How to write a compelling artist newsletter
When I first started writing the TextileArtist.org newsletter I didn’t have a clue what I was doing! It was unfocused, unclear and, worst of all, it had no clear benefit to the reader. Over the time we’ve been sending it out, we’ve analysed our open and click-through rates every month, listened to feedback from artists and gradually increased our audience engagement. Of course, there’s always more we can do, but the improvements we’ve made are down to a few simple techniques I’ve learned along the way.
Today I’m going to share those techniques with you and make suggestions for how you might use them to improve the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns.
The trouble with artist newsletters
As you can imagine, here at TextileArtist.org we receive a lot of artist newsletters. Many of them suffer from one or more of the following problems:
- Too promotional or at the other end of the scale, no clear goal at all.
- No story to engage the reader.
- Too focused on the artist with no real thought for what’s in it for the reader.
- Bad subject lines that don’t inspire enthusiasm.
- Too little content with no context; sending a single image with one line reading ‘Check out my latest piece’ is not a great idea.
- Too much content with too much detail; if you haven’t contacted your mailing list for a while, there’s no need to go through every single thing that’s happened since you last were in touch.
- Too much technical artistic jargon.
A value exchange
Spammy, self-promotional pitches don’t work well in any industry nowadays; the ‘hard sell’ just turns people off. But they’re even less effective in the artistic arena. Buying art (especially online) isn’t normally impulsive; decision-making is based on emotional connections, which take time to form.
Think of your newsletter as a value exchange; your valuable information in return for your audience’s valuable time and attention.
It’s not all about you!
If done well, email marketing is the most effective way of connecting and deepening relationships with your audience, and your mailing list is one of the most valuable assets you possess. According to a recent survey by Exact Target 77% said that email was their preferred channel for receiving promotional material. But the way you nurture those connections and relationships, and maintain your list’s value is by knowing whom you are talking to, identifying what they need or want, and delivering it.
Of course, you have to tell your subscribers about events, exhibitions, pieces for sale etc. and they have opted to receive your newsletter so you know they’re interested. But to keep their interest, how can you frame this information so that it is of benefit to your reader and it doesn’t feel like they’re being hit over the head by a barrage of narcissism?
Here are a few tips:
Ask previous buyers what it was about your work that connected with them. Ask current readers what kind of content they enjoy.
Take inspiration from other artists
What are they doing well that’s getting a lot of engagement on social media? Borrow what works and combine it with your own ideas to create original content in your newsletter.
Establish a goal for you and your audience
Before you sit down to write your next update ask yourself the following questions:
- What is my goal in writing this letter? It might be that you want to inspire subscribers with the progress of your latest piece or invite them to an upcoming exhibition. Know what you want to achieve and try to stay on target.
- Why should they care? What will they get out of it? Offer insight into your inspiration for the piece (the story behind it) and share the techniques you used with the aim of inspiring your readers. If they come to your exhibition will they get a complimentary catalogue or be entered into a draw to win an exclusive print? There must be a clear benefit to your audience. Deliver content that they will be interested in, amused by, or can learn from.
Don’t be selfish
Try and monitor the number of times you use the word ‘I’. See if you can rework the offending sentences to use ‘you’ instead.
The newsletter should be 80% benefit for your audience and 20% promotion for you.
In it for the long run
Over time your audience should come to respect you and see you as a friendly expert in your field, but also as someone they can relate to. Furthermore, your aim is that they establish strong connections with your work so that eventually they’ll want to own a piece of it.
Here’s how you might work towards this in the long term:
Establish your credibility
You want to be a trusted source of expertise, so demonstrate your knowledge, but be careful not to sound patronising or superior in any way. If you are passionate about your subject and you know it inside out, you’ll appear trustworthy. And gaining their trust is essential.
Use a friendly tone of voice
Imagine you are talking to a single person; your ideal target buyer. Keep it casual and avoid pretentious, technical art-talk. Most of all, be honest and transparent; don’t be afraid of showing that you’re human, that you make mistakes and have a little vulnerability.
Use storytelling to engage your readers in a few lines. Try and make your stories original, creative, and relevant to your readers; give them a reason to become emotionally involved. It might be that you are working on a piece that was inspired by a joyous event or something tragic. Either way, you can bet that they have been through something similar; this makes you and your art relatable.
Go ‘behind the scenes’
One of the most popular series of articles on TextileArtist.org is From conception to creation, because it invites our readers to take a glimpse into the inspiration and process behind a particular piece of work. People are fascinated by the ‘why’ and the ‘how’. You can use this to intrigue your readers. Cory Huff, an expert in selling art online, has discovered that images of works in progress can really stimulate a connection and, sometimes, a sale!
Dropping in some positive feedback from a recent buyer will confirm your credentials. Inviting readers to join your 20,000 fans on Facebook will make them feel like they belong. Mentioning a positive review of your latest exhibition in an influential magazine will gain their respect. But make sure you don’t become a show-off! Limit yourself to one brag per email.
Structuring your newsletter
The subject line
The subject line of your email is almost like a headline. Your goal is to grab your subscribers’ attention and encourage them to open and then read your latest newsletter.
Here are a few ideas for effective subject lines for artist newsletters:
Communicate the benefit to the reader
Be specific and show that the content will be useful in some way (is it inspirational, educational, surprising?): The funniest piece of art I’ve ever seen (Benefit: it will make them laugh).
Ask a question
Engage them in a conversation straight away – they will feel more compelled to open your email: Which piece would you choose to submit?
Use ‘You’ or ‘Your’ in the subject line so the reader feels they are being spoken to directly.
Use power words
Stunning, Dazzling, Discover, Free, Easy are all words that inspire excitement.
Urgency inspires action. But only use it once in a while otherwise you become the boy who cried wolf. If you have a 50% sale on exclusive prints until tomorrow night tell your readers in the subject line.
Of course, over time the most compelling thing about the email subject line should be that it is from you; if you have managed to establish yourself as a trustworthy source of valuable, engaging information your readers will always open your email no matter how lame your subject line is!
The first paragraph
There are a few proven techniques used by marketing experts, (that can easily be adapted for artists) to engage your reader within the first paragraph to ensure they keep on reading. Try some of these and see which ones work best for you:
- Identify why you are writing and why it is important for your reader: Bawdy old seaside postcards are the inspiration for my latest piece; they’re so hilarious I wanted to share them with you.
- Ask an intriguing or controversial question: Why do artistic collaborations always end in tears?
- Say something unexpected: Being made redundant was the best thing that ever happened to me.
- Tell a story: You might not know this, but when I was 18 I had no desire to be a visual artist at all. I wanted to be a dancer; I was obsessed with ballet and wore my pointe shoes to bed! Well, I’ve kind of come full circle. No – I’m not going back to ballet class at the age of 63, but I have started a series of stitched pieces based around the shapes dancers make with their bodies.
- Use a quote: “To be an artist is to believe in life” – Henry Moore
The body of the email
In many ways, the simpler your emails the better; be succinct and get to the crux quickly (we’re working on getting better at this ourselves here at TextileArtist.org). Don’t try and achieve too much in a single newsletter; establish what the point of the communication is and fulfil it.
Are you encouraging some sort of action on the part of your readers? If so, don’t push too hard. Subtle persuasive techniques that work well include:
- Repetition: Repeat but don’t be repetitive. Make your point in 2 or 3 different ways (a story, an example, directly etc.).
- Reasons why: Give people a clear reason to comply with your request: Everyone who attends the private view gets a free glass of champagne, a complimentary catalogue and a chance to win one of 10 copies of my latest book.
- Be consistent: Consistency of tone and intention is associated with integrity and makes you seem trustworthy.
- Address objections in advance: Think about what might make your readers anxious about your request and make it your job to ease their minds. For example, if you are encouraging them to visit your online store, make sure you mention a little about your shipping times and return policy.
Don’t forget to encourage interaction in the email to further deepen your relationships with your subscribers. Ask them a question and encourage them to reply or include a link to your Facebook page or Twitter profile. If they do get in touch, get back to them as soon as you can – this way you seem reliable and they feel valued.
Many of the techniques outlined in this article may feel a little forced or strange when you first implement them in your artist newsletter. The key is not to do them all at once; pick one or two and try them out in your next campaign. Then analyse what worked and what felt odd or didn’t elicit the response you were hoping for and try again. Eventually, you’ll hit on exactly the right tone for your individual audience.
What’s been working well for you in your artist newsletter? Let us know in a comment below to add to the conversation.