How to Sell Art to the Affluent Market

How to Sell Art to the Affluent (1)Four Tips on How to Sell Art to People Who Can Afford to Buy It

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Editor’s Note: Apologies if this article causes deja vu all over again, to paraphrase Yogi Berra. That’s because you might have read it when it was first published. I do believe it’s a worthy read, even a second time. I did polish it up a bit for you. Best I could do and still get to my nephew’s wedding this weekend. Enjoy!

I don’t need to tell you, there is a growing wealth divide in the US and elsewhere. The buying power for middle-income consumers is down. If this is your income strata, you are probably clipping coupons and more price conscious than before 2008. Today, you find people shopping in Walmart who a few years back wouldn’t have been caught dead in there.

Another assumption is you probably are targeting your marketing to middle-class buyers, even if on a subconscious level. We tend to go where we are comfortable – birds of a feather flock together. What you need to do is start thinking logically like top retailers. They have begun focusing on the next level up, which is the affluent class.

The affluent market consists of those U.S. households with an annual income of $100,000, or more. Affluent earners represent the top 20 percent of consumers. Since there roughly are 125 million US households, the affluent segment numbers constitutes around 25 million households.

It is time to discover how to sell art to the affluent market.

In my Guerrilla Marketing for Artists: How 100 Collectors Can Bulletproof Your Career book, I devote much time to the concept of building a loyal following of direct buying collectors. I contend artists who set and achieve this goal of developing direct buyers greatly immunize their careers from the inevitable downturns that happen when galleries close, social media darlings fade against new trends, and other distribution channels fail. Join the Art Marketing Mastery Workshop to learn how to do sophisticated customer hunting.

Loyal direct buyers are the key to long-term career success.

Developing your own collector base is the smartest thing you can do for your career. Fortunately, consumer trends, communication tools and technology make getting this done not only possible, but easy compared to art marketing techniques of past generations.

Follow these four tips to improve your original art sales to the affluent market:

1. Ditch your bias. If you are not wealthy yourself, you may find yourself feeling socially self-conscious. If this is you, do not feel bad, you are not alone. This is a common malady.

You need to let your imagination in on the fun. Start thinking and daydreaming to capture the feel of having discretionary income well beyond your current means. Get rid of any disdain you might have about materialism, conspicuous consumption, or other negative traits towards the spending habits and lifestyle of those wealthier than you are.

Loosen up, get smart, rise to the challenge.

You cannot effectively learn how to sell art to the affluent market if you are self-conscious about your income level, or if you let your circumstances put a chip on your shoulder. The first step is recognizing you have a bias. The second step is being pragmatic and adult enough to get over your biases. To market to those outside your current income status, you need to take necessary steps to understand your customer deeply and profoundly. You do not have to be like them to sell to them. You just need to know where they are coming from and how they look at life.

2.  Fine tune your pricing. You must design your pricing to land in the optimum sweet spot between class and mass. Smart retailers, these days, are beginning to focus on what some describe as the HENRYs market. HENRY is an acronym for High-earner, not rich yet. These consumers earn an income of $100,000 to $250,000 annually. Their buying habits vary, but many look for value rather than status. For instance, they might pay a premium of $2,500 – $4,900 for a Tag Heuer watch, but reject shelling out $10,000 – $20,000 for a Rolex, which in their eyes is overpaying for the status. Conversely, low prices have the least influence on whether the affluent will conduct future business with you. Competing on price is a loser’s game. If you are doing it now, stop immediately.

3.  Make a great first impression and build on it. If the first impression is the high point of the relationship, you will fail at building lasting, meaningful and profitable relationships. From your initial contact, your job is to take charge of building long-term, professional relationships. Everyone on your team must buy-in to this relationship building principle.

Everyone who supports you needs to immerse themselves into doing whatever it takes to build lasting relationships with your buyers and others with whom your organization has dealings. The stronger your relationships, the more sales you will make to your core audience, and the more referrals you will gain from them. Some put it as having the mindset of providing a Ritz-Carlton service with Fedex proficiency.

Find ways to set yourself apart. Perhaps you offer free hanging service within a set range of your studio. You could offer to let your buyers trade their existing art for a return fee. For instance, you might offer 50% of the original price so long as the new work is priced higher than the original. You could offer to lease your art, or put it on temporary loan for events, home staging or other such needs. You could provide a free consultation for buying works of art from other artists, or help with framing or reframing new or existing works. Think about working out a deal with your favorite framer to get your customers a discount or expedited service from the shop. You get the idea. Find a way to make buying art from you a valued added proposition.

4.  Learn to rub elbows with the affluent. The easiest way to get to know people and let them know you is to be around them. I’m betting many of those reading this post do not have the income to join an exclusive country club, or want to become a member at one either. That is okay. There are plenty of other ways to associate with the affluent market without matching their income. For example, you can join an association where affluents are also likely to be involved.

Doing research for the best group to join is the smart way to avoid wasting your time. Here are some criteria to consider:

  • Are members of the affluent market attracted to the group?
  • Will you have frequent opportunities to meet new people in monthly, or at least quarterly gatherings?
  • Are there subcommittees, or other offshoot activities that put you in close proximity to group members?
  • Do you have a personal interest in the purpose and goals of the association?
  • Is joining geographically and financially feasible?

The list of possible organizations to ponder is numerous. Your first round of research could include alumni associations, Chambers of Commerce, charities, churches, synagogues, and other religious organizations, civic organizations, gourmet foods, antique cars, wine tasting, economic clubs, fraternal organizations, hospitals and other major medical organizations. Museum associations and other arts related organizations are a natural for artists to join with the multiple purpose of doing some good for their community and themselves, as well.

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WOMMA is the best marketing stratagem.

Word-of-mouth-marketing (WOMMA) positively is THE best way to gain quick access and acceptance to a group or a particular person through an introduction, recommendation or referral. This is especially effective when you receive an enthusiastic introduction. When someone likes you, knows you and loves your art, they will champion you and your art without prompting. The more of your art they buy, the more they become vested in the success of your career. A chapter in my aforementioned Guerrilla Marketing for Artists book covers the topic of networking in depth. Networking is where you find new buyers and where asked for and unsolicited referrals come to bolster your art career.

Here is the truth about marketing and selling success.

On the direct level, it is a personal business. When all else is equal, or even when it’s not, the buyer often gives the business to the person they like the most. When I sold trade advertising to Fortune 500 companies, I had tons of competitors. Although some represented magazines that were better looking, or they had more subscribers, or more impressive reader statistics. I was not only able to compete with them – I bested them year after year.

My magazine was a serious publication and a worthy contender even without my sales ability, but my relationships with my buyers were the key to my dominance over my competitors. The more anxious and frustrated they were with my buyers, the more they dug a deep hole for ever getting a bigger share of the annual print advertising budget. Personal relationships trump most other buying decisions when the decision is close. A competitor may have better art, or a more compelling story, but will still lose to your friendship with your collectors.

There was a marketing and communication association to which all the industry advertisers and trade magazines belonged. It held twice a year events where we all gathered in tony resorts around the U.S. and Canada. Besides the fun of staying great locations like the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC, it was a wonderful opportunity to meet and mingle with decision makers from big companies.

Going the extra mile pays dividend after dividend.

I got on committees and helped out where I could. I also used every chance I had to meet my prospects for my magazine. I rarely asked about advertising or marketing in these meetings. Rather, I made it a point to get to know the person. How did they come to work at that company? Where did they live? What activities were their kids doing? If their spouse came, my wife was always welcoming and helpful, especially to timid first-timers trying to navigate the sometimes awkward social situations.

Besides getting kudos for my obvious interest in helping the association progress, I was the person who often made introductions to strangers. I don’t know what it is about doing this, but it is sort of like the glue between two people. It lifts your status in a positive, intangible, and unforgettable way.

More importantly, when I called on my buyers and prospects in their office and home base, due to how I dealt with them outside their work environment and in other neutral settings, my friendship made being warm and comfortable with me easy for them. While my competitors might sometimes find their prospective buyers would decline their offer to take them to lunch or dinner, preferring to take a shorter meeting in the office, this rarely happened to me. I always did everything I could to ensure I was welcome as a friend first and mag rep secondarily.

Making it work for you.

Obviously, you are not going to have the exact same situation as me, but you can use what I did as a model of how you might start networking your way to start knowing important potential buyers and influence members in the groups you join. The lesson here is the value is in the relationship.

Relationships and perceptions sell art.

This lesson readily applies when buyers consider buying your art. With original art, it is almost never purely about the art. Valued collectors are buying you, the artist, as much as they are your art. You and your art are inextricably entwined. The wisdom comes when you realize you have the power to leverage it.

You only have so many hours to devote to marketing. My advice is to start targeting the prospects who have the money to buy it without denting their budget. I am a true believer in social media and online marketing, but I am convinced your career is more solid and successful when you use tech to build on your in-person encounters and relationships with your collectors.

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  1. says

    Hi Barney!!!
    I loved this article. I am building my fine art photography biz up again and really enjoyed your tips here on new ways to market. I agree it is always about the relationships!! Thanks again for all you do. :)

  2. says

    Well-heeled buyers and advocates often want the EXPERIENCE. They want to be able to tell their friends and family about you and your piece and how you established the relationship. That is the VALUE you are giving. Too many sellers think of value as $$.

  3. says

    I don’t know what you mean about cheating. Smart marketing is not cheating. Proactively working to introduce one’s art to affluent buyers can make the difference between success and mediocrity, or worse, failure.

  4. says

    What great advice. As I venture out to gallery shows and events where I know full well there are affluent prospects and collectors, I often wonder about their point of view, their perspective on life to better understand where they are coming from and being able to relate to them on a personal level. I know it’s a large topic, but could you expand on this level of society?
    You write:

    “You do not have to be like them to sell to them. You just need to know where they are coming from and how they look at life.”

    I have heard of perceived value with pricing towards the affluent, but at what point are you pricing yourself out of the general market where most galleries are marketing to?

  5. says

    What an amazing post Barney!! I agree 100% – I’ve been doing exactly what you have outlined for many years and it has really worked for me. The added bonus is that all of my collectors have become friends and I have made many many new friends & great connections with people that haven’t become collectors (yet) or may never for that matter. It’s a lot of fun to boot! Thanks for validating what I have been doing over the years.

  6. says

    This type of direct marketing has also worked well for us. One part of the equation is to move to an area where there are affluent people with 2nd homes or are likely to vacation in the area. People with high incomes are usually very busy and do a lot of their discretionary spending while on vacation! Studio galleries and studio tours in these areas tend to do better than expected.

  7. says

    I have the same general questions Brenda did, as well as specific ones. For example the perceived value question- I use real gold leaf in my paintings but sometimes wonder if its necessary in today’s world. I would think that someone with money would expect real gold, not the fake leaf. On the other hand the European artists get away with using the foils by calling it Dutch Gold!

    • says

      Thanks for your comments, Carole. To Brenda’s point, I think if you price too low, you cheat yourself out of your fair share. Most galleries are targeting affluent buyers because they have success with that segment. I think artists should do likewise and as much as possible get to know and understand potential affluent buyers. Your question regarding using gold leaf versus Dutch gold is interesting. Does gold leaf look better, noticeably? Is there enough of it to make the fact it is part of the image a true selling point? Do buyers respond to it? In other words, does it create a tipping point in selling your work? If so, keep after it. If not, perhaps you should emulate your European counterparts. Should you choose to go that way, I would use the Continental implied Old World snobbery as part of my pitch. “I use the same Dutch Gold process in making this art as some of the most talented and successful artists in Europe do.”

      • Janice says

        Thank you Barney for clearing that up for me also as I use the “Dutch Method” too! Now I can address that issue if it comes up in a conversation.

  8. Terri McGhee says

    I love reading your blog Barney.
    I have a question for you. Can you tell me how to get my metallic colored art designs printed on canvas giclees? If so, Do you know of a top knotch printing company that provides fine art prints that can print with metallic paints?

    • says

      Glad you like the blog! I am not aware of metallic inks for inkjet printers. There are metallic substrates available. You may need to be creative in how you interpret your original into a digital prints. Call my friends at in Atlanta. 404.352.9779, or in Palm Springs, CA 800.419.4442. These are great places to start your research. Good luck with your quest!

  9. says

    I enjoyed your website as I am currently helping a uniquely talented artist Stephen Harris get “discovered”. He lives in a tent on a secluded peaceful island where he creates his wonderful works of art, away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. Check it out…

      • Diane Leifheit says

        Hi Barney, I read your blog about once a week and go through two or three when I do. Its chock full of great stuff and yes I have the Guerrilla Marketing for Artists book. Just one thing. Please fix your graphic selling the book so there is a space between to and Find. I paint and do graphic design and my rule is always let someone else look at your design project for typos, dates and gaffes. The creator of a project whether art or design has to get away to come back and see the weird stuff.
        Thank you for your great insight. D


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