The Right Audience – Where are they?

On my Facebook page, I asked fans what their biggest art-marketing concern is right now.
A theme developed.

Ishita: Lot of effort and spending but not enough returns……. Maybe I am not reaching the correct audience?! in other words my concern is how to reach the correct audience and at least cover my investment…….
David:  I show pretty frequently (4-6 shows) over the course of the year. For me its finding the right audience for the work. I think the price points are fair. Even with all my research on galleries that show similar work and artists that work in the same conceptual/visual vein. The work just doesn't move.
John: finding my target customers? my work sells I just feel I'm not reaching the right people for my style?
Alex: Painting pictures to make money is self-defeating… but I seem to be spending a lot of money trying to get my work out there and no returns… crisis looming!

Surely these artists are correct in assuming that the right audience is key to more sales.
Do you just keep sending postcards, exhibiting your art, and emailing your list in  hopes that it will one day pay off? Or is something more drastic – like “market research” – required?
Where/how do you find your right audience?
Or is it possible that some artists will never find the right audience for sales?
I'd love your feedback on this and hope to continue exploring the topic with solid answers.

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46 thoughts on “The Right Audience – Where are they?”

  1. I’ve built up a “target buyer” profile over the years. But the research has really just been years of doing all kinds of shows and talking to the buyers. In my first 2-3 years I probably did at least a show/art fair a month. And talking to people means I know where they’re putting my artwork, how they found me, what they like. With that I’ve built a profile that is mainly couples 35-65, dual income, no kids (or kids have left the nest), either a new home or a second home, highly educated (most know a lot about art as a viewer and have graduate degrees). There are always exceptions and i never rule anyone out! But it means that generally I know how to talk to people who like my work, what they probably understand or don’t. (this after rule 1: talk about them) If you talk to the person who has bought your work, you can slowly build up an idea of the larger group you might appeal to.
    So basically, my market research is the building of my mailing list. 🙂

  2. I struggle with this as well, and for a long time tried to figure out who my “target audience” was. My experience has led me to the conclusion that I can’t really pin this down. The best I could find as a commonality would be that they were well educated and had an interest in the arts, not just visual art. I’ve always felt that you have to define two audiences – the buyers, and the attenders – and one likes to hide inside the other.
    With that in mind, I’ve worked more to market to an audience of attenders and then at the event I work to identify and talk with the buyers. I love having both at my shows, because those that attend but don’t buy often talk about the show and tell others about it (who could turn out to be buyers). But really, it’s what Tina stated before, it’s the building of your mailing list. That’s where all my marketing efforts start, and where most sales come from in my experience.

    1. Robert: I think most visual arts patrons are also interested in the other arts. That’s what I’ve found almost across the board. Thanks for bringing that up.

  3. This is so difficult to pinpoint. Most of my collectors seem to be over 40, but that may have to do with being a bit more financially comfortable to spend money on original art.
    When I try and find a common denominator in my collectors, I really can’t, they are all over the place, which does make marketing a challenge. I agree with Tina, building your list and hoping word of mouth will put your work in front of those who will respond to it.

  4. I do most of my selling at art festivals, and for me “audience” is about numbers and percentages. A good quality small art festival, with 1,000 or 2,000 attendees, just cannot match a large event with 20,000 to 100,000 attendees. Remember that art buyers are a subculture, and the ones who will buy YOUR work are a tiny percentage. So put your work in front of as many people as possible. I think of what I learned when working as a designer of direct mail campaigns: if you get a 1% response then you did a great job. So you need to show your work to 100 people to find one with possible interest. Then turning that 1% interest into sales is about “salesmanship” which is a totally different subject from “audience-finding.”

  5. I send out postcards, but finding the right audience to send them to is a bit of a struggle. As a cartoonist / humorous illustrator that DOESNT’ do gag cartoons or gallery shows, the target audience is more narrow than a more traditional artist’s. Once finding an appropriate potential client, finding the correct contact is another struggle. Getting past the gate keepers is always a struggle.

  6. Some artist in this region go to an average of 30-40 art festivals a year….and finding it a tough market this year.
    I live pretty far off the beaten path so don’t have the option of doing that. However, what I have done in years past is not bringing in the income needed to stay full time in the art world.
    So….if what you’re doing isn’t getting results, then don’t keep doing the same thing.
    For me, that means extensive market research and going into a foreign market.
    Along with that will be putting my talent for teaching to a more formal and regular use. Not my first choice, but I find the name of the game is to diversify into as many different venues as possible.
    Sitting back and waiting to be “discovered” by buyers isn’t going to happen….make as many contacts in various fields as you possibly can…not just the art world.
    Watch what people are buying….this year I did a bunch of low end framed prints and they sold well. Yes, it’s a blow after doing shows for a number of years where nothing but originals sold, but if you’re serious about staying in the art world (and paying the bills), then you will do what it takes to keep your boat afloat.

  7. I would like to clarify the statement previous about contacts in other venues besides the art world.
    The contacts that are doing me the most good are people in the business world that have a global view, have made tons of money and want to give me some opportunities because they know I will work my butt off and not complain about it.
    Time will tell if this proves to be successful, but if you don’t put yourself out there, you certainly won’t get anywhere.
    One of my favorite quotes: Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over, if you just sit there. ~Will Rogers

    1. Sandra: Thank you for your insights. Anyone who quotes Will Rogers on my blog is A-OK in my book!

  8. Diversity seems to work best. Sending postcards to your current mailing list is a good idea, but they already know about you and will come to you when they want something. Prompting them about new items is a great idea, but you need to continually be reaching out to other people as well.
    For example, do you belong to an art league? If so, try to exhibit a piece or two through them. Or ask if you can present a workshop — that will get your name before that group and also before others when they promote the workshop.
    Most local libraries have wall space and will be glad to host an exhibit for you. This gets your name before the public. Don’t forget to leave plenty of postcards and business cards at the library with your exhibit.
    If you have government buildings in town, ask to hang a piece or two in a strategic location. This will get you noticed and your name in yet another part of your town.
    And, make sure your online presence is always current and fresh. Open a blog that features your work. Get on twitter and facebook, etc. to spread the word. Contact your favorite blogs to see if they’d be willing to have you guest blog for them.
    The best way to increase your sales is to increase your visibility in an interesting way.

  9. The more I keep thinking about this question, about finding the right audience, I also wonder, do we need to keep in mind how the work is presented? That can have a huge impact on the audience and how attracted they are to the work.
    I recently exhibited some of my work in a private home, and the response I received to the work was far more energetic than the response I usually get from exhibitions in a more public venue. I saw two reasons for this: 1) the crowd was smaller, but far more intense and interested in being there and 2) people could visualize the work hanging in their home, because, well, they were seeing it hanging in a home.
    It was one of the better exhibition experiences I’ve had, and it really made me rethink where I’d like to exhibit my work. I’ll definitely be adding this kind of venue to my planning and prospecting from now on.

    1. Excellent, Robert! This is why I encourage people constantly to think outside of the box. Don’t do things because it’s the way they’ve always been done.
      Think of the amazing connections you’re making by putting your work in such an intimate situation.

  10. I find I make the most sales when I am in contact with the world. Regularly getting out and visiting, supporting and engaging with other human beings. If I stay in my cave too long and just send a postcard sales plummet. Also, I find that if I hold an event where people are invited to participate in something, I have many more sales. My experience is that people want an experience: they want to experience me, my work, as well as how that translates to their own experience (participate). Did I use the word experience enough?~!

    1. Whitney, Postcards are my friend. Folks like to have beautiful images in their life and they will hang them up at their desk and keep them on their fridge-great publicity that keeps on giving. I promote with email, postcards, fb, twitter, being out in the world, special preview parties get a beautiful wedding-like invite w/RSVP card. At this point I have never paid for advertising so at this point, I do not advertise my events.

  11. I find it hard to pinpoint the ‘right’ audience – my drawings seem to appeal to a wide range of people, even young people who never really bought art before, but also more experienced well-educated couples etc. There seems to be the whole spectrum from twentysomething hipster to pensioned ‘classicist’. That does make it hard to figure out what group of people to aim my marketing at, how to present myself, what language to use etc. So far my buyers are the more or less random people that happen to look at my art for more or less random reasons. They don’t seem to have anything else in common.

  12. Yes Sandra, mostly I find that I like to Be out there and Be Myself and Be my art. People like that. Then I don’t have to worry about selling anything:) Praise the Lord.

  13. Kate Klingensmith

    After looking at art periodicals, I’m starting to think my work falls in the Contemporary Western genre, especially my horse paintings. I’ve had good sales in a gallery I belonged to. I’m now living elsewhere and am planning to search out equine venues. I sold a print to a non profit with an equine program for a very low price (I made a little profit). A local framer donated the framing. At the fundraiser in the silent auction, it got 18 bids. I was floored–it told me I had an audience in the equine world. Wherever I show my work I strive to be as personable as possible, and I listen to comments–like “Oh, you should try to sell to these people. They are always looking for something new in horse art.” Last fall I sent a card with an image of horses that I’d painted, to the owner of the horses. We had never met, but he recognized his horses immediately. The card was basically along the lines of “Thought you’d like this image of your horses, I saw them at…by the way, the painting is available for sale”. Ultimately he wasn’t able to purchase the painting, but he did purchase a smaller giclee print of it, as well as the licensing rights for 5 years. With not being affiliated with a gallery right now, I’ve had to think outside the box. If I hadn’t sent that card, he’d have never known about the painting of his horses.

    1. Kate: Exactly! You took the initiative and put your art in front of THE perfect person. While he didn’t buy the painting, I’ll bet you made a fan for life.

  14. I did my first ever art faire last weekend, of all the other things that I learned, it gave me a clear picture of my niche.. Earlier I considered anyone who loved colors and detail as my niche, but now I have narrowed it to “People with a taste for India and its culture, people who have traveled to India and have experienced it”. Though a lot of people appreciated my work only this above niche actually bought the art…I also learned how to categorize and present my art to the right audience…Considering my theme of work and the location of the faire I did fairly well…
    Now, my goal is to reach them with the right category and presentation…

  15. Sitting alone in my gallery recently, I had alot of time to think about the whole concept of ‘selling our art’. Artists, hundreds of years ago, could live from their art because they had sponsors that funded their work spaces, materials, and afterwards, owned the finished products. Why, I asked myself, has this died out completely? Instead of todays frustrating system of marketing and begging gallery owners, or traveling all over the place to peddle your art, or having your work displayed, only to hope that some people on your mailing list (or total strangers) actually come and have the cash to lay down, I have come up with something that I think is going to work. Now this method requires that you actually have a body of work, a track record of exhibits and sales, and enthusiastic followers who would love to own your work, if it just wasn’t so ‘expensive’ at your exhibits. Why not go back to the system of sponsors (many of them) who support you by an amount equal to the average price of one of your works (paintings, in my case). I am estimating that if I have 10-15 sponsors who can, over the course of a year, support my work, and at the end of that time, be entitled to one of the finished products, it would be win-win. I will be able to continue to make art, and they would be guaranteed a painting at the end of the process. No ramifications or requests on what they want, just maybe size wise, but you get to continue on your creative path with freedom to explore your medium. If a well formulated presentation is given on this proposal, to your mailing list and corporations/businesses/banks/offices etc., the chances of 10 -15 shouldn’t be unrealistic. Imagine having to turn clients away because you commit yourself to a certain number of paintings per year, an they would have to get in line next year for a new chance. I love this idea, but realize that there are all kinds of pitfalls that have to be worked out ahead of putting it out there. I would love to hear this group expand on this concept…..

    1. You know that hundreds of years ago this patronage was tied in with the patrons being able to say pretty much exactly what they wanted the artist to make, and the artist being more like a craftsperson than what we today consider to be the role of an artist, right?
      The way you describe it, I don’t see what the extra ‘win’ for the patron would be in this ‘win-win’ scenario. Sorry for being so negative, but I think that has to be clear before the idea can work.

    2. Obviously. The conditions, as I stated above, would possibly size, and nothing else. When you have a body of work that is attractive to your core group, they should trust you to develop yourself along the lines of what has come before-newsletters/emails informing your sponsors of the process you are in should assure them that you haven’t gone off on a tangent. Obviously, there has to be a degree of trust here, but I am far from suggesting that they have a say in what comes out. From your past, you will be able to evolve, and they will reap the rewards of your progress. win-win??

    3. Connie: I believe there are artists using this model. I’m not sure they earn 100% from sponsorships, but I think it’s worth a try.

    4. Glad to hear that you are somewhat sympathetic to this idea. Like I said above, the degree of trust has to be such that you are free to produce without constraints, but I think this is workable if you have a body of work and an interested audience who wants what you have, but the cash keeps getting in the way….

  16. For me, I started a dialogue with my clients. Granted, it was way easier when I was just starting out to keep everything straight, but I’ve added some tools (like a contact management software) to help my poor old gray matter out. I collected details like their family size, pet names, outside interests, what they liked to read, that sort of thing – intending to use it down the road for marketing (like an email withe a jpg of a new painting – hey, I just finished this one, and it reminded me of your love for x – sort of thing). I also asked for snapshots of my work hanging in their home, which gave me a visual of their surroundings, too. All of this info eventually culminated in a generic idea of my collector’s demographic. Now I try and project where these people might be found, and get my work in front of them through unconventional means (advertising on high traffic blogs or hanging a show in an upscale deli/high end coffee shop). I also rely on the experience of purchasing one of my paintings (typically commissions) to act as impetus for word-of-mouth advertising. And I try to interact with them (via my blog/daily newsletter blasts/facebook) so that they are engaged in subject development and other details of my life.

  17. Has been a huge help to take my canopy and art to smaller venues… markets, small plot of land beside the gallery, small plot of land beside a botique…….places that have a light to steady flow of individuals, but not packed/overwhelming. My “high, black and chrome” artists show chair went to Goodwill……replaced by a well used card table and its chair. I demonstrate my art and chat. I’ve learned to talk about my art…..face to face……with persons that invest in my art[or mabye not]. Warning: 8 hours of face to face “art talk” can be exhausting!………but very rewarding.

    1. You nailed it! “8 hours of face to face ‘art talk’ can be exhausting!” Doing shows wears me out more than hiking 10 mountainous miles or splitting a pile of firewood. Why is this?? Anyone know?

    2. I’ve done the 8 hours of talking, touching, asking about the kids. It’s exhausting for me because I was giving so much of myself. No phony stuff. No hard selling. Being nice, being approachable, being funny, friendly. I never try to sell a painting. I let it sell it self. I answer questions, and encourage the person to buy what they love, not what matches the sofa. That takes a lot of energy. No breaks. Constant smiling, handshaking, and being UP! Makes me tired thinking about it. LOL

  18. More important than finding your right audience is finding, and connecting with, the people and sources that right audience trusts. Where do they attend? I think an artist best reaches their right people through curators of attention that they know consistently shares what they like. There is so much noise that people tend to look where they look already, instead of shifting their filter.

  19. Why spend money on postcards? Almost all potential art buyers have email addresses. The issue is to make your solicitation occasional (so as not to become spam) and with a subject line that makes the recipient open and view the message. Much has been written on designing successful email messages. Read it carefully.
    I have developed an opt-in email list that I service with my “Occasional News Letters.” Every letter has an opt-out line. I often use small web friendly (small file size) images of my art. I have one or two bounces with each mailing, and now and again, some requests, I strike them off my list. New people come from sign ups at my shows, and many from a form on my website.
    I find that these mailings (never more than two per month) drive people to my website and to visit my shows. And even to the occasional sale.
    In addition to emails, I have developed a Twitter following where I announce show openings, new pages on my website (usually with an image of a new painting), always with a com pressed web link.

    1. I stopped sending postcards when they stopped making me money. I only use emails. Just started using an email contact thing, which is heaven. I send out an email with photo, very little text, before the paints dry. Sometimes they don’t hear from me for a couple of weeks, then sometimes several times a week. I find the more often I send emails, the more responses I get. And sales. It’s like tapping them on the shoulder and saying, Remember, you love PJ’s art. I also don’t give the price, measurements, etc on the email. I put a link to my website, where all the info is. Don’t know why, but it sells better that way.

    2. Postcards are a very nice option for those whose haven’t yet signed up to receive emails from you. I sold three paintings to a couple whose daughter worked at an interior design firm that was on my postcard mailing list. She thought her parents would like the image on my card so she looked up my website and sent them a link.

    3. Still a HUGE fan of postcards. They can’t be deleted and stay around for quite some time. And they don’t get lost with hundreds of emails in an inbox. I think you need both.

  20. “A good quality small art festival, with 1,000 or 2,000 attendees, just cannot match a large event with 20,000 to 100,000 attendees.”
    Actually I disagree very strongly with this. If I’m at an event that I think more of my right target audience will attend, my sales will be better if there are 1,000 visitors than the wrong event with 20,000. In fact some of my best selling events are small ones but that I know the right people come to! (some of the largest best-attended art events in London are awful for my work)
    and this:
    “Why spend money on postcards? Almost all potential art buyers have email addresses. ”
    Yes they do. But I once went to a talk by a very successful commercial artist here in London and her top advice was ’email, but always send invitations in the post. Always.’ It really does make a difference. Plus handwritten thank you cards too. (which Alyson taught me!) Postcards are very affordable to have done now. I find people who receive something in the mail as well as the email actually keep the invite/postcard and pin it up and remember to attend the event much more than those receiving the emails. Plus they feel special – nurturing buyers is so important. I do all the other things Peter mentions too.

  21. I did my own postcards. At first each one was handwritten. Then I had them printed. They were boring. So I started doing them. My list got longer, so my husband helped. Then I realized we were spending 2 days of work, and spending money I hadn’t made yet. Emails are easy to make personal. If they don’t have an email address, they always have a friend that does. And it doesn’t take 2 days to do it.

  22. I’m just starting to take my art hobby to an art business. I’m finding that before you can focus on finding your audience you have to be sure you know what you want to say. I’m just starting to hone in on my voice, I think once I’ve got that down to a particular niche that like minded people will follow if I use every opportunity to put myself and my art out there. I have already found that the easier you make it for people to access you and your art the easier sales are. People help people who help people. (:

  23. I have to agree with Alyson… if they’re done right, hopefully they’re pinned up on a board in plain view. They can be a constant reminder, especially if you send reminders every 3-6 months. It’s all about staying out in front. I don’t see how you can go wrong with postcards, especially if you find a quality / affordable printer.

  24. I’ve discovered that instead of going out and finding the right audience, you can let the right audience find you. Here’s my story:
    I make art in various media and with various themes. I had been trying to find my audience for a long time, but I didn’t feel that I had one specific “brand” or “theme” for marketing purposes, which made things extra difficult.
    So after sending out numerous packages and applications for exhibits with all sorts of themes (nature, time and memory, craft, science, alternative photography, portraits, landscapes) I realized that I was getting called back mostly for science-themed exhibits, and that science magazines and blogs began writing about me. I didn’t even think of the majority of my work as particularly “science-related”. So I went with it, began marketing my work as science-themed (even though to me that was quite a stretch) and the marketing really paid off with more exhibits, sales, write-ups… Then I was invited to speak at a University of Chicago anthropology conference, my work appeared on Discover Magazine Blogs, I was on panel discussions, etc. If someone would have told me 5 years ago that this would be my niche, I would not have believed them. It is surreal and not at all intuitive for me.
    I did facilitate this process, but I would still describe this as my audience finding me (especially because I had no idea who I was looking for).

  25. DeKooning had a situation where one sponsor contracted to buy everything he made for a period of time. WdK had his freedom to paint as he liked (he was strong in that regard) and the coin of comfort, so to speak. Now, let me say that is a one in a billion situation, and I myself am not going to wait around for it to happen!

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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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