How Artsy Is Using Email to Bring the Art World Online

25 october 2011 New York, USA
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The art world may be have been reluctant to come online, but in the past few years a number of startups have been busy ushering the art business into the digital era. One of a handful of heavyweights in this arena is Artsy, which aims to make the world’s art accessible to anyone with an internet connection, and to help create a world where art is as popular a part of culture as music.

To achieve this, Artsy has built a comprehensive resource for learning about art, and, of course, for purchasing works of art. Galleries, museums, art fairs, and auctions also use Artsy to expand their reach globally, and to connect with art lovers and collectors. We spoke to Artsy’s Associate Director of Performance Marketing, Email & Engagement, Sara Perle, to learn how Artsy is using content and email to engage with and to grow its hugely varied audience.

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SAILTHRU: For most people, buying art is a rare event. How do you keep art lovers engaged with Artsy between purchases?

SARA PERLE: It’s true that most people don’t buy art every day, but as the art world moves online, collectors have the opportunity to browse for-sale works year round, at their convenience. Artsy can surface interesting art world news, education, and collecting opportunities as they develop, and email is one of the primary ways we can do that proactively.

We’re also committed to producing high-quality editorial that is accessible and intelligent, and that makes our readers excited about art. Traffic to Artsy editorial coverage has grown by more than four times over the past year!

The potential audience for Artsy is vast: art buyers, galleries, artists, and fairs, for starters. How do you make sure your content is relevant across the board?

It’s a challenge, because an email promoting an auction with high-value artworks has the potential to alienate, say, an art student looking to learn about emerging artists. So, we do use some segmentation when it comes to more targeted, commercial communications.

However, we try not to assume that collecting and learning audiences are mutually exclusive. Our mission is to make art more accessible, and part of that is making it easier for someone to start collecting art.

Effective email can rarely be one-size-fits-all, but making narrow, commercially-based assumptions about our audience would mean we might miss the chance to fulfill our broader mission and increase engagement.

Where does personalization fit into your strategy?

It’s incredibly important to us that users are able to personalize their Artsy experience. When you follow an artist, we make sure to alert you when a gallery, institution, or auction house uploads a new work by him or her. And, using the Art Genome Project, we’re able to provide recommendations for artworks you may like based on the other artists and works you’ve liked, so you always have the opportunity to discover art and artists that are new to you.

Many publishers struggle with audience retention. Readers coming in from social media, for example, might visit once and never return, or return only infrequently. How does Artsy approach this challenge?

It comes down to having high-quality, compelling content that’s worthy of art, and giving users opportunities to define how they want to interact with it.

Are editorial readers looking for new artists to collect? They can follow any artist featured in a story from within that article, and then create an account to get an alert when new works are uploaded by that artist. If they’re looking to learn more about a particular artist’s history and reputation, they can quickly get to commercial and biographical information, and see recent news about them.

Which metrics do you use to gauge the success of your email strategy?

I’ll give you the standard answer–it depends!

On the email team, we use the standard email marketing KPIs as a jumping-off point–unique open, click, churn, and email conversion rates–to tell us if we are consistently engaging of our audience with a particular piece. Zooming out a little, we also look at the percentage of our existing email lists that are engaging in a particular period to evaluate our list health and engagement rates. We especially look at how many users are engaging multiple times within a given period.

From there, if it’s relevant to the content in an email, we look at more commercial interactions, such as the rates at which people bid and inquired on art. However, we keep in mind that collecting art is often a multi-step, multi-platform experience. If a user discovered a work via an email but then goes to an art fair to view it in person, and then inquires on it a few days later after navigating back to Artsy, that’s a win for our users, partners, and for us.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken with Artsy’s email marketing? What was the result?

Sending art-world news emails every day was a big development for us. During the previous year, we’d only sent one editorial email per week. Would users feel inundated? Would we be able to keep up the pace?

It was an incredible experience: Our editorial traffic increased over 300 percent in that first month, and more new users are engaging again with Artsy after their initial interaction via this campaign. Unsubscribe rates are down too!  

From a production standpoint, our editorial team stepped up in a big way, producing amazing content and working closely with marketing to ensure that content could get the broadest reach with minimal duplication of effort.  

Being on Sailthru has been absolutely instrumental, because our entire email team, covering all of Artsy’s B2B and B2C email, is just two people. We could not produce this many email types, at this high quality, without automation. It used to take three teams a few hours a week to create our weekly editorial newsletter. Now it takes two people maybe 20 or 30 minutes a week to send seven.