Why do we even market our art?
I mean, every week I’m in here suggesting all kinds of things to do to promote yourself, all of which take time, planning, and sometimes even money. So, why am I such a big proponent of art marketing? Why am I always talking about connecting with people and building relationships? Is all this effort really going to make a difference for you?
Valid concerns, all. You should be asking questions. It’s smart to pause and wonder.
Here’s why I think (dare I say know?) art marketing is essential: According to Matt Oechsli, author of The Art of Selling to the Affluent (which is a book I strongly recommend), people with means—the people who are most likely to purchase your artwork—no longer make impulse buys. They used to do that up until 10 years ago, but the days of someone walking into a gallery and buying a $2,500 painting, or even a $250 painting, just because they like it are gone.
Today, the buying-and-selling process only happens in the context of a relationship. People only buy things from people or organizations with whom they feel they have a solid, trusting business connection. Additionally, many affluent buyers turn to friends and family members to recommend trusted business partners. In other words, the trust relationship is the foundation for all business transactions, including the sale of art. These days, sales are the outcome of a deliberate process, not a stroke of luck or an impulsive decision.
And so, if you want to be on the selling side of a business transaction, you first have to build trusting relationships with the people who are most likely to be interested in buying your work. And that, my friends, is the very definition of marketing. It’s not about selling. It’s about connecting.
Building a relationship with a potential collector is much like building a relationship with a potential life partner. It has to move through certain stages, otherwise it feels uncomfortable or even forced for one of the two people, which usually causes him or her to back out.
So, how can we make sure we navigate our way through the business relationship-building process in a way that creates trust? It starts with you making the initial move: making your artwork visible in as many places as possible, both online and offline. Your work will catch the eye of some people, who will in turn communicate their interest in you. They might friend you on Facebook or follow you on Instagram or sign up for your e-newsletter or e-mail list. This is their way of giving you permission to continue sharing.
From there, it becomes a little like dating, although it’s admittedly one sided. You’ll use tools like social media and e-newsletters, as well as face-to-face networking opportunities, to reveal more of your work, your personality, your characteristics, and your values to your fans and followers. You might occasionally get to see some of these qualities in them, too, but for the most part it will be you sharing who you are and what you create. The more open you are, the more trust you will build.
Every once in a while, mixed in with your ongoing “getting to know you” messages, you’ll make bolder overtures by offering specific works of art for sale. By this time, because you’ve established a trusting relationship with them, a few of your followers will respond in a positive way. Yay! A sale! But here’s the moral to that story: Although you will nurture many relationships with many fans, only some of them will blossom into artist-collector relationships.
Of course, a single sale is not the endpoint or objective of the relationship. As you continue to cultivate collectors by reaching out, expressing your gratitude, and inviting them to share your journey, they will become repeat customers and even champions for your art.
And just in case you’re wondering, all of this can happen whether you’re selling your work directly to the public or through galleries or both. Again, affluent buyers are no longer content to blindly buy from nameless, faceless artists through a middle man. They want to engage with you, so… engage!
How am I doing? Have I made a persuasive case for relationship building? Have I adequately explained how marketing activities contribute to the process? It’s a whole new world since 2008, and thankfully we have experts like Matt Oechsli to explain how we can succeed in today’s buying-selling environment.
And just as I’m encouraging you to connect with your followers, I’d like to do the same with you! Let me know your thoughts on relationship building in the Comments section below. Let’s connect!