Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. – F. Scott Fitzgerald
I don’t need to tell you; there is a growing wealth divide in the US and elsewhere. The buying power of 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 full segment numbers constitute around 25 million households.
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 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.
Developing your 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.
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. These feelings and perceptions are 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.
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 creating 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 in 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 provide 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:
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 purposes of doing some good for their community and themselves, as well.
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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 dynamic is especially useful 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 mentioned above 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.
On the primary 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 posh resorts around the U.S. and Canada. Besides the fun of staying fantastic locations like the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC, it was a wonderful opportunity to meet and mingle with decision-makers from big companies.
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 apparent 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 remarkable 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.
Obviously, you are not going to have the 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.
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 robust and successful when you use tech to build on your in-person encounters and relationships with your collectors.