Leveraging Your Achievements: Marketing For Visual Artists

 Photo credit:  Foter.com

Photo credit: Foter.com

The intrinsic value of a painting is less than $100, for materials. So how are galleries able to sell paintings for seven figures a pop? How can auction houses sell heavily restored Old Masters with questionable authenticity for millions of dollars? The answers is marketing.

The art market is all about marketing. In fact, it’s quite possible that artists who are not particularly talented but who understand marketing will be more successful than you. It’s in your interest to embrace marketing and use it to your advantage. Because you are not just in the business of creating art. You are also in the business of selling it.

“Ok” you say. “Fine. If marketing is so powerful, why doesn’t everybody I know do it?” Well, because marketing not an easy concept to wrap your head around. It takes time and effort before you see results. Additionally, most artists don’t get taught marketing in art school. They simply don’t know what it is, or they think it’s the same as sales.

Let’s be clear about this. Sales are invaluable if you want to keep your studio lights on. But what happens when those sales opportunities dry up? How do you keep your pipeline flowing? Nobody likes to receive a call only when you want something from them. And there are only so many artworks that you can guilt-trip your friends and family into buying, particularly if your prices are at the higher end of the spectrum.

This blog post is an extract from chapter 4 of the book ‘How To Become A Successful Artist in 7 Steps’ by Annelien Bruins. Click here to purchase the book on Amazon.

Art Is A Discretionary Purchase

Look at it this way. To you, your art is your life. You have an emotional connection to each piece that you labored over in your studio. To a collector, however, your artwork means something entirely different. They may connect to it emotionally or intellectually, but to them it’s also a luxury good or even a financial investment. The same applies to gallery owners. They may love your work and believe in you, but they still need to be able to sell it to their collecting clients in order to pay the rent.

Viewed from a commercial perspective, art is a discretionary purchase. Only after collectors have paid necessities such as the mortgage, tuition fees and groceries will they consider spending money on art, travel and other luxury items. Your painting is not just competing with the art of your peers or the Picasso’s at Sotheby’s. 

On a broader level, your painting is competing with the latest Hermès bag, an Austin Martin and a week at Canyon Ranch. Convincing those collectors that buying your painting is a better deal than the bag, car or spa weekend is what marketing is all about.

Coca Cola, Sotheby’s and Nascar have marketing strategies. So does your healthcare provider and your local hardware store. Of course, each of these companies has a different approach to communicating their added value to their customers, appropriate for their industry and budget. However, the glue that holds it all together is a marketing strategy.

In your case, marketing is the long-term, strategic process of forming and maintaining relationships with existing and new collectors, galleries and curators in order to achieve sales and critical acclaim. 

You do this by communicating an engaging narrative about you and your art (your artistic brand) through appropriate marketing channels (personal connections, online) to your target audiences (aforementioned collectors, galleries and curators).

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Marketing Is A Long-Term Game

I often receive emails and phone calls from distraught family members of deceased artists who are left with a body of work from their parent, sibling or spouse. They hope to market the work in order to preserve their loved one’s legacy and to monetize the art they created. 

Unfortunately, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to successfully promote an artist’s work after they have died, if the artist had no considerable career achievements during their lifetime (i.e., sales, exhibitions, gallery representation).

In other words, marketing is a long-term game. It takes months or even years of continued, consistent messaging to collectors, galleries and curators before you stay top of mind with them. The earlier in your career you get a handle on what marketing is and how you can use it to your advantage, the better off you’ll be. It’s an investment in your future.

Compare it to saving for retirement or starting a work-out regime: a little painful now, but the end result will be so much better than if you had not spent the time and energy to form those good habits. You’ve got to get with the program the minute you get out of art school.

Marketing Is About Being Strategic

Using marketing tactics (Facebook advertising, promotional flyers, etc) without a long-term strategy is like sailing a boat without a destination. You can sail around forever, quite successfully, but you won’t end up where you want to be because you haven’t decided where that is. Part of a good marketing strategy is to set specific goals and timelines to achieve them by. This way you can keep an eye on where you are going and adjust your direction if you are veering off course.

We don’t need to make this complicated. Being strategic in marketing simply means that you think carefully about how to promote yourself and keep the bigger picture in mind. That does not mean you can’t try things out. Trial and error in marketing is part and parcel of being successful. But having your strategy in place will allow you to try out and where necessary, change tactics without losing a sense of where you’re going. 

Consistency Is Key For Successful Marketing

In our personal relationships we like having a solid, balanced partner instead of someone who keeps changing their mind about whether they love us or not. In restaurants we want the quality of our food to be consistent. The reason that franchises like Starbucks and McDonalds are so successful is that they provide a consistent experience in all of their restaurants, whether in Singapore or London. 

Consistency makes a marketing strategy successful because it indicates stability and success over a long period of time. If collectors and galleries see you being active year in, year out, that indicates to them you don’t just have good stuff going on but also that you have the grit to keep going during the rough times. The simple fact that you stick around will boost their confidence that your art is a worthwhile investment.