Discovering Your Northstar: Why Brand Pillars are Crucial for Artists

Woman surrounded by stars in distinct colors illustrated by Lo Harris
Illustration by Lo Harris. See more of my work here.

If you’re looking to do art full time (particularly commercial work), one of the biggest challenges you’ll face will have to do with how you market your work and tell your story in a way that easily attracts dream collaborations.

We’ve all heard that infamous “B word” – you know the one! It’s become a buzzword among influencer hopefuls and could make even the most well-known artists feel a bit slimy and disingenuous. 

I’m talking about the word brand. And I can completely understand why it can be a turn off. You might be thinking: I’m a full person, not a brand. My art is fluid and can't be contained by any one niche. 

And you’re totally right! But hear me out y'all! 

What if I told you that developing a cohesive brand, and more particularly “Brand Pillars,” could not only help you develop your business relationships, but could also help you build your community, divest from comparison, and prevent burn out as you dive further into your freelance art career? 

What are brand pillars?

While completing my marketing curriculum at Northwestern University, I learned that a brand is a story. And stories are one of the most ancient and human ways of connecting, sharing and relating with others. 

With that in mind, brand pillars are kind of like a unique combination of characteristics that helps us identify the most standout, defining themes of our story. 

Brand pillars help a business clarify how it’s different from others in the industry. They can help a company get clear on its message and its mission and determine how to convey these clearly to potential clients and customers.


Typically, brand pillars will cover the following elements of a brand:

·  Purpose
·  Perception
·  Identity
·  Values
·  Brand experience


Purpose is all about your mission. Why did you start your business?

Perception is about how your customers and clients perceive your brand. For a solopreneur, consider what you want people to say about you when you’re not in the room.

Identity defines who you are. It’s your brand personality.

Values will help you dig deeper into your purpose. What do you do? Why do you do it? Who do you do it for? What’s important to you and how do you hope your brand can make a difference in the world?

Brand experience is all about how your products and services make your clients and customers feel. Obviously, you want folks to have positive feelings when they interact with or even think about your brand.



Brand Pillars for Artists


If the term “brand pillars” makes you feel gross, then ditch it. When I talk about brand pillars for artists, I’m really talking about your North Star – the guiding light that reminds you to lean into your strengths, build strategies that are unique to your needs, and follow the things that interest you most. 

As artists, we’re navigating a creative economy that is constantly pressuring us to produce more – to morph and shift until we become these chameleons that mirror what's trending or what's popular or what people want to see. This can be detrimental to the creative process. And it's easy for artists to lose themselves in that.

But when you have guiding lights, they can offer a sense of security for you. Your North Star can empower you to know that you’re on your own journey, your own path. You don’t need to get caught up in who’s doing what and who got what opportunity.

Sure, it’s great to network with other artists. And it’s even good to see what they’re accomplishing because it can inspire you and show you what’s possible. But don’t get caught in the comparison trap. Guiding lights can help you stay focused on your own journey while also appreciating the journeys of others.



Defining My Brand Pillars


Here at Lo Harris Universe, I have four brand pillars. Let me break down each one for you. 

Visionary: I create empowering creative experiences that champion diversity, kindness and visions of a more just and kind world.
Education: I am committed to providing mentorship and educational resources around creativity that are accessible, inclusive and motivational.
Community: I celebrate and uplift my creative community and seek to create spaces that center solidarity and collective effort towards a brighter future.
Authenticity: I show up as myself boldly and use my voice with honesty, care and confidence.


These pillars are a great way for me to center myself and check in with myself every time an opportunity comes my way or any time I’m tempted to hop on the latest trend.

Does this align with the person I am? Does this align with the person I'm growing into?

My brand pillars give me a sense of how I want to move through the creative industry. It doesn’t limit me because I can always add more pillars and worldviews as I grow. But these pillars offer a framework to help me stay focused on my priorities and what matters most to me and my creative career.


How to Define Your Brand Pillars (or Guiding Lights)


Defining my brand pillars took a lot of trial and error. I really had to dig deep and think about past experiences in my life where I felt like I really shined.

I chose visionary, for example, because I’ve always been an ideas person. I still have this vivid memory of getting all my classmates in the sixth grade to create a magazine one day when our teacher had given us busy work. My teacher was so impressed she displayed the magazine outside the classroom door.

I chose education because I love sharing information. I love sharing what I know. I know what it feels like to not understand and how isolating feeling left behind can be. I also understand the impact of what it means for someone who looks like me to share this kind of information and business education. I want to offer people (especially black creatives) guidance and mentorship.

I chose community because I know what it’s like to feel excluded. But I also know how transformative it is for a person's self-esteem and for their sense of purpose in life when they feel like they're a part of something bigger and when they feel like they're in community with other people who have similar sensibilities.

And authenticity is important because I've always worn my emotions on my sleeve and I choose to lean into that. Also, when you're entering the world of influencing it's so easy to lose yourself. It's so easy to try to keep up with the Joneses and jump on every trend. But if authenticity is a pillar for me, I will strive to stay true to my values, to who I am, what I want, and how I want to experience the world.

To find your brand pillars, your north star, or your guiding lights, turn inward. Ask yourself who am I? Recognize the good, the bad, and the ugly. Then think about who you want to be. What pieces of yourself represent the best version of yourself now? What parts of yourself do you want to elevate going forward? What are parts of yourself that you see the potential for but you haven't really had the courage to unlock yet?

The answers to those questions will be a great start to really understanding what your values are and at the end of the day, brand pillars are simply a reflection of what you value and why.

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lo harris poses with her choice illustration markers

Lo Harris is an NYC-based artist, educator and children’s book illustrator who champions vibrance, confidence and joy.

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