The marketing of fine art

I was recently approached by the owner of a recently opened gallery with a view to doing some research into marketing strategies in the fine art market.  In preparation for a meeting with the gallery owner, I did some preliminary research; the results of which brought some important conclusions.

  1.  Fine art turns the preparation of marketing plans on its head.   In normal circumstances, when preparing to develop a product, it is normal practice to begin by segmenting the market and developing profiles of target market segments.  Some businesses will even go to the length of developing a personal profile for their perfect customer.  Only once the target customer is defined is the product and its marketing mix created.  In the fine art market, a gallery or agent is presented with a finished product; the artistic work; and then must find a suitable customer for that work.  This task can be difficult because often artistic works are made, not with commercial gain in mind but with a focus on the personal beliefs and opinions of the artist.  It is the role of the gallery or agent to find the customer best fitted to the work; often someone who shares the opinions, beliefs and sentiments of the artist.
  2. Galleries and art dealers have a dual marketing role.  Effectively there are two markets which a gallery owner has to satisfy; the consumer wishing to buy the art; and the artists who must be persuaded that the gallery is the right place for their work to be displayed.  The commercial gallery is retailing a product to consumers but providing a service to the artist.  So a gallery has to develop two marketing mixes one for the sale of goods, the other an extended marketing mix for its suppliers.  These mixes need to compliment each other as a commercial retail mix may be at odds with the motives and persona of the artist.
  3. Art reflects the higher needs of Maslow’s hierarchy.  Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs is a well respected psychology model and it is widely used by marketers.  Human needs are placed in a pyramid.  At the base are safety and psychological needs such as hunger, shelter, warmth and freedom from illness.  At the apex of the pyramid are self-actualisation and esteem needs, such as respect, reward and the ability to reflect one’s personality.  Art reflects these higher needs.  In developing a marketing mix for the sale of fine art, care needs to be taken to ensure that the higher needs of target customers are suitably satisfied and that they are reflected in the marketing of the work.  Get this wrong, and the work may not receive appropriate notice or achieve its maximum sales potential.  Art also strongly represents the self actualisation and esteem needs of the artist.  Galleries need to ensure that the service they provide to artists meets that individuals needs expectations.

These three factors make the marketing of fine art a more difficult prospect when compared to the marketing of other products and services.  It is crucially important that those entering the fine art market carefully develop detailed marketing plans with tightly defined marketing mixes.  For a commercial gallery to succeed, there has to be symbiosis between the artist and the consumer.  It is the dealer’s role to identify such symbiosis and to persuade both parties, the artist and the consumer, that it strongly exists.

Philmus Consulting Ltd can help galleries and art dealers to develop structured marketing plans that address the difficulties of running a business based on fine art.


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