Case Study (Spec): Strategy for Contemporary Art Gallery
By: Stephen Wilson
Problem: Engagement/ Audience Growth/ Sales
Most contemporary art galleries have a web presence. Duh, right? However, I find that the majority are not utilizing their internet real estate in a manner to increase engagement, nor grow their audience, and thus build sales leads.
Further, as a sector of the creative community, it seems that art galleries are still functioning outside the world of ecommerce, where there have been exponential increases in revenue in the last decade(estimated 1.9 trillion dollars in 2016 in total global ecommerce). Granted, this growth largely coincides with the convenience of ecommerce. However, brands have also revolutionized the ways in which they interact with their customers on the web.
Upon closer inspection of the galleries, I honestly don’t know whether the old guard insists that the gallery system function as a hierarchy of the elite, catering only to the serious collector; Or on the other hand, whether galleries continue to function under the status quo, oblivious to what’s happening around them. Unfortunately, this antiquated business model witnesses the continuous shuttering of businesses, leaving the artists and gallerists alike out in the cold. I challenge art galleries across the country to increase the attention paid to their web strategies.
Email Capture/ Newsletter Sign Up Form/ Landing Page Pop Up
Why Building Email Lists Are Important
Create Useful Original Content
Email Capture/ Sign-up Forms
Galleries have been capturing emails for years, with guest books prominently placed at their reception desks. Interested visitors are encouraged to sign the pages and leave an email address for updates on the gallery in the future. Yet, problems with this model often arise in the legibility of handwriting and the constant need to manually update an email database, leaving room for human error on both ends.
This old school tactic has been modernized with the increased ease of coding a newsletter sign up into the pages of a website. With that said however, roughly only 80% of New York galleries surveyed utilize a functioning newsletter sign up form. I’d venture a bet that number decreases significantly in lesser markets. I find it even more shocking that 16% of New York galleries surveyed have no form of email capture on their sites at all. These numbers are nothing though, compared to the mere 1.7% of gallery sites that utilize a pop-up window to capture site visitor emails. (*we looked at a sample size of 65 New York gallery websites, ranging from contemporary to modern artist stables)
It seems as if the brick and mortar gallery sector has learned nothing from the leaders of ecommerce. Whether it be in fashion or home decor, the vast majority of those sites exploit opportunities to capture a direct line to their audience with pop-up opt-in forms. It blows my mind that a business owner would neglect this occasion. Yes, it is true that consumers have become weary of pop-up anything, especially if they feel it is inhibiting the content they seek. However, with a little research there are products out there with less aggressive tactics to encourage user opt-in. The one that I found most interesting was a product that senses “exit intent” to trigger the pop-up, rather than the traditional timer trigger.
“Why is building your email list important?”
Building an email subscriber list is important because it is a direct link to your customer. Unlike social media marketing, you are not bartering with a rented platform, hoping that the content ends up in front of your audience, while also competing with thousands of other posts in the same dynamic feed. Further, direct email conversion rates consistently out perform social media campaigns. If we think about it, it starts to make a lot of sense. Someone that has opted to give you their email address, and thus direct access to their inbox, has already told you at least one of two things: They trust you and your content, or they are interested in your product. They want to hear from you.
What should a gallery do with the addresses once it has captured them? I acknowledge what I’m about to write becomes an impossibility for a site who may be collecting hundreds of emails a week. However, if you find yourself collecting a manageable number of emails to be able to do a little bit of friendly research on your newly opted in customers, you may find your future self at an advantage in delivering more poignant content to separated subsets of your audience. This also makes list management incredibly important. Granted, these last few paragraphs of information may seem daunting at first, but setting up a protocol for managing your lists makes things much more digestible in the long run.
Creation of Useful Content
Though I often want to know about openings, and I sometimes want to read when Jerry Saltz or Roberta Smith have written reviews of a show. It’s a rare occasion to hear anything else out of a gallery for weeks at a time. Thus, I personally find it easy to tune out anything I receive from them at all. So, what is effective communication for art galleries to position themselves for the best conversion rates? It’s important to state here that it may be a stretch to count on emails to drive direct sales generated from such a small portion of customers, or actual collectors. However, if you take into consideration that most of those people tap into peripheral sources to help make their decisions about taste, you can start to see the value in engaging a larger audience with interesting and useful information about an artist stable. The momentum created by a larger buzz cannot be underestimated. These are simply ideas exemplified in Malcolm Gladwell’s seminal book The Tipping Point.
Further, we can look again to the fashion industry for great examples of businesses engaging their audience with specifically relevant content. Here, Reformation taps into its demographic of politically engaged young women, offering a timely selection of T-shirts with fun, but also poignant slogans in the middle of a season full of protests and activism. In order to position your brand and its point of view as relevant, it takes on the utmost importance to not only understand your audience, but to also be aware of the current events that may be effecting them. In that vein, I think back to the last Deitch Projects show, where the gallery presented street artist, Shepard Fairey’s Mayday. The show coincided with the heightened distrust and political unrest, stemming from the financial crisis of 2008. The opening that afternoon culminated a day of political rallies, protests, and demonstrations all over Lower Manhattan. This strategy worked to activate the show with more buzz and resonance with its audience.
Thus, crafting the most effective content to engage your audience largely depends on the audience itself, bringing us back to email capture. When creating a sign-up form, it’s good practice to gather as much information about the person as possible/ that you feel they will be comfortable handing over. Again, you may also have different subsets of your audience that will be more engaged with different outreach. For example, a more hip, younger subset will likely be more interested in engaging content that incorporates live experience with their social media feeds than possibly an older set of your audience that will likely not be as active on the latest social media.
Finally, I think traditional marketing for galleries is outmoded. When I say traditional, I mean expensive ads in art magazines and periodicals, as well as printed post cards and show announcements. When we look closely at the returns on investment, it becomes clear that money could be better spent. On what, you ask? Again, that depends on your audience demographic. However, I think we can both agree that handing out a 4” x 6” postcard, hoping it won’t promptly end up in the waste basket at home is less valuable than engaging your audience with a more personal and substantial experience. Thus, directly engaging a more focused group of your audience is where I would start. In the end, this all becomes a functioning part of a more integrated strategy for audience growth and engagement that will eventually lead to more sales in the long run.
*note: This is written with a growing gallery in mind; a gallery that shows emerging to mid-career artists and is still building a brand. These strategies will likely not show immediate results, but rather steady growth in all of your benchmarked points over a period of time. Granted, established blue chip galleries may also benefit from the above, but the benefit of a recognizable brand cannot be overlooked.