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Marketing for Artists and Artisans

Creating and selling artwork can promote economic self-sufficiency in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

There is significant demand for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) artwork, but many tribal artists struggle to make their offerings known in the marketplace. 

In the past, art objects were integrated into everyday life and often served a ceremonial purpose in tribal societies. Today, these objects are being created and preserved to not only pass down traditions, but also to empower AI/AN individuals who can make a living from a profitable art business. 

To succeed, artists and artisans must understand how to reach costumers.

Market Research

Marketing is any activity that is used to attract customers to buy a product. 

Before you start the activity of marketing, you need information to help you determine the type of strategies you should use to reach potential customers. 

Market research is the systematic process of collecting and analyzing information about your target customers, industry and competitors. This process helps you make well-informed marketing decisions because it allows you to evaluate how viable and successful your product could be in the marketplace.

The Four Ps of Marketing

By focusing on the Four Ps of Marketing—also known as the marketing mix—artists and artisans can develop and refine their marketing strategies. 

The four Ps are “product,” “place,” “price,” and “promotion.” 

Here are some questions that you can ask yourself for each category in the marketing mix.

Product

  • What are you selling? 
  • If you are selling beadwork, for instance, what makes your beadwork better than another person’s beadwork? 
  • What is special about your beadwork? 
  • Are there specific items that would be more likely to sell when bundled together instead of being sold individually? 

Place 

  • Where do you plan to sell your product? 
  • Do you have a brick-and-mortar store? 
  • Do you have a website? 
  • Are you on social media? 
  • Do you plan to sell your product at events such as powwows or art markets? 

Price 

  • How much do the materials cost to make for each individual product? 
  • How much time does it take to make the product? 
  • How much is one hour of your time worth? 
  • What is the level of quality of the product? You should think both in terms of the quality of materials and the quality of the artisanship. 

Promotion 

  • What types of promotional activities (e.g., online, television, or radio advertisement) are needed to sell your product? 
  • In addition to having a vendor booth at a powwow or other event, do you also plan to have employees walk around and try to make individual sales? 
  • Do you plan to run specials during major purchasing holidays such as Christmas or Mother’s Day? 
  • Do you plan to raffle or donate products to increase exposure of your business?

Branding

Branding is a marketing practice in which a business creates a name, logo and slogan that is easily identifiable to customers and consumers. This identity distinguishes it from products offered by competitors. 

Effective branding encourages customers to develop positive associations with your product. Nike is one well-known example. Whenever people see Nike's swoosh sign logo, they automatically associate it with high-quality sports gear products. Nike also has a memorable catch phrase, "Just Do It," which resonates with customers.

Strategies to Attract Customers

Storytelling 

It is important to convey to the customer the significance of the product you are selling.  

One way to do so is by writing a compelling mission statement that explains what a customer’s purchase will help support. For example, you can talk about how your business is family owned and how purchases will support tribal economic development and prosperity for future generations of tribes.  

Sales can increase when customers know their purchase is making a positive social impact. In addition, connecting a story to your product may allow you to increase your potential selling price. Customers may be more likely to purchase an item after hearing or reading a story about it.

Tourism

If you have a physical location (e.g., a store or vendor booth at an art market) where you sell your items, you should think about how you can attract customers to visit. You can contact and consult with your state’s tourism office to see if there are any tours suggested for visitors that come to your area and whether your business can be listed as a stop on their agenda. One way to attract tourists to your shop is by hosting open studio days where they can witness an artist at work (e.g., creating a painting or a particular object) and then offering them the option to purchase that product or others in the store following the demonstration.

Web Presence: Websites, Social Media and Online Advertising

The internet can be a low-cost way to reach a wide customer base around the world.  

When creating a web presence, there are many online payment mechanisms that you can offer on an e-commerce website that will allow visitors across the globe to become instant customers. Your site can include information about your brand, mission statement, yourself (e.g., artist biographies) along with multimedia features.   

You could post a video where you talk about yourself and your work to provide a human connection, which may make customers more likely to purchase your product. Potential customers may also be fascinated by videos where you show how you create your designs and artwork using a particular stitch or technique.  

If you are selling paintings or drawings, you will want to make sure that online images of your items are presented in a low enough resolution (e.g., thumbnail-sized images) to avoid them becoming targets of unauthorized downloading and printing. To make up for a low-resolution photograph, you can include a written description of the item next to the image.  

An online presence on popular social media platforms can also help you reach a broader customer base because of the large number of people on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can also invest in paid social media advertising direct people your e-commerce store or physical stores at a potentially lower cost than traditional advertising. Many platforms allow for highly customized targeting options to help you craft the right message for the right person.

COVID-19 Resources

The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the economic livelihoods of tribal artists throughout the United States due to temporary closures of brick-and-mortar art galleries and businesses, the postponement and cancellation of art markets and the current halt to indigenous tourism. 

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB), an agency within the Department of Interior that promotes the economic development of AI/AN communities through the expansion of the tribal arts and crafts market, is encouraging consumers to buy authentic tribal art and craftwork through the internet and by telephone during this critical time. 

For AI/AN artists, IACB is posting helpful information on its COVID-19 resources webpage as it becomes available.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) also established the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program to provide emergency assistance for eligible venues affected by the COVID pandemic. 

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