What are some marketing and branding ideas and tactics that have produced good results for you?
I try to have as wide a net as possible. . . .
It’s weird how stuff seems like it comes out of the blue. But it’s usually because you’ve done something. Whether you went to a party or you emailed somebody and they changed jobs or you followed up with somebody and maybe they didn’t reply to you for years, but they remembered you.
Just because somebody doesn’t reply to you doesn’t mean they don’t like you or your work. I just try to keep current with everybody I like to work with because they end up somewhere out there in the world. Maybe they don’t work for a ski company anymore, but they work for a guitar company.
I don’t know why I landed on a newspaper, but it was basically something that was intended to convey my personality and my skillset. I wanted the agency to see the value of bringing someone in that yes, had a skillset they need, but I’m a very personable person, I’m fun to work with. I wanted to bring that through in this newspaper. So the copywriting in it was very intentionally fun and playful, like, I swear in it. There were a couple of photos of me in the first spreads, then there were two spreads of work and the back was a “Contact Me” kind of thing.
98% of that work was personal illustrative lettering work. Very little of it was client work. It was really an effort to show what I wanted to be doing.
It was really simple, really straightforward, but I wanted it to be something that the creative director would receive and be like, This is cool. And because it’s a newspaper and well-designed, they would feel guilty throwing it away so it would either go on a bookshelf or get passed around the design department to be like, Hey guys, sure wish you did this stuff. And it proved to do just that from the creative directors I talked to.
Some people followed up quite quickly while others who didn’t respond I followed up with I think two weeks later. And almost everybody who didn’t follow up was like, I really love the piece, super awesome. But a lot of it was either, We don’t hire contractors or we don’t have something right for you at this time.
But I made a lot of connections through doing that so it’s something I hope to continue doing moving forward whenever I find that time.[It’s] just forcing the work I want to be doing in front of the people I want it to be in front of. Being very intentional about that.
For instance, I would love to work with Patagonia or REI. I can’t just sit here and wait for them to find me. It could happen but I would rather send them something and be like, Hey, this is what I do, let’s do some stuff together.
I have students who go to lectures with visiting professionals and the students always want a formula. You know, post once a day, do it at this time, put these hashtags on, things like that. They want a very articulated litany of things to do to become successful. But I think it’s just being nice to people, being authentic, visible and working your ass off. It’s mostly character things you have to work on more than little tricks and gimmicks.
It is nice to have something that’s recognizable. I do want to have that name and brand recognition that goes beyond just the actual art because I think it helps when people see your art around and know what symbol to look for, because there are a lot of really amazing artists in Alaska that are doing bright, whimsical, animalesque kinds of things.
And so I always do want to set myself apart, not only with my art, but also with my brand. Which is weird because my brand is me. I am my brand and it is so personal that it almost feels counterintuitive to talk about my art as a brand. But at the same time, that’s the business end of things, where I have to take something that’s deeply personal to me and turn it into a business. And to do that, there are certain techniques and tools that businesses use that I also try to implement, like a logo or a brand.
I think back in 2004 I started making zines again as a way to put all my artwork together and to make something cool. That eventually morphed into what it is now [a zine called Papercut], which is more of a yearbook for me. It’s a way for me to document what happened last year, for me to remember things. Because it’s just not the art creative side, it also covers the personal side.
Also in this time of internet everything, I feel that people are returning to valuing the hands-on aesthetic of things and printed pages. So I would just send them out to people I thought might appreciate them. Not even necessarily looking for work, just being like, I like what you do, you might enjoy this, put it on your company’s coffee table or throw it on the back of your toilet, you know?
It’s a good way to connect with people. I think people respect that and think, Wow, you actually took the time to make this book, put together a written letter, put it in an envelope and mail it to me. It’s not just an email saying, Hey, here’s a link to my work, check it out. I think people really dig it these days and I wish more people would actually make books. It’s not that expensive.
I probably send or give away close to 100. When I go to OR [Outdoor Retailer trade show] or even SIA [Snowsports Industries of America trade show] I’ll have a bunch in my bag. And with friends I haven’t seen in a long time or just somebody at a company I’ll say, Here you go, you might like this.
I’m constantly just giving them out, so it is promotion as well. And they can look at it on the plane back to California or wherever they’re from. I have this list of people I send them to every time.[If I don’t know anyone at a company] they might have [their address] on their website. Or I will email them and say, I really enjoy what you do, I made this zine, I’d love to send it to you. It’s not like, Look at it and hire me for the next job.
I feel that most people are really receptive because I’m not asking them for anything. And I might send them a photo of last year’s so they can see what it looks like. I think it’s a rare occasion I don’t hear back from somebody. Most people say, Hey man, thanks, here’s my mailing address. And if they see the zines a couple of times they might think I’m good for a job.[My zines have led to a] decent amount [of work], whether it’s been commercial jobs or commissions. I think that’s how I worked with Patagonia and Keen. And Armada, through meeting Joseph [Toney] and sending him that zine, eventually he’s like, Let’s hire him.
Now it’s having friends who will bring up my name to people and those people’ll be like, Oh, we were already thinking of him, maybe if you’re bringing his name up it means we should work with him. I’ve gotten quite a few jobs out of that.
I also donate work to fundraisers all the time. So between the book and donations, that’s where a lot of work comes from.
I think just creating a brand message and feeling that’s consistent. I think we’ve also always been very approachable, both on the business side and for athletes
We’ve always tried to make films that are relatable and fun and that at the end of the day, they make you want to go skiing. That’s what I want to hear as a reaction and response to our films – that you’re excited about going skiing. I think that draws people into the brand, it’s easy to understand, it’s easy to engage with people when you’re making them excited about something. You’re not just interested in instilling awe, wonder and fear, just blowing their minds with the craziest stuff – you’ve got to do a little bit of that too – but to also paint a picture of something that people can relate to, it brings them in.
In general, when we put out a film we’ll do unpaid and paid Instagram and Facebook. We’ll do biweekly newsletters. We’ll do YouTube connected TV ads if we think it makes sense.
We’ll do partnerships with endemic ski media. So we’ll work with Freeskier Magazine as our media partner and they’ll help spread the word to consumers and the industry alike about our films every year. That’s a big part of what we do.
We also look at our film tour as a very powerful marketing tool for our brand and for our films. If we have a film coming to a particular city we’ll partner with small local “rock and roll” newspapers. Newspapers is really the wrong term because they’re not really newspapers anymore, but they’re more cultural hubs of those urban environments that have a good digital presence and we’ll do that in almost every city that we go to.
So using Denver as an example, we’ll partner with a popular college magazine like the Rooster and we’ll get on their website, get out to their newsletter crowd and take advantage of their social media to reach their fan base.
One conscious thing I did with my murals is I don’t sign them with chicken scratch. I put a stamp on them, a logo that’s legible, that’s brandable, so when people see that it’s easier to find me than trying to figure out some hand-signed signature. On this wall behind you [in the new studio] I have two logos. There’s the tag logo and the brand logo, which is on my shirt. I think they’re both valuable.
That’s one thing that I think separates me – an eye for branding or an understanding of the importance of it, versus hand-signing stuff. Because nobody can read that tag logo, but it’s important for the history, it’s where I came from. It’s graffiti, it’s a tag. If you’re from that world it’s very legible, and if you’re not, you have no idea what it is. And a lot of artists who have the graffiti background, that’s how they will sign their work. So that definitely sets me apart.
One of my first portraits I did was the Fear & Loathing piece in 2013, and I signed it with the SRIL Art logo. Then one of the walls I did in Denver I remember the other guys I was painting with signing their work with the spray can and I’m there applying a vinyl stencil. They were kind of looking at me like I was an idiot, they just didn’t understand. But I think they get it now. I’ve seen a lot of other guys transitioning to doing a logo or stencil.