building long term relationships. He would need to be able to really listen to their specific needs and wants, to observe them in their space, while cooking and entertaining. Ask loads of questions before designing and creating anything.
Because … Commissioning a family table like that is quiet a big deal.
For a designer maker.
And the client.
His client doesn’t want a finished table.
They want to be involved.
To get exactly what they want.
For the next 50 odd years.
To decide on the thickness and the colour of the wood.
The curves in the legs.
If I would have the opportunity to commission a designer maker for a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to commission my table, for my family, I would want it to be exactly right.
I would want to love the whole creative process.
The uncovering of my table.
As a furniture maker you sell so much more than a product.
You need to sell your creative and drawing skills.
You need to sell your people, listening and project management skills.
You need to sell elegance and style.
You will make people feel creative, sophisticated and indeed ‘rich’. (Because lets be honest: that’s what artists and crafts people have been doing for thousands of years! How can you feel ‘rich’ if you have got everything in the world? Commissioning an artist is a great way!)
But what about lower-end craft products or designs?
Maybe you don’t sell these highly expensive and high quality crafts. Your designs and crafts are at a lower price level.
But you face exactly the same challenge: you aren’t selling just a creative product either!
Your silver bangles are purchased by a proud dad to celebrate his daughter’s 18th birthday.
A new dad who gives his wife a necklace to celebrate the birth of their first child.
A newly divorced woman buys a set of lovely notebooks for herself to start writing her personal diary once again.
Your personalised colourful prints or papercut is a present from a best friend as a housewarming gift.
If you are a designer or a maker you are selling so much more than a product.
More than a service even.
You are selling an experience.
Love and friendship.
Because most craft and design products are bought as a gift*. For yourself, or for somebody else.
Get into action:
If you are struggling to market and sell your creative products and services, then start to think about:
- What you are really selling.
- Who are your clients really? Go beyond their gender, age and income level! Where do they live? What kind of house or style have they got?
- Why do they buy? How do your products or services make them feel? Why would they buy from a maker instead of the High Street? Why particularly from you? What do you offer in terms of expertise, profile, experience, customer service?
- When do they buy? Are there specific times in the year they buy, or is it for a special occasion?
Want to learn more from me about marketing & selling your creative products & services?
I also regularly run small group coaching programmes for professional creatives who want to learn how to get more clients, who want to create their own marketing plan, and get help and accountability from me to do the marketing. You can find out more about Get Clients Now here.
* See the Crafts Council’s report Consuming Craft. The number one reason to purchase craft (58% of the respondents) was ‘to purchase a unique gift’.