How to explain what we do to those who don’t get it?
The best thing about my job is that I rarely need to explain what it is that the company I work for does. Most people know Christie’s and what we do – we sell precious objects for millions of pounds. Don’t we? Yes we do and those great auction moments where records are broken as the hammer falls are brand-building moments but they represent a fraction of the objects that we are selling every day.
Christie’s auctions span more than 80 art and luxury categories, at price points ranging from $200 to over $100 million. We sell across three main platforms – our traditional auctions which everyone is very familiar with, our online sales which post-coronavirus many more people are aware of, and via our Private Sales department – where objects are available for immediate purchase. We sell everything from a triceratops skull to a yellow diamond to NFTs.
The problem with those headlining sales is that they can also intimidate those who are newer to the auction space. This is where I and my team come in. One of the goals of digital marketing at Christie’s is to simultaneously use these crowd-pulling moments to drive awareness and trust in our brand while also letting users know that there’s a way for them to be part of it for less money than they thought. That our offer is much more accessible then people imagine and even if you’re not a buyer, you can enjoy what Christie’s has to offer.
For a long time, luxury brands were opposed to digital marketing because they thought it was too “democratizing”. The wisdom was that we should retain the mystique, the fascination. Embracing digital marketing (mostly because people didn’t understand what it could deliver), was the equivalent of doing away with the liveried doorman.
Digital marketing has been transformative as it has allowed us to find a new, sophisticated way to include our clients. We are able to meet them online or via our social media feeds and tailor which is best for each situation. Instagram is fantastic as a space to promote beautiful objects and tell a story, Twitter has been the best vehicle to reach a new digital audience with our NFT offer of digital art. We also use Pinterest, Google, and Facebook – each allowing us to pinpoint the best audience to match the great diversity of what we have to offer.
As a team, we’ve also learned along the way – adapting to ensure we use the vocabulary and visual language that is familiar to luxury shoppers. For example, using more lifestyle images to promote our decorative arts—showing how people can actually live with these objects.
Some of the platforms have allowed us to reach specific audiences in a given location – how flexible that if we are having an exhibition of contemporary art in Los Angeles or Aspen, we can share information with art lovers in those locations, without bothering those who would love to visit but are in Texas or Buffalo. When colleagues begin to see the power of how their precious and often reducing budget for promotion is leading to more engagement, inquiries, and the golden ticket – a bid, then the circle is complete.
Data intelligence is great, but we have not allowed the data to be our only driver. Recognizing that Christie’s and the auction experience can be intimidating to new users we have always understood the key to demystifying the process. This is a key element in making us a more accessible place for everyone. Our audience can lean on our own editorial content – that serves as a space for great storytelling carefully crafted with striking imagery and copy that complements the purpose. We use the objects themselves and the very clever digital tools available to show people what is for sale.
Bidding in one of our auctions requires more consideration for a new client than, for example, deciding to buy a new lipstick. The path to purchase can be a long one and so the educational element is crucial to ensure we don’t lose people along the customer journey.
We have also had to build awareness among our colleagues on the importance of our audiences finding us online. SEO-friendly content has played a great part in making our site more discoverable to users searching on Google. Words are really important to our specialist colleagues and this has not always been the easiest of sells, especially when some colleagues have no clue what SEO is!
We’re fortunate that in our line of work our ‘product’ changes constantly. There is no pre-determined inventory or range of products as in other retail environments. Most of the objects sold each year are unique. So we never know more than two months out what we’ve got to work with.
Some larger collections of major sales can give us a longer lead time but usually, our campaigns are created fast and have to be worked around. This is one of the reasons why our storytelling is so important – across owned and earned media.
In our digital marketing world, our advanced targeting tactics leverage machine learning to understand what objects are going to appeal to which users and display them an ad when they are most likely to register or bid in our auctions. For example, a Warhol Instagram ad shown to a user right before an auction might work best for some while a video ad on Rolling Stone a month prior to an exhibition might be best to attract buyers for a Les Paul guitar.
These personalized ads allow us to market all of the objects we have on offer to the right audience and have scalable campaigns for 350+ auctions a year. We have so much property of such diversity that we are able to ‘match’ people to objects whilst also not bombarding them – it’s a fine line but critical to get right or all that hard work is undone with an ‘opt-out’.
To bring this back to where I began, it is all about the brand – we are trusted as custodians of the objects that pass through our salerooms and exhibitions – across our physical spaces around the world as well as online. Wherever an object is purchased at Christie’s, new and existing buyers want to know that they are not only buying a unique object but that we stand behind it. Christie’s brand promise of unbeatable expertise remains at the heart of the business – in the well-researched, accurate catalog entry, the detailed condition report, the accuracy of the estimate, and the transparency of the sales process itself. This allows us to attract new audiences around the globe while continuing to engage our existing clients with the quality of the objects that they expect from Christie’s.
Samantha Margolis is the Vice President of Digital Marketing at Christie’s. She is responsible for the paid media strategy of the auction house, focusing on building and engaging new audiences while providing innovative marketing solutions to promote the 350+ global auctions annually in over 80 categories. Samantha came to Christie’s in 2012, first working in ecommerce before moving to Digital Marketing in 2017. She holds an MBA from NYU Stern School of Business focused on Luxury and Digital Marketing.
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