Branding: Artists, Build your Brand Around Your Name

I’ve written and spoken extensively about branding. I don’t consider myself to be a branding expert by any stretch, but as I’ve worked to build branding for Xanadu Gallery and RedDotBlog.com, I’ve learned quite a bit about the branding process. I’ve also learned how important branding can be when you are creating a relationship with art buyers.

In today’s post, I would like to address a branding question that comes up quite frequently in relationship to branding for artists:

Should an artist use his or her own name when building a brand, or is it a good idea to create a business name and brand around that name instead?

The most common form of the question I hear is whether it’s okay to use the artist’s studio name instead of just using the artist’s name.

How we Named our Gallery “Xanadu”

I can understand where the question is coming from. There is something very alluring about creating a business name and using it for branding purposes. I remember the excitement my wife and I felt when, in 2001, we decided to open a gallery. It was a lot of fun thinking about how the gallery would be organized and how we would try to make it different from other galleries. We thought about the type of artwork we would carry, the location, the layout of the gallery and about a million other things you have to think about when you are opening a new business. We distilled all of these thoughts into a business plan and began working toward getting the gallery off the ground.

At some point, we decided it was time to come up with a name for the gallery, and, surprisingly, the naming process turned out to be one of the most agonizing parts of the whole launch process. A name is so important, and once you select a name and have signs and letterhead made, you are pretty much stuck with it. Naming is something you definitely want to get right.

GallerySquareI remember spending days brainstorming about names. We first thought about what we didn’t want use. We decided using our name or last name, as some galleries do, wasn’t going to work. My last name, Horejs, is both unpronounceable if read, and unspellable if heard. With that out of the way, we started thinking about everything else we might call the gallery. We must have come up with hundreds of names, and sorting through all of them was a real chore. Finally we landed on one that we thought was perfect. It distilled into a single word exactly what we wanted to convey through our gallery name: “Quintessence”. “Quintessence Gallery.” It had, we thought, a nice ring to it.

We asked our attorney to register the name with the state corporation commission. By some cosmic coincidence,  someone had registered the exact name several weeks earlier. What are the chances that we would have thought of the same name for a gallery at almost exactly the same time someone else?

Of course, now, I am very happy that we didn’t end up with the name – it doesn’t sound nearly as good in retrospect as it did at the time and can you imagine how expensive a sign with 19 letters would be!?

Now we had to go back to our list of names and try again. I wish there was a great story about the flash of inspiration that lead us to Xanadu Gallery, but the truth is my mother-in-law saw the word “Xanadu” on a personalized license plate  and said, “how about ‘Xanadu!?'” The name stuck.

Once we had a name we got to work on logo design, stationery, business cards, and our website. It was a lot of fun, and building Xanadu’s brand has been an undertaking of love ever since.

That’s a long way of saying I can completely understand why an artist might decide to name her studio and then think about building a brand around the studio name. It’s fun to employ your creativity in coming up with a name instead of using the one your parents stuck you with, and, let’s face it, “Last Chance Studio” has more pizazz than “Jane Smith, Artist.”*

*(my apologies to any artists named “Jane Smith” who are reading this article – it’s a perfectly lovely name!)

Should you Use your Name or a Business Name?

Unlike other businesses, as an artist, you are your brand

In spite of this, I’m going to strongly recommend that you build your branding around your name, rather than around a studio name. Unlike other businesses, as an artist, you are your brand. When collectors see your work, they are going to feel a connection to you, the artist, even if they have never met you. Art is a pure form of communication – your vision is going through the viewer’s eyeballs, straight into his brain, and is going to stir an emotion. The connection is going to feel very personal, and that collector is going to want know your name, not your business name.

Art is one of the last things a human being can buy that hasn’t been engineered by a marketing committee and mass-produced in a factory. Using your name is going to help convey this message.

Because you are your brand, I recommend keeping the spotlight on yourself. Use your name on your cards, your brochures and your portfolio. Try to get a website URL that includes your name. The more your buyers see your name, the more they’re going to remember you.

Can you create a business name to use in addition to your studio name? Sure! There’s no reason you can’t have your cake and eat it too. I would recommend that you use the studio or business name in subordination to your name. You could include it below your name in your marketing materials, as a kind of subtitle.

Exceptions

There may be reasons that you would want to disregard this advice. If you aren’t focused on creating one-of-a-kind works and have a production studio set up where employees are helping you crank out work, a studio name may make more sense. This is especially true if the business might one day be sold to someone else.

Another exception to the rule would be if your name is impossibly long or complex. Even then, I would suggest thinking about changing your name or creating a pseudonym around which you can build your brand.

What do you Think?

Do you have a studio name you use instead of your given name in marketing? What made you decide to do so. Did you think about using a business name for marketing and then decide not to? Why? Share your experiences, thoughts, opinions and random ramblings in the comments below!

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