CMO of the Week: Artsy's Everette Taylor

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When Everette Taylor first started collecting artwork in 2017, he couldn’t help but notice all the hurtles that existed in the traditional art world, from lack of transparency around price to showcasing a diverse range of talent. “What first attracted me to art was very much about inclusivity, but I wasn’t necessarily feeling that as a young Black man in L.A.,” Taylor says. 

But after joining ecommerce & digital auction platform Artsy as its chief marketing officer in 2019, Taylor saw a unique opportunity to create a more equitable art world that made purchasing fine art pieces more accessible and more representative of global culture. He also saw a unique opportunity to connect with his budding love for art after a career spent in tech & startup marketing. “When I had the opportunity to join forces with [Artsy CEO] Mike Steib, it was something that was bigger than a paycheck, bigger than all the things we tend to get caught up with in the tech world — the exits, the IPOs, the acquisitions. All that doesn’t matter to me as much because I’m genuinely working on something that I’m passionate about.”

Though Taylor’s first two years in the job have had no shortage of real-life obstacles — from the COVID-19 pandemic to the systemic inequities at the root of the Black Lives Matter protests and movement to combat AAPI hate — his work refining the brand’s pillars has helped Artsy become a more inclusive destination not unlike the painting that hangs in his home from emerging L.A. artist Ferrari Sheppard. “It’s a piece that really goes back into the images of Black people in the 1940s and ‘50s and showcases the Black joy you didn’t often see back then. There were real hardships with the civil rights movement, but you rarely get to see Black people just happy and enjoying life - that’s part of what I want to bring to the world.” 

Case in point: earlier this month, Artsy reported the highest sale price in the company’s 12-year history when Ethiopian-born artist Julie Mehretu’s “Dissident Score” sold for a record $6.5 million through Artsy’s digital marketplace. And in a true sign of the current times, the buyer made the purchase without having even seen the work in person, the latest milestone in Artsy’s accelerated ecommerce pivots of the past year.

“It seemed crazy in the past that you would buy something for six, seven figures.But the ability to sell pieces that are more affordable, like $300 or $400, to things that are in the seven figures really shows you the power of Artsy and where we’re going as a society as people are more comfortable buying things online, from their cars to their homes, to jewelry,” Taylor says. 

Prior to joining Artsy, Taylor spent more than a decade in senior marketing roles at a variety of startups and tech companies, including CMO roles at Skurt and Sticker Mule and an interim role as head of growth for Microsoft China.   

Brand Innovators caught up with Taylor from his home office in New York to learn more about Artsy’s game-changing year, “not rushing” into the NFT craze, the causes benefitting from Artsy’s rise in revenue and why the “Zoom boom” of purchasing art for private homes is likely here to stay. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Brand Innovators: How did the COVID-19 pandemic initially impact Artsy's business in spring 2020, and what are some pivots or innovations you put in place to adapt to the new market conditions?

Everett Taylor: I would say Artsy had it a little bit easy in a sense, because we were already pushing this big rock up a hill in terms of really bringing the art world online and helping people transact online. Then the pandemic happened, and it just started spiraling downhill and traction really gained fast there because this was the new normal. This was the world we had to face now without being able to walk inside an art gallery, not being able to travel to your favorite art fair and discover new artists. You had to experience things digitally.  

We also had a lot of things in the pipeline to make things even easier. For instance, we had a functionality called Buy Now & Make Offer. Buying art can be very tedious, and to bring real, true ecommerce functionality to the art world is something people would have laughed at you about 10 years ago when Artsy started. And now it has become such a common thing that our sales through that feature went up 150% over the pandemic, so that’s something that people have already adapted to. Our numbers were up even higher this year from last year, so it's been very beautiful to see. We had our biggest Buy Now & Make Offer week ever last week, so this is something that’s continuing. Even though the world is opening back up, collectors are becoming way more comfortable with just clicking a button, putting in their credit card information and buying art online.  

We also released our online Viewing Rooms since you couldn't go to a gallery or an art fair. This was a development of tech to allow collectors to have these beautiful experiences online to purchase art and also to learn more about the art and the artists. So being able to provide those experiences when you couldn't in-person, I think we really made an emphasis to optimize the customer experience on mobile, having amazing experiences on iOS and Android and features like Viewing Rooms, so now through augmented reality you can actually click the artworks, and decorate a virtual space to see how it would look in your house. 

It’s really providing a home for galleries and art fairs during a time where people couldn’t do these things in person. A lot of art galleries had canceled shows, art fairs were canceled, we provided a safe space and haven for the art world to be able to still conduct business, still be able to attract new collectors during what was a very difficult year for all of us. And for our collectors, we’re making sure that we’re giving them a beautiful experience and free info to help with purchase decisions – essentially becoming people’s own personal art adviser.  

One last point is that our auction business has been growing tremendously. Back in the day, Sotheby’s and Christie's would send somebody to your house to check out your collection and do all these things. Now you can literally sell the artwork behind me right now by taking a picture and uploading it on Artsy. So to allow collectors to have the ability to liquidate their assets more easily than ever has been a breakthrough for us as well.

Do you think digital art collecting is here to stay even after the pandemic subsides globally? 

Yes, 1,000%. Collectors are more comfortable transacting online without seeing things in-person.People also want more transparency and seamless transactions. The art world has historically been very opaque. I remember walking into art galleries and thinking it was weird that you didn’t see prices. I think the new digitally savvy collector is also realizing how crazy it is to not have that price visibility, and now they’re able to seamlessly buy art with the click of a button without having to go through that tedious process of buying art. 

And also discovering artists digitally – you don’t necessarily have to go through an art fair or walk through galleries in Chelsea to find new artists. Artsy is able to really figure out what your tastes are, serve you better over time through the algorithms on our platform and really hone in to your tastes. People are more comfortable using a platform like Artsy to sell their art, our ability to matchmake and sell quickly, the process is really easy and seamless whether you're a gallerist, an art fair or an individual collector.

Now that everyone has been spending more time than ever in their homes and on-camera in Zoom meetings, are you finding an increase in demand for private art collections - and what types of art have been most popular in the past year if so? 

We don’t have concrete data, but we definitely saw a spike in interest in buying art. People were sitting in their homes, seeing their blank backgrounds and realizing “Hey, a nice piece of art would look pretty good behind me.” Our numbers were bananas when you think about a time like COVID. You’d think people would probably slow down, but that wasn't the case. It really shows you the effect and emotional impact art can have in people's lives on a day-to-day basis.

Are there any particular art mediums or styles that have been driving your growth this past year? 

It’s been such a wide range. I think we were already heading in this direction with BIPOC artists being in-demand even prior to the pandemic and BLM, but it has accelerated even more so during this time. A lot of the artists who are most in-demand on Artsy are artists of color — especially Black artists. Not only does that demand support Black artists, but also a lot of the Black-owned galleries and small businesses on our platform. 

We’ve seen an increase in emerging artists, too. We’re trying to be a place where you can get the next Basquiat or the next Julie Mehretu. So to see that interest so quickly has really been beautiful to see. I'm very proud of our team in changing our algorithms to make sure we're sourcing more diverse artists on our platform, as well as our commitment from a marketing standpoint. Whether it’s our manual curation, our social media, our editorial etc we’ve done a tremendous job in making sure that we're showcasing a diverse set of artists. 

What does the record $6.5 million sale for Julie Mehretu’s “Dissident Score” on Artsy earlier this month tell us about Artsy, its growth, and the broader online art industry?

I think it’s a few things. Number one, it’s an incredible artist who made an incredible work, that is the foundation of everything. The beauty of Artsy is our ability to matchmake and constantly be attracting new collectors to the digital space, and so one of the beautiful things was we had almost 20,000 page views just for that auction itself. Remember, the art world is a very niche place and that is a work that’s multi-million dollars, to have close to 20,000 people viewing that art piece is insane in the art world. We had 150+ users registered just to bid on this work, including six competing in the last hour from Asia, North America and Europe. If you know anything about the art world, the fact that Artsy has the ability – with over 2 million users – to matchmake and find the interested people willing to buy an artwork at that level. 

And that’s our success. our marketing is loud, all of our life cycle marketing is really targeting the right audiences and segments, we’re gonna hit all the channels that are necessary to make sure people know. The most valuable thing Artsy has is the audience already built. That’s why the sale was so successful – because we’ve been in this for a decade, building an incredible audience within a niche space.

How has Artsy used its revenue from the sale of high-value artwork to advance racial equity, social justice and other important causes?

One of the things I'm most proud of with Artsy is I believe we have become the number one destination for benefit auctions. If you’re an artist that wants to raise money towards a specific cause, Artsy is the best place to do so. We have the largest access to collectors in the world globally, and we have the technology and the platforms to make sure that your cause and the artworks associated with it are elevated in your auction. 

We just launched the 4th edition of our Art Keeps Nonprofits Going benefit auction, which supports 15 different organizations, including the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund to help in the fight against anti-AAPI violence, and Heart of Dinner through The Here and There Collective, which provides meals for elderly Asians in the New York community. We’ve always had these elements to our auctions, but the fact that our team can get together with the organizations so quickly, and really have that economic development come together so quickly is so important. 

What impact has the explosion of NFTs in the art world had on Artsy's business this year? 

It’s the most common question that I get. NFTs are something that have been extraordinary. The movement has brought more attention to art, which is always a good thing. At Artsy, we’re not rushing into this. Most of our galleries and artists are not necessarily working with NFTs yet, we want to make sure that we’re providing a platform for our galleries so that if they want to sell NFTs in our marketplace we will give them the ability to do so. It won't be any different than a gallery selling a painting or a sculpture, it's just another type of art.

Andrew Hampp is an entertainment marketing consultant for Brand Innovators and the founder of consultancy 1803 LLC, based in Berkeley, California.

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