Interdisciplinary. Community. Advocacy. Humor.
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.
I have to say that I was absolutely amazed about a month ago when someone contacted me about buying "Cold Genius": the language used was emotional and passionate in the extreme. This person HAD to own the piece as it had become something about which they couldn't stop thinking. The piece is now sold and it has made me really happy that I've been able to satisfy somebody's real emotional needs. I've experienced enthusiasm before, but this is the first time I've experienced someone almost literally "in love" with some of my work.
My concern over the cynical use of these emotions is great: it bothers me hugely that marketing taps into it, making advertising which coerces the consumer - by trickery - into feeling (something like) the emotions of "love, lust and guilt" for objects in which nobody has invested one iota of their own philosophy, passion or skill; mass-produced rubbish somehow meriting the tag "designer"...
I can never understand what makes a person spend more on a mass-produced item than they would on a similar hand-made item. The case in point is that someone could pay £800 for, say, an Armani suit; my tailor would hand-make a suit for that. At the lower end of the market, of course we are not going to pay to have a tee-shirt made to fit when we can buy one for £3, but there is a vast middle-market to which we as makers should be able to appeal.
I have to say that I hadn't really considered the corporate annexing of "handmade" but now that you've mentioned it, I can think on many examples from my own experience. The marketing of a faux-handmade for things like cars would suggest that it is a powerful selling point and one which we should be able to exploit, especially as it has obviously been "focus-grouped" as such. We are into Naomi Klein territory here and - unfortunately - I just don't have the psycho-political philosophy to be able to work out how to do this!
To play a bit of the devil's advocate...
What would motivate a consumer to buy something handmade in today's culture? I feel like many of the current generation (myself included, to an extent) has been raised in something of a throw-away culture. Why buy something that's handmade when they can buy something similar from China that will last a few years and when it breaks, no big deal because the cost was minimal? The expectation is not that it last forever, just 'long enough' to move onto the next thing.
To add the cultural problem, to many the term 'handmade' equates to 'poor quality' or just plain 'poor'. When I was growing up, the kid that had handmade clothing (even if it was really nice work) was obviously the 'poor kid', even if that label was completely unfair. People are led to believe that because something has a brand logo on it that somehow makes it better. Consumers tend to buy into a brand because there is a perception that it stands for a certain idea, be it concretely stated or just a general 'vibe' that they get from a brand.
They also know that when they buy an Armani suit, the company is at least somewhat accountable for the quality if the seams rip within the first week, due to the easy, viral, and wholly public nature that complaints about product quality may now take on. One doesn't necessarily have the same assurance with the neighborhood tailor and may not even know that the tailor offers such services. Without proper marketing and promotion, you're expecting the consumer to come looking for your services, when many of them may not even know it's a possibility. In today's always connected, easy-access economy, not marketing and presenting your work in an easy to connect with fashion is putting a big hurdle between you and your potential consumer. It doesn't matter if you have the best work on the planet, if people can't find it and can't learn more about it in a way they can connect with, you've lost your opportunity to build a relationship with them.
I would actually say that the corporate move to promote the handmade image is a good sign, as much as it may irritate some. It says that culturally people are starting to become more aware of the 'handmade' and see it as valuable, so much so that companies are now trying to leverage that association for their brands. As John stated, marketing is not about tricking people so much as it's about building an association between a product and the consumer in a way that helps them connect to it. If consumers are starting to show an interest and passion for the handmade then I feel like we should take a moment to think about why corporations are marketing along those lines and see if/how we can benefit from their approach.
I agree wholeheartedly with John that demonizing 'marketing' is a distraction and detrimental to artists who might otherwise utilize and learn from the strategy that works for others. I'd advocate instead for the opposite: Listen and learn. Marketing your work is not evil or something to be ashamed of as long as you're being honest about what you're representing and establishing real relationships and communication with your consumer. (which is where I think the negative connotation of marketing comes from, though that's a topic for when I have more time)
There are really two issues being discussed here, both relate to "truth". On one hand, specious claims are always held up as proof positive of the evils of marketing. People lie in an attempt to sell s***. This is as old as human history and predates the establishment of the marketing industry by at least several thousand years. This no more invalidates the art and science of marketing (yes, I said it) than the fact that there are thousands of people out there making shitty craft invalidates all craftspeople. There are people that make bad marketing and bad craft, and sometimes they come together. Witness Miley Cirus' line of jewelry.
On the other hand much has been made about the word "craftsmanship" being applied the making of an automobile. 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. Anyone who says differently has never been involved in the process and simply doesn't know what they are talking about. Witness the Art Center School of Design.
There is yet another truth of marketing that is germaine to this discussion - that is satisfying the emotional needs of the buyer. Tara speaks to this point quite eloquently and it is the same point made by Mat Stuller. As much as we like to think that our decisions to buy things are rational, reasoned choices, most of the time they are not. All human beings, you included, have an agenda of emotional needs that you bring to the process of almost every purchase decision you make. Many of these needs operate on a subconscious level, making them all the more powerful motivators - love, lust, guilt. Auto manufacturers employ the biggest and brightest marketing minds in the business and spend hundreds of millions of dollars to study how you think and what motivates you (yes, YOU!) If you are seeing a message that connects a particular automotive product with handmade craftsmanship, you can bet your ass it resonates with a certain buyer psychographic profile and fulfills a specific emotional need.
The real point of all this is that most craftspeople don't understand the principles or how to employ any of this for their own benefit. Simply put, they do nothing to connect emotionally to the larger buying public. The net result, as Tara points out, is little or no perceived value. Being outraged at auto manufacturers because they coop a "handmade" message is wasting time and energy. Use that time and energy to do something for yourself. Here's your marketing homework assignment: I'm a potential buyer. Tell me, in 15 seconds, a COMPELLING reason I should buy your stuff.
I am glad that you are stressing the point (again) that a lot of makers "do nothing to connect emotionally to the larger buying public." As you say, a lot of us always go on about how the piece was made and how WE feel about it, whereas the message as far as selling the work should really be all about how does it make YOU feel.
I think a lot of this has to do with a craftman's nerdiness, we makers are just so totally into making, the process of creating is so overwhelmingly stimulating and fulfilling for us (!) that we probably think that everybody else will just be as enthusiastic about this process as we are. I am absolutely guilty of that myself. To me, there is NOTHING even remotely as interesting as any type of craft work, and I simply do not understand how you can go through life without loving this type of work enthusiastically. I can read or listen for hours about work processes, materials etc., I live for this stuff. So there you go, "it's all about me" - again. Ha. Point well taken.
So, if others (sadly for them) do not share my enthusiasm as wholeheartedly, what then motivates buyers? I think that a compelling reason/motivation to buy means something different for each buyer type/situation and that's why it is difficult to pinpoint a 30-second-elevator-commercial to the exact buyer type you have in front of you at any given moment. Also, as a maker I do cherish the freedom to create pieces that I like, even though I may have to build for others' tastes too to survive.
Leaving aside true need (food, shelter, basic clothing) and considering that most craft artwork falls into the not essential to survival category, we must really focus on perceived need/personal desire, maybe in some cases perceived monetary value. As you state in your question: Tell me a compelling reason why I should buy your stuff.
Tossing it out to all: How do we motivate buyers to realize that they have a need to buy our work? The message to motivate the target audience must arouse THEIR interest and create preference for the craft piece, resulting in the desired response which will determine whether the buyer is motivated enough to buy it. Tough stuff.
A good start is to convey need as in how the work could function in a buyer's environment/real life (Examples: Functional ceramics: Display on a real table. Jewelry: Display on a model (careful- hot issue), Glassware: In use.... OK, that's all being done already.
So what else ? How do we convey EMOTIONAL NEED everybody ?
As you stated, make sure you are not talking about yourself but the needs of your buyer. Long winded process speeches take away your sales momentum. Greet, watch and wait for your customer to give you the cue that she is ready to consider buying.
Every time a customer picks up your work she is putting herself in the mindset of someone who already owns it. She is "trying it on" in her imagined, ideal lifestyle.
If you are a potter, and a customer is considering a platter, say something like, "We use this platter all the time for fresh tomato salad. The tomatoes really pop with that glaze." You are giving her a practical AND emotional reasons to buy that platter. She can use it for fresh tomato salad (practical) and she can idealize herself as the kind of person she WANTS to be - either a gardener (she may already be one) or someone who shops at farmers markets for beautiful fresh tomatoes. Those are layers of positive powerful emotions.
If you are a jeweler and she is trying on a pendant, give sincere feedback about how the colors work with her skin tone or eyes and how they take her to the next level.
As artists we often excel at making but suck at selling. But selling skills can be learned if they don't come naturally. You just need to become an observer of human behavior and put the customer's needs first.
Thank you, very good points.
While I do understand and applaud the rationale of comments like "We use this platter all the time for fresh tomato salad. The tomatoes really pop with that glaze" I must say that whenever similar comments were made to me (when someone tried to "sell" me something) it was a BIG turnoff for me personally. I felt like someone was DELIBERATELY attempting to make some sort of a connection with me for the sake of selling ONLY. It just wasn't authentic.
What did it for me in those cases was wether or not I found the person behind that comment "believable" and also like-able. If I was unable to connect with them personally, then no matter what they said, it would not resonate, even worse, to the contrary I would find their comments to be intrusive and downright manipulative. If, on the other hand, I "liked" the person, their comments were welcome. Weird, right?
I think that sentiment echoes what Deborrah stated earlier today, that she is a bit shy about talking about her own work for fear of coming across as self-serving. I am sure many people feel like that. Me included.
i cannot help but get involved with this downright interesting as well as extremely important conversation. i have a few different perspectives i'd like to share and see what comments are generated. i have been selling my work (jewelery) at mid to high-end craft shows for 10 years now. i have been watching the trend in sales all during this time and the quantity and quality of the attendance. i can say that the "recession/depression" began well before the housing crash in 2008, but that is a different conversation. what i can say is that at the same shows i've done many times, the sales have been sliding preceipitously. attendance is dramatically down and therefore the $$ available to us artists is likewise diminished. the same paair earrings that no one thought twice about purchasing before is frequently looked upon as too expensive. i know that if a customer touches it, they already have a connection to it on some level. most people don't even approach or touch it if it didn't stir something inside initially. i don't just wander through stores or craft shows just looking at tags for the heck of it. it's usually because i know i like it and i'm wondering if i can afford it. why is attendance drastically down? why are we selling less? why are stores like walmart selling more (because people can't afford as much for things they may have previously purchased at higher prices)? auto sales are down. home sales are down. housing starts are way down. i actually do not believe it has anything to do with someone not having a connection with something. i think the connection is there but right now it's also frequently about the price tag. is it always? absolutely not. but i do believe it is right now for many things.
the media buyer for an organization to which i belong explained something to me when i asked her how come i seemed to be observing more people still buying things for their homes but less jewelry and clothing. she said that the big stores claim it relates to people having less money for vacations and luxuries so instead of spending that $4000 on a family vacation, they'll spend $500 on a beautiful piece of art/craft that helps beautify their home and make it "feel" more like a sanctuary. because they will spend more time there, they want it to "feel"/be more special. there is that feeling word again. it makes perfect sense to me. feel free to share on that.
now, i'm sure i will generate comments on this, because it is somewhat political in nature. we have been discussing that "handmade" word used in autos and other majors corps in their advertising. people have begun to realize that we are in the mess we are in because there has been such a dramatic loss of jobs overseas and people are having to take reduced wages, give-backs on their benefits which includes medical and pensions, jobs with less necessary skills and therefore less pay, and other scenarios i'm sure we all know. people are beginning to realize that if we don't keep the money in the u.s. we are going to continue the same trend we have been seeing. have you noticed all the radio/tv/print ads talking about supporting your local businesses, buying from your local farmer, buy local? in vt it is very big, but it is gaining momentum everywhere. even lays or wise was using the potatoes are from the farmer down the road type advertising. who knows where their potatoes came from, but the point is the point. handmade/local as it's being used is letting people know it's from someone close by or at least here in the u.s. i think that the big corporations are actually helping our cause and we need to use that to our advantage. hard to believe that i am saying that the corps might actually be helping us.
i think, and it's just my opinion, that the value of handmade is only going to increase, but, along with trying to connect to an emotion, which i do believe is not as much in play now as it is when we have more disposable income, we have to continue to educate people about the importance of keeping it here in the u.s. if we can get a sustained dialogue going about how important it is to get things from our own citizens, it opens the door to a different understanding about what we do and why they should want it over something else from overseas. if we start wanting more things made here then more things will be made here and our work will have tremendous value and it will be desired. then the feelings can be fully engaged and realized. there was a fantastic clay artist across from me at the old town art fair. there was piece i absolutely wanted. i know that all my purchases relate to color and form. i know i want it in a split second. it is purely emotional. but the price i could not afford. had he not made me a deal at the price i had decided i could pay, i would have walked away. believe me, the emotional connection was there, but it had to meet my price. that's why i know when someone comes over and touches it, the connection is there and before this economic downturn, it would have been going home with the customer. i personally cannot try to convince them to buy it when i believe it would hurt them financially. i know i can say the right words to make the decision more tempting, but i won't do it.
galleries have closed all across the country. a local sculptor friend of mine actually had 6 galleries close on him in the span of two monhs. imagine how he felt. if the venues for our art are shrinking, and that is still what i'm seeing as a person that gets out there and does this on a regular basis, is it really just about motivating the buyer? i do think that is too narrow a perspective for us to be operating under at this time.
as we all know compact cars/hybrids have all witnessed a huge increase in sales. if they tried to sell those when i was a kid, it would have flopped big time because people wanted the luxury of space, the look, etc. now, those very same cars that were immensely popular when i was young cannot be given away. why? because it isn't just emotional. there is also a huge part that is practical, which includes affording something or saving the planet, or whatever the issue du jour is.
so, that's my way more than 2 cents worth. love to hear comments.
I'd like to address the "buy local" movement and whether it does or does not apply to artists.
I ran a very successful, pioneering campaign that got more people to buy locally grown farm products for 9 years here in western Mass. Google 'be a local hero, buy locally grown' to see where it is at today. I left the project in 2007.
One of the great temptations is to take the same successful rallying cry and try to apply it to other sectors - locally owned businesses and/or artists. But in a nutshell, I think those approaches will largely fail. Here's why.
Locally grown food is at the intersection of two incredibly powerful emotions: virtue and indulgence. If you have a product that satisfies those two needs, and you market it well, you will succeed (as long as the product is not crap).
So, virtue. There is nothing more iconic in the American cultural lexicon than the small farmer. Our nation was created by small farmers in revolt against an oppressive ruler. Small farmers were once ubiquitous, and many families across the nation are no more than one or two generations removed from farming. There is a powerful cultural need to help farmers. And one of the easiest ways to help a farmer and polish your halo at the same time is to buy locally grown food.
Indulgence. What's better than a fresh picked strawberry, ripened in a field in your hometown? Nothing. If you live in New England you might have had strawberry shortcake - with local cream sweetened with maple syrup - as I did for dinner tonight. It was spectacular!
If I can be virtuous and indulgent buy enjoying some damn fine strawberries, count me in.
Now here's why this won't easily work for artists. We're not culturally valued in the same way as farmers. Frankly, many people regard artists as people who are somehow slacking, not working hard, or lacking a "real job." You certainly cannot say that about farmers, who are regarded as some of the hardest working people in our country. So tacking on 'local' does not give us any more mojo than we already have.
Now we are similar to farmers in that our products are seen as indulgent. But as you know our products lack the practicality and price point of locally grown food. We are more purely indulgent than those delicious strawberries.
So as desperate as times may be, and in the face of the decline of the baby boom generation - the people responsible for creating and maintaining the American craft market for the last 40 years - we cannot simply tack on the "buy local" slogan and expect it to work.
We still need to stick to our biggest asset - the emotional needs of our customers for personal and home adornment. That's human nature, and it's not going away any time soon. It's just gotten harder to tap in to.