Telling Our Stories on Our Terms — The Power of Strategic Marketing

The dangerous power of negative marketing, clockwise from top left: Detroit = miserable (photo by Rebecca Cook for Reuters); Occupy Wall Street = directionless (photo by Odell Payne); “A Fire In My Belly” video = sacrilegious; and prospective travelers = potential terrorists (photo by Craig Walker for AP).

The dangerous power of negative marketing, clockwise from top left: Detroit = miserable (photo by Rebecca Cook for Reuters); Occupy Wall Street = directionless (photo by Odell Payne); “A Fire In My Belly” video = sacrilegious; and prospective travelers = potential terrorists (photo by Craig Walker for AP).

As the saying goes, “everyone is trying to sell you something,” and in today’s hyper-connected digital world it couldn’t be more true. Whether it’s algorithmically personalized ads across social media, spam emails or product placement in popular music videos, we are constantly bombarded with branded marketing that is subtly attempting to influence the way we think about our selves, our desires and the people  in our lives.

Given all of this, why should artists want to participate?

On Thursday January 12, join Creative Capital artist leader and marketing expert Brian Tate for Seven Elements of Strategic Marketing, where he will detail how and why artists can and should understand marketing their work in a way that’s strategic and authentic.

According to Brian Tate, there are three main reasons why strategic marketing is essential for artists (now more than ever.)


We’re already in it up to our necks. 

Today’s world is a digital tidal wave of marketing to which we are increasingly adding our own content. With that in mind, it’s smart to understand what marketing is and why it pulls at us — to understand what we’re up against so to speak.

Marketing leverages and typically reinforces a complex set of narratives that have been built over time: this is what we should desire, this is what we should have. It can also address deeper issues of identity about whom we should fear, whom we should believe whom we should be. And each message contains an implicit call-to-action that tell us what we should do about it.

As artists we have an obligation to join the conversation.

For that reason, some of us believe that we have cultural, political and even spiritual imperative to bring out own voices to this discussion, particularly as artists but also as progressive people of any stripe. If there has ever been an era sorely in need of counter-narratives and artistic truth-telling, it is now. Now more that ever it is important for artists to be up front, visible and to make their work and their voice heard.

This is where the work of marketing begins — not to build a calculated persona but to articulate what is at our core; not to engineer a message that will sway opinion, but to deeply examine our own intentions and then inviting others to experience, question, support or dispute them — a dynamic conversation.

If we don’t tell our own stories, someone else will.

While marketing can (and often does) reinforce traditional and oppressive narratives, it can also subvert them. If we believe that art exists to comfort the troubled and trouble the comfortable, then marketing can serve that same purpose.

As shown by musician Santigold, who defies mainstream norms about how a pop star should characterize her music and conduct her career, we can re-contextualize our stories into something personal, critical and new. As shown by filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who launched a film distribution company after being told whites won’t see art house films featuring blacks, we can reject industry expectations by building our own progressive community of artists and audiences. And as shown by interdisciplinary artist and Creative Capital grantee Hasan Elahi, who turned the FBI’s post-911 investigation of him into a project in which he is now under constant surveillance, we can use our stories to reclaim our agency as citizens and human beings.

If we’re committed to being in the world and making art about that experience, and fostering conditions where others can do the same, then our stories must be told — on our own terms. Marketing is key to that practice.

For a live step-by-step breakdown of the principles of strategic marketing and how artists can leverage its principles in an effective and authentic way, be sure to register now for Brian’s webinar, The Seven Elements of Strategic Marketing, on January 12th at 7:00 EST.  Your questions and ideas will be welcomed throughout, and there will be a general Q&A at the end. 

register here

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Holly Ajala

About Holly Ajala

Holly Ajala is a writer and storyteller with a fierce belief in the power of effective narrative to inspire empathy in the face of difference, to propel the reach of social justice and above all to challenge humans beings to be more human. To these ends, Holly has worked with the NYU Leadership Initiative, the ACLU Racial Justice Project , and the NYC Collaborative Writing Project to amplify the reach of marginalized voices, narratives, stories and communities. Holly currently writes for AYO Magazine, an online publication dedicated to honest and multifaceted portrayals of black women in search of joy. She is a recent NYU graduate with a B.A. in Politics and Africana Studies. She joined Creative Capital in 2016 and currently resides in Harlem.

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