Defend yourself!

My friend Ketra is one of the more astute people I know, she has one of those nimble minds that can quickly hone in on the realities of a situation. She is also unencumbered by years of experience in the “old” licensing world – which gives her a fresh perspective, something that is difficult to achieve for those of us limited by our hard-earned certainties.
She used the phrase “a property that is defensible in the market” in conversation a while back, and it keeps popping up in my head. It’s a little twist on one of the commandments of investing – that the company you are considering is able to maintain a defensible market position – but it nicely highlights what is happening in our business right now. I have harped aplenty about the changes wrought by technology and the influx of new artists, but when I think about it in terms of maintaining a defensible position, I come to this conclusion:
It is no longer possible for the majority of artists in this business to gain a competitive advantage in the market, and without that they are simply another one of many with essentially the same offering.
When that happens, in any discipline, the perceived value drops away and your customers are no longer willing to pay a significant price for your services. You need to look no further than logo services or website design for examples – either can be had for 99.00 now. It’s not that there won’t always be a need for another Santa or snowman or stylized flower – certainly for the immediate future that will be true. But will it be worth your time to compete with 500 other artists to supply it? Actually, is it now?

But we don’t have to worry about the competition because we all have a unique product!

But do you really? From Julie Rains of Wisebread:
“The harsh truth is that your customers may not understand, need or even value the differences between your company’s solutions and those of your competitors. Cheaper versions that fulfill similar functions are preferable.”

When your product is a commodity, customers tend to choose solely on the basis of price or even on how much they can get for free. However – if you can bring a rare and truly unique set of skills and designs to the market and can show them something they haven’t seen before, or they can’t get from anyone else, then you can stake out your turf and charge admission – and that’s a whole lot more fun.
2 replies
  1. Sue Allemand
    Sue Allemand says:

    Thanks Jim – for saying, so wonderfully, what I’ve been pondering for the last couple years! Where is the next place of “relevance” for the individual artist in this industry?? How do we separate ourselves from the cheaper and mundane in today’s market??
    Magazines have taken this “cheaper but functional” course as well — you used to have a “name” as a project designer, in order to get publishing spots in magazines! Not anymore! They have determined they can visit local craft/art fairs and get a design for a pittance, because these relative unknowns are just happy to see their name published in a magazine!
    Every person who has ever made ANYTHING, has a book, design, product or pattern on the market these days – the computer technology has made it so.
    Manufacturers are buying designs and cheap knock-off gifts, straight-up (no artist attachment), from China factories and cutting out the “middleman” to stock their catalogues.
    Celebrities are now fashion designers, giftware/home decor designers, jewelry designers, perfume makers — putting their name on other artists’ work at a rapid rate — they are BRANDS, not just celebrities anymore.
    Its sad… established artists are now having to rethink their place in the industry and reinvent themselves (again – and CONSTANTLY – even faster than before) to keep ahead of the onslaught of new “artists”…. and re-adjust their division of income streams and focus. Will we have to become manufacturers ourselves, in order to bring our work to market on a consistent basis and establish our brands? Maybe…
    One thing that could be good about that, is products may be more “trend advanced”…artist manufacturers tend to be more driven to the start the “new” thing than selling the same old “tried and true”… hmmmmm….
    I’m taking this downside in the economy to contemplate “what’s next”! Thanks for your great, thought-provoking articles Jim!


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