Dude, What’s Your Problem?

Answer this quickly without thinking about it: Why should someone license your art above all others?
Don’t know? If you don’t, then you can bet your clients absolutely won’t be able to figure it out. And out of all the answers that might work, “because I want my art on products” is definitely one that won’t, in fact any answer that starts with “I” is likely to be the wrong one.
Many years ago we traveled almost five hours up Florida to visit a new customer at their factory. We had set up a morning appointment so we took a motel for the night and arrived bright and early with all our portfolios ready to do some business. The art director walked into the conference room and after a little chit chat proceeded to tell us that they work with almost 200 artists already, and asked what we had that she could not get from them. We suggested that we should look through the portfolios – and she declined, ended the meeting and sent us on our way. Stunned only begins to describe what we were feeling. I can look back now and understand that she did not feel she had a problem for us to solve – they already had unlimited art to choose from. And unfortunately we missed our opportunity to ask the right questions, dig a little, open up a two-way exchange and find out what we could do to help. 
The Number One, Numero Uno, Numéro Un reason businesses fail?
They don’t solve a problem.
The usual reasons people give, such as insufficient capitalization, low sales, competition and so on are just subsets of Number One above. Success in any market is based on finding and filling a need, not on hopes, wishes or even great ideas (when looked at through the lens of our licensing biz, an idea without a method to commercialize it has little value). Look at the patent market – of the 180,000 filed each year, only 1 to 2% make it into the marketplace, and only 1 in 600 of those make any income long term. Over 97% of patents never make back the cost of filing. Why? Because they are clever, unique ideas that don’t solve anyone’s problem.   
Art Licensing is a B2B market. It is also a zero-sum game, a big one perhaps, but there is still a finite amount of opportunity. Insight is what drives success today – your ability to recognize what your clients are trying to accomplish and then launching new ideas and concepts that help them get there. This will be the engine powering your trip into art licensing. We have a steady stream of artists vying to enter into licensing with nothing more to offer than “me too” art, and it all adds to the clutter that your clients have to deal with every day–so they are just tuning out the majority of it. To get their attention you will have to show them how connecting with your vision and using your art leads to a better outcome, and the only way you can do that is by first investing the time to learn what they might need.

Let’s Talk

“All products are conversations.” –Hugh MacLeod

So if you consider your art to be a statement, then where does that leave you?

The most important driver of continuing success will not be what you have done, but rather what you are doing. Licensing art onto products is not an event, it is a process, and while your portfolio might earn you a place in the dialogue realize that is only the beginning. 
Think of it as the “art” of conversation.