Collectors, Clients, Customers, Fans

Not long ago I bought a painting from an artist whose work I appreciate. In the course of the post-purchase conversation, he turned to someone and said, “I have a new collector.” Never before had I thought of myself as a collector, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the new title. But I thought about it, and I thought about the other names that could be given to our relationship and decided that collector was probably the most accurate.

This, of course, led me to wonder what other artists call persons who buy their work. It’s curious but I don’t think I ever gave a name to that relationship. I would, like a number of artists I know, just say “sold a piece” without reference to the person who bought it. When I write, I have most often referred to those people in the collective, as the audience, but that word is a little awkward for those who are not someway involved with performance.

But I do know that how we label things (and people) will sometimes govern our relationships and attitudes toward them, so maybe this is a topic that deserves a little thought. Once we get past those who are “just looking,” there are four categories of people that you might find in your audience:

  1. Fans are those who are interested in what you do, and sometimes in all that you do, but are not necessarily interested in buying anything. They want to stay informed about what you are doing, but they might be content to do that from a distance without ever actually interacting with you. Sports teams have fans, as do movie stars, and celebrities of all sorts. Fans are those who follow us, and, as we all know, some of us are interested in acquiring as many as possible. The very popular crime novelist Mickey Spillane, on the other hand, once said, “I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends.
  2.  Customers are people to whom you sell things. Some may become your friends as Spillane suggests, but mostly they are interested in purchasing your wares. You must presume that there is something in your work that they like, but you may never know what that is. Often you meet them only once and never again. The interaction can be as simple as the exchange of money for art or a complex ongoing relationship that does indeed turn into a friendship of sorts. Customers buy commodities.
  3.  Clients are repeat customers, or at least there is a connotation of repeat business in the word. There is also the connotation of work for hire. Commercial photographers have clients, as do designers, doctors, and lawyers. But there are two important things about clients that differentiate them from other categories: they have input, no matter how small or insignificant, into the work, and they themselves are the ultimate judge of whether the work is satisfactory.
  4.  Collectors are those people who want to possess your work enough to give you money for it. They appreciate what you do and so want to own it. They differ from customers in that they are less about buying a commodity and more about purchasing a representation of how the creative side of your mind works. Sometimes, like customers, they are only interested in purchasing only one piece; other times you find that what you produce speaks to them in such a way that they will want multiple pieces. And you will probably find that relationships with collectors are well worth nurturing—for more than financial reasons.

There are probably more than four categories of audience members. But I suspect that you will find that these four make up the bulk of your audience. Remember though that fans can turn into customers can turn into collectors. So we need to learn to address them all—and build a tribe.

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Date: Monday, 31. December 2012 1:15
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Audience, Marketing

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1 Comment

  1. 1

    Your post captures the issue peyfectly!

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