Art galleries can overcome crises with flexibility, adaptability, planning and listening. Take a value designer’s word for it.

Daniela is a value designer with more than 15 years of experience as a professional consultant in communication strategies and stakeholder relationship management. In 2018 she founded, a strategic consultancy studio based in Milan. She is strongly committed to projects that impact people’s lives and she believes that global challenges and new social values are deeply changing the way organizations work and produce their income. For this reason, she helps organizations in discovering their value architecture, re-designing their value chain and business model and planning an effective business and communication strategy based on the purpose of growing business while finding a way to create relevant impact. Makeaplan’s clients and business partners are Italian and international companies, startups, ONG, associations, interest groups, institutions and publicly exposed personalities. Daniela is involved in many education programs promoted by Italian and French accelerators, universities, online platforms and companies

Daniela Bavuso

How did you come up with the idea for your blog?

What is now my blog was initially a personal folder on my desktop, my secret diary with insights and handy tips that I collected for a few months as a professional, also so as to keep informed, to elaborate, and to study. Upon looking at it as a whole, I realized later that many contents would appropriately answer my customers’ questions, and that they might thus become a reference for the matters where a practical approach is needed. I found out that my readers love to understand the rationale behind a strategist’s choices and how they are applied to their projects, so I put everything online.

What kind of support can be offered to an organization at a time of crisis like the one we are now living?

Guidance for managing the crisis, and for repositioning according to their own business model. First, our business culture needs to embrace the concept that examining the weaknesses in a project and its communication strategy, and working on scenarios taking change and crises into account, is something every organization should do, and a skill to consistently exercise, even when the outlooks are positive.

In an ongoing crisis, we back the analysis of the triggers up with the management of all stages of the crisis – in terms of communication too, which needs to be unambiguous about the status of the active business and the channels still in use. At a later stage, it is necessary to gather insights and identify growth opportunities, starting from what made us feel vulnerable to the crisis, in order to understand what direction to take to be stronger in the future, without leaving out the first factor to pull us out of the crisis – the relations with our long-standing stakeholders.

How much does flexibility matter to an organization?

A lot, but it is everything in times of crisis, especially in terms of scalability of the organizational structure, and thus of costs. Being flexible also means to adjust and plan after listening (which should be considered as a continuous process rather than a “stage”), which in turn entails opening and constantly monitoring all communication channels – not just the top down, where we listen to targets, but also peer-to-peer conversations (among users).

At a time when businesses tend to go global, does it still make sense for galleries to be local?

For businesses like galleries, having strong local connections means being recognizable, having a cultural identity, and being exclusive. To lose all this is a strategic mistake, whereas the ability to reach beyond the local area with the resources offered by the globalized society adds some relational value and cultural and intellectual scope, which also makes the gallery’s identity globally and unmistakably recognizable. In other words, all those outstanding, inherent traits that define the texture and depth of gallerists’ dialogue with their followers are partly the effect of the gallerists’ own choices.

Today, in order to be glocal, galleries can combine their local and global experience and communication on a tailor-made multi-channel customer journey, thus taking relational dynamics to a new stage and focusing on the goal of creating attachment between enthusiasts or buyers and the work of art (for example, by putting it into context in the current events, enhancing its informative value, and creating contact channels between the artists and the public). All this should be done by remarking the uniqueness of the piece, its limited availability, its fragility, the impossibility to replicate it, the time it takes to care for it, all those factors that make it “sacred”, not comparable to any other goods in our globalized world but for a few common communication channels.

At the end of the lockdown, do you expect some revenge spending in art, or rather a scenario where a new crisis will see investments shrink even further? What should galleries expect?

I generally think that, once the lockdown is over, revenge spending will positively affect goods and experiences that embody our passions and habits, abruptly interrupted; on the other hand, revenge investing will interest those businesses and services that have proved essential for mankind’s wellbeing, the continuity of economic activities, or the containment of losses.

The duration of the lockdown will surely have an impact. Should it be protracted for long, it could be questioned whether prospect buyers that invest, having perhaps just experienced financial difficulties, might avoid illiquid investments, or investments with high management fees. This said, I think that passion is always the reason behind most investments in art.

Today, the digital is changing the game for creative industries: Amazon was the first to revolutionize bookselling, iTunes and Spotify made the leap in music, Netflix and similar platforms have been implementing further changes in our use of the media. In light of the radical social, economic, cultural and technological changes introduced by the digital era, is it worth it to insist on pursuing a business model set up over fifty years ago?

Just like luxury, art also escapes the common marketing dynamics of the globalized world, and thus the most common business models, including those in the creative industries you have mentioned, which clearly cannot classify art without it consequently losing its appeal. The reason for this is that while industries will do whatever it takes to hunt their targets down, art enthusiasts are the ones willing to do anything to find the piece they are looking for.

That being said, when cultural or social changes occur and bring new tools along with them, one can either be a part of it, or cope with it: I believe that galleries can integrate their model and obtain competitive advantages from this, by using new tools, developing a new mindset, and getting new skills to help enthusiasts to “feel” pieces, and not non-enthusiasts to discover a passion and thus a part of themselves. But this means gallerists also need to be aware of what values in their business model cannot be forgone, so that the art piece is still perceived as unreachable, and enjoying it in person as an instrumental moment.

There is a new generation of art collectors who are also e-commerce experts, and they will certainly not need galleries to buy art pieces any longer. How to reach millennials?

Millennials have alternative ways to use everything. They especially enjoy art, and anything demanding a first visual approach, in a bunch of seconds, on Instagram or online. They are bombarded with stimuli, but lack patience, and are particularly attracted to high-definition and 3D images, as well as online experiences. But they are also omnivorous readers of contents and interviews, better if videos or podcasts, formats that well fit into their free time, and that they can enjoy while doing something else. They want to “share” – they do not usually go to museums or galleries, but when they do, they want to take pictures and post them on social media, as if to say: “This is also a part of me.”

There are also older millennials (around their thirties) who are more willing to personally take part in experiences. They surely appreciate art and culture as a way to invest in themselves, in their desire for something to become deeply attached to and that can nourish them as people. This is why they should be addressed so as to make they feel that they are exactly what they wish to be – the responsible, sophisticated experts and exclusive representatives of a certain kind of perception.

This should tell us that is it crucial to work on the customer journey to make the gallery more accessible, and improve contacts between collectors and pieces. To this end, digital channels become yet another way to access galleries and overcome barriers, and to tell more (about works and authors) on a wider geographical scale, with no time limits, thus fueling the debate between enthusiasts and collectors and giving emerging artists a chance to be known and tell their stories. They should not be seen as a “threat” to the old format, which I personally still find fascinating, but a way to amplify experience. Physical galleries remain at the heart of this journey, with a new role: to maximize experience, to be the place of the intimate, exclusive confrontation where to appreciate the truth of the piece, and where to finally test the feeling that can be built with it and other works; where to personally meet a community of enthusiasts, or the artists themselves.

The analytical tools offered by many technological platforms can help gallerists interested in finding out to what extent certain selections and choices can be appreciated by their community or specific segments of it (also based on age), as well as how they grow attached to the gallery, the artist and the work.

This is not about privileging a model to the detriment of the other, but about integrating channels to maximize the expression of a value that society has been deeply aware of for centuries.

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