How Artists Can Apply Youtility Marketing

Jay Baer, author of Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is About Help, Not Hype, says “If you sell something, you make a customer today. If you help someone, you may create a customer for life.”

Youtility, the marketing concept Baer advocates, is “marketing so useful that people would pay for it.”

Artists are often left out in the cold with marketing practices that seem to be suggested for more service- or product-oriented businesses. After all, art is rarely considered useful beyond its decorative, emotional, and intellectual qualities.

But if you put your brain cells to work, you can embrace the youtility model. You can create resources for your buyers and collectors, students, other artists, and/or your local community, which are as helpful to them as your tools are to you.
This isn’t about making a sale. It’s about building name recognition and loyalty. It will also give you great satisfaction.

Youtility Examples for Artists

By way of example, here are three art maps, or tours, that could be made into an app or PDF for download, or become the focus of a Pinterest board.

Museum Highlights
Museums, of course, like to point out things in the galleries that people should know about, but you have a different perspective.
What kind of quirky tour could you lead people through that will give them a one-of-a-kind experience

Underground Art
When accompanying my husband on a rock-climbing adventure, I came across a mountain home with paintings nailed to the trees outside. I can’t make this stuff up.

Everyone knows the usual museums and galleries for seeing art, but there are good things – some of them humorous like the nailed paintings – happening in offbeat places.

Public Art
Where can one view art at no charge? Art intended for public consumption might include sculpture, murals, installations, or mosaics.

You could add a twist by researching any controversies around those pieces. Organizations responsible for a city’s public art rarely tell the dark side in their literature, and this is often what makes the best stories.

4 Steps To Being Youseful

Don’t spend a lot of time creating helpful information without a plan for it.

1. Identify your audience.
Who is your helpful resource for? Collectors and buyers? Students? Other artists? Your community?

2. Research and decide on the topic.
You have to be excited about sharing whatever you create, so make sure there’s enough to hold your interest throughout the project.

3. Decide the best method for disseminating your helpful information.
Technology might restrict you, but if your idea is good enough you will find the means to make it happen. Consider sharing through any of these means: PDF download, Pinterest board, phone app (nominal fee could be charged), tweets, or dedicated Facebook page.

For example, here's a Pinterest board I created for everyone who comes to my Art Biz Makeover event. It's annotated to share my favorite restaurants, sites, galleries, and stores in the Golden, Colorado area.

4. Get the word out.
Once you’ve made something so helpful that people would want to pay for it, you must tell people about its availability.

Who needs to know about what you have?

I gave the example of art maps or tours above, but I can think of a number of additional ways artists could apply the concept of youtility to their communities. How about you? Read comments for other creative ideas.


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60 thoughts on “How Artists Can Apply Youtility Marketing”

  1. I’ve been doing this for a while actually, if I understand what you mean.
    I detest the continuing drumbeat of tweets and posts about one’s products – 75% of the tweets I see are simply listings and RTs of other people’s listings and it’s BOR-ING! So if it bores me it must bore other people.
    So last summer/fall I decided to start doing different things
    1. Artist of the Day post to my FB page that also gets tweeted
    2. Humorous comment to start with, then I evolved (devolved?), thanks to my shop consultant, to saluting a “holiday of the day” like National Cheesecake Day. If I have a product that’s relevant, I post a link to it. If not, I help someone else by posting one of their relevant products. I don’t mind the cross-promotion even if the person doesn’t know or reciprocates. It’ll come back to me in the end
    3. I will post/tweet articles of interest. I subscribed to a number of blogs and newsletters, art and non-art, and I pass along things that I like. Could be scientific articles, could be art projects, calls for art
    4. Maybe once a day at most (unless I’m in a bunch of treasuries that put me in the first row) I will post something related to MY products.
    I post 5-7 times daily, using Hootsuite to schedule.
    While I haven’t made any direct sales, and I don’t have a LOT of interaction, I enjoy it. I’m a writer and researcher at heart.
    I still can’t really get into Pinterest but I’m going to try doing something similar there as well.

    1. Lin: These are great content ideas, but maybe more entertaining than useful to people. Articles of interest – yes, of course. But I’d love to see youtility in something you create – so that you can own it.

  2. I am an artist, author and speaker on a mission to use my story as a way to challenge women to own their mental health healing.
    I am creating a two page document on how to choose a therapist. It simplifies the types of therapist and therapies and reminders of things to consider.
    I will email this as a free gift when folks sign up for my newsletter after listening to me during web radio interviews!

  3. My idea that is it helpful to show the process of your work. When I begin a new body of work I will engage my collectors and artist friends by showing them the process from sketch to beginning layers to finished product. This shows people that the art does not magically create itself, and the positive comments are encouraging to push forward and finish the work. In some cases I have even sold the work and it is always great to follow up the post with a photo with the new collector or how they have displayed it in their home or office. Showing your process is also helpful to other artists and they too can become people who comment and even share the posts if they like your process and end result. When you share the post with the new owner on Facebook, and you have their permission to tag them or they share it themselves (I usually ask my collectors to post it once they have it hanging – nothing better than a live testimonial from a new happy collector.) then you can get their friends to see your art and possibly come by your studio or next show or even email or message you a request. Additionally if I start a new body of work and I need inspiration I ask my Facebook fans to give me ideas… their is nothing greater than doing a piece inspired by a fans Facebook post — then you acknowledge them when you post a picture of the finished work… they are usually very excited and tell their friends that they inspired the work and in a few cases they have even bought the piece.

  4. I created a Pinterest board called “Whaddaya do with a blank book?” and it has ideas for how people can use blank journals or photo albums. I’ve found that people often like blank books, but don’t know how to use them. My Pinterest board includes journal prompts, photo album layouts, and themes to help people get started.

  5. I don’t have a complete idea, but the germ is there. I think it would be interesting to offer something that promotes the art made or inspired by oppressed peoples. Two named events come to mind: the Holocaust and An Gorta Mor, (The Great Hunger). Unamed, but equally oppressive, is the time of slavery in the USA. Sadly, we can still find oppression on our planet. I would wish there wasn’t any but even so, the art that arises from these circumstances give perfect insight into history from a humsnistic perspective.

    1. Good question. One thought would be to use this art to make the history lessons learned in school more emotionally accessible. Something similar could be done using art found in archeological digs to make ancient and prehistoric histories more tangible. Parents and teachers might find this especially useful. History is often seen as boring by school children.
      On another hand, given that one of my media is bead weaving, (in the form of wearable art) I’d really like to come up with something that relates to this area.

  6. The new Crystal Bridges American Art Museum is where I spend quite a lot of time. A frequent comment by guests is their bewilderment over the modern and contemporary wings of the museum. I would give a “perspective” tour explaining why and how perspective and imagery (in the Early American wings) gradually gave way to abstraction (no perspective or recognizable imagery) then back to hyper realism, and diverse branches. As a volunteer, I’ve given mini-talks and find at least a few people with a better appreciation and maybe even find new favorites in the modern wing. Creating an “art history” tour of one’s art — how, as an artist, you got where you are — through one’s blog (or a video) could be challenging and fun.

  7. I read part of the forward to this book on Amazon and immediately wanted to read more. In the forward, the author talks about brainstorming every question potential customers had ever asked him and then writing about those questions and their answers. That struck a chord with me, because, as a weaver, I get a lot of the same questions from everyone. Collectors and students enjoy learning about the inspiration and process for the work. In the last year I have learned how important the “story” is to viewers of the art. This is not a fully formed idea yet… I also like your mention of public art. That’s a topic of debate in my city right now. Lots of things to mull over.

  8. Hi Alyson,
    Inspired by your newsletter section of “I’d Rather be in the Studio” my February newsletter focused on Valentine’s Day. I highlighted some creative Valentine-making ideas on my Pinterest board here: Then I offered free custom made Valentines to the first 15 Newsletter subscribers who replied. I had some wonderful feedback from those who received them… and used that to create a blog post, encouraging blog readers to sign up for my newsletter:

  9. One more thing I did: I’m artist-in-residence at an art center with 40 other artists. We have monthly Open Studios but have trouble attracting people from Los Angeles which is about an hour drive. Someone created a dining guide map of the Old Town section of the small city we are located in. I added this map to my Open Studios announcement on my News page of my website, letting people know we have some great restaurants nearby where they can get nourishment and hang out after the drive up here and seeing our studios. You can see it here:

  10. We will be embarking on youtility later this month. Our art group is linking up with a winery in town to promote their sip and paint meanwhile also going to local bed and breakfasts this spring and summer to paint their gardens and post information. We have not gotten our social media up yet. But it is coming soon.

  11. I love the idea of a Pinterest board about Golden, CO. It makes me want to visit! The shots are beautiful. I’m trying to think of my idea! There is something brewing but it’s not out of my head yet.

  12. I already do something like this, with a wide variety of tutorials and articles on my website. Some of them are technique how-to’s, aimed at other fiber artists. Others are more in the “watch me work” vein, which seems to be of interest to buyers and artists, alike.
    I’m becoming somewhat shameless about the whole thing. I just posted a tutorial about a name tag I just made. A name tag, people! I showed the name tag on my blog, wrote a tutorial for my website, and created a pin for Pinterest. And people are actually repinning it! Definitely a concept I need to run with.

  13. My blog is called “The Life of an Artist and the Creative Process”, it seems to appeal to the hobby artists who can relate to much of what I write or they can find useful information. The the rest of my audience seem to just love the arts and are intrigued by the everyday joys and struggles of a working artist. To them my life seems quirky and unreal and they enjoy the idea that you really can invent your own reality and live it. I do like your idea of creating something more for my audience to activity participate in rather than just being passive participants.

  14. Hi, Alyson 🙂 Thank you for all of the super helpful info you give!
    On my blog, I am working on a series of articles to help people learn how to choose, buy, light art, care for your artwork, etc. and where to find art locally. I plan on putting together the series into a downloadable PDF that will be available free with subscription to my newsletter.
    I like the tour idea! Creating a Pinterest board of where to buy art locally, see art locally, sounds like a fun idea.
    Also, I am adding murals to my business, so I have been building a mural idea board on Pinterest. Since I started working on that, I have had sooo many repins :). I think finding a public space to do a mural at cost would be helpful to my community, as well as make my fledgling business more visible.

  15. I do this rather often and am doing it even more strategically. Over 2 months ago I started offering a color quote or tip every Tuesday on FB. I regularly send out color mixing tools and more in depth color tips to my mailing list. I also offer a “How to Create Depth” free article on my color website. More videos are being planned as well as lots of blog posts.

  16. Hi Alyson,
    I feel like I do this often as well on my Pinterest site. I have boards for Artist Resources, Things for artist studios, Things to have in an artist studio, Studios I like, Art that inspires me (featuring art from many different artists), Things we should know, Quotes I like…among others. Also some travel boards. Here is the link:

  17. My idea is called “Neighborhood Walks with an Artist”. I would find many neighborhoods where clients or collector-minded people live (or where they might want to tour). I scour the walk beforehand, find unusual aspects to the neighborhood that might be overlooked, and take folks on a tour. This could be a way for non-artists to see how an artist views the world.

  18. I don’t know if this classifies. In my monthly newsletter (which I have done for years), I have a column that my husband writes. His by-line is “Bob North, Husband of the Artist.”
    He writes about his perspective of what I do. People LOVE it and if he misses a month (which rarely happens), I hear about it.
    It is a way of letting people into our lives and a way for readers to better understand life as an artist.

  19. Please don’t take offense anyone, I am just thinking out loud here…
    I wonder if artist’s resources, even as inspiration, is not a waste of time, if your goal is to “sell art”.
    Don’t get me wrong, I have a zillion Squiddo lenses and blogs where I do that, but who am I selling to exactly and what do I hope to gain from that? I am asking myself mind you.
    In my newsletters and some lenses I think I got it, and I did not even realize that until just now! Daa.
    The difference has just dawned on me. My newsletters try to give something “non specific”, ie a cookie recipe. Or a thought I had about writing a “good list” about someone, “before” you tell them off. Chances are you will probably not tell them off after you write that list.
    I write about leaves and how unique they are, that I usually have one in my pocket to remind me that I am even more unique than that leaf.
    Sooo I am just rethinking all of that.
    When I created most of my Squidoo lenses I was recovering from breaking my wrist and receiving permanent nerve damage. I was trying to get some use back to my right hand. I did those lenses as an encouragement to “me” more than anyone else, but most were and are specific to artists.
    I don’t hang other people’s art on my walls. I hang my own as it is a gallery of the heart. I rarely buy other people’s art because I have no place to hang it. lol. My point goes back to the whole idea of speaking to artists in an attempt to help them. Unless I am a coach, like Alyson, or teach art, why would I do that?
    I have not worked on sending out newsletters for a couple years now… humm maybe it might be a good idea to get back to those.

    1. Hi Kathy,
      I will have to disagree with you here. I’ve just been going through my blog, looking for patterns of what has been working and what has not. I just noticed that several of the paintings I show in process or revision have sold, while those that I wrote less about or give less information on are still here hanging around!

    2. Kathy: This is why it’s hard. The reason to want a lot of artists following and loving you is if you teach them. BUT, remember, you also learn of opportunities through other artists. It’s great to shore up those connections.
      However, I understand your resistance to this. It’s why I love Elissa’s pin board so much: because it relates directly to her art (blank journals).

    3. Kathy, it is also for peer acceptance…An artist can sell bountifully but not have peer acceptance…Respect from peers…One good word from a peer can get you in…In is that place where you might need a peer reference…

  20. Breaking through the noise and providing useful resources is something we struggle with as authors, too, and we appreciate the ideas here.
    We’ve begun posting “Top Drawer Tips” when we discover something useful to our writing, such as how to create a 3-D cover image to post on a website or blog. The idea is that other authors can use the method/tip/link in their own work, and readers can see the result or impact the tip has on our own work. The tips are not gathered into a collection–there aren’t enough of them yet–but that may be an idea to pursue.
    Thank you for a thought-provoking post, Alyson.

  21. I had an interesting night. I went to a party for artists given by a collector. I had never seen so much art in one home. Almost floor to ceiling, but still very well done. The collector had paintings and sculpture by several of my friends including a Mian Situ and other well known artists. He said, “I don’t have one of yours but I need to get one”. I’ll make that happen.
    Anyway, it was a great evening talking about art and the selling of art. As a collector it was very interesting to hear his story of how he bought his first Paul Strisik painting with no money. Paul knew he loved the painting and wanted him to have it. He gave him the painting to take home and make monthly payments that he could afford. The client eventually went on to buy 25 more of his paintings.
    After listening to this, I thought what a story could be told about different collectors and how they started. This might benefit artists in selling their own art to know what motivated and worked with collectors. What made them become collectors, sometimes owning several pieces of art by one artist. I’m not saying we need to give our art away, but we certainly need to find creative ways that make it easier for people to become collectors when they love art.
    The last two days I had been thinking about a client that has had two paintings on layaway and has slowly been paying them off for 18 months. She is very close to having them paid for. I had thought about forgiving the rest of the amount owed. After hearing this story, I contacted her and told her I will be sending her paintings to her.
    I think this could be a great series for a blog and social media.

  22. I’m learning so much from this blog post, thanks everybody! One thing I realized I had already been doing is this: At the end of my newsletters I have a little column I call “Daggi’s Delights” (used to be called “Daggi’s New Wrinkle”, but decided to change it to something more positive:)) in which I share ideas, tips, quotes, links that I find helpful, inspirational or interesting. Because of the comments on here I created a PDF and Pinterest board containing all of them in one place and will add to them from each new newsletter. You can see the pinterest board here: Sometimes it takes so little to open our eyes to things we’re already doing that just need a little tweaking and it’s ready to go out as a new marketing tool. Thank you!!

  23. How about an art tour in your area. One you could walk, bike drive. Say of cool art in libraries, hospitals an office, street art on a bridge etc. Places you dont think to look.
    Or of local artists interviews.

  24. I have just made a blog post about Collecting Art and the sale of it. Beginning an art collection, down payments and monthly payments | Becky Joy Fine Art
    If anyone would like to add ideas or comments to this post, I think it would be a great discussion. I’m hoping to follow up on this post.

  25. I love your (ideas) and the Youtility information. I’ve always believed there should be a twist or an addition to whatever you do. Attempt to stand out from the rest and reinvent the wheel. It can still roll even if it is bumpy and be an exciting ride. I was a substitute teacher/art teacher for many years. I decided to follow my true passion/blessing in the arts. I have several things going on and I’m always looking to learn and grow. How inspiring these ladies are with their Youtility visions.

  26. I’ve read the book, too, and I totally agree with the message. In fact, I’ve been telling my husband this (he’s running a 7 figure business which we co-founded) and how he can be youseful or more youseful.
    However, when it comes to my art and art business, I struggle with how to be useful and how to help my buyers and potential buyers. How do we do that with our art?

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

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