Saturday, December 6, 2008

What's in a Name?

93. What’s in a Name?

Sooner or later, if you make enough objects, it will occur to you to try to sell some of those objects. For college students, this often first happens in the context of a departmental ceramics sale. Later, perhaps still as a student, an independent display at a local “Art in the Park” may be your first chance to put your work in front of the general public. By then business cards and a shop sign may seem necessary and then you will have to decide just how you want to present yourself to the world.
For some, their own name is enough. Others want something more austere, or collective, or cute. You must know, however, that the name on your signage will influence potential customers towards or away from your work. For instance, “Kathy's Kool Kountry Keramics” may have trouble getting works looked at by upscale shoppers or galleries. Similarly, “The Cedar County Clay Company” may sound very businesslike but you might find yourself on the phone with people who weren’t looking for either art objects or tableware.
One of my best Ceramics I class assignments was to have the students choose a name under which they would be selling their pots at the end-of-semester Christmas Sale. I asked for one hundred (100) suggested business names for this collective one-day-only business venture. Everyone had to contribute, and though a couple of students took to it slowly, everyone did.
Initially, the group wanted to stop early, satisfied with the potential in the first forty nominations and then the first sixty. But over the course of a few weeks, I stuck to the goal of one hundred and the suggestions trickled in. This creative overkill accomplished several things. First, it forced the students to get past the idea of the single intuitively brilliant solution to the problem. Second, it diluted somewhat each student’s tendency to push exclusively for one of their own suggestions. Third, it freed them up to include some pretty unlikely but nonetheless fun suggestions. And finally, it gave us a very broad sense of who we were by ultimately showing us how many different entities we were not.
Then, as a group we thinned the one hundred down to fifty, to twenty, to ten and to five. Any of the final twenty would have served as perfectly useful business names. Only near the end were we choosing based on what we were, but by then our sense of group identity had been sharpened by all those things that we knew we were not. In the end they agreed on “Four Guys, Three Girls, and a Clay Studio.” A bit long for everyday use, but an adequate measure of the moment. I was also pleased to be included as one of the “guys.” Which, from students at a pretty authoritarian Baptist college, seemed to be a significant egalitarian gesture.
Personally, I am dba (“doing business as”) Please Touch Pottery which gives me a lot of fun at fairs with precocious kids and their disapproving parents. Often, their conversations end, “Well, they don’t mean you!” Other potters seem to enjoy it as well. But I still carry a few cards which don’t include the business name, for those recipients I worry will find it too cute, or who clearly want to focus solely on the artist.
Whatever sort of name you choose to put on your shop sign or business cards, take the time to view it from all angles. Test it out on people whose opinions you respect. And plan ahead for this necessity. The morning of the fair is no time to be painting signs or printing business cards. If you fail to decide on a name for yourself by then, you may have one given to you by the other artists, perhaps the ”Amateur Disaster Pottery” or the “Everything is Blue” shop.
If you see to the details, a good name can be the first step towards a long career of satisfied customers. But choose wisely. Word-of-mouth advertising only works if you do admirable work and have a name people choose to repeat.

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