Understanding Your Product
Identifying Market Segments
Understanding Your Customers
Getting to $100,000
These marketing techniques are designed to help artists sell their work by developing a reputation and connecting to the patrons who purchase art.
It's geared for artists on a tight budget. There is no big investment with a Madison Avenue firm, or some type of expensive personality make over. The tasks are gradual, do-it-yourself increments that increase your name recognition and teach you how to focus on specific market segments.
Because the marketing steps will take effort and require an urge to try a new approach, it's best if you're frustrated with your current situation. The push of dissatisfaction can generate a lot of energy. If you don't like wasting your talent and living like a pauper, youíll find these no nonsense suggestions appealing.
Before proceeding, itís worth taking a look at the current art situation.
The Art Community
The art community is in pathetic shape. By failing to nurture and develop exceptional talent, it has doomed itself to mediocrity and decline. Artists are left to shape their own financial futures, and since few artists are savvy sales people, they seldom make a reasonable living from their art.
Sadly, a wealth of talent exists -- you can see it at art fairs throughout the country. Flashes of excellence abound. Sometimes itís a catchy use of color; other times itís an insightful gesture.
With all that talent you'd think that these art shows would be gleeful occasions. But, more often than not, the artists are visibly discouraged, almost downtrodden. Itís not that the artists are depressed people by nature. They're usually high energy, free spirited individuals, but they've been shaped by months of few sales, egocentric gallery owners, and too many statements of: "...but it doesn't go with our rug." Exceptional ability needs to be appreciated.
Art shows are depressing events. Our future VanGough's are jammed into four foot cubes with a metal chair and stained backdrops. Baskets and wreathes from the next booth edge over and obstruct the best pieces. Adding insult to injury, the wreath person in the next cube is being visited by every relative with a taste for cheese cubes and cheap wine.
Defiantly, the exceptional piece of art still stands out. From within the maze of booths, quality still shows through. Its lone guardian, the artist, stands watch -- ready to accept the praise that never seems to come.
Even when positive comments arise, they seem flat and donít exactly stir the spirit. To hear, "Such a nice green, it matches our couch," seems more like a compliment for the couch than the painting. The artist nods blankly, intuitively not wanting to say, "Thank you."
In all fairness, many patrons do offer praise and compliments. It doesn't take long, however, before even the positive comments ring hollow, as they rarely translate into purchases. Non-buying supporters mean well, but ten compliments do not add up to a bag of groceries.
Two assumptions stand out. First, you must have the talent to be a successful artist. Secondly, you must want to make a comfortable living, letís say something in the $100-200K range.
In order to market your products profitably, you must have talent. If you donít, it's a losing battle, for you're competing against too many very good artists. You must have talent.
If you know you are only a fair artist and always will be, get out of the race. Otherwise the endless rejections will be too painful.
Unfortunately, self-evaluation isn't easy, and your talent may be hidden by poor technique. Letís say, for example, that you have talent, but on a scale of one to ten, your technique scores a two. This sounds bad, but since the issue is training and is correctable, you still have the potential for success. Also, beginner status has some benefits. Many patrons enjoy watching and supporting an improving talent. It's quite possible to create a following that is profitable very early in a career.
So, what are the chances you have talent? To find out, ask yourself, "Do I have real talent?" If your answer is anything better than: "I think so," you owe it to yourself to try. If the question generates a tingle of excitement, something is there. Give it a chance.
The other requirement involves your desire for a comfortable life style. You should be serious enough to sacrifice time, energy, and product for the sake of exposure. If you are watching every penny and are clinging to a simple existence, you're going to have a difficult time taking risks and being generous. You must want to improve your lot enough to move past the urge to play it safe.
This does not mean you need to go into debt or turn aside steady income. It means you must loosen your attitude towards what you charge and how you go about promotion.
Understanding Your Product
The first step in an effective marketing program is to identify the limits and bounds of your products. Understanding exactly what you offer focuses your marketing. Writing the plans down makes them concrete -- start an Art Marketing notebook and write down every detail.
State the medium you intend to use on your climb up the art ladder. Donít list all the vehicles you have ever used, or those you might dabble with in the future. State your medium of choice.
Sketch out the size limits on your pieces. Again, focus on the upcoming push. Select the size range that youíve been the most successful with and which you are most comfortable.
Stage in Development
Identifying your talent stage can be a sensitive area, but it's critical to understand what you do well and what you need to improve. List out the facets of your medium and your craft. They may be: color, contrast, design, figures, shapes, content, etc. Give yourself a rating of 1-10 on each category.
Shape these ratings into a training program. Again, write out the details. Getting the categories written down will move you closer to taking action. As you flush out the skills you need and gain a broader view of your development stage, it'll become easier to deal more freely with your "early career" pieces.
Time and Effort
State how you feel about doing things for cash. Do you trade your time for easy cash? Would you, for example, spend an entire day producing low quality art just to make a few extra dollars?
Paying the rent is one thing, but a willingness to trade your talent for movie money needs close examination.
How much profit do you need to make from each piece? If the piece takes 20 hours to create, what is the lowest you price you would set it for?
The ideal answer here is not what you might expect. Your price should depend on what youíre trying to accomplish. If a well known collector wants to pay you in fish heads, it may be a good deal. The exposure value could well be of greater value than any monetary price you may have set. You might not even want to ask what kind of fish.
Somewhat related to profitability, do you have a minimum price that you won't go below?
Again, the only right answer is that it depends on what you're trying to accomplish. Your goal is to become wealthy, not chase pennies. "Whatever it takes," is the only answer.
Some artists take hard stances on price much too early in their career. At a time when they should be increasing their exposure and positioning themselves for future success, they try to grind maximum profit out of each piece. As a result, their sales slow, and their closets fill with unsold pieces.
Identifying Market Segments
The next step is to identify your target markets. List the possible groups of people who might have an interest in your art. Donít restrict yourself to traditional categories like collectors and art patrons. Include anyone who could benefit from having a copy of your work.
Possible groups, for example:
Once you have your potential customers sketched out, itís time to understand their interest in your art. Why are they buying a particular piece? You need to get inside their heads. Once you know what attracts them to your work, youíll be able to shape your offerings.
Some artists argue that the motivation of customers is outside of their control and therefore shouldnít be considered. As serious artists, they just want to practice their craft and not be bothered. Since thatís their emotional stance, itís difficult to argue against. Quite often, however, this resistance disappears when they realize how simple it is to make adjustments that score a direct hit on a customer's motivation.
Once you understand why a certain market group was attracted to your art, you can recreate the same attraction. This doesnít mean painting the same scene over and over. It means learning to duplicate the underlying emotional pull.
In order to identify buyersí motivation, you must turn off your art education and shift your point of view to the observer. Put aside terms like: realistic, impressionist, traditional, and abstract. Those are art terms. Instead, look for the impact of your art on others. Your work may stir a sense of power, a twinge of excitement, or a feeling of calm.
Typically, individual choices are a reflection of how they see themselves. For example:
Other times, art buyers are simply decorating the new room:
Not surprisingly, individual art buyers are seldom looking for depressing, drab, or gaudy works.
Businesses want to project a certain image.
In addition, a key rule holds veto power over all business pieces: The art must not offend. Once you start thinking about it, this eliminates a great deal of creative work...almost anything depicting women, men, children, animals, racial recognition, and the human body. These constraints narrow the topic areas considerably.
Gallery directors need to convey that you are different than the last artist they represented. Presenting a different theme gets this across. All pieces need to illustrate that theme.
Publishers have an eye for trendy themes. If you can predict a hot topic and have pieces ready, or if they accidentally stumble into one of your specialty themes, youíre in luck.
Strangely, critics are easy. Give them enough to write a review on, and theyíll be happy. Youíre the story, so be ready with insightful glimpses of how you got to be so good.
Telling others where to go is their job. Help them. Let them know of every show and exhibit youíre in.
There are so many things to learn that every artist has information that can help others. Each encounter with a fellow artist can improve your insight and push you up the skill ladder.
Resist exchanges of "ainít it awful" and endless descriptions of what youíre doing. Find out how the other artist is moving forward. Learn from their work. If the opportunity arises, be generous with praise, encouragement, and gentle guidance.
Artists can be customers. They almost always have an appreciation for good art, and when they are financially stable, they will buy art. Artists working to develop their own skills are ready consumers of any advise you might have.
Armed with a body of work geared to the group youíve targeted, youíre ready to make contact. For artists, contact means one thing: getting your images noticed by the target group. Three steps are key:
Each of the groups youíve identified has places where they spend time. Donít worry about the contact process at this time, just try to flush out an understanding of where these customers spend time.
Many groups have formal, established paths for contacting them. Ignoring those procedures would be wrong, if for no other reason than you should be thorough. Also, if you do make a good impression in some other way, the formal contact route is already established and portrays you as a professional artist.
For each of the your interest groups, you need to develop a list similar to that for Gallery Owners. Add details. As you learn more about the groups, keeps the lists up to date. Writing everything down helps it become more concrete.
Exposure builds interest. If your work isnít seen, it has no chance of catching someoneís attention. Every bit of exposure is important, and the more precisely you can focus on your target groups, the better your chances of success.
Using the customer activity profiles you created earlier, brainstorm actions that can be used to get pieces into these settings. This is not the time for pride or being shy, you need exposure.
Your groups, for example:
Reputation drives sales in the art world. Exposure creates the opportunity for you to develop a reputation. Donít wait for the chance. Systematically make your work recognizable. Keep costs down as much as possible, but remember this is the time for building exposure, not profit taking.
As you work through these steps, youíll find leads increasing and youíll receive more frequent invites to enter restaurant and organization shows. Follow-up on everything. Remember, anyone who expresses interest needs to get a piece hanging in their home.
Getting to $100,000
The act of making $100,000 from your art is largely a distribution problem. The more distribution channels you have, the better your chance of making six figures.
Two factors determine the success of your channels: contact and price. You create channels by convincing Galleries and other art outlets to carry your work. New artists are at a disadvantage here. They simply haven't had enough time to build relationships in many locations. The best situation is for an artist to be in the business for 10+ years, with a variety of vacation spots, and an inclination to move every two years. It's conceivable that a well traveled artist can have 100 active distribution points.
New artists have to make up for lack of exposure with active business vacations and a solid mail campaign. As will be obvious from the below chart, price can also be used to leverage additional distribution channels.
Even if you make a good distribution connection, its success will be effected by the price range of other items in the store. Shop owners who sell less expensive merchandise seldom have both the skills and the time to nurture high-end customers. The art work needs to match the quality profile of the individual store.
A chart helps illustrate this relationship between distribution and price. For the below example, it is assumed that the artist has 100 distribution points available. Out of the 100, for example, ten will be able to sell $2,000 paintings.
That's 480 quality paintings per year! Before you think this is a call to the slave trade, let's take a look at how prints can reduce the number of paintings you need to generate.
With a series of prints you can achieve about the same results with 12 good paintings per year -- one good image a month. With a print run of 600, each distribution point gets six prints per month. In order to keep quality high, those unsold after three months are destroyed.
As you can see, the numbers add up quickly. $100,000 is definitely within range of a talented artist. Distribution is the key.
Letís say the system starts working for you. Individual patrons follow your shows and Gallery owners actively push your pieces. With the hard work done, now is the time to fine tune the steps that close sales.
Setting the Price
Many artists feel price setting is a difficult part of selling art. In the back of their minds they remember times when they had priced pieces too high and couldnít sell them; other times they set prices much too low and either cheapened the work or lost money unnecessarily. Most likely, they did exactly that.
Fortunately, several practices take most of the guess work out of the pricing process. If your pieces arenít selling when you follow all the suggestions, the golden rule of pricing comes into play: Lower the price and sell the piece. At the least, having your work on someoneís wall increases your exposure. Also, chances are that you are still learning your craft. Selling off your training pieces always makes sense.
The somewhat more traditional approach to pricing includes:
Delivery as Closing
If youíre talented, the piece will look great on the customerís wall. Push for that. Insist that the potential customer take the painting home. Offer to bill them. Some percent of pieces will come back, but a much higher number will be a sale.
With aggressive pricing youíll get more pieces out, more people will see your work, and the money will start rolling in.
The Basic Guide to Selling Arts and Crafts
by James Dillehay. Warm Snow Publishers, 1997.
The Crafter's Guide to Pricing Your Work
by Dan Ramsey. Betterway Publications, 1997.
The Business of Being an Artist
by Daniel Grant. Allworth Press, 1996.