Author: Double Zebra


The Role Of The Artist Right Now

September 14, 2020
Cryptic Gaiety art canvas

James sullivan artist portrait


Art and commercial interests intersect in our conversation with James Sullivan, a Southern California based visual artist. His vibrant style, described as “contemporary modern art remixed with street imagery,” has been exhibited in galleries across the country, as well as highly visible public works projects. We took a moment to talk about the responsibility modern artists face in today’s society, and how to pull off a successful brand / artist collaboration, among other topics of interest. Here is the conversation:

DZ: James, what is the role of the artist right now?

JS: Art is playing a bigger role in society than it ever has. It is a primary connection to entertainment, enjoyment and intrigue. Alvin Apetz explained that during the Great Depression, “entertainment was one of the ways to leave behind worries about crops, weather and money.” In the same way, art plays a critical role in being able to get lost in interpretation, momentarily setting aside the weight of the current reality.

the american dream
The American Dream

DZ: Where does creative inspiration come from during uncertain times?

JS: Just like the great athletes, musicians and writers of our time, creating is something that you get better at, the more you do it. You have to trust the process and celebrate past successes to stay consistent and create. Often, this means ignoring the capricious range of emotions in our daily life and finding inspiration in other ways.

For example, I’m always seeking unexpected beauty. In my travels through Africa, Asia, Europe and South America and the US, I’ve gained appreciation for different cultures and grown in my aesthetic understanding. The experience of traveling worldwide, just like my time living in East LA, challenged and enriched my awareness to see art everywhere.

DZ: Should art be a reaction to the world around or an escape from it?

JS: I believe it can be either. As an example, art has always been tied to politics: as commentary, critique, or in solidarity. In the past, I’ve taken an overt political stance in my art, as others have. But I’ve become more centrist in my work, and have tried to make my art an escape, instead of a direct reaction to the world around.

I’ve noticed that art-as-reaction can be a forced attempt to bring the viewer to a preordained conclusion. Instead of intrigue, you have the artist provoking a desired reaction, and it can get heavy handed. What’s more interesting to me is intrigue and subjectivity. Art that comes from a truthful place that is open to interpretation. Everything I work on now I feel is an escape from the from the world at hand, not a reflexive commentary on it.

Cryptic Gaiety art canvas
Cryptic Gaiety

DZ: Big brands are teaming up with artists like you to tell their stories in new and visually engaging ways. Thoughts?

JS: We’re in an amazing time, with artists gaining more traction and getting louder voices than ever before. I think the key to this type of partnership is in the alignment of values, so that final product is authentic and translatable. When done right, this can be very powerful and positive for all involved.

DZ: You’re involved in several public arts programs and initiatives. Why is it important that art be available and accessible to the public?

JS: Having work showcased in public settings promotes introspection. It encourages the pursuit of beauty: writing, reading, going to museums. Traveling. Rehabilitating neighborhoods that need restoration. Creating harmony within the community, even to some small degree.

As an example, I’ve been given an opportunity to work with a long-time friend and developer on a downtown mural, extending 75 feet. If all goes as planned, it’s going to capture and represent “A Day In Downtown San Diego.” The project is expected to be completed the first quarter of 2021, and I want to make the piece relatable. Get people to stop what they are doing and take notice of their environment. Create a meaningful experience out of everyday life.

Night shift art canvas
Night Shift

DZ: You’ve also done permanent works in unusual places, such as the iconic Cardiff Seaside Market. Do you enjoy when art is integrated into unexpected environments?

JS: Seeing my permanent art in public places, hanging in clients’ homes or being worn via my clothing line is almost as satisfying as creating the piece itself. It brings great joy to me to have the public enjoying and talking about my art.

DZ: There is a nostalgic quality to your work, yet it also feels fresh, with a modern aesthetic. How does an artist strike this balance?

JS: Nostalgia is a key emotion in gaining awareness because it’s universal. Everyone comes from different places. But when you represent eras through colors or emotions, the work becomes more personal and less esoteric.

Despotic Propensity canvas
Despotic Propensity

DZ: What else can companies & communities do to support the arts during these times?

JS: With so much of arts funding being taken away from programs in schools and elsewhere, there is a great need to support after-school programs centered around the arts. These programs don’t have to exist in a vacuum – they have real value. In a best case scenario, kids will use their newfound skill sets for beautification projects, concerts, and plays. They will bring art into the community while also building discipline and confidence int themselves.

More than anything, kids need a creative outlet, and arts programs need benefactors to step up and make it happen. Corporate entity or otherwise, anyone that comes forward with pure intentions and helps kids express themselves through art, you have my full support and appreciation.

Check out more of James’ work at his official website.


How To Build A Rabid Online Fanbase Around Your Company

August 25, 2020
online fanbase audience love

online fanbase audience loveSo many companies, even well known ones, are outwardly struggling with audience engagement right now. And no wonder. There are new internal priorities to contend with. Seemingly endless factors competing for audience attention. Like it or not, the rules have changed. So what is the secret to cultivating not just followers, and visitors, but a thriving fan base of enthusiasts?

It’s not enough to check a box anymore, and produce content for content’s sake. The audience sees this coming. They know that they are being served up placeholders, or warmed-over rehashes of the same old talking points. It gets old after the third post.

It doesn’t work to be dry, factual and informative, either. This gets lost in a sea of gray. Ex: yet another product demo video absent of context or storytelling? Yawn city.

The audience needs to care first before they get enamored by features enough to influence purchase behavior. So tell them about the product benefits once they know, trust, and feel like they belong to a community. Not as the jumping off point. After all, people don’t fall in love with their car’s owner’s manual. They get attached to the brand itself and the emotional benefits. This is what needs to come alive online.

But We Have a Big Following!

Even if the numbers are there (ex: Cristiano Ronaldo-sized Instagram following), this doesn’t necessarily translate to an engaged audience. Maybe they are sticking around, waiting for something to happen. Maybe they clicked on something they half-liked years ago, which was the last time they were actually impressed with what they saw. The longer it goes without a real strategy or care for the audience, the more apathetic they will become. Then, when you actually have something big to say? It will hit the web with a resounding ‘meh.’

The presumption here is that you want your company to be treated like an iconic brand. And to jump the line for undivided audience attention. If so, there needs to be a consistently high benchmark for everything put in front of your audience, ie:

  • Is there a definable brand voice and personality?
  • Are there opportunities for two-way engagement?
  • Is there an overarching creative direction?
  • Is there a well crafted execution?

If it’s just pretty pictures, it’s a wasted opportunity. The solution – be active, attentive, and purposeful with your audience interaction. Let’s look at three ways to accomplish this:

Deep Social Media Audience Insights

By now, it’s common knowledge that having an active social media presence is crucial. For starters, it increases your company visibility. Even better, it integrates your brand into the lives of those you want to reach. But beyond likes and comments, how do you know who is actively enjoying the content? How do you inform the messaging strategy? And further, ensure that all relevant audience segments are being covered? The answer lies in metrics-driven audience insights.

To achieve this level of audience awareness, social analytics experts like ours create compelling data stories. These are generated through years of practice and increasingly sophisticated software platforms. By looking at the results across different channels, it opens up new levels of understanding. It enables us all to see who is just consuming the content vs those with genuine purchase intent. This way, the strategy across all channels (ex: organic, paid) can be adjusted to match the audience’s engagement level.

After a short time, we can start developing trends and courting new audiences. We can even get into predictive revenue, leading to a way smarter and better informed social strategy. Goodbye, content for content’s sake.

A To-The-Moment Relevant Website

Another way to cultivate a more loyal following online is to update your website frequently. Regularly updating your website helps your customers know that things are moving and not stagnant. Does the website looks the same as it did three weeks ago? If so, there is no incentive to visit again.

To counter this, consider implementing an overarching web engagement strategy. This could consist of a branded campaign with content that is unique to your website only. As the campaign rolls out, from teaser to interactive features, your audience will be hooked. They will know they are a part of something exciting that is specifically for them. Then, bring new variations on the theme to life throughout the course of the campaign. This will give your audience a reason to come back over and over.

Again, letting your website grow stale will detract customers. So make sure to update it frequently and keep the highly visible features current. This will build trust and loyalty. And as a side benefit, actively curated websites perform better in online searches over time than stagnant ones.

To the casual observer, your existing website may seem like it represents the brand well. However, chances are it can go even further. What experience does a first time visitor have? How are they moved to react or act? As the primary entry point to your company, the website should have emotional appeal and integrated into the browsing experience. Make the brand story come to life and keep it current!

SEO – The Time-Tested Audience Driver

If the company website stands up, then SEO helps to ensure that the right audience finds it. Is your company looking to grow audience engagement? If so, don’t underestimate the power of SEO or see it as a cost only. Instead, integrate SEO into any long-range promotional activities, with a monthly program in place. Between onsite, technical, and offsite, SEO marketing tactics are designed to improve visibility on the web and in search engines. For example, content should be semantically written. Also, it should have a content strategy behind it. If not, it will likely be outranked by competitors. Putting SEO to work for you, as one of many coverage areas, will increase the popularity of your website by making it easily accessible to your valued audience.

What Next?

Of course, we’re only scratching the surface here. If you have an iconic brand that deserves more love than it’s getting with current audience engagement, drop us a line.