Ceramic Studio Marketing, Part 1 – Product

Do you know what you are selling?

The word marketing is so overused these days that we seldom think of it as anything but just a bit more than advertising and promotion.

By definition, marketing is “the process or technique of promoting, selling and distributing a product or service”, or “an aggregate of functions involved in moving goods from producer to customer” (Merriam Webster College Dictionary). When I went through my post graduate years in economics, the subject of marketing was classified as “the economy of distribution”.

We studied the four “Ps” - Product, Price, Promotion and Place (place meaning geographic target area and channels of distribution). It is still an acceptable breakdown of what marketing involves and makes it practical to study in the four defined areas.

What does all this have to do with successful ceramics? Well, just about everything. You, as part of the industry of ceramic arts, will learn how to tackle all these “Ps” over your career in business, maybe sometimes sub-consciously. In my opinion, the most difficult – and in most cases most hard to grasp – concept, is Product. So let’s talk about that and get our brains lubricated for some analytical thinking.

In the heading I ask the question: Do you know what you are selling? The complete and correct answer to that question will determine success or failure in any business. In the business of ceramic arts, the answer becomes even more elusive than in other areas.

Your answer might be “of course I do – what is Rolf thinking”? Let’s look at it closer.


Fundamental Human Needs

Of course you know what your present physical product consists of. Now, to sell it you need to find customers whose needs make them want your product. That product can range from the abstract (the beauty of a sculpture) to the practical (a stoneware baking pan). Your ability to identify the customers’ needs is essential to selling your products over and over again to your customers.

You can methodically go after new customers that are likely to buy your present product or you can change your product to better fit your existing customers’ needs.  (See future chapter on Promotion).

Some of history’s best psychologists have studied human needs in a scientific way.  Max-Neef came up with the following needs (I exclude the obvious - subsistence and protection):

Affection                                                Creation
Understanding                                    Identity
Participation                                        Freedom

Then he broke each need down into smaller parts, such as:

Under “creation” he lists: Imagination, Boldness, Inventiveness, Curiosity; then further: Abilities, Skills, Work, Techniques.

I believe most of you have an intuitive way to identify a customer – maybe not completely due to the complexity of human character, but finding the ones that are essential to your success. I am impressed when talking to ceramic artists how well this process works almost automatically in them, especially the ones with longer experience. Depending on the product, the identification of the needs of a customer can be easy or complex.


A real life example

I spoke to an old friend of mine who has been running a successful ceramic business for decades. She lost her two-year old son early in her career and fell into a deep depression. She tried several venues to find a way out of it and found that ceramics, to her, was so outstandingly therapeutic that she started a ceramic teaching studio. She claims to know intuitively when she gets a new customer which need to fulfill – if the customer craves therapy (for whatever private reason), she has long term customer.

So what is her product? Expressed in the abstract – it is therapy. The tool she is using to fulfill this need its decorating ceramics.

Now, do you understand the question? Do you know what product you are really selling?

Satisfying human needs is what marketing is all about and it starts with defining both the abstract and physical traits of your product, or service.


Many angles to look into

I used to look at every person in the street as a potential customer. Looking at marketing from the angle of satisfying customers’ needs, does not limit the customer for your product to gender, age, abilities or level of income.

But, you set the limit to finding the right customer range by

-          which need you find comes most natural to you to satisfy

-          what you like to do (most of the time the same thing)

-          who you are most likely to find within your geographic range or our “sphere of influence”.  (More about that under promotion).

-          which area in ceramics satisfies your own needs


So, going back to where we started, defining your product is safest done by analyzing which needs you are actually fulfilling or will fulfill.  And vice-versa, the needs of your customers dictate what your product should be. Maybe you hit it right from the beginning, or maybe you have to re-think, change the product or modify it and try again.

In the end, over time you find out what works best for you. Our needs are complex and multifaceted. Look for which ones you identify that you will find satisfactory to your internal make-up, your financial means and bring you closest to realizing your dreams.


Copyright Protection
© 2011 by Rolf E. Ericson, Oneonta, New York, publisher. All rights reserved. Photocopying, reproduction , copying, or redistribution of any kind in printed or electronic form is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.