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Marketing 101 for Artists Who Wanna Sell
How to convince potential buyers, your art is worth spending their money
Art Stuff 16 Jun 2020


If like most artists you want to be able to make a living with your art, but at the same time you do not like to sell or you do not know how to sell, this one’s for you. All my artist friends tell me things like “I wanna make art. I don’t wanna sell” or “I wanna sell, but I don’t wanna be salesy”. Bad news: you need to learn how to sell. Good news: selling is a skill you can aquire. At the end of the day, selling is convincing the other person to do what you want them to do. And we do it all the time. I mean, when you have an interview with a company for a graphic designer position, you are selling your skill sets to the interviewer. When you are contacting a gallery to host your exhibition, you are selling them the idea that it is valuable for them to host you. When you are selling your art pieces online, you are trying to convince the potential buyer that this is the best way to spend their money. The money that they can spend on a different art piece or even a handbag or a weekend trip for example. This concept is not limited to your professional life only. When you are going on a first date and you try to impress the other person or when you want to go on a group dinner with your friends and you explain why they should go to the restaurant of your choice, you are convincing the other person to do what you want them to do. If you think about it in more depth, in all of these scenarios what we are selling is a solution to a problem. The key here is for you to communicate ‘why they should buy what you are selling’ (the problem) before you talk about ‘what you are selling’ (the solution). It’s as simple and as complicated as this.

My job as a marketer is to figure out which parts of your truth are marketable. It’s very important to get basics right. Let me explain to you how I do it, and you can apply the same concept for yourself and your business as well.

Humanizing the digital world
If you are old enough like me to remember the world before the internet, you remember that we used to ‘go online’ with those dial-up modems and their strange sound. I still remember that I had to ‘get off the internet’ so my brother could call his girlfriend’s house! It was a different time and we didn’t know how to communicate properly when online. Most of us were communicating in a very formal way even with our very close friends. It was similar to the text messages your mom used to send you, when she got her first cell phone. Something was not right. As time passed, the internet became an indistinguishable part of our lives. It went to the background. Today we do not go online, we ARE online and we go offline if we choose to. This change happened so fast that we accepted it, but have not matured in it yet. At the same time, I still see a lot of people and companies, when communicating online, forget that there is another human on the other side of the screen and we need to act like it. This is what I call humanizing the digital world. This means that the principles of psychology and behavioral biology apply to the digital world as well. The simple principles of communication, which come to us naturally in the offline world (face to face meetings), apply to the online world as well.

There’s no middle man
Before the internet (social media) there were a lot of gatekeepers between artists and their clients/fans, but now you can freely have access to almost everyone anywhere in the world. Sounds great, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, it is great that there is no middle man, but at the same time this opportunity is not only for you, but for everyone aka high competition. According to SimilarWeb, Instagram has 500 million daily active users out of which 25 million are business profiles, who upload 95 million photos and 250 million stories each day.

Disengagement era
It is not just instagram. Consumers in the United States receive around 30,000 online messages a day. This includes the impressions on any social media platforms or any display ad on different websites. Combine that with people’s attention spans being less than 8 seconds and you clearly can see that we are in a disengagement era.

Distracted generation
Smartphones with notifications made us the distracted generation. People can’t be apart from their phone for more than 6 minutes and they check their phone up to 150 times a day. Looking at these numbers, we see that it is not easy to get a hold of anyone’s attention in general, let alone on Instagram. It’s like when my dad has the TV remote controller and goes from a channel to another at the speed of light.

Note: If you’re using an iPhone you can check the summary of your activities such as how much time did you spend on each app or how many times you picked up your phone during a day, from “screen time” in your “settings”.

Who’s your competitor?
If I ask you who is your competitor you may have a few names or brands on the tip of your tongue, but looking at the above numbers there are many more competitors on the way before you get to those names. Let me explain. If we are dealing with the distracted generation in a disengagement era, then your first goal should be to have the attention of those people. This means that you are competing with almost everyone on the internet therefore you need to be more interesting than anyone else so your target audience will listen to you. You need to convince them to spend time on your profile/website instead of checking that meme page or watching those funny cat videos or that super hot instagram model.

How to convert?
But Armin, how am I going to pull this off? One word: edutainment (education + entertainment). You cannot change their behavior on the internet so you need to adapt. When the attention spans are very short, you need to be entertaining to catch and keep their attention. And in order to have them back, you need to educate them, you need to add value. Edutainment creates engagement, which means they spend more time with you. This means that you become more familiar to them. Familiar means trusted. People spend money on what they trust.

It’s all a game
The key here is to stop looking at it as a transactional activity with money to be the end goal and start looking at it as a game. If you learn the rules of the game then you would be able to play it your way, but it’s important to be obsessed with the game and not the scoreboard. Try to become the best version of yourself in the game and the scores will follow. This takes time. Growing up in “fast food culture” sometimes we think that everything can happen very fast. You want a plate of ragù alla bolognese, you go on UberEats and with a few clicks you will have it delivered to your house. You want to go to the other side of the city, you get an Uber to come and pick you up even if you do not know the name of the street you are on. You want a date, you go on Raya and see who is close by and send them a direct request. This is the fast food culture. This makes us think that we can have everything super fast, but building a successful and sustainable career takes time. Years, sometimes decades! so it’s important to fall in love with the process because you are going to play this game for a long time.

What about the trends?
Trends can be an advantage for you or sometimes even a disadvantage. And that’s ok. In general life is unfair. It’s always been like this and it will always be like this. And that’s ok too. It is important to understand where it is unfair in your favor and go there. For example if you are a sustainable fashion brand, a country/state/city may give you tax cuts, if you produce there and not give the same benefits to your rival who is not a sustainable brand or a market may prefer to pay more for your brand (because of your values) than your competitors. At the same time in some other markets things may be in favor of your competitors. Ride on the wave of the trends as much as you can, but if and only if they align with you and your brand values. Do not do it just because everyone else is doing it. People are smart enough to notice a genuine act from a forced one.

Armin ZadakBar is the CEO of The Armin Bar (NYC|Milan), a boutique digital marketing agency with offices in NYC and Milan. He’s been lecturing digital marketing and growth hacking in various prestigious universities in Italy, Switzerland and the United States.

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