6 Ways to Connect with Tech Collectors
It’s no secret that the art world’s gaze has started shifting towards the tech sector. With creative impulses, digital savvy, and deep pockets, this audience has proven to be both a new hope for the art world and an enigma. Knowing how to cater to this group has never been more important, given the recent reopening of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the expansion of local stronghold John Berggruen Gallery, and major gallery players like Gagosian and Pace coming to the Bay Area.
“People in the tech industry are innately curious and creative, and art is entirely about these two things.”
SARAH WENDELL, PRESIDENT OF SAN FRANCISCO-based BERGGRUEN GALLERY
Why Sell to Tech Collectors?
The term “Tech Collectors” oversimplifies this diverse group, in the same way that one wouldn’t refer to “Hedge Fund Collectors” as a single entity.
Despite this, certain shared values are linked to the group; a recent article in the New Yorker pointed out, “today’s collectors of contemporary art, having made their fortunes in the tech industry or in hedge funds, are more entrepreneurial. They are less beholden to art history, and often less cognizant of it.” The tech sector is also arguably the fastest growing collector group, making it a unique case study.
On average, individuals in the tech industry are well-educated, urban, and young—making them a key demographic for the art market. With six-figure base salaries in tech hubs like Palo Alto, early and mid-career tech professionals earn twice as much as the average American. Founders, VCs, and other tech execs earn significantly more than that.
The main challenge for gallerists is how precisely to appeal and sell to this crowd—in other words, gallerists need to know how to speak to this group.
As Artsy straddles both the art and tech worlds, we reached out to members of our network to get their advice on connecting with this audience.
Below, we break down some misconceptions about the tech industry, and offer tips on how to connect with this next big collecting frontier. No coding required!
1. Look Beyond the Bay
Although Silicon Valley is indisputably the hub of the North American tech world, the industry itself is truly global. As a tech hub, San Francisco has many challengers, such as New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Tel Aviv, London, Berlin, and Singapore. What’s more, the EU’s current tech sector alone contributes 22 million technology workers to the pool of potential tech collectors, plus its capital cities align well with art-world capitals.
If a major real-estate investment in one of these hubs is not an option, fear not. Consider exhibiting at art fairs like FOG Design+Art, Untitled, San Francisco, and Seattle Art Fair to reach this audience.
Other ways to connect with new, tech-savvy audiences include online platforms and shared spaces. For example, Anton Kern and Andrew Kreps recently launched a temporary space at Minnesota Street Project in San Francisco—a model that embodies a fresh way to have a physical presence in a tech center without a long-term commitment.
2. Reach Out to the Community
A sense of community is central to the tech world. Collectors want to see your gallery take the time and initiative to engage them where they are, rather than insisting they come to you.
Brigette Lau, collector and partner at The Social+Capital VC firm in Palo Alto, cites the success of the Pace Art+Technology outpost in Menlo Park as a winning example of activating the collector base by “investment in our community” and creating interactive and provoking art to engage the region.
As you try to broaden your outreach to tech-minded audiences, consider the following:
- Be family-friendly. Collectors confided that they wanted to be able to make art a family activity, making it easier to prioritize on weekends amidst competing schedules.
- Think local. Local start-up incubators and coworking spaces are ground zero for many tech firms, and offer to co-program events.
- Be welcoming. Have knowledgeable staff at the front desk who are encouraged to interact with visitors and answer questions.
3. Extend (Don’t Replace!) Your Reach with Social Media
A robust presence on social media is a key tool helping collectors discover art. Invaluable’s recent study of 4,500+ people revealed that more individuals discover art via social media (22.7%) than any other traditional channel (like a gallery or museum), while Hiscox reported that 31% of collectors acknowledge that social media has influenced their art purchases.
However, as one collector put it, social networks like Instagram “can help bring an insight to an artist’s practice and work to a broader audience, but [Instagram] will never replace the in-person experience with a work.”
Collectors crave a variety of content alongside the bite-sized and ephemeral snippets gleaned from social media. Use social media as an extension of your other initiatives rather than as a replacement. To make your presence as strong as possible, consider doing the following:
- Use Facebook for geo-targeting around events or openings.
- Follow social media influencers and invite them to special events or studio visits.
- Incorporate hashtags into your printed collateral and across the social networks you use.
4. Use Technology to Make the Collector Experience Easier
Tech companies strive to create a seamless user experience and consumers are accustomed to efficient transactions. With so many moving parts involved in buying an artwork—emails, calls, negotiations, shipping, and payment—there is a lot of room for error and inefficiency.
Michael Phillips Moskowitz, an avid collector who served as the global chief curator and director of eBay, told us that he advises galleries to “reduce complexity” in order to appeal to a generation for whom “everything that they want and need is readily, if not infinitely, available at their fingertips.”
- Try to create a smooth online experience for collectors, since any bad experience can act as a deterrent in the future. Technology is key: Moran Bondaroff, for example, built an app allowing collectors to track and reply to offers, while services like Artsy send reminders to collectors to follow up with galleries if they have not responded within a certain timeframe.
- Don’t over-email your collectors. Be aware of whether you’re sending show announcements, dinner invites, and other emails to the same group all at the same time and prioritize what’s most important.
- Use online payment tools to make payment simple. We often hear about collectors’ desire to buy with credit cards, which will actually incentivize them to buy on the spot.
5. Be As Transparent As Possible
Omar Lopez-Chahoud, the Artistic Director of Untitled, Art Fair (which opens in San Francisco for the first time in January 2017), stressed that tech collectors “are not bound by more traditional or outdated modes of buying and collecting artwork.” Rather, they embrace the “art world becoming more broad and transparent, with open source information online and through social media.”
With a broad array of readily available information, “they are able to approach collecting from a very critical, but also exciting and passionate, viewpoint,” Lopez-Chahoud explained.
Some ways to adapt to tech professionals’—and other young collectors’—desire for transparency include:
- Provide data on the artwork. This can include traditional resources like books, links, and press clippings, as well as new media assets like 360o views of an artist’s studio, podcasts, or Instagram.
- Mention other costs such as tax, shipping, framing, etc. and the reasoning behind certain practices and timelines upfront.
- Be consistent and transparent about pricing. Don’t send offers without prices and remember that in the digital world, auction results and other comparable artwork prices are only a few clicks away.
6. Don’t Change Your Inventory
While many collectors in the tech field are truly interested in innovative art practices, the myth that they prefer digital art was consistently cited as one of the biggest misconceptions about them.
Lopez-Chahoud warned, “the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is that tech collectors will be buying works that are connected to or incorporate new technologies”—but that is not the case. What separates them from traditional collectors is the way in which they learn about and buy art, not the type of art they collect.
While they may not have a long history in the art world, the tech crowd brings fresh perspective and values that will be positive for the industry.
Due to new approaches to collecting and less traditional art-buying channels, consider these tips to help increase your gallery’s visibility as you build long-lasting relationships with tech collectors.
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