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A remark made in an interview with Mat Stuller (yes, that Stuller) in the latest issue of JCK caught my eye. “There will always be jewelry sales as long as we have lust, love, and guilt”, Stuller said. What struck me about the remark was the perspective on buyer psychology this implies, and how different this perspective is from anything I have ever heard expressed from studio jewelers. In this end of the universe we indulge in deep, brooding philosophical introspection. We are obsessed with how we feel about what we make. The other end of the scale is obsessed with how buyers feel about what they make.
Yes there are some differences between “commercial” jewelry and “studio” jewelry – but not as many as either side likes to believe. Its really a continuum, and there is plenty of overlap in style, technique, materials, themes, and design. The main difference seems to be that ground-breaking concept, design and trends originate more often in the studio environment. However the most successful concepts, design and trends are quickly co-opted by commercial jewelers who understand how to present them to a mass audience.
This is not to say that there isn’t plenty of creativity and ground-breaking in the commercial world too. The point is that they are far better at selling the work. In some cases, our work.
They are not “bad” for doing this. We are not smart for letting them. Perhaps its time to mind our own business.
Just to touch on this briefly, as this irked me as well:
"As a person who has has a fairly close personal knowledge as to how an automobile gets designed and made I take exception to the myopic notion that there is no passion, craftsmanship and personal "handmade" involvement in the process"
I grew up in Michigan, aka Motor City. One year when I was a child, my mom took me into the GM plant for Take Your Kid to Work Day. They did a big tour of the facility. One of my favorite memories of the entire trip was seeing the full scale clay models of one of the designs they were working on. The artists let us feel the warm clay that they use to build it out and ask questions. These were passionate people, building something they were proud of. While this role is likely fulfilled by a 3D model these days, there's still passion and design involved. My mom builds 3D models for the aeronautics and trucking industries and loves her job. Every single time she passes a Sterling truck from Freightliner she jumps at the chance to point out that she designed the front grill.
To claim that there's no passion or hands on involvement in the craft, because it's developed under the umbrella of a giant corporation is to do disservice to the many individuals who had a hand in the end product.
Some additional info, as I was curious and asked my mom whether or not the process has changed since that visit:
To your point above, it can indeed come across as smarmy, particularly if you hear the same vendor using the same line regardless of its relevance to the particular buyer. There is a certain amount of sussing out I always do before using an approach like that.
There are lots of ways to move the customer toward the sale and they will work if they are relevant to her needs. I often find myself advising older women on gifts for their daughters or granddaughters. "Is she a conservative pearls only person, or is she adventurous and edgy?" Questions like that give you a chance to learn about your customers' needs and establish rapport and trust.
Marketing really gets a bad rap as "making" people buy, feel, do things things that they otherwise wouldn't do. As a veteran marketer I wish it were that easy, and if it was, I sure as hell would do it for the jewelry I make. The point I made to Glen Adamson at the conference is that the mindless demonizing of "marketing" is a distraction that prevents artists from understanding how to apply solid principles of communication in the service of their own interests.
Marketing is not about "tricking" people. It is about connecting ideas, emotions, needs and wants. Bringing this back to the original comment, the emotions of love, lust and guilt are the prime drivers of most jewelry sales. Dauvit states that he feels happy that he has been able to satisfy a buyers emotional needs. Has the buyer been "tricked" into those feelings?
Before you all rush to tell me that "this is different". Its not. Its sales, and I am happy for Dauvit.
I must say I interpreted the statement in a different way. The statement was not about the jewelry itself, but about its use as a social tool. People need to buy jewelry to achieve lust, express love and repent for various disappointments, perhaps involving the first two.
I had an experience completely opposite from Dauvit's sale almost thirty years ago. I was at my first bench job at a jewelry store and a man came in to buy something for a woman. He found something he absolutely loved until we told him the price. It was too low. So he bought something he liked less so he could pay more. That was fascinating.
Marketing usually appeals to the buyer's sense of self. Again from the past, when Debeers started their ad for how much you should spend on an engagement ring so as not to be a total heel, the answer here in the States was two months salary. In the same period when I visited the UK (Dauvit can correct me here) during the Thatcher era the answer was one month's salary. Same exact ad scaled back to what they thought was the maximum they could get.
So it's not about what the jewelry is made from or how it's made but how that purchase reflects back on the purchaser. That it is an object is almost irrelevant because here it is a message.
This is a fascinating discussion, and a tricky subject. We absolutely have to learn how to do a better job of marketing and therefore selling our work if we hope to be able to continue doing it. I always feel like I missed out on that "lesson" along the line.
I worked a retail job as a young woman, and was quite good at selling when the product was something unrelated to me. It's easy to honestly praise something for its beauty and other wonderful qualities when not my own work. It feels self-aggrandizing and unseemly when it is a piece of my making, even though I truly believe my work to be quite wonderful (see, saying even that to all of you feels quite boorish!), so how can we present our work (ourselves) to a potential client in a productive way to close the deal? Do they want and expect something from us that is different from the traditional shopping experience? There are so many layers to this topic. Do you think traditional marketing skills can be applied to what we do, or should they be somehow adapted to the field?
I like to think that what separates us from mass marketed manufactured jewelry is "the story." Although they do a good job at the story on a large scale appealing to many people, I think that art jewelry appeals to the individual-I find that people who buy art in general are more honed in to it...it's the others who may have the funds to spend that need to education. Although, I have found that if someone is into the "designer" name then there's no way to turn them...perhaps it starts with education at birth...
Buying art seems to be very emotional, I have had customers cry (in a good way) and one customer actually told me she "dreamed about the piece she saw" and came to the studio to purchase it soon after. While many of us may never have large market appeal, we can capitalize on it by being nice, honest, passionate about our work and appreciate of our customers spending their hard earned funds on our art (see discussion on thank you's).
People buy things for two reasons: to solve a problem or satisfy an emotional need.
Good marketing does not convince someone to change their mind. It shows them how the product satisfies their emotions and then the heart gets the mind to rationalize buying the product.
It really is that straightforward and that is why nearly all products advertised today focus either on the emotions or problems of the target audience. Want a great example of how emotions sell products? Look at the success of the Obama presidential campaign or the success of the Republicans immediately following 9/11.As to the question of, "What would motivate a consumer to buy something handmade in today's culture?" My answer is: "NOTHING - if 'handmade' is all you got." There are tons of people pushing poorly designed and executed handmade stuff all the time. And there are lots of organizations and campaigns rallying under the "handmade" banner. "Handmade" has become almost as meaningless a marketing term as "fresh."
I just came across the BANK ON ART project happening in Toronto right now and wanted to share with you. It sounds like a good start, but it would be AWESOME if one could BUY work right then and there too and have it shipped home all straight from the ATM. OK, take a look:
BANK on ART is a project showcasing contemporary artworks on the display screen of a functional bank machine. Developed by artist and curator Kelly McCray, this money-dispensing ATM features images produced by contemporary artists before and after each banking transaction.
In conjunction with the ATM, BANKonART.net is an online directory providing further information about the participating artists. The objective is to engage and expose the general public to the work of artists through an existing routine activity.
PS: A cursory look revealed participation of at least 2 metalsmiths, but there are probably more who have signed up already.