Marketing vs. Sales

This post is going to be a bit of a diversion from my usual photo/music posts. But it is strongly relevant to art, or the art business anyway. Marketing is how I actually make my living and as I've progressed through my career, I've come to realize that a lot of what I know about marketing and business is really relevant to musicians and photographers. Let's start with the difference between marketing and sales.

Many people think marketing and sales are the same thing but they're very different activities. Now, the difference doesn't really matter to consumers, but it matters greatly to producers. Like, say, musicians who produce music and want to gig for money, or photographers that want to somehow make money with their artistic skills. Marketing is the broad set of things you do to promote a good, service, or brand (which I'll just call "product" from here on out) in order to increase sales. Sales are the set of things you do to seal the deal and have an interested person buy your product. By this definition, sales may not seem like a lot, but start thinking about everything that a car salesman, real estate broker, or arms dealer does to seal a deal, and you realize that closing the sale can be it's own very complex process


Marketing is about conditioning your product and your target market, to make it easier for sales to occur.

Conditioning your product means identifying your target market (the people who you want to buy your product) and understanding their wants, needs, concerns, price sensitivity, behavior, and other attributes, and then creating products that mesh well with those needs and putting a price on it that can be justified to and by that market. (Now, as an artist hopefully you don't create art to match a target market; that would be ass-backwards. But you should realize that your art is going to resonate with certain kinds of people more than others. And you'd be wise to have an in-depth understanding of the sort of people they are because that will enable you to be far more effective in selling your art to them.)

Conditioning the market means making the market aware of your product by promoting it. The most obvious way is advertising, but there are myriad less expensive and often more effective promotional methods than ads. Conditioning the market also means educating people about the ways in which your product is compelling, perhaps distinguishing it from alternatives. Perhaps your product has special features that convey substantive advantage. Or maybe it's half the price of any competitor. In both cases, the market needs to be educated about what makes it special. I'm speaking about this like a normal product, but it applies to art as well. In your mind, you must believe that your art has some kind of identifiable, compelling quality to it, otherwise why would you waste your time creating it and why would you expect anybody to buy it? Your promotions must communicate that quality, probably without outright saying it, so that it captures the attention of the people who will resonate with your art.

Making it easier to sell means that buyers within your target market need to be able to easily find and purchase your product. For some products and markets, that means getting it on retail store shelves. For others, that might mean moving it through resellers, or through e-commerce. In the case of art, you have to make your products available for sale at the places where your target market will buy them. For example, if the people who would buy your photo prints are too hip to shop at Walmart, it does no good to sell them there. Similarly, if your audience does all their music shopping online, you'd be a fool to depend on CD sales to distribute your music. It all depends on the target market you're trying to reach and the product you're trying to promote.


Sales is the process of converting somebody from interested to buying.

Consumer retail products often require no more than shelf space and maybe a knowledgeable employee to close a sale on an item. Or on the Internet, simply the right product information and a competitive price on Amazon might be all that's needed.

But as the price and complexity of the product increase, the more effort and resources will be required to move buyers from interested to buying. At car dealers, they hire sales people to drag you screaming walk you through the process. But it gets a lot more involved than that. For example, my day job is marketing for a company that sells software to other companies. The software sells for anywhere from about $5000 to $1.5M. There's no such thing as an impulse buy in that world. Customers will spend anywhere from 3 months to 3 years deciding to buy, and during that time we have a team of people involved with submitting proposals; establishing key contacts within the buying company; trying to influence the selection criteria of the buyer; replying to endless detailed interrogation about the product and company; giving demonstrations; holding pilot projects to "test drive" the software; negotiating terms and conditions; and fighting off competitors who are jumping through all the same hoops. By the time the deal closes, a sales rep at my company has totally earned the fat commission that he/she receives.

In the world of art, you're actually selling a lot of different products to a lot of people. A photographer for example might sell prints to the public; exhibitions to a gallery; book concepts to a publisher; and workshops to other photographers. Similarly, a band might sell tickets to concert goers; MP3's to online music buyers; live appearances to event/club bookers; and profit opportunity to label A&R reps. In each of these cases, it takes skills and perhaps tools (e.g. a portfolio, C.V., demo CD, promo kit) to convert these interested parties into buyers. One thing I've learned is that regardless of the product or the market, a good sales person is worth more than his/her weight in gold, because it's vitally important yet few people are good at it.

Setting Them Up and Knocking Them Down

As you've undoubtedly worked out by now, marketing feeds sales. Good marketing increases the quantity and quality of sales leads, or put another way, it transforms the market so that it is populated with more receptive sales prospects. Successfully selling to somebody the very first time they've ever heard of you is extremely difficult. Conversely, sales is always more successful when quality marketing has been done to lay the ground work. That's why it's rare for an unknown band to get booked on their very first call into a venue.  But if the booker has already been made aware of you and your music, and they're aware of the buzz about it (which could be totally marketing-generated), you much more likely to close the deal.