In the art world, art marketing creates a continuum of reactions from potential buyers. Visual art marketing practices have a built-in affinity with video advertising, promotion, social media, backstories, and word-of-mouth to build awareness for the artists’ work. Awareness is the first step by potential buyers toward cultivating a genuine interest in artists and their work. Ultimately, some prospects develop an attraction that creates a desire to own the artwork. Through the effective use of various marketing methods, successful art marketers keep awareness, interest, and desire high until the opportunity for a sale ensues.
While there are times when a buyer passes through the awareness, interest, desire, and buying action continuum spontaneously, such as at an art fair, it is more typical for most sales to take time and repeat exposure to the artwork under consideration. Because original art and luxury-priced limited edition prints carry higher prices in the thousands up to millions, buyers consider them expensive discretionary purchases that require more time for buying decisions.
The steady drip of marketing messages delivered through multiple channels is how top marketers maintain contact and build influence that results in sales to prospective buyers. Marketing can be complicated and sophisticated, requiring knowledge and education.
Most large companies require advanced degrees for entry-level marketing positions. Fortunately, for artists, an MBA in marketing is not necessary. They can learn how to use practical art marketing techniques on their own. More than an MBA, what artists need is the desire to be successful, the willingness to work out of their comfort zone, and the commitment to deploy their resources to select art marketing methods steadily. Art marketing success starts with identifying goals, strengths, and resources.
The next step is to create a plan that uses testing and refining to improve their methods continuously. There are always more ways to market art than most artists can use at once. Artists must have both a familiarity with their marketing options and clarity on which they will use. Understanding what works for each artist is different and unique will help them develop a marketing plan that incorporates the tools and techniques most likely to return the desired results.
When the audience knows exciting tidbits about the artist, it pulls them closer.
Thriving artists succeed by developing a systematic process of getting their art seen and sold. The truth about art, or any product for that matter, is that no one will buy it unless people know about it. Imagine if Apple created the iPad but failed to let anyone know it was available. They would have a near-revolutionary product with no sales. To prosper, you must sell art, and to do that, you must get your work seen.
A common frustration visual artists deal with is knowing that their art will sell well if only enough people could see it. While probably not intentional, the problem is nevertheless self-induced. The good news is when applied correctly, art marketing makes it fixable. One way or another, it is the artist’s responsibility to gain awareness for their work. Some – few to be realistic – artists work with publishers, galleries, licensors, or agents to do their marketing for them exclusively.
At the outset, it must be understood that everything comes back to art business goals and desires. What does the artist want and need from their career? Can they achieve their objective by handing over full control of distribution, including building awareness and sales from a following of interested potential buyers? Is the tradeoff worth handing off the responsibility for marketing to a third party?
Relatively few artists fulfill their goals when they are not involved in marketing their work.
The exception is when the artist works with a trusted family member or close friend who has marketing skills, is willing to do the job, and has the time to perform it. Such situations nearly always occur through good fortune.
That’s because the marketing person usually does not require an income and will work for the good of the business and share in the results. It’s my experience that those artists who take responsibility for marketing find the time to do the work. They may not enjoy it and even resent the time away from the studio. Still, they don’t let personal feelings interfere with their larger goals of benefiting from having their artwork seen and sold regularly.
Family members of deceased artists seeking help to sell the artist’s work posthumously are a perfect but sad example of how not being seen and having no recognition is disastrous to artists and their heirs. Unfortunately, after an artist is deceased is the wrong time to try to promote their work. The artist is gone, and there is no indication of future pieces.
Art Galleries, dealers, and collectors are highly unlikely to want to take a chance on an unknown deceased artist. If an artist’s work is vital and relevant, the time to give it the respect of adequately marketing it as part of having a fulfilling art career and legacy is now.
There are many distribution channels artists can use to get their work to market, including these options: Create direct patronage where a network of patrons purchases artworks from the artist directly and repeatedly.
Art Galleries: deploy a gallerist to sell the artist’s work for them. An artist may experience direct patronage through an Art gallery. However, rarely do they gain access to buyers of their work from galleries.
Contract to license original art to be reproduced and sold by art print publishers. Reproductions are sold as open edition posters or limited-edition prints, which may be digital reproductions, serigraphs, four-or-six-color offset lithography, and other formats.
Contract with licensors or licensing agents to reproduce an artist’s work for various uses, from stationery to linens, housewares, and more.
Studio visits and studio events are an excellent method of competing with commercial art galleries on many levels.
Online markets like 1stdibs.com can give an Artist new reach right into the markets most likely to spot a great piece of art on an Artist’s page. The transaction can be handled right there.
And as this article is written, the NFT Artwork market has made massive mainstream acceptance. It is a real avenue for artists to deploy into. The NFT Artwork marketplaces have now prioritized marketing technology for the autonomous Artist, adding an exponential growth tool in his/her DIY marketing quiver. Creating digital versions of artwork, deploy them in online markets like Opensea.io, is a new frontier for the autonomous Artist.
Innumerable living artists create compelling artwork but find their work is not selling for the simple reason it is not being seen. Without art marketing to create awareness, there is no interest, and consequently, no sales. If your art career goal is to make a living from selling your work, whether full or part-time, you need to use effective marketing methods and efficient selling skills.
To be transparent and fair, there is no shame in deciding to be a serious hobbyist. It is not a slam against your talent, creativity, skill, or ambition. In every endeavor of the creative arts, you can find artists who choose not to pursue the life of a professional artist. It’s common for incredibly talented artists to work in an ancillary field. For example, a virtuoso guitar player may work in a musical instrument store or give private lessons and pick up occasional gigs. There are countless reasons why this is a better choice for them. It might be they don’t want to deal with the business side, and the marketing hustle professional artists face daily.
An artist’s website is a valuable marketing tool for artists of all experience levels. In our always-on, connected world a website is not optional. Without a site to promote your work, you are unknown and out of luck before you start. Visual artists must have an online presence that starts with a website designed for artists to showcase their work. A website is a 24/7 sales and marketing tool that is quite often the first point of contact by fans, buyers, and influencers. Think simple and elegant when designing a website for an artist. In much the same way a beautiful frame should never compete with the artwork it helps to display. Its only function is to support and enhance the artwork.
Be A Good Steward Of The Art Marketing Profession
Let’s save the best for last. Never compromise good ethics. Respect your audience’s limited attention span. Your work represents two industries where the rewards are great for building strong trusting relationships. Never demand that your website visitors give any information so that they can view your artwork unless you use a private gallery for select clients, make viewing your art pleasurable and accessible. Asking for information before viewing your art shoos them away. Don’t publish a blank page.
For example, if you don’t have Exhibitions to list, don’t create a page or a link with a Coming Soon sign. It isn’t enjoyable to use a link and find nothing to view. If you waste my time, you lose my respect. Keep that in mind.
Avoid auto-playing music or other audio. No one wants or needs to hear music playing on your site. There is a valid reason Facebook mutes audio on videos in its news feed. Web visitors don’t like it at all. Anything that takes attention from your artwork is a bad user experience. No one buys art because of a creative or ultracool background. The same is true for videos set to auto-play. It is a poor user experience. Respect your visitors by giving them the option to play your video or not. Avoid using distracting motion backgrounds. Keep the main thing the main thing, which is selling your art online. Don’t mix sold with for sale pieces. Showing sold work is validation. But it’s not convenient for buyers.
If you must show sold artworks, create a separate page or folder for them. If you are prolific or have a long career, do not display every artwork you’ve created. For historical and reference value, you might want to show sold pieces, but they usually add little to the goal of selling your art online. The primary purpose of your website is to be your 24/7 art eCommerce-enabled art gallery. Secondarily, it is a tool to help you market your work and establish and validate your reputation. Don’t think of it as a tool to archive your work. Keep your visitor in mind. While it’s nice to have someone whiling away their time viewing your artwork, but don’t make that the goal of your website. Its there to inform, delight, educate, and inspire buyers to take buying actions first and foremost.
Don’t complicate the visitor experience with too much to view and think about. Think about your websites like an Apple store or an elegant gallery. Clean, simple, and to the point. Too much anything is confusing. It is how to kill interest in those who might otherwise be open to buy right now. Don’t put third-party ads on your website. It’s cheesy, and unless you get tremendous traffic to the site, the payoff is not worth it. You must work hard to get traffic to your site to encourage your visitors to leave it to view someone else offer. View links to other artist sites and resources the same way. When you walk into a retail space, you don’t expect to see suggestions to leave and shop elsewhere. Keep it all about you and your art always.
Personal branding helps build the Artist’s reputation in a world where the digital reputation is ascendant.
We can argue where the marketing mix prioritizes reputation marketing, but it is undeniable… the new Handshake, Nice To Meet You has been replaced with a SERPs.
Good authentic messages from the Artist’s heart adds to the authority. The more different ways artists can establish themselves beyond the impressions their art makes on the world, the greater their odds of achieving their goals as an artist become. You can see it and sense that all the components of art marketing work together. They each chip away at helping the artist establish themselves in the minds of people who matter to their career. As gallerists, journalists, curators, collectors, patrons, benefactors, and casual fans notice strong similarities in those components that relate to the artist, the brand builds in ways that positively affect their opinions and decisions about the artist. Artists don’t create success in a vacuum. It takes those in positions of power to make decisions about their career.
Powerful people must be motivated to do something with their power when it comes to getting into a school or a gallery, gaining access to grants or juried shows, or getting traffic to an artist’s websites; other people’s opinions matter. Your brand influences how they perceive both your art and you as the artist and person. For these reasons, it’s impossible to ignore the importance of working on branding as a critical part of establishing an effective art marketing plan.
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