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Art that is unable to constantly and consistently “brand” itself stands at a distinct disadvantage more than ever

Reading time: approx. 3 min.

Our world has changed with our collective fear of Sars-cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. Along with that have been swift repercussions in our social lives and local culture, including live concerts of all genres.

The live performing arts (hereon, simply “arts” to save space) have been impacted at its core. Deprived of crowds, atmosphere, and intuitive interaction, not to mention “business,” the foundation of the arts have been placed into existential question.

The slide deck attached to this blog article explores some of the issues that impact the arts from both artistic and business-model standpoints. My hope is that these few slides may produce some thinking and action.

In an online-centric world, where we are either sheltered in place, or fearful of congregating at events for the foreseeable future, what are the problems the arts face?

In this blog article, I’d like to expand the discussion of slide 4 of the attached deck, headed:

Problem: Art that is unable to constantly and consistently “brand” itself stands at a distinct disadvantage more than ever.

The internet makes the entire world the market. Competition is therefore global, complex, and intense. Tools now empower practically every individual, creating as many ambitious competitors as there are people. In such chaos, “brand” is perhaps the single most important factor determining whether something has a chance to stand out, over time.

What is brand? It’s the image or vibe associated with a specific entity (i.e., company, group, or person). It’s the vibe communicated through multiple points of contact, whether that be products (e.g. songs, shows, packaging) or publicity. The strength of that vibe is usually determined by the frequency of its exposure. And the clarity of that abstract image is what gets something on the “short list” of a customer’s mind.

And consequently, what this means is that, art that is time and energy consuming to prepare stands at a distinct disadvantage when online rankings prefer constantly updated material that leverages current events and popular ideas. Art will require time and money to create a stream of supplementary content specifically for marketing.

Many artists and organizers already create tons of supplementary content for their concerts and shows, of course. But now, when artists or presenters/organizers put together supplementary content, they will need to project – more carefully and consciously than ever – a consistent brand image that is precisely in line with the show, the organizer, as well as the artist. It can be an extremely tall order, since the stakeholders’ various images may not necessarily align. It is also hard to do when artists, such as musicians, may play a variety of musical works, and not all in the same kind of vibe.

Actors – especially movie actors – have understood this keenly for ages. An iconic role is both a blessing and a curse because it can bring fame and fortune, but also make it fatal to break out of the brand image created by that role. Trying different types of roles (e.g. for artistic reasons) ironically can ruin a star actor’s power to draw an audience.

I predict this conundrum will only magnify with everything going global, all while simultaneously, real life “local” connections and culture get decimated due to people “staying at home.” This issue of branding may become one of the biggest challenges the arts will face in a online-centric world.

The way for art to get onto their core audience’s mental “short list” will often not be ‘content’ – it will be “brand.” But that’s not to say that content doesn’t matter. It does. And the comprehensive value of that content will be determined by ranking algorithms dictated by the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple, Netflix, and Spotify.

No matter the variety of techniques and paradigms pursued by these big data companies, for business reasons alone, it only makes sense to prioritize metrics that measure the popularity of a given piece of content. Art will therefore need to communicate a brand through producing content that has a chance at rising toward the top, where ‘popularity’ is king. And that content needs to still project a consistent brand…

Paradigms will change, as will artistic priorities. The solution to the problem posed here – constant exposure with consistent brand messaging – is already by the most successful. The most widely loved/hated/respected/influential artists tend to be able to do the branding without being brazen about it.

For artists, the hand-over-heart question may be: For me, does “artistry” equal “branding,” or can my artistic output be curated into a “brand”?

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Ray Iwazumi

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