Rachel Somers Miles, Project Director, The Garage
Brands that excel are the ones that look to connect with consumers in new ways. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that in order to be a savvy 21st century brand you must embrace new mediums like Virtual Reality (VR). But regardless of the medium, in order to stay relevant, brands must think about culture: the most powerful tool when it comes to engaging and connecting with your audience.
Culture is the meme of life, it’s the collective creative conscious and thus the centrepoint for finding out what’s important to millennial audiences today (millennials being the most financially powerful, critical and aware audience demographic). Focusing on culture, by developing brand-artist collaborations, is a way of building authentic relationships with audiences that may be hard to connect with. Brands need to work with those who already have a knack for organically developing relationships with consumers, in this case artists, whose relationships with consumers come from consumers’ genuine excitement and interest in the products, activities and stories of the artists
The rise of brand-artist collaborations has been an important development in the marketing mix over the past few years, and one that’s proven highly successful with millennials. As both an art gallery and an international artist management team, The Garage sees first-hand the value of brand-artist collaborations and the benefit brought to both worlds when cultural connections are forged in an authentic manner.
Why Brands Should Work With Artists
Brand-artist collaborations are quite straightforward. Consumers are smart, and as a brand there’s only so much talking you can do about yourself before the message grows old. Enabling someone else to do the talking with you is a great way to add new energy to what you want to say. Today’s culture is one of collaboration. If you think about the modern audience of millennials, it’s made up of friends across borders communicating through many means, young people speaking multiple languages and people consuming content created across the world. What does it say to your audience if you’re a brand that collaborates? It says you’re inclusive, open, you appreciate the world around you, and that you’re tapped into the ways people create meaningful experiences and stories today—all values that millennials respect.
An artist is really the highest form of expression. There are few boundaries. As a brand, you’re often restricted. When brands collaborate with artists, they enable the artist to tell stories on their behalf. While approaches to advertising used to be about the final product, we’re now in a world where the journey to the final product has more meaning—it’s about sharing and the experience economy. What does a brand-artist collaboration do? It creates stories for a brand’s audience, and provides the brand with content to tell stories, thus bringing the brand purpose alive and giving it relevant and authentic context. Ultimately, it’s creating brand awareness through collaborations that provide a cultural, real-life context to your existing ethos. Working with an artist is a chance to share your brand’s creative vision in a completely new way and context. It alters your public image, taps into new markets, creates possibilities for consumer experiences and connects you with different audiences.
What Success Should Look Like When Working With Artists
There's no one-size-fits-all equation for the perfect brand-artist collaboration. And really, that’s the beauty of it. Finding that artist who will tell your brand story in an authentic way requires some serious soul-searching. But remember, millennials value brands that listen and adjust with the times; brands that are successful today change, they are flexible and grow alongside their audience. The kinds of artists you work with will evolve. It’s not about having one spokesperson for the long haul, but developing authentic relationships with various artists over time in order to share many meaningful experiences with your audience.
While each brand has its own performance metrics to measure the success of its activities, success shouldn't solely be viewed within the rubric of KPIs. If the aim is to create meaningful new experiences that resonate culturally with consumers, you must question your brand’s approach to working with artists.
So when thinking about teaming up with an artist, here are some questions to ask yourself:
Does the artist visually express the values of the brand and the goals of the project at hand?
To truly establish a creative partnership, the collaboration needs to feel authentic. It is essential that it is a natural pairing. Brands need to be thoughtful about who to bring on when enlisting artists. It's not just about grabbing the hottest young artist to team up with. If the artist doesn't visually express or elevate the characteristics and values of your brand, or isn’t able to visually execute the story you're trying to tell, then the partnership will feel forced or fall flat. And remember, there’s no more critical an audience than a millennial audience.
We’ve enjoyed a long relationship with French visual artist Ludo who we teamed up with Japanese fashion label MINOTAUR last year to collaborate on a capsule collection. Ludo is known for his unique style called 'Nature's Revenge' where he connects the organic world of plants and animals with technology through hybrid images of the two. MINOTAUR explores traditional and timeless clothing through a hi-tech approach. Both parties are clearly creatively interested in the blending of nature with technology. So not only is it about having clear visual strength in collaborating, but it’s also about extending both party’s audiences and bringing value to them. Ludo’s audience value nature and technology, as does MINOTAUR’s, so by coming together they’re saying we know what you love, and here’s another brand for you, and we’re working together to make you something new.
Portrait of French visual artist Ludo taken by photographer Søren Solkær.
Are we willing to allow the artist to stay true to their vision and voice?
Of course revisions and feedback are necessary, but wisely selecting your artists, sharing a thoughtful and thorough creative brief and having a proposal sketch phase allows artists the freedom to move forward with creating. So think through what you're asking of them and share this upfront. You've picked the artist because you respect their style and creative vision, so trust their work. Getting bogged down in minute changes, and amending briefs requiring artists to redo their work can be demoralising and demotivating, thus making for a less successful collaboration on the inside. Changes can be necessary, but if you've briefed well this shouldn't happen. So, know where to pick your battles and trust the artists you're working with.
Value your artists. The partnership being viewed as authentic from the outside is just as important as the partnership being authentic on the inside. Success is the artist walking away feeling proud of their work. That their vision was respected and realised. That they've come out the other side having had the chance to share their genuine self in an interesting new way, grown from the experience, and that they'd want to collaborate with you again.
Google's recent launch of The Data Center Mural Project is a great example of this. With an ambition to share what happens at their data centers they've teamed up with artists to bring a bit of the magic from the inside to the outside creating large-scale murals on the facades of these buildings to illustrate different aspects of their use and daily life. Each artist has a distinct style that plays to Google's personality of being fun, playful and creative, and from the two murals released thus far it's clear the artwork directly expresses the style and vision of the artist’s individual creative practice while founding the vision in local insight.
Why do we want to work with artists?
More of a state-of-mind than a how-to-rule, a successful collaboration is born from a brand's genuine interest in connecting with artists and the culture they create—“good brands create culture, bad brands buy it”. More than just tapping into culture for a brand pick-me-up, brands must respect the role that artists play in enriching everyday life. It’s in this way that brands become part of the collaboration culture that sits at the center of the millennial audience.
From our ongoing relationship with Converse we’ve seen them continue to grow by pushing the edge and consistently connect with artists in a broad and forward-thinking range of different ways. From commissioning artists, illustrators and designers to create original artwork to customise their sneakers, to the Chuck Hack project of enlisting technologically-minded artists and designers to play their hand at creating electronic art out of a sneaker, to Photo Clash which saw artists from around Europe, the Middle East and Asia visually mash-up photos submitted by fans via Twitter. Converse consistently works with artists because it sees its shoes as a canvas of creativity, and sees artists as the driving force of creating exciting and innovative connections with consumers through culture.
Of course there’s always the first time a brand collaborates with artists, and collaborations have different scales, but sustained success in working with artists comes from the respect and championing of creative communities being a core value of the brand.
The questions a brand should use to think through its approach to working with an artist should provide a healthy foundation for a collaboration, resulting in meaningful new experiences that resonate culturally with your consumers. Reaching new audiences and connecting with them in a different way requires developing collaborative creative partnerships that enable a certain amount of artistic freedom. As a brand wanting to work with an artist, if you’ve gone through the process of carefully selecting your partner and sharing a thoroughly considered brief, then it should be easy to take on this model of working and make the most of it. Embrace the possibilities that collaborating with artists brings, create culture, and show generation authentic you understand what’s exciting and important to them.
Rachel Somers Miles
Projects & Exhibition Director, The Garage
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