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Be A Great Storyteller

By August 25, 2016 No Comments

Hello again dear reader, this months column is the first in a series of pieces aimed at tattoo artists to help them get better at a something they often misunderstand, usually flat out hate and often just ignore. It’s a subject that former Apple CEO Steve Jobs ‘dreaded’ and that that Bill Hicks famously said that if your ‘in it’ you should ‘kill yourself’.

Well I used to be ‘in it’ and I was pretty good at it (still am actually – that’s why I’m explaining it to you) and I understand exactly how both these guys feel, because – done wrong – it really is a very dirty job, but done right it’s a simple and beautiful thing. So, take a seat next to me on the naughty step and I’ll see if I can’t – at least start to explain – the awful, dirty and unpleasantly necessary thing that is…. marketing.


There’s no rationalisation for what you do and you are Satan’s little helpers. Okay – kill yourself.

Seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good.



OK so, Hicks hated it and believed it was the root of all evil in the world and Jobs ‘dreaded’ it. Why? Well in both cases it’s pretty simple. Both Hicks and Jobs take on marketing reflects what a lot of us feel. Marketing is selling and we all hate being sold something, we don’t want to be hit over the head with a sales pitch by someone just trying to get our money. It feels desperate and unnecessary, and it undermines the real value of anything. Whether we actually want it or not. In fact, that kind of ‘hard sell’ tactic is actually likely to make us not buy something that we really want. Thats how much we despise it.

According to former Apple VP of Worldwide Marketing Communication Allison Johnson, in Jobs mind, “people associated brands with television advertising and commercials and artificial things. The most important thing was people’s relationship to the product. So any time we said ‘brand’ it was a dirty word.” Now, you might be thinking ‘Wait a second. Isn’t marketing what Apple does best?’ How can the head of worldwide marketing at Apple claim that marketing was dirty word in the company?

The answer is simple. Jobs had a massive advantage over a lot of CEOs’ – According to Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, Jobs was like the Henry Ford of the tech industry. ‘A bit of a control freak,’ Ellison said. ‘He wanted to control every aspect’, ‘until it was perfect.’ And, most importantly he was he was in charge.

Responding to a similar question from her interviewer, Behance CEO Scott Belskey, Johnson explains that Apple treated its launch campaigns as massive efforts to educate the public about the company’s new products by effectively communicating what made the experience of using them so great. Jobs understood that marketing – done properly – isn’t marketing at all. it’s nothing like a ‘hard sell’ – in fact its not selling at all. Done correctly, it’s the opposite from the shouty household cleaning products bloke or the cringeworthy chocolate bar ads. Done properly it’s simple, natural and effective. It’s about communicating, not advertising. And it’s vital to getting your art in front of people and I have some great news for you – you have exactly the same advantage as Jobs if you want it. You understand your art, you love it and you’re in charge.

So, let’s leave our negative marketing connotations behind and – over the course of this series -explore some simple and elegant ways you can engage with an audience about your art without coming over as a used car salesman. I call them ‘communicative marketing strategies’ and up first is storytelling.

So you’re a visual artist and you rely on the visual element of your work to sell it and captivate viewers in a single glance. But in our ever increasingly over-saturated market that single glance is getting shorter and shorter. Clients have a lot to look at and are bombarded by logo-laden, ‘sale now on’, shouty, hashtag overloaded advertising speak copy that just turns them off. And they are spending less and less time paying attention to anything. This is where old fashioned marketing has brought us to, we are all tuned out, unengaged, jaded and cynical when it comes to anyone trying to sell us anything and no wonder. We don’t pay attention to anything that feels even a little like marketing or advertising.

So, while the art does indeed speak for itself and should be allowed to, it only tells part of your story. The other, often-overlooked part is “Who is the person behind this amazing piece?” And that’s where storytelling comes in. A good story can say things about your character that your art can’t, it can help give you an edge over similar artists being considered for a project and it also allows you to make connections with new audiences who might not understand art, but who appreciate your work based on how you make it.

People may buy what you do but they fall in love why you do it.

Storytelling allows you to be real and connect with your clients on a human level, it elevates you away from being a bloody salesman or sponsorship robot. When you communicate your inspiration and the efforts behind your pieces, you allow viewers to see your art through your eyes. This gives the viewer something tangible to share with others in conversation – something that a two-dimensional piece rarely can do on its own terms. It provides a connection to you and your art and allows you to foster a deeper relationship with you clients based on a shared passion for your art.

Storytelling might seem like an additional ‘to-do’ that you don’t have time or resources for, but it simply requires you to do something that you likely love anyway and that’s talking about your art, how and why you make it like you do and your passion for it.

With this in mind take another look at your bio. Does it really tell your story? Does it tell people how you got here and what you did along the way that helped shaped you and your art? Maybe it should…

Once you’ve firmed up your Bio, maybe you should take a look at your social media posts next, does the text say anything about how the piece came to be? or is it just a load of hashtags desperately fishing for ‘likes’. Wouldn’t a short story be more interesting to your audience? Maybe it would give them a greater insight into the time you spend doing the thing you love and the effort you go to to create what you do?

At its core, storytelling is about making an authentic, human connection. When people feel like they’re part of your artistic process, and you’re willing to share a glimpse into your journey, they’ll root for you and support your work.

Storytelling, when done right, will increase your influence and have existing and new audiences talking about your work in a way that feels natural. It’ll produce a ripple effect of supporters who want to invest in your art – and you.