Tuesday, March 22, 2016

An Artist's Stance on Brand Loyalty

As an artist, I have favorite brands that I return to time and again because I know they'll produce results.  As an art supply reviewer, all brands are subject to my harsh standards.  It may seem like I have no brand loyalty, but that's pretty far from the truth.  I simply don't have BLIND brand loyalty, as I know there are many excellent companies and stores that are willing to fight for my dollar.  As I am not under the employ of any brand or store, I am free to give my honest opinion about brands regardless of maker without fear of reprisal.  And as a free agent, I am also free to recommend one store or shop over another, based on product, price, and how they treat their customers.

Customer loyalty is important to me as a comic artist, and I try to do my best to meet all of my customers requests.  As a customer, I expect the brands I do business with to work hard as well.  As a comic artist and art materials reviewer, I would also like to see a little recognition when my good work helps a brand or company succeed.  While I enjoy praising brands that do a good job, I feel that in turn, I deserve a little recognition for my own good work, so any company that's willing to throw me the occasional bone gets higher markers than those that go out of their way to ignore me and my readers.

This may upset some of you, but I am not swayed by 'small business' unless the business goes out of its way to provide customer care and art community support.  Nattosoup Studio is a small business, and just like other small businesses, I have to carefully watch my finances.  I am very savvy when it comes to pricing art supplies (I have to be), and I respect the fact that many of my readers are on a budget.  Just as I would not recommend sub par supplies to them, I'm not going to recommend overpriced stores to them, unless that's the only option available.

I do not expect brands or companies to send me 'free' things (if they're to be reviewed, that's not free, as reviewing takes time, artwork, and energy, but I don't expect brands to send me comped supplies to review either), but it does bother me when companies target crafters over artists to review and test artist grade supplies.  I feel that their lack of familiarity with art supplies and techniques does not make them the best spokespeople for art supplies.  Adding a few artists to the mix (the more types, the better) who specialize in a variety of media (even better!) definitely changes my opinion.

As a blogger, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I appreciate stores and companies that allow me to earn money for my product referrals.  Both DickBlick and Amazon give me a very minor percentage of product referral sales, which help offset a few of the costs this blog incures.  As a business (and a person) with bills to pay, this ability to earn a little bit of money doing something I already do (recommend products) really means a lot to me, and I'm likely to give preferental treatment to stores that are affordable, offer fast shipping, AND have a referral program.  Until I acquire sponsors or regular donations, I rely on these referral commissions as a way to help make ends meet and keep the blog going.

My Favorite Brands:

  • Signal boost artists who tag and use their products, not only promoting their products, but the artist as well.  This shows that they regularly check their tags, keeping up with social media, but that they value the artists who use their brands regularly.  This sort of recognition costs very little, but it means a lot.  Strathmore has been really great about recognizing when I tag their papers in my Instagram posts, so I know they actually check and see what I'm up to.  This makes me feel like I have a relationship with a company who produces products I love, and I'm more willing to promote their products to other artists.

  • Employ a wide variety of artists for promotional art- from fine artists and painters to comic artists, illustrators, calligraphers, and stampers.  This demonstrates the wide range one can achieve with their products, and inspires other artists to try something new.

  • Commission artists not currently in their employ for reviews and tutorials.  This introduces fresh perspective and new experience, as well as giving artists an opportunity to earn additional income and extend their reach. In the past, I've been commissioned by Copic to create tutorials for their blog.  Not only was this an employment opportunity for me, but it put my work in front of a new audience, and gave me the opportunity to play around with a media I already love.

  • Release information about products freely, or provide in depth tutorials aimed at artists.  Strathmore and DickBlick are fantastic resources for this- I learned how to watercolor from watching all the watercolor videos DickBlick has listed on their site, and I highly recommend them to anyone interested in learning how to watercolor.

  • Can knowledgeably respond to technical questions when you write in.  Unfortunately, I've had more experiences where the Contact Us staff COULDN'T answer questions accurately or on depth than I have had with staff being able to answer my questions.  As a blogger, I'd like to be able to utilize a brand's on-site resources in order to write the most accurate reviews I possibly can, and as an artist, I often need to know the gist of what a product is made with, so I'll know what works well together.  Staff that cannot answer basic questions aren't doing the company or the consumers any favors.

  • Regularly offer in store live demonstrations of the product, and encourage participants to explore the product at the table.  At Hands on Creativity, lots of fantastic companies had reps with product to demonstrate.  I played around with Winsor and Newton's Pigment Markers, as well as their Pigment Marker Paper (which hadn't been released yet), I was given samples of Strathmore's Drawing and Color Pencil paper and Canson's multi paper type sample pack, and I got to play around with ArtGraf's new graphite putty.

  • Explain their customer, affiliate, and sponsorship programs clearly and fairly.  No company OWES a blogger or a customer an explanation of anything but their customer service and return policies, but I am way more likely to give a company return business if all policies are explained upfront.  When such policies are explained clearly and simply, and are adhered to by both parties, this creates a reciprocal relationship between consumer and producer.  A site or shop allowing you to shop at their location isn't a favor to YOU (you can take your business elsewhere), but you giving this business your business over a competitor, and doing so repeatedly over the years, is a favor to that company.  The least they can do is have clearly delineated, fairly enforced policies that serve both you and them own ends.