I did a little experiment yesterday using some strategically targeted hashtags to promote my art on Instagram.
How did it work out? Lets just say the results were instant and dramatic.
BTW, If you are not using Instagram yet to promote your art, you should jump on it! As you will see below, including some strategic #hashtags to your Instagram posts is where the real promotional power is at.
Normally, I would just add two or three hashtags as an afterthought just to get the images positioned and seen. Since my work is primarily pin-up, I would use: #pinup #pinupart #vintage & #retro but would normally stop there. Just by doing so, I would get a couple likes and followers. First, a few immediately, then one or two a week as the exposure trailed off. Nothing spectacular, but they worked ok.
After reading a post over on Art Marketing Resources, I decided to take their advice on using some popular artist related hashtags and put them to the test.
Obviously, you can add whatever hashtags you want, however, the ones that primarily interested me were hashtags related to lists where art buyers might be regularly and casually browsing. In particular, hashtags that are related to buyers who might be looking for ideas for decorating their homes, and more importantly might be inspired to see and purchase art prints.
This was the real “AH HA!” moment.
The strategy behind this is targeting hashtags based on where the BUYERS are, not just the artists or fans. My feeling on this is also that you want to use hashtags for lists where people really do want to browse for inspiration, not just random related hashtags that people add to posts to be funny.
Within a 24 hour period of adding these, I received 92 likes, 7 new followers and 2 mailing list signups. This was all done by updating old art posts with more hashtags. As I type this 2 days later, my Instagram notifications are still going off.
You can experiment by either adding all hashtags at once for the “big bang” effect, or try adding a couple each week to stretch out the duration. Not sure yet which approach is best but, so far, the second option seems to be working well. It also makes it more manageable to keep posts visible during peak Instagram usage times. (Still researching and experimenting with what the peak usage times actually are)
I’m going to continue to experiment and I’ll be sure to post more results as they happen.
Do you have any favorite power hashtags? If so, feel free to share.
I have been doing a bit of research about which products sell the best on Zazzle, so here are a few thoughts.
One key aspect of a successful Zazzle product is context. This is a topic that I discuss quite a bit with my consulting clients and is an increasing focus for most digital marketing strategies, both now and into the future. (Big data, the internet of things… it all relies on context)
Context is defined as:
“The parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning”
In other words, context, as it applies to a Zazzle product, is the primary activating reason or reasons for why a product exists and why it sells.
Usually, people buy things because it serves a need. Yes, sometimes it really is just impulse (which I will discuss in another post) but typically, the reason is some level of need for the item.
This is also a big roadblock that many digital artists get hung up on when getting started. Understandably, we artists put a lot of love into our art and want to share it with the world. We create a Zazzle store, upload our beautiful art onto a bazillion products hoping that we will sell tons, then get discouraged when we sell nothing.
The problem is not that our art isn’t amazing. Zazzle is filled with tons of amazing art, but the reason that a lot of it doesn’t sell, is because it lacks context.
The Ah HA! Moment
A big AH HA! moment was when I read a blog post over on the travel blog PassingThru.com (great blog btw!) where they list their top selling products.
Product number one is this postcard of an old trailer.
Certainly a photo of a trailer would not be something that most people would race to pull out their credit cards for, but when you add the text “We have a new address” over the image, it instantly adds a whole new level of context to the product.
Suddenly, the postcard solves a problem. It provides a reason why someone might want or need to buy it and why someone who receives it might think it is funny.
Remember, Zazzle is a huge marketplace of generic items. The only differentiating aspect is the paint job. (Your art)
Adding context to your products creates a solution to a problem. It ads value where there previously wasn’t any. It takes a commodity and makes it a luxury item.
With that being said, one of the most important aspects of Zazzle is customization. If you look at their list of best selling items, these are primarily customizable items, such as wedding invitations, greeting cards, business cards, and other types of paper products.
Yes, people buy these things because they have cool art on them, but more importantly, people want to add their own personalized information to them.
Using Market Samurai (my favorite SEO research software) I did a couple searches for both Zazzle & personalized gifts. As you can see, some of the top keywords that came up were a variety of invitations. This seems to be a good indication that there is a general affinity for these keywords in relation to Zazzle.
On both the Google Trends Tool, and Market Samurai, the keyword “Personalized” seems to show up as a much stronger search term then “Customized”. I assume the phrase “Personalized Gifts” is a more contextual phrase because it gives a purpose for why someone might want to purchase them.
As a side note, I stumbled across a great blog called Five Green Lizards where the site owner, Kim, discusses quite a bit about how some of her top selling products are wedding invitations. Just another confirmation that seems to affirm that this is a hot selling topic.
Time of year is definitely a key factor that effects sales. There are peak seasons for selling personalized items, which tend to be December (Christmas) and Early Summer (May to July) which I assume correspond to peak wedding season or wedding planning season. We all know Christmas is the peak sales month, but May is the more interesting factor here.
If you look at the results from Google Trends you can see the seasonal peaks which are compared to both zazzle and personalized gifts.
I made a couple interesting discoveries while cross referencing some of the top selling categories as well. (I am not sure if these are due to economic factors or cultural factors or what…)
1. Over time, there is an apparent decline in searches for invitations, weddings & business cards and a rise in the searches for phone cases. Phone cases are also on Zazzle’s list of hot selling items.
2. There is a very slight increase in searches for “baby shower invitations” in relation to a decline in “wedding invitations” however “wedding” seems to be a much higher searched keyword. “Wedding” vs “baby” seems to indicate this trend as well. Admittedly, this is also based quite a bit on current events, such as celebrity babies and royal weddings, so the reality of how this effects sales is unclear.
3. “Baby related gifts” seem to be trending higher then “Wedding gifts.” as well as “gifts for him” and “gifts for men” seem to be on the rise as well.
Another VERY interesting trend I discovered was the rise in searches for certain items based on different countries & languages, in this case, primarily Spanish.
The keywords: “invitaciones” and “baby shower invitaciones” show very interesting possibilities.
Two important ways to optimize for this is to both, keyword your Zazzle items for different languages, as well as to create items that are targeted for certain languages or cultures.
Sales success on Zazzle relies on a strategic approach which is based on the taking advantage of the key strengths of what Zazzle offers. This being: the personalization factor.
Keyword research is also very important and I would recommend learning how to do the research as well as how to optimize your products and traffic sources for what you discover. It’s a big game of detective, but if done properly, it will definitely be to your financial advantage.
So, to answer your question, what sells on Zazzle?
I would say that, in addition to all kinds of random stuff, it’s a safe bet that it is a lot about context, personalization, baby shower and wedding invitations. I would also pay attention to growing trends which are both phone cases and optimizing for other languages, especially Spanish.
If your art can compliment these genres, you will definitely have a pretty decent chance at success.
I’ll continue to share my discoveries. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts, so please share them in the comments.
As an artist or creative professional, having a website or blog that shows off your portfolio is an absolute “must have” these days.
Where many artists fail, however, is in making sure that their website also has a clear set of actions that they want their customers to take once they get there. In other words, a reason for being, beyond just a place to show your work.
These are called “primary calls to action” (or CTAs) and are the most important steps in your online marketing process. Typically, these are things like: Buttons to click to buy your art, to contact you for a commission, to follow you on Facebook, etc. Basically, actions you want someone to take that results in you making money.
If you want these calls to action to have the most impact, it is also important to make sure that they are optimized for the different types of people who will be going to your website as well, as the different types of actions they will most likely take.
So, who are these people and what do you want them to do?
There are basically 3 different types of people (aka potential customers) who go to your website:
“The people who love what you do” – Your fans are obviously the people who love your art. They are the people most likely to buy your work, hire you for commissions, pay to go to galleries or conventions, get tattoos of your work or share your work online.
Optimizing for your fans includes:
Adding New, Cool Stuff – Making sure that there is a regular supply of new art and interesting content to keep them excited will insure that they stay fans and continue to return. Use your blog!
Sell Stuff – Making sure that there is art available for purchase, as well as any other products or services you offer. Provide a shopping cart or simple Paypal or Gumroad buttons to be able to accept credit card payments.
Social Media – Making sure that they follow you on social media, join your mailing list and are encouraged to share your work on places like Pinterest. Have big obvious social links, icons and newsletter subscription forms.
Contests – Offer contests or giveaways so that your fans are encouraged to engage and have the opportunity to get something special from you.
Different Price Points – Have items that are priced for different types of fan income levels: Some smaller inexpensive stuff (e.g. posters, stickers, accessories on Zazzle) as well as some rare, outrageously expensive stuff like one-off prints, autographed copies, etc.
2. Other Artists
“The People who want to do what you do” – The second type of website visitors are other artists. Sure, they can be fans too, since artists check out other artists to be inspired, but more importantly, they want to learn new skills. In addition to selling your art and art services, you should also consider creating products to teach other artists how to do what you do.
There is an old marketing saying that goes:
“During a gold rush, the ones who make the most money are not those who dig, but those who sell the shovels.”
Think of it this way. The digital art market is crowded. Regardless of how good you are, or how original you believe your work to be, chances are there are probably quite a few people out there who are just as good, doing something similar. (aka. the gold miners)
If you draw traditional manga, for example, chances are the competition is fierce and selling your work can be difficult.
Teaching people how to do what you do, however, (selling shovels) is a much more lucrative approach, because there is much less competition and a very high demand. If you have a unique style or technique that people want to desperately learn (and you can bare to part with) you have many more opportunities to make money by teaching people your mad skills.
Personally, I have had a lot of success by doing this. I offer design and marketing courses for a lot of my online businesses and sell them to the people who are looking to jump on my game and learn my skills. I sell a video course called “How to Make Amazing 3D Pinup Art” and it has been really successful.
I actually make more selling courses than I do selling my art.
Optimizing for other artists includes:
Sell Courses – Selling courses (videos, books, ebooks, coaching or appearances) that teach how you do your type of art. People who want to learn certain skills will pay a lot of money for them if they know it will benefit them, have an advantage or they can make more money from it. Courses can sell for $100 to $1000 if there is enough value in them. Sell a monthly membership to courses and you’ve got recurring income!
Free Tutorials – Offer free tutorials (blog posts, videos, etc) that discuss how you use certain types of products or software, then refer sales using links to the products where you could earn a percentage of the profit as an affiliate. Creating passive income with affiliate sales is something I will be talking about a lot.
Affiliate Program – If you have art that is really popular and sells well, start a your own affiliate program and get other artists to sell your art. For example: you can make pretty decent money having other Zazzle users refer sales to your Zazzle store.
“The People who want you to help them make more money” – If your art starts to gain popularity, there will eventually be businesses who want to partner with you for promotional opportunities and sponsorships. This is especially apparent in digital art, where there are so many software companies, blogs, magazines, publishers, marketplaces, print on demand platforms and other resources.
If you are open to partnering or affiliating with a business, this can be a great way to get some attention & maybe even get some free stuff! I personally do a lot of business partnerships and it has worked out really well. They don’t always pay but are great promotional opportunities.
Optimizing for business partnerships:
Make Your Intentions Know – It is important to make your intentions clear. In your blog sidebar or About Me section, make sure you include a part that makes it clear that you are open to and interested in these types of opportunities.
Contacting and Mentioning – If there are certain companies you are interested in working with, you could try contacting them directly. Discuss how you use their products in blog posts or social media. Mentioning them on twitter or facebook is another great idea. This way, you get their attention in a positive way and they can get an idea of how well you might work, should they decide to partner with you.
Tell Them What To do
When optimizing with calls to action, don’t just add buttons and hope that people click them. Use text that instructs people what to do. Use instructive wordage such as: Click Here, Follow me on facebook, Join my mailing list , Fill out the contact box below, etc.
Sometimes people want to do something but they consciously don’t know it. Use instructive wording to put the thoughts into their heads and help them make their decisions.
Connect First, then Sell
One final tip to remember. The internet is so full of distraction that it is becoming harder and harder to be heard and get noticed above the noise. People are so addicted to social media that they rarely have the attention spans to actually click on something, leave the page and go to another website.
Because of this, it is very important to make sure that when you do get someone’s attention and they go to your website, your first priority should be to connect with them. This means to get their email or get them to follow you on social media. By doing so, you always have the ability to contact them again.
My strategy has always been:
Connect first, sell second.
Getting people to click your “buy button” is great, but if you don’t have a way to contact them again, you may never sell them something else.
Getting people to click your “connect” buttons is better, because you will always have a way to communicate with them and sell them lots of things.
So to summarize, by making sure that you understand who is going to your artist blog or website and them optimizing it so that all of these people are provided with a primary call to action, will insure that your website is working to get the most from your customers.
Wait! Where Are My Calls To Action?
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Writers, authors and publishers have been influencing technology and culture since the written word was invented. I am constantly reminded of this every day on my commute to work, when my train crosses over the river and passes thought Mainz Germany, which is the birthplace of Johannes Gutenberg, the father of the movable type printing press.
This invention was one of the key catalysts for starting the Renaissance and the scientific revolution. It’s creation occurred over 500 years ago, and yet I am shocked and amazed when I think of all of the revolutionary events that have occurred because of it, just in the span of my lifetime.
In the past few years we have experienced a new renaissance of sorts, in the growth of ebooks, ebook sales, ereader devices and the self publishing industry.
It is now possible for an author to write, self publish and sell their own books online, literally from a mobile device and are able to make a decent living from it. Some are making millions from it.
The Good News
The good news is, that no longer are we restricted to having to rely entirely on a publishing company as a gatekeeper to successfully promote and sell our books.
We have reached a point where the same promotional, printing, sales and distribution capabilities, once only available to major publishing companies are becoming available to everyone. These tools are free and easily accessible online, which is also, I might add, where the readers are browsing and doing a majority of their shopping.
The Bad News
The bad news is just that. The old ways of browsing for new books in the book stores are rapidly disappearing as major brick and mortar stores are losing out to digital and going out of business. Ebooks are now outselling print books (according to Amazon) and as a result, the majority of the promotional focus is now done online.
The new prime time is no longer sitting around the TV at night with the family or reading the newspaper. It is now online, on the mobile devices, on your Facebook wall, in the blogs and in the apps. If you want to market a product successfully, these new mediums are where you now have to target.
To add to this growing pressure to adapt to all of these changes, consider this:
“…if you recorded all human communication from the dawn of time to 2003, it’d take up about 5 billion gigabytes of storage space. Now we’re creating that much data every two days.”
What this means is we are in the middle of an exponential growth curve of garbage content production. People are writing and publishing in droves and without publishers and editors to filter it, “most” of it is pretty bad. Without the help of contextual platforms such as Google, Apple’s Siri, Facebook, and other upcoming services that help to push you relevant information based on your interests, it will soon become impossible to separate the cream from the crap.
As a result, people will continue to rely on these filters to insure that they are receiving relevant content and the ability of authors and writers to stay on the good side of these filters, will require considerable focus on tech and networking.
Welcome To The World of The New Digital Author
Because of all of these changes and challenges, authors are now facing the paradox of both the incredible freedom to control their financial destinies, but also the pressure to adapt, learn and add a whole new mandatory layer of tech, marketing and promotional skills to their toolbox.
It is no longer just a matter of being a good writer these days. In order to stay competitive and earn a decent living as a writer, artist, musician, or any other type of creative profession for that matter, you have to start thinking strategically and you have to think digitally.
Unless you polish your online marketing skills and learn how to compete strategically by making your quality writing, books and products stand out from the masses and index in these new contextual search engines, you will be buried.
Selling digital content is a whole new ballgame. (Just ask the musicians and porn producers!) It requires a digital marketing strategy, an author platform, a mechanism for traffic, discovery, research, lead capture, sales, communication and networking and as a result, an overarching understanding of all the complexities involved. Now, more so than ever, because of the highly competitive ebook prices, it also requires a major focus on the backend strategy and the upsell.
The reality is, if you want to make a living as a writer, you now need a hybrid of BOTH mad writing skills AND ninja digital marketing skills. It is not just a luxury anymore. It is a necessity.
Should you be blogging, using social media, building a platform, and digitizing your work? The answer is YES to all of it. It has been for some time now. It is a moot point.
Sure this is a lot to learn, and I definitely suggest moderation, but just get started. Learn something. Take action and do it NOW!
To summarize, there are a ton of new opportunities for authors for selling and promoting their work, however the down side is that people are jumping on the bandwagon in droves. If you want to stay competitive you need digital marketing skills and you need to start developing them now.
Let me say before I close that I can’t predict the future. In many ways I feel we are reaching a critical mass. I have fears for authors, both published and self published in regards to their means of rising above the noise and growing and maintaining a large enough fan base to be able to make a decent living selling their work.
On one hand, I am full of doom and gloom for the industry. On another hand, part of me is screaming RELAX! Just write good stuff and people will follow.
I think it is a little of both. We need to put continued focus on writing great stuff, however we also need to have the skills to stay in the game or else things will be getting very difficult for authors very quickly.
What are your thoughts on the future of publishing? Do you have a digital strategy? If so, I would love to hear about it.
I am officially an author. On July 17, 2012 I published my first book on Amazon Kindle. It took two years to write, and a majority of it was done using a mobile phone or an iPad, while standing on the train from Wiesbaden to Frankfurt Germany, during my long commutes to and from work.
Yes, two years is a long time to write a book, especially when edited down, was only about 120 pages. or so. The first year was kind of a wash because I just kept rewriting the first 2 pages over and over. It wasn’t until the following year where I actually took it seriously, created a solid outline (a plan) and dug in.
The goal of this book was not to write a bestseller or change the world. It’s certainly not a feel good, Oprah Club, curl up with a cup of tea, kind of book. (In fact it’s a little bit “shocking” but more on that later.)
It was simply to just write a book, finish it and publish it. It was purely an exercise in completion. In my post about creating a 20 year plan for myself, writing a book was one of my 2 year short term goals. Well… mission accomplished.
Thought for the Day: While innovative thinking is a much discussed, rare, valuable and sought after skill these days, sometimes thinking INSIDE the box can be the hardest thing to do.
My advice would be that before you go spending valuable time, energy, money and resources dreaming up some BIG idea and glorifying the need for “new, creative, crazy and innovative” make sure you first have a solid grasp of the “old, tried and true, reliable and predictable.” Chances are you haven’t even scratched the suface of what is right in your very own backyard.
What underutilized or untapped resources do you have hiding in the closet or right under your nose?
Who do you already know that you can ask to help you?
What can you do to make what you already have, even better?
I’d be willing to bet that you have way more options than you think.
New isn’t necessarily better. Sometimes the best new ideas are the old ones that are just reanalyzed and better thought through.