Artists – What Can You Learn From Your Competition?

How do you stand out in a world of competition?

How do you stand out in a world of competition?

An important step in developing business and marketing strategies for your art business is to take a look at your competition. Very successful companies focus on their customers but that is not to say they don’t keep an eye open for what the competition is doing. Here are a couple of quotes from Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder on being customer centric while keeping up on what the competition is doing:

“We watch our competitors, learn from them, see the things that they were doing for customers and copy those things as much as we can.”

“We’re not competitor obsessed, we’re customer obsessed. We start with what the customer needs and we work backwards.”

A competitive analysis is an important ingredient in answering the basic business planning question – Where are we now? You analyze your competition with the goals in mind of determining your competitor’s advantages/disadvantages and defining your own competitive advantage. Who knows? You may also get some great ideas from your competition and possibly creative inspiration!

As an artist you have competition in the marketplace that can take on many forms and with the ubiquity of internet it may come from all corners of the globe. Art buyers like most people have a multitude of things they can do with their money. Buying art for most people is a discretionary purchase and not a necessity like paying for rent or food. They could buy your art, art from your competitors or they could spend it on something entirely different or choose not to spend it at all. There is an entire world out there that is competing for the dollars in your customer’s or prospect’s wallet.

Your competitor list

The first step in a competitive analysis is to identify your competitors. They could be in direct competition for your creative products or services or they could be in competition for the money in your customer’s wallet or purse. Your competitors could be other artists, companies, or even retailers like home furnishing stores. While you are developing your list you may want to include major artists who have a similar style or work in the same genre as you – what are they doing that makes them successful?

Here are some ideas on developing your competitor list:

  • “I don’t have any competition because my work is unique.” I urge you to take a hard look at this position.
  • Other artists who have a similar style to yours
  • Competitors that are local, national, worldwide or virtual
  • If your creative products are functional, think of other competitors that provide a similar function, e.g. a ceramic bowl could possibly hold soup
  • Those to whom you have lost sales or those to whom you think you have lost sales
  • Who else is competing for the dollars that your customer may spend with you?

Analyzing your competitors

Once you have developed your competitor list you will then be ready for the next step, analyzing your competition to find their areas of strength and weakness and developing a competitive strategy to grow your art business. In short, what are your competitors good at and what are they not so good at? If they have areas of weakness you may want to take advantage of these. If they have areas of strength you will need to watch out and possibly emulate these strengths. Remember, it’s OK to use some of their great ideas!

Some of the things to look at:

Again, the idea behind analyzing your competition is to look for their areas of strength and weakness. For each of your major competitors rank the following attributes as a strength, weakness or neither. Here are some ideas on the attributes where you need to rate each of your competitors:

The artist(s)

  • Expertise and skill
  • Personal brand and reputation
  • Management abilities

Their art and creative products

  • Style and genre
  • Brand image and reputation
  • Quality of the art and other products and services
  • Availability and selection
  • Products features, uniqueness, style and availability
  • Techniques and technologies used
  • Patents, trademarks or copyrights owned or used

Their company or organization

  • Management and key personnel
  • Employee skill and expertise
  • Employees as company brand champions
  • Customer service and customer focus
  • Financial condition and staying power

Their Location & Facilities

  • Facilities, studio or workshop
  • Convenience for customers
  • Geographic coverage and locations

Marketing and sales

  • Advertising both print and online
  • Website and web presence
  • Social media
  • Public relations and being in the news
  • Distribution channels where they sell their art (retail, fairs & festivals, wholesale, web, dealers, galleries…)
  • Promotions they conduct such as a sale or other offer
  • Pricing their art and payment terms
  • Delivery and fulfillment options
  • Customer satisfaction

And any other factors you can think of that make up your competitor’s advantages or disadvantages.

The bottom line(s)…

While your main focus should be on producing great art and having satisfied customers, it is also important that you be aware what is going in your competitive environment. As you develop the plan for your art business you should keep your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses in mind as you define your own competitive advantages.

If you would like to learn more about preparing your own business plan, building your art business and selling more art I invite you to check out my book – The Artist’s Business and Marketing ToolBox. Good Luck!


Neil McKenzie is the author of The Artist’s Business and Marketing ToolBox – How to Start, Run and Market a Successful Arts or Creative Business available in softcover from Barnes & Noble and Amazon and as an eBook from iTunes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.   He has developed and teaches the course “Artrepreneurship” at the Center for Innovation at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and is also a visiting professor at University College at the University of Denver where he teaches “Marketing the Arts”.

Neil has over 30 years’ experience as a management consultant and marketing executive, working with some of the world’s top brands. Neil is a frequent lecturer to artists and arts organizations, a guest columnist for Colorado Biz Magazine, where he covers the creative sector of the economy, and the author of several articles for Americans for the Arts, a national arts organization. Follow Neil on Twitter: @neilmckenzphoto