Use email to sell more art, own your distribution, and control your career!
Before you can get the best results from email, you must know why it’s valuable. It is equally essential for you to believe in your potential success from using it. I’ll get more into why your attitude about email is an intangible part of your success with marketing. Let’s leave it as it’s super important for now.
Your primary objective for marketing is to sell art. Email is your best marketing tool to help you achieve it. We’ll get to the merits and benefits of email marketing. First, it’s crucial to review the ways art gets sold.
There Are Only Two Ways to Sell Art
- Either you market and sell to buyers directly
- Find distributors who do marketing and sales for you.
Quick Look Back
In past generations, most artists seeking to make a living from selling art were stuck with the gallery system. Some tried working with publishers or licensors. Others bypassed galleries by doing shows and fairs or by building postal mailing lists of potential buyers.
Self-representation was a hard road to go then, especially for artists who rely solely on selling originals. The limited-edition print market in the late 20th Century opened possibilities for a handful of self-represented artists. Nearly all were niched in verticals such as duck prints, wildlife, and nostalgia. Unfortunately, the print market is not as easy or lucrative as it was in its heyday.
Today Things Are Different
You have unparalleled opportunities due to the growth of the internet, advancements in technology, and mobile connectivity. Consumer buying habits have changed in ways that favor indie artists. Buyers do their research and often prefer to purchase straight from the source. Email is the best tool to help you capture addresses, engage your buyers and fans, and encourage sales from you directly.
How to Capitalize on Greater Opportunity
While it’s true you have better options for selling art than artists from previous generations; it means nothing unless you know how to capitalize on your opportunities. To create the success you want and can achieve, you need to have:
- Reliable email marketing technology
- An understanding of what’s known in marketing parlance as the customer journey
- A method of acquiring subscribers who qualify as potential buyers
- The ability to segment your subscribers
- A content marketing plan to deliver appropriate messages
- The desire and commitment to stick with your plans
Email Marketing Technology
The tech that powers email marketing is all SaaS (Software-as-a-Service). That means you rent access to it, like Adobe Creative Cloud. I won’t go into depth on this topic as you can find full information on the various email platforms by searching for it. I will name what I believe are your best options and tell you what to look for.
The platforms I recommend include marketing automation. You want to customize and personalize your marketing messages whenever possible.
By using tags, your marketing automation can identify whether your subscriber is a buyer or prospect, or if they have shown interest in something such as a piece or art, or a genre of art. You can tag and sort on almost anything. Marketing automation software runs on “If This Then That” logic. For example, if this subscriber is a customer, then put them in that email sequence.
I recommend Convertkit and Mailerlite for artists because marketing automation is baked in their software. I have accounts with both services. My preference is Convertkit because of its simplicity, training, support, and ability to tag subscribers. The downside is it does not offer free accounts.
Some would-be users complain about no drag and drop options; it lacks sophistication in its email builder. It’s by design. More email is read on mobile than desktops now. A cluttered design takes longer to load and tempts the creator to add too much. If you need sophistication, I think it’s better to create a web page online rather than to recreate it in your email broadcasts. Use this link to get a free 14-day trial from this US-based company.
Many artists choose Mailerlite over Convertkit because it offers the first 1,000 subscribers free for life. That feature is compelling for many. This service didn’t have tags included when it launched. It uses “Interest Groups” instead. You can get the same functionality with a little effort. It also has a drag and drop builder for its email broadcasts. With so many options and the way they are presented, it’s somewhat confusing to use. Getting approved to send email is a challenge as well.
Active Campaign is a more robust service than the abovementioned. As a result, it is more complicated to use. Users choose from two levels of service. The higher priced option provides a CRM (Customer Relationship Manager), which allows you to keep notes and detailed contact information on customers and prospects. I think the latter is terrific but probably overkill for most artists, especially if you are beginning to use email marketing. I include it here because it might be right for some artists who are more advanced in tech and marketing. Look it over and then you decide.
MailChimp and all the rest
I’ve had a MailChimp account for many years. Because it did not start with marketing automation, it continues to add-on new features to make it more usable for today’s sophisticated marketers. I find it the hardest to use for many reasons. Its tutorials require opening multiple tabs to learn how to do things, which gets confusing fast.
MailChimp also double-counts subscribers when you have them in separate lists, which means your cost of using can rise fast once you exceed its free 1,000 subscriber minimum. If you are already on it, I can see why you would stick with it. If your list is small, or you are just starting, I advise against using it.
All the rest are either too simple, too complicated, or too expensive. There may be other suitable email marketing platforms with marketing automation. If you know of one you like, please let us know in the comments section below.
The Customer Journey
No buyer follows the exact steps from awareness to interest, desire, and purchase. Still, there are enough similarities to allow you to identify certain stages. In simplicity, they break down to before, during and after the transaction. Your job as a marketer is to determine the steps and adjust your messages to match the situation.
Email marketing with automation allows you to do this automatically. This article from Beacon, Creating Content for Each Milestone in Your Customer’s Journey, is recommended reading. You should see a popup for this free download 10 Questions to Ask When Setting up Your Customer’s Journey. If you don’t get the option for the download, let me know I will get a copy to you.
To make email marketing work, you need a reliable method of steadily gaining subscribers who qualify as potential buyers. Since no one on earth needs more email, you must offer a potential subscriber a reason to join your list. This post, The Art of the Ethical Bribe | How to Build Your Email List, is chock full of useful insights and information on how to grow your list using a lead magnet, aka ethical bribe.
Once you have subscribers, your job is just begun. You must engage them with content that keeps them opening your emails. For artists, this is critical because art is non-essential and the gaps in time between when prospects are open to buy are lengthy. It’s not uncommon for galleries to make their first sales six, nine, twelve months, or longer, after their initial encounter with a potential buyer.
Good content is how you keep your opportunities to sell to your list at a high rate. As an aside, the timeframe for open-to-buy periods speaks to the value of continually growing your list. This 25 Clever Content Marketing Examples with Amazing Results, a post from OptinMonster is an excellent place to begin to learn about content marketing and planning.
Infotainment, Head Trash, and Inaction
One of the brightest marketing minds on the planet, Perry Marshall, says this:
Your ability to succeed or fail has far more to do with how clear your mind and emotions and beliefs are than it has to do with your marketing or business education. People sabotage themselves financially the same way they sabotage their marriage or douse their problems in alcohol. Physical anorexia and financial anorexia aren’t all that different from each other.
If you are reading this for infotainment purposes with no intent to act, if you’re sabotaging yourself as Perry mentions, or you can’t get it together to put the time into email marketing, so it becomes the hub of your marketing and sales, then you will fail at making it work for you.
When I hear something like, “I tried email marketing, and it didn’t work for me” I believe it didn’t work, but I never believe the reasons why unless it included “Because I gave up too soon.”
You are the boss. You make the choices, and you live with the consequences. I believe the artists who will have the best careers are those who take control of their distribution. You can’t rely on galleries or social media. They are great while they work, but you are always out of the decision loop when it comes to how they will affect your business. Use them as much as possible to supplement your sales while you build your email list and subsequent purchases from it.
I don’t see another better option for artists other than to develop what I call direct patronage. You only need a small number of patrons to gain self-reliance and independence. Think of this. If your galleries develop 100 collectors of your work, you can make roughly the same income with 50 patrons who buy from you directly.
Can you see how email marketing will act as the hub for all other marketing you do? If so, it’s time to order your priorities and start working to make email marketing the most essential tool in your marketing arsenal. If you want my help, check out my Email Marketing for Artists course. It is loaded with all the information you need to start reaping the rewards of smart marketing.