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Who Are Your 20 People?
Art Marketing Circle V - Your True Fans
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OK, on to the article…..
We’re continuing our members-only series outlining our Circles of Art Marketing framework. If you’re a new member, or missed what we covered previously, I recommend you catch up on the series at the following links:
Alright, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at Art Marketing Circle V - True Fans…
“Surely, your crappy art can fake out twelve stupid people. I’ve seen it done with one or two.” - Jerry Saltz, art critic
I'll let you in on a little secret.
In visual art, you don’t even need 1,000 true fans (which I’ll call collectors from here on out). You probably only need 100 and perhaps even less. That’s partially because art, in the form of originals anyway, usually sells for much higher price points, and the fact that art collectors tend to purchase multiple originals of the same artist over time.
So here’s the secret: It takes a scary small number of the right people to make a substantial number of art sales.
When I was in the gallery business, I remember sold out shows that were sold out to only a dozen or so people. You read that correctly: 12 people could make or break an entire show.
I was one of our gallery's 2 main salespeople. However, I'm also a computer programmer. So one day, I wrote a database query to calculate my total sales for the year. I noticed the same customer names appeared many times. So I re-phrased the query to total the sales by customer. I was shocked. Don't hold me to the exact numbers, but something like 80% of my personal sales were from less than 20 people...not 20% but 20 people.
I had not yet conceived the Circles of Art Marketing or the term “True Fans.” But intuitively, I realized, these people were the ones I was the closest to. They were my true fans or, in my case, as a salesperson, they were the gallery’s true fans. They were the ones who were most interested in what I had to sell and, importantly, they trusted me to help guide them in their art collecting. I was friends with many of them.
I started lavishing a whole lot more attention on those 20 people. My goal with new customers became to determine if they were "worthy" to be in the "top 20". And my sales went up.
In his book, How to Be An Artist, Art Critic Jerry Saltz says that It Takes Only a Few People to Make a Career. This book is recapped in This Vulture Article. Let’s take a look at this idea that it only takes a few people to make your career. From the article.
It only takes a few people to make an art career.
Exactly how many? Let’s count.
Dealers? You need only one dealer — someone who believes in you, supports you emotionally, pays you promptly, doesn’t play too many mind games; who’ll be honest with you about your crappy or great art, who does as much as possible to spread your work out there and try to make money from it, too. This dealer doesn’t have to be in New York.
Collectors? You need only five or six collectors who will buy your work from time to time and over the years, who really get what you’re up to, who are willing to go through the ups and downs, who don’t say, “Make them like this.” Each of these six collectors might talk to six other collectors about your work. Even if you have only six collectors, that’s enough for you to make enough money to have enough time to make your work.
Critics? It would be nice to have two or as many as three critics who seem to get what you’re doing. It would be best if these critics were of your generation, not geezers like me.
Curators? It would be nice to have one or two curators of your generation or a little older who would put you in shows from time to time.
That’s it! Twelve people. Surely your crappy art can fake out 12 stupid people! I’ve seen it done with only three or four supporters. I’ve seen it done with one!
Granted, Jerry is looking at the art world through the rarified lens of the New York gallery scene, but his point is directionally correct and agrees with my experience of running a gallery in San Antonio, Texas. As I said, 80% of our annual gallery sales were made by only 20 people.
So, who are your 20 people?
If you know who they are, write them a personal note, pick up the phone, or have a private little get together with them. If you don't know who they are, well, you should, and you've got some work to do.
Those 20 people (and I’m just using 20 as an example now, it could be 10, or 100, or more) make up what we are calling your True Fans. These are collectors who have purchased multiple pieces from you, or students who have taken numerous classes or workshops from you. These are the people you give the opportunity to purchase your new art first, before anyone else has seen it. I would also include anyone who has made referrals that have helped you. Such as another artist referring you to a well known gallery. Or someone who introduces you to a museum director. For these 20 people, you know their names, their addresses, their phone numbers, what type(s) of your works they like (and are most likely to purchase) and possibly their kids names and their birthdays.
These are the people that you send handwritten notes to, who you text when you have an upcoming show, and who you send personal emails to say, “I just finished this painting, I think it’s up your alley, and I’m showing it to you before anyone else.”
In the True Fans circle, you don’t use any automated or bulk marketing methods. If you have an email “newsletter” for these people, it is smaller, more personal and much more exclusive than your regular newsletter. These are people whom you know personally and you communicate with them personally. (Although they are also in your audience so will receive your broader marketing as well).
Maintaining these personal connections with your true fans is so powerful because one of the things people love, especially in luxury goods, is exclusivity.
Who doesn't want to feel special and part of an exclusive club?
When I ran my gallery there was a very exclusive list of top collectors who got first pick of each artist's work. Sometimes, if the artist was popular enough, we had to have an exclusive waiting list for buyers. As an artist's career rises, this need for exclusivity among collectors seems to rise as well.
At the extreme high end, it can even border on absurdity. I had lunch recently with a very well known western artist. He told me about one of his colleagues, who is perhaps the best known living western artist in the world. This particular artist's works now sell upwards of two million dollars...each. And here's the interesting (and relevant) part: that famous artist's current, entire collector base consists of only five people. That is exclusivity with a capital "E."
Traditional art galleries understand this desire for exclusivity and they capitalize upon it. They offer their best collectors first pick of new works, access to exclusive events and other exclusive benefits.
Of all the things that collectors want this is the easiest one for an individual artist to recreate without an art gallery. Not only can you create exclusive experiences for your collectors, but you can do it in a way that is better than an art gallery. After all, who's in a better position to offer exclusive access to an artist's work or an artist's time than the artist herself?
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