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
I don’t need to say to you; there is a growing wealth divide in the US and elsewhere. The buying power of middle-income consumers is down. While this post is not about wealth inequality, it’s a real thing and both a growing trend and problem in the US and elsewhere.
The top one percent alone holds more wealth than the middle class. They owned 29 percent—or over $25 trillion—of household wealth in 2016, while the middle class owned just $18 trillion.
This has not always been the case. Before 2010, the middle class owned more wealth than the top one percent. Since 1995, the share of wealth held by the middle class has steadily declined, while the top one percent’s share has steadily increased.
If your income status is middle class, you are probably clipping coupons and more price-conscious than ever. Today, you find people shopping in Walmart, who, a few years back, wouldn’t have been caught dead there.
There is a time and place for discussion on the evolution of inequality. What to do about it is not the point of this post. Our concern is to help artists like you find ways to sell you higher priced works to people with the disposable income to afford it. You don’t have to be like the people you sell to or even like the people you sell to have success marketing to them.
Birds of a Feather Flock Together.
An educated guess is you probably target 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. Wealthy earners represent the top 20 percent of consumers. Since there are roughly 125 million US households, the full segment 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 immunize their careers from the inevitable downturns that happen when galleries close, social media darlings fade against new trends, and other distribution channels fail.
Loyal Direct Buyers Are the Key to Long-Term Career Success.
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.
Follow These Tips to Improve Your Original Art Sales to the Affluent Market:
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.
It will help if you let your imagination in on the fun. Start thinking and daydreaming about capturing 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.
I guarantee the managers and salespeople in the ritziest showrooms for luxury items are not on the same financial plane as their customers. Everyone—buyers and sellers—understands this situation. It comes down to human nature. Some buyers will be easy and others difficult, which is the same reality in selling lower-priced goods. The difference is until you let your hesitations go and learn to relax, be confident, and realize the richest mogul still puts his pants on one leg at a time, you will feel intimidated. That is not a situational thing; it is an attitude thing, which is where you have 100% control of how you choose to react to the situation.
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 for those who do is recognizing you have a bias. The second step is being pragmatic and adult enough to get over your preferences. To market to those outside your current income status, you need to take the steps required to understand your customers deeply and profoundly. You do not have to be like them to sell to them. You need to know where they are coming from and how they look at life.
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. It would be best if you sold to luxury buyers on value, not price.
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 must 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 the proficiency of FedEx.
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 loans for events, home staging, or other such needs.
Financing Your Art
Your Henry prospects may have the means to pay in full or use a credit card to buy your art. Nevertheless, many will appreciate your offer to provide free, no-hassle financing. A one-third down payment sends the art home. The next two payments are due in 30 and 60 days from the date of sale. By showing trust and respect to your buyers, you strengthen your relationship. It makes additional sales more likely. And, it might be the clincher you need to sell that high-priced masterpiece you’ve been using to make all your other work appear more affordable.
You could provide a free consultation for buying works of art from other artists or help with framing or reframing new or existing artworks. 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 value-added proposition.
Make Your Website Work for You
Your website is a significant factor in first impressions and beyond. When it comes to influencing luxury buyers, outside of personal contact, it is your primary tool. Sites are commodities these days. It’s not how much you spend with your website provider, but rather how well you use the tools included in their offering for you to use.
Think clean, simple, and elegant. You can add design elements, but don’t overdo it. When a visitor notices and admires your website instead of your art, you’re off the wrong foot. Be professional. Use a custom domain and email address associated with it.
Find Ways to Rub Elbows with The Affluent.
The easiest way to get to know people and let them know you are straightforward, be around them. I’m betting many of those reading this post do not have the income to join an exclusive country club and may not 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 the wealthy are also likely to be involved.
Researching 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 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 and fundraisers
- Churches, synagogues, and other religious organizations
- Civic organizations
- Gourmet restaurant and food suppliers
- Garden clubs
- Sports and exercise clubs
- Antique cars
- Wine tasting events
- Economic clubs
- Fraternal organizations
- Hospitals and other major medical organizations.
- Museum associations and other arts-related organizations are natural for artists to join with the multiple purposes of doing some good for their community and themselves.
Who Else Sells to the Affluent?
- Travel agents
- Financial advisers
- Real estate agents
- Luxury automobile dealers
- Auction houses
- Wine merchants
- High-end boutique
- Specialty chefs
- Event planners
The above list gives you useful suggestions on other occupations that market to the wealthy. Use it to help you spot potential referral partners or collaborators. For example, if you paint wine-related scenes, you have many options from above to consider for partnering to help each other.
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 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 artworks without prompting.
The more 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 networking in depth. Networking is where you find new buyers and where asked for, and unsolicited referrals come to bolster your art career.
Amazon for Rich People
There are sites dedicated to help and sell to the wealthy. The James Edition is sometimes referred to as the Amazon for Rich People. Currently, it showcases the original art of Donna McLain under its Extraordinaire category. Her mixed media piece, Infinity of the Universe, is listed as the price on request by her German gallery, Interstellar Art GmbH. Similar works by her listed on SaatchiArt.com sell in the range of $60,000.
If I wanted to get her prices and sell like her, I would investigate and learn everything I could about her. How did she get in the German gallery? Does she have patron benefactors? How well does her work sell on SaatchiArt? Does she have a manager or outside representation? Where else does she show her art? Learn those things and more. Then learn who are the other artists in her German gallery and find out the details about them.
There Are Very Few Secrets Especially in the Digital Age
Everything and everyone has a story. It is in your best interest to be curious. Don’t waste time trying to figure out how to do something on your own in a vacuum. Instead, seek out those who have gone and learn from them directly if you can, or indirectly by studying who they are and what they did to get to where you want to go.
What might have taken artists from previous generations a tremendous amount of time and effort to dig up useful research on those they wish to learn from and emulate is now at your fingertips courtesy of the internet and Google. Use the resources to their fullest extent, but don’t stop there.
Reach out and connect with anyone who might give you more pieces to the puzzle. The human factor is huge and is the X factor in propelling your career. By proactively seeking people in the know, you create awareness and potential side benefit but enormous opportunities for yourself in the process.
Here Is the Truth About Marketing and Selling Success.
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 an excellent publication. It was a worthy contender without my sales ability, but my relationships with my buyers were the key to my dominance over my competitors. The more anxious and frustrated my competitors were with marketing to my buyers, the more they dug a deep hole that made getting a more significant share of the annual print advertising budget near impossible. 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 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 in fantastic locations like the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC, it was a tremendous opportunity to meet and mingle with decision-makers from big companies.
You can be sure I worked those events relentlessly, but always with an air of casual indifference. I never wanted anyone to feel I was desperate for their business. My goal was to display confidence in my publication’s ability to deliver interested readers who matched my advertisers’ desired demographics. I was there to be friendly and professional with a mission to serve and help them meet their goals using an attitude that I call nonchalant obsequiousness.
Nonchalant Service-Minded Is Not an Oxymoron.
You can study your target audience, so you understand its needs so well it’s almost second nature to you. Being ready with answers, research, and services when needed, or better in advance of your prospect’s anticipation of such needs. If you paint sailboats and have an in with a yacht club, start observing its practices until you can anticipate its needs. Here is an example. You can see from the group’s growth they will need a larger facility for the annual holiday party. Then seek the solution and be ready with it before it gets to the committee.
I got on committees and helped 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. Instead, 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? My wife was always welcoming and helpful if their spouse came, especially to timid first-timers trying to navigate the sometimes-awkward social situations.
Going the extra mile pays dividend after dividend.
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. I also made sure to invite competing publications to join the organization. It was amazing to many members who were surprised that I would undertake such unselfish tasks with aplomb. It took competitors off guard, as well.
Such acts generate goodwill all around. My prospects and competitors could sense this as it worked in my favor. What they couldn’t know was how they felt about me was due to nonchalant service-mindedness. For me, this sums it up, “I will never be desperate enough to kiss your butt because I don’t have to and don’t need to. However, I will always work to go beyond your expectations of what is necessary to give you confidence in my ability to help you do your job and solve your problems. I do those things only because I want to.”
When I called on my buyers and prospects in their office and home base, I dealt with them outside their work environment, and in other neutral settings, my friendship with them 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.
You will not 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 begin knowing influential 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 rarely purely about 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 target the prospects who have the money to buy it without denting their budget. I am a true believer in social media and online marketing. Still, 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.
Jack White’s Advice Remains Solid
You can learn a tip or two from Jack White. He trained thousands of artists with his books and blogs. He taught his wife, Mikki, to paint and manage her career to sell more than $6 million of her work. Read this post, Sell Like You’re Rich. It’s a few years old but holds up well.
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