Positioning Yourself in the Market


Here is an article that I wrote for Moyo Magazine. A new issue comes out soon, so if you had not read this-I thought I would post it. I cracked up a bit being labeled an expert BUT I have been on the planet for awhile and I have sold and I have SHOPPED so I have a few opinions…

The Selling Salon: Expert  Opinionated advice for selling your work from Monica Lee

So you want a successful design career. You want your designs on everything as far as the eye can see? But do you have a strategy in place? Time and time again, I see designers creating beautiful work, but putting it out in the world in a haphazard way. Too often they have not thought out who they are designing for and who they are selling to.

To be a successful brand, you need to a clear idea of your positioning in the marketplace. Where do you sit (or want to sit) in relation to your competitors? What do you offer to whom at what price? I have found that the best strategy for independent designers to quickly position themselves where they want to be is to have a specific customer in mind, then search out companies with the same target customer and partner with them. This can be a quick and effective way to position yourself in a particular market, piggy-backing on a company that is already there. In return your designs can offer a valuable solution to that company and their customers.

In order to do this you need to show that your designs work for their products and their customers.

Get specific

Many people only think of designing for ‘high end’ or ‘mass market’, but that is too general and subjective. To some, high end can mean department stores and to others it may mean avant-garde design. To some, mass market also can mean department stores. To others, it is equated to low-end national retailers. Can you see the overlap?

You need to get specific. Start thinking in terms of a particular individual rather than retail outlets or general areas of the market. Ask yourself who your design aesthetic appeals to. Try to draw a picture in your mind of an actual person who is your ideal customer. Use the exercise ‘Target the right manufacturer with the right product for the right customer’ to help you do this.

Knowing your ideal customer helps you make all types of decisions. It helps with everything from colour palettes to marketing strategies. Once you begin to understand your ideal customer, you can get much clearer on what to design, and how to design it.

Let me break it down further for you. I often hear artists say, “I am dying to have my art on fabric.” My response is, “Fabric for what?” And most of the time they don’t have an answer.

Do you mean fabric for home decor? If so what type of home? Is the home owner a do-it-yourselfer? Or are they the type that hires a professional decorator? Is the fabric for quilting? Do you understand how quilters pick and buy fabric for quilting? Is it for garment sewing?

By asking yourself a series of questions like this you with your ideal customer in mind you can better understand how they are going to use your designs. This can help you make design decisions including motif style, scale, colour palette and whether or not you use a technical repeat.

Of course there is a time and a place for designing whatever feels good to you, but in doing so you might be selling yourself short. Time and time again, I see artists positioning themselves too low end for their style and aesthetic. I often end up helping artists who have lost their way and who are not sure how to market their art or who to promote it to because they don’t know who is buying it.

It isn’t usually an issue of talent, but rather of focus. And that is much easier to solve!

Target the right manufacturer with the right look for the right customer

1.  Make a list of what products you want to see you designs on. Get specific. Don’t just say ‘cups’. Say ‘cups sold at X store to be used for Y purpose’ (i.e. daily / special occasions / when friends come over etc).

 2. Now take a good honest look at your work. Call in an outside party if you need to. Sometimes we are too close to our own work to see its genuine appeal. Think about who it appeals to (age/gender/personality/style etc). For example if your work is playful and colourful it might work for baby girls, or for young boys. Then ask yourself who buys for them? If the end consumer is a baby, then your target customer is actually more likely to be a parent, or a grandparent.

 3. Armed with this knowledge, create a profile of your specific ideal customer. Describe them in as much detail as you can. What kind of a person are they? How old are they? Where do they live? What is their income level? What TV shows do they watch? What magazines do they read? Where do they shop? Dig deep to find out what lights them up, and what they worry about. Give them a name. Try to get to know them as an individual.

 4. Now that you understand who is going to buy your work, take the next step. If your work is suitable for the baby market but your dream product is coffee cups then you need to think through how that might work. It could be as a ‘new mother’ gift for a hip new mum, or it could be a cup aimed at children instead of adults. Thinking through this from beginning to end helps prevent you from tossing your creativity out into the wind and hoping it lands in the right spot.

Once you have completed this process, you can target the right manufacturer with the right look for the right customer. You have positioned yourself to sell, make money and be successful with your art. You make it easy for them to say ‘yes’.

  • Monica your timing with this post is perfect and the content is wonderful!!!!! I feel like I got a little lucky in the licensing world so far, but when I think of where to go next-I was a little lost. This helps so much!!! Thank you wise friend 🙂
    Sherri Ohler

    • I think you have been talented…not just lucky!

  • Lana Manis

    Excellent advice! Near the end of 2012 I decided to become more focused this year as I have felt too scattered and spread thin in years past. I have made lists of what I will continue with and what I will let go. I have made detailed lists of the products I want to design including the style and color and where I would like to see them sold. I also have to get a website going (again) this year. I am looking forward to what this year holds for me and my business! Monica, Thank you for always providing such inspirational and motivational content!

    • I am excited to see what this year holds for you too!

  • Greta Songe

    What fantastic advice! Thanks for your insight! 🙂

  • Beth Parker

    What a great article! Thanks, Monica!

  • Hi Monica Finally got around to reading this. Great article, made me think and I am going to do your exercises too. love ya MaryJane

  • Saycred Blu

    Excellent, Excellent EXCELLENT article Monica!!! Thank you so much for all that you do for us!!!

    • monica lee

      You are so sweet-you are welcome!

  • Gerda

    Thank you so much Monica. What a great article. Honestly, it’s so much easier (and more fun) to create another design than actually thinking about a strategy. But this is quite haphazard, indeed. Your work is helping so much. Thanks again. Gerda
    PS> Your crash course was very helpful, too

  • Karla Dornacher

    Oh my dear Monica… your article truly hit home here. Since re-entering the licensing world almost a year ago, I’ve really struggled with this issue of focus! As a creative, it’s just so easy to jump from one thing to another… and yet I know what I need is a clear strategy. Thank you for your wisdom and encouragement to stop, take a breath, and re-think where I want to be and who I want to be there for! Bless you!! PS… love you and your interviews!

    • Karla! Love this-I agree creaties do like to jump form one thing to another…or in nice terms they like to “mix it up” sometimes too much!

  • Thank you, really good info and perspective!

  • Monica, this is fantastic! It is a constant struggle to remember that general might appeal to more people but it’s more people that will feel meh. Best to be specific and attract/repel the right people.

    • Yeah! So glad you liked it! I LOVE the name Typical House Cat by the way, it makes me laugh out loud!~

  • Great Article Monica. I agree with you completely – I think alot of artists and designers forget that someone actually has to like and buy their work at the end of the day! It would be wonderful to just paint what you like but I think half the enjoyment also comes from being able to connect to someone with your work as well.

  • Great Job Monica! I will do your exercises too.. Regards.