The Art Biz ep. 107: Personalizing Your Marketing to Improve Results

We’re all about the quest for more followers, more likes, more shares, more views, and more comments these days. It feels good when more people respond to your art because, as I’ve said for too long to remember, art is a form of communication. It’s the means you use to share your ideas … your soul … with the world.

You can say your art is a form of self-expression and you might be right. To an extent. But that self-expression isn’t meaningful until other people respond. Until they comment, share, and start a dialogue with you about it.

artist Claire Renaut newspaper and resin sculpture | on Art Biz Success
©Claire Renaut, Sporing and Spreading. Spun newspaper on resin board, 8.5 x 20 x 31 inches.

That communication, as I’ve also said, completes the work. Yes, I know that you think the work is complete after you sign it, but it feels incomplete until it’s shared with others. Until the circle of artist to artwork to audience and back to artist is closed.

When you put the work out there and don’t get the appropriate number of expected likes or comments, you are unfulfilled. And that sucks. It’s not fair. It’s not fair that Mark Zuckerberg decides who can see your art. It’s not fair to the work and not fair to you that your art has to perform with such high expectations in a digital atmosphere over which you have little control.

What choice do you have? We all feel beholden to the social media algorithms for our success. But are we really? I believe we are taking huge risks by relying on mass communication to complete the circle of communication. To complete the work.

We know for a fact that art must be experienced in person in order to be fully appreciated. So why do we insist on validation from social media giants?

I want to talk about what really works for moving the needle with your art. It’s a secret shared by my highest level clients, only it’s not such a secret.

Rather listen?

One-on-One Marketing

It’s personal relationships that make the biggest difference.

oil painting of chandelier artist Trupti Mannina | on Art Biz success
©Trupti Mannina, Chandelier Room 1. Oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches.

Communicating with a single person rather than broadcasting: one to one rather than one to many. These are the kinds of relationships that show people you care. That they are individuals rather than simply another name on your list.

They are the relationships that matter the most when you decide that you want to play big in the art arena.

We all know what it feels like to get lost in a crowd. To be another face in the room, butt in the chair, or, as they say in the hospitality industry, head in the bed. It may feel good to belong, but it’s impossible to get personal attention. To make a connection with those in charge.

Years ago, I interviewed Steve Cranford for a membership program I was leading. He’s the creative chairman and CEO of the New York agency WHISPER. When I asked him why in the world a marketing firm would be called WHISPER instead of SHOUT, he replied: “The most important information you can share is whispered one-on-one.”

That's profound. So simple and so true.

The most important information you can share is whispered one-on-one.

It’s not posted to your social feed for thousands of people to see. It’s not even sent to your email list, as important as that may be.

When you take out an ad or post to your blog and social media sites—even when you send an email to your list—you are broadcasting. You're talking to hundreds or perhaps thousands of people who might see your message.

Because of this public forum, the language is less personal than you would use in a private conversation. Everyone on the receiving end knows you're talking to a boat load of people simultaneously.

acrylic painting tree artist Julia Paul | on Art Biz Success
©Julia Paul, Tree Without a Trunk. Mixed media and acrylic on wood panel, 12 x 12 inches.

There's nothing wrong with this 1-to-many strategy, but when you want results, when you want to be truly certain that you’re connecting and closing the circle that completes the work, I encourage you to whisper—to communicate with a single person.

Anatomy of a Whisper

Emailing hundreds of people and posting to millions via social media should absolutely be part of your marketing, but they shouldn’t be the only methods you rely on.

I’ve repeatedly seen clients improve their success rates, whatever that meant to them at the time, by communicating 1-to-1 with individuals rather than, or in addition to, broadcasting.

People like to be treated as individuals. We like to know that you care about us and want a personal relationship.

Broadcasts—whether through email or social media—will never equal the power of personal attention. Besides, personalizing the relationship you have with buyers, students, and collectors will make you feel better because it feels more authentic. It’s not a place for sales speak, but for showing you care about another human.

wood and metal sculpture artist Anthony Sheffler | on Art Biz Success
©Anthony Sheffler, Coming Apart at the Beams. Walnut, mahogany, maple, and aluminum, 5.25 x 15.5 x 4 inches.

Four Ways to Connect on a More Personal Level

If you are worried about bothering people on your list or if marketing has become a drag for you, it’s time to get more personal. It’s time to whisper. Here are 4 ways to do that.

1. Add personal messages.

Increase the number private emails, texts, and direct messages in your marketing mix.

Private emails are those that are sent from the personal email program on your computer and reach only the 1 recipient for whom they’re intended. There are no email marketing platforms involved.

Direct messages use the inbox for a social media platform, and are far more likely to be noticed and appreciated than a thumbs up or one comment among a slew of others. These can be typed, but it’s also fun to use audio clips by just clicking record in Facebook or Instagram.

I don’t think I need to tell you what a text message is.

Using any of these formats, you might invite individuals to your event, thank them for following you, tell them you were just thinking of them, wish them happy birthday, ask how they’re liking their purchase, or share information that you think will be useful or otherwise appreciated.

2. Send real mail.

ink and gesso detail artist Sarah Mufford | on Art Biz Success
©Sarah Mufford, Biomorphic Dissolve (detail). India ink, pigmented ink, graphite, and polymer gesso on 300g Fabriano, 140 x 128 cm.

You know that I love real mail: cards, letters, small gifts, and postcards. If you want to know my deeper thoughts about using real mail to delight, go back to episode number 47.

Still, some real mail, like postcards and pre-printed holiday cards, can feel almost as impersonal as mass email. Try sending postcards one at a time rather than in bulk mail. This ritual helps you focus on and appreciate individual recipients.

Writing by hand on any piece of real mail makes it more personal, and anything handwritten will also receive more attention than mail that is mass printed.

3. Pick up the phone.

This is a tough one, and I get it. Why are we so averse to dialing a phone number these days? Especially when we know a phone call can be a shortcut to the answer we need or connection we seek?

Next time you receive an email inquiry about your art, I challenge you to pick up the phone and call instead of responding with an email. Your email looks like everything else in an inbox, but your voice—full of warmth and gratitude—is uniquely your own.

4. Make short videos.

It’s incredible that we have technology at our fingertips that makes it easy (and cheap) for us to make and send videos. Let’s use it more frequently.

You’ll stand apart when you send a personal video to someone who:

  • Is having a rough time.
  • Can’t understand a certain aspect of your online course.
  • Has a big presentation, performance, or exhibition.
  • Is celebrating a birthday or anniversary.
  • Did something special for you.
acrylic painting coastal landscape artist Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki | on Art Biz Success
©Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Coastal Patterns. Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches.

You might also send a video to your collector with an update on their commission. Or one that shows you packing or shipping their artwork.

It Takes More Time

Not sure where to begin? The most powerful attention you can give someone is to stop and listen rather than always being the message deliverer. Pay attention to what’s going on in their world.

What’s important to your collector? What struggles are your students having? How can you be of service? How can you make them feel special?

Clearly, communicating 1-to-1 rather than 1-to-many takes more time—a valuable commodity that most of us don’t have.

I realize this is a problem. I wish I had more time to interact with followers, students, and subscribers on a more personal level.

Again, I’m not suggesting you ditch the 1-to-many strategies of email marketing and social media posting, but I am encouraging you to stop relying on broadcasting for all of your marketing.

These 3 things are for certain.

  • You’ll build a list of higher quality contacts by personalizing your communication.
  • You can’t rely on social media algorithms to deliver your message.
  • You’ll feel better about your marketing when you value individual relationships, and, as a result, and perhaps most importantly, you’ll find increased meaning in the work because the conversations are elevated.

Isn't that last point what it's all about? If art is a form of communication, the ultimate goal is to make those strong connections. Enjoy the journey.

Listen to the Podcast

This post was originally published February 14, 2018, and has been significantly updated along with a podcast. Original comments have been left intact.

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38 thoughts on “The Art Biz ep. 107: Personalizing Your Marketing to Improve Results”

  1. Alyson,
    I’m doing your Art Makeover conference in Golden because you sent a real letter in the mail! I had seen the emails and blog about it and wanted to do it, but once off the computer it was out of sight, out of mind. I knew full well what you were doing (by sending real mail :)), but I actually did the sign up because it did feel very personal and the letter was sitting on my desk reminding me that I needed to sign up. By the way, I am really excited about going and spending time with you and other artists from all over the country!

  2. Theresa Grillo Laird

    Great post! Lately it’s been bothering me that I’ve connected with so many people on Facebook who became FB friends that I’ve lost track of them. I’ve been going through my whole list 5 or so at a time and just messaging them a friendly hello with a reminder of why we connected.It would probably be an even better idea to do this with my mailing list.

  3. I loved your article, Alyson. Your approach to marketing art is so refreshing. You always bring us back to the reason we create art in the first place, to exchange life experience with other people. Who isn’t thrilled and amazed when someone sends a personal note or a handwritten invitation. Proof that I’m not invisible, someone knows my name or is actually thinking of me! I’m hoping that all my sales will flow out of a kind consideration for others.

  4. Even when we do a big mailing for a show (1000+ postcards) I write a personal note on every one. If possible, I start with their name, something I learned from my grandfather, who was a great salesman. Surprisingly, this only takes 2 – 3 hours, and it is definitely worth it, for all the reasons you note. Thanks, Alyson, for another great post!

  5. I’ve built most of my marketing around print & postcards over the years. I send them to the people listed in magazine mastheads and that has garnished a lot of stories for me. I also don’t waste my time with art related magazines or magazines related to my medium. Artist, for the most part, don’t buy much art. People who buy yachts, airplanes, build luxury houses buy art.

    Really think globally, where there is wealth there is interest in arts: Rome, Paris, London, Sydney, Vancouver, Toronto, Moscow, Tokyo, so forth and so on. They all have art and design publications and at least 1% to 2% of their population interested in the arts. It’s all about demographics and population numbers.

    I send out postcards for shows and exhibitions. After I sell a piece I have a complete “thank you” program where they will hear from me via postcards at least once a quarter for the next couple of years. Part of the “thank you” program is a small gift not exceeding $100.00. I usually make a donation in their name to a non-profit that they support or are involved with. If not, I find a car detailer in their area and send them a $100 gift certificate for one of their numerous luxury cars.

    Throughout the year I’ll send a one or two lines on a postcard to existing clients and potential client.

    For larger commissions, using MyPublisher, I make a book showing the process of how the piece was built and the back story. Collectors and clients go ape over the book. They leave it out and show it to their friends. It’s brought a number of commissions to me.

    Using the same book format, I obliterate the issue of the question “How long does it take to make the piece?” and am able to direct the conversation to other issues about the work. THIS IS A POWERFUL SALES TOOL.

    PRINT for work selling in the 4 and 5 figures is very potent. Print is luxurious. Print separates you from the other 97% of the artists.

    By the way, if you are selling through galleries and have no handle on your costs and don’t know what your Gross Profit is and your Net, you are most likely losing money, BIGLY!

    Equally important after using print, learn how to sell. The most important magazine in your library should be Selling Power. It amazes me that artists will spend thousands of dollars to do a show, but have no clue on how to close a sale, get past objections or how to take a good lead. BTW, if you have an address book for people to sign at a show or gallery, YOU ARE WASTING A LOT OF YOUR TIME and MONEY!. There is a much better way.

    1. Great post, thanks for sharing your experience it’s so true and interesting too. Especially the “my publisher” for commissions…. will look into that! Not sure why capturing potential clients emails is wasting time and money? Thought it was supposed to be a good idea?

  6. I’m new to seriously marketing my art and I love this approach – it’s what I do naturally, but you put it into context and easy to follow steps. And Mark Levin, your comments are very valuable as well. Thank you both.

  7. A few years ago I sent Christmas cards with nice prints enclosed of large paintings two collectors were mulling over buying. I also offered a small discount (it being the Holidays). I heard back immediately from both. Sold and Sold. This article reminds me of how effective the whisper is.

  8. Great article Alyson. I also find that when I send out my bulk email news update each month, I get a number of responses from people. I make a point to respond to each one individually, even if only with a one liner.

  9. I want to know more about “my publisher”-where can I get the info-how tos, costs, etc?
    Some time back I got note cards printed w/ photos of paintings that my collrctor had purchased. At the back of the folded note card was the name od the collector and the name of the artist. I sent a box of 10 to each collector and they loved it!
    Love your advice Alyson-I think its a great idea in this day and age of too many mass mailings!

  10. I’ve had more success indevidually messaging people over facebook about a show than I ever have blasting social media about it with events and reminders. With mosquito season creeping up on us, I’m thinking about sending squished mosquito art cards to some local businesses.

  11. Vanessa Vandergraaf

    First-time reader and fabulous post, Alyson. I appreciate the authenticity and how you model what you write, specifically “they are individuals rather than simply another name on your list” by showcasing individual works of art throughout the post. Each work of art appears to be strategically placed, such as the Coming Apart at the Beams by Anthony Scheffler above the Four Ways to Connect on a More Personal Level section.
    Thank you for the challenge to pick up the phone and call instead of responding with an email (or text).


  12. At the last show I did outside, I sat painting a dog portrait at my easel. I got several commissions for dog and cat portraits in the month after that. It was a nice way to pass the time, also.

  13. Pingback: Tips for Wowing People with Your Art Exhibition Invitation | Art Biz Success

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