Old-fashioned Marketing (that Works!)

You don't have to do a lot of high-tech Internet marketing to sell your art.
One of my readers' favorite stories in I'd Rather Be in the Studio! is the recount of how Karen Bubb was able to travel to China by selling shares of her trip. She not only made enough money to cover her costs, she also engaged a lot of people in the process. (See Action 14 in the book for all of the details.)
What's so surprising is that Karen did this the old-fashioned way: with very little help from the Internet. Karen didn't even have a website, wasn't blogging, and Twitter and Facebook weren't on the scene in 2004. (She still doesn't have a website or Facebook page, which is why I'm not linking to her here.)
Karen sold 225 shares @ $32/share by using her mailing list, which was comprised of her friends and family in Boise, Idaho.
Karen's idea was so interesting that a newspaper picked up on it, which brought in shareholders that were previously unknown to her.

Shelly Lewis Stanfield, Fresh. Acrylic and charcoal on birch panel
©2010 Shelly Lewis Stanfield, Fresh. Acrylic and charcoal on birch panel, 48 x 48 inches.

My sister-in-law, Shelly Lewis Stanfield, is a painter who lives in Oklahoma City. Since 2007, Shelly has sold more than 300 paintings.
Shelly has a website, but she doesn't have a blog, doesn't use Twitter, and doesn't have a business page on Facebook. She has some gallery representation, but the galleries sell little compared to what Shelly sells on her own.
Get this: Shelly has sold most of her art by having exhibits at restaurants and by contributing art to fundraisers for organizations that get 20-25% of the proceeds.
Shelly would tell you there's no magic formula.
She has sold most of her art by using her mailing list. She encourages the people she knows to attend the restaurant openings and visit the restaurant while the work is up.
Her preferred method of contact? Postcards. She sends one or two at a time to individuals on her mailing list for a personal touch.
And no, Shelly has never asked me for any help or advice. Honest. She's done this all on her own – fearlessly. Shelly succeeds because she's out there pounding the pavement, not just the computer keys.
If you're not embracing email, blogs, and social media, follow the example of Shelly and Karen. You can do amazing things with traditional marketing.
Are you a fan of old-fashioned mail and networking? Tell us how it's benefited you.

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34 thoughts on “Old-fashioned Marketing (that Works!)”

  1. Wow, thanks for this post. Very inspiring and an important reminder for those of us that enjoy good search engine rankings that old fashion techniques should be a staple in our arsenal. Google can be a rather fickled mistress, nothing beats old fashion street smarts. Yay for Karen and yay Shelly!!!
    Several years ago I found myself in the sandbox or something with Google and I fell out of favor with the robots and spiders, I used the experience to tap into my existing client list and I bought a lot of off-line advertising in mags for my niche.
    Great post Alsyon!

  2. Alexandra Lazovski

    Hi Alyson. Since I am in the beginning of the process of implementing your book’s steps, and since I still don’t have a final web or social media solutions, old-fashion marketing has been my choice for the time being. I do lots of networking (Do you know BNI?) and it pays!! I enjoy the personal touch with people who are colleagues in networking and come to my studio to experience my art and then spread the word to their family, friend and clients. I’ve been focusing on architects and interior designers…but maybe I should turn to restaurants and coffee shops also…

    1. Alexandra: Sounds like you’re doing everything write. And it’s comfortable for you. That’s so important.

  3. Whenever I’m feeling a bit disenchanted with an internet tool I remind myself that the two best-selling artists I know as good friends hardly use the internet. So I know whatever is the latest “must have” social network isn’t necessarily so.
    A very successful artist here spoke to an art society and said she posts all her show invites. Her point was that email is great but people keep a postcard, pin it up somewhere, and are more likely to remember the date. So now my favourite old-fashioned methods are mailing invitations to shows to my mailing list and hand written thank you cards. (the majority of my buyers are repeat buyers) For local events like open studios I also like doing door-to-door leafletting and find it works well.

    1. It’s really helpful to see what works for other artists and how we can adapt it to our own circumstances. I’m quite amazed that so many artists have given up on postcards.

  4. Great to hear your sister is doing so well, Alyson 🙂 Your article is uplifting because in a sense it reinforces the idea that each of us must do what works for us, there are always guidelines but no one right way to do this stuff. I was also thinking about the flipside of this idea, i.e. how to use business experience we already have to help develop an online business – all that stuff about looking at your USP, what your competition does, who your target market is etc. isn’t irrelevant just because we don’t have face to face contact with our clients. Whatever strengths and experiences we’ve got, they’re the ones we’ve got to use!

    1. WildC: Yes, Shelly is amazing.
      Always remember that your strongest USP is your art. Make it your own.
      For those who don’t know the nomenclature: USP=Unique Selling Proposition.

  5. Postcards are the most valuable tool I use to reach my customers. And, yes, most people only give me their email address, but you can convert any post card to an email.
    Another way to get customers to keep your card is to provide a listing of your show schedule and stores/galleries. If they are real fans of art/craft shows, they keep the schedule so they know what’s coming up….and of course a photo of your art is there to remind them of your offerings.

    1. Good point, Kim. Lots of festival artists print their schedule on postcards, but you don’t have to have a schedule or even a reason to send a postcard. You can send it just to keep your name out in front of people.

  6. I pound the pavement like nobody’s business, but sometimes I feel I’m pounding the wrong pavement. The internet pavement. I recently met a fellow artist at an art market and we both were around the same age, had similar styles, ideas and genres. After conversing for a while and trading a couple of each other’s magnets, he talked about how he does the circuit full-time, that making art is his day job and how much he loves it. He just travels all over to various markets selling his art. I was telling him how I’m trying very hard to make that transition from regular 9-6 day job/part-time artist to full-time artist. I gave him my professionally printed business card and he looked at it and said “Oh wow! you have a website and ‘real’ business cards! All I’ve got is a pen and some notebook paper” and he continued to right down his information. It was one of those moments where time slowed down a little bit and I thought how ironic that I feel like I’m doing everything in my power to promote my art while not selling much, while this artist doesn’t even have a business card and is selling like hotcakes. I’ve got a email, website, etsy account, paypal store, facebook fanpage, wordpress blog, etc. Now I’m not saying I shouldn’t have a business card, but it was encouraging in an odd way to see someone who hasn’t embraced the digital revolution making a living as an artist.
    By trade, I’ve been doing graphic design, technical drawings since I got out of college, so I’m very savvy with computers, the web, etc. but I’m honestly struggling with keeping up with blogging and social networking. I’ve started 3 blogs and I start out strong, but it’s a chore and I don’t look forward to it and so it tapers off until I do updates about twice a month. I don’t think I’m embracing the “immediacy” of the internet. I miss the days of sitting back and observing my work for more than 5 minutes. I also miss designing and sending out postcard mailers for upcoming shows. There was something therapeutic about hand labeling each card. There’s also something about print design that I prefer over a “facebook event”. Maybe it’s the tangibility and personal touch as opposed to something that gets lost in the “News feed”. I feel that facebook and twitter may slowly becoming junkmail.
    Once again, time to reassess! Thank you Alyson!

    1. Will: Very interesting story about the other artist and assessment of where you are.
      I wouldn’t give up on the Internet, but figure out how you can work with it more effectively. So, maybe you have Twitter and FB time, but it’s drastically shorter than in the past. And maybe you schedule 2 blog posts per week, but only on 1 blog — not 3!
      I do think it’s a mistake when artists give up on the tactile postcards, flyers, etc.

  7. I guess all marketing always comes down to a cold, hard look at the costs (money, time, energy) vs the benefits (sales, contacts). The latest, greatest online marketing methods are always very tempting. They have that new car smell, and the promise of being THE answer to our marketing needs. But we have to stop and try to separate the hype from the facts. Are these methods real, cost-effective ways of reaching our audience?
    For example, Twitter is often hyped as the next great marketing tool. And like so many people, I found myself trying to “work it”. Yet when I stop and thought about it, I realized that the people I am trying to reach don’t actually use it. It may be a nice networking/socializing tool, but I’ve learned that for me, playing on Twitter is not a good use of my marketing time.

    1. Good point, Daniel. It’s hard to stop and actually evaluate. Much too easy to get caught up in hype.

  8. I think the postcards a great idea; I’m int he process of ordering some through Moo (great site for all kinds of fun, tactile marketing tools–>http://us.moo.com). They make great customizable products, including fantastic biz cards and personalized stickers.
    The online marketing comes pretty naturally to me since I’m an internet addict. My blog has helped attract visitors from all over the world and a lot of my traffic is directed to there from Facebook.
    I agree with Daniel about Twitter. I don’t find it to be all that useful and use Facebook more than anything.

  9. When I send out mailings, I make a point of writing something on every card that goes out. I learned this from a boss in my previous life at a nonprofit.
    If I don’t have any notes for the person, I simply add “Hi Joe!” I started doing this last year and heard from more customers than in any previous year. It takes more effort, but it has a great payoff.

    1. Elissa: A personalized note — regardless of how brief it is — goes a long way to differentiate your postcard from bulk mailings.

  10. I love this post, Alyson…and the comments are inspiring, too. I am a portrait painter and it has always seemed like “worlds-colliding” when I try to use high-tech sales methods for what is at its essence a very personal and old fashioned product — an heirloom portrait.
    I’ve been taking your Blog Triage class — very good info! — and have been TRYING to love blogging, but I don’t. I have analyzed my marketing methods for the last three years and I have discovered that the most impressive return on investment is from sending greeting cards (folded, in an envelope, with a real stamp) with my past commissions on the front. I use a terrific service* for this and I even have my own handwriting font, so it is super-easy and cost effective.
    *interested artists can email me for info

    1. Jan: You’re going to have to leave the resource in a comment here as my blog readers don’t have access to your email info.

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  12. I like the idea of mailing out postcards! It is an investment of a small amount of money and seems like a smart way of marketing.
    Yes, I’ve heard that pounding the pavement is an excellent way of promoting one’s artwork.
    One might need an outgoing personality to succeed in this endeavor.
    Thanks for this informative post!

    1. You don’t need an outgoing personality. You just need to be able to fake it. And you really ought to have a positive outlook. People sense negativity and retreat.

  13. Pingback: Old-fashioned Marketing (that Works!) « The Galena Artists' Guild

  14. I feel like I’m being pulled in two disparate directions. Internet to the left; snail mail to the right. I don’t have much of a mailing list (I still feel vaguely uneasy about asking people to sign up) for either type of mailing. Asking people for anything from the most innocuous request to my siblings for help caring for my mom, makes me uneasy. Yet I KNOW I have to ask. How can I know this intellectually yet still be uncomfortable doing it?
    I want to send out postcards but I’m not doing any shows and I am not convinced using postcards to send people to my website or online shops is going to be fruitful anyway.
    I am back to being confused and it’s time I found some time to re-read Alyson’s book and somehow get back on track because it seems I’ve fallen off and lost my way as I become more overwhelmed in my role of primary caregiver for my ailing mother.

    1. Patricia: I would caution you not to think of them separately. There’s no such thing as a magic pill. Marketing is about spreading the message and getting your name in front of people. A postcard is treated very differently than an email message. Both can be effective for separate reasons — with different goals in mind.

    2. I see, I think. So what I need to figure out is what goals fit with which type of mailing. My guess is Postcards for shows, exhibits, fairs, and similar while email for fast turnaround events, specials, or other internet based actions.

    3. I’d say postcard for shows and exhibits (2-3 weeks out) followed by email reminders for the same events.

  15. I have been using postcards for marketing my art since the 1990s. The only real result I got from it was that after about the third time I did a mailing, artists on the list began requesting that I remove them from it. By the second year of mailing my postcards (I did about three mailings a year), I no longer had ANY artists on my mailing list, except for a few very close personal friends.
    I have never sold anything from my postcard mailings. I have never gotten a request for more information and I have never gotten a gallery or curator interested in my work either. What I have received from the 800 or so people I mail to is silence. I still mail them out though because I think for some reason it is important for people to see what I am doing.

  16. Arthur, if you have only received silence from your mailings, then you need to evaluate either (a) changing how you do the mailing (what you show, say, etc.) or (b) whether they are the best way to reach your audience. Something’s not working, so before you spend more money, see if you can figure out some way to change things.
    When I had trouble communicating with some of my audience, I picked out a bunch that I considered ideal, and sent them private emails, asking them if I could send them some questions about my marketing (what they wanted to hear, etc.). It helped.

  17. I have always seen results from postcard mailings. I just hosted an open studio, and the only big sales I had were from former clients that I mailed to. I used the postcard to do double duty and advertised a class I was offering. I mailed to artists in my area from my watercolor society and picked up a new student. She attended the open studio, saw what I do, and signed up. A great testament to the old-fashioned methods. I also do lots online, though, which I think makes people think that I am very serious. (I am!)

  18. Dolores Stuhr Scobba

    I have been working to develop a program of using my Lithographs, (professionally printed) from four different canvas paintings I created, and prints on canvas, that I am making from the rest of my paintings. The program will give people the capacity to own a Lithograph, or Print on canvas, if they give a donation to any one of about 300 charities at the Charitychoices.com. I have sent about 400 emails, with program info. and 18 images to choose from, to 400 different people, and have received zero responces. So I know this is not working. I have it on facebook, and YouTube, with the same results, while everyone tells me profusely, that my paintings are very beautiful. Any suggestions?

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

Where can we send it? 

To ensure delivery, please triple check your email address.

You’ll also receive my regular news for your art business.

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