Rise Art founder Scott Phillips discusses how creating assets like the Rise Art Prize has changed how artists and consumers engage with the brand, and why he believes that all online firms should be looking for ways to engage their core consumers offline.
Guest lists, printed brochures, exhibition venues, liability insurance, judges scores and ranking systems and shortlist announcements. These are just a few things my team and I have been wrestling with over the past few weeks in preparation for the Rise Art Prize. Why, in the run-up to the holidays and with so much at stake, am I risking so much online to create an offline event? Let me explain.
But first- if you’re unfamiliar with Rise Art, we launched in 2011 with the aim of making great artwork accessible to everybody. We’ve brought together a group of exceptional curators who help us filter through artists and select outstanding talent, to build a highly curated online marketplace. Along the way we’ve also launched an art rental service that lets anyone live with art before they buy; a recommendation engine that learns a user’s subject matter, colour and style preferences; and next year, a new improved personality test that matches art with a user’s unique interests and habits.
Throughout this time, we’ve focused on building a scalable business model. We’ve centered our marketing efforts on digital channels – testing, iterating and improving everything from basic online advertising and social media, to influencer marketing and search engine optimisation. All these activities have helped us spread the word, build our customer base and increase sales. But it hasn’t necessarily get to the heart of a really strong, compelling brand.
About a year ago, we realised we were missing a bit of a trick. Our customers and artists really liked the Rise Art experience, but while we’d done PR and other offline activities, we weren’t giving people an opportunity to really engage with us beyond the screen. We set out to change this, seeking new ways to engage with our audience and the wider community to reinforce our brand story and showcase some of the incredible artists we work with on a daily basis.
The Rise Art Prize was an asset born out of this shift in focus. The competition will seek out and celebrate artists from 5 all-encompassing regions of the world. The top artists from each region will have the chance to exhibit their works at a London show, during which we’ll hold an awards ceremony and announce the global winner of a £10,000 cash prize.
The competition has been an enormous undertaking; we’ve had to pull resources from other projects and ask the team to meet almost impossible goals. Our curators spent weeks reviewing over 20,000 artists portfolios, including 2,300 direct submissions to the website. Beyond that, we’re managing a complex event, with all sorts of logistics and operations hurdles.
I strongly believe with this asset we are helping to create a movement – a momentum for the brand that is difficult to replicate on digital channels alone. For the first time, brand advocates including past customers, artists and investors are actively promoting our activities and engaging on a deeper level with Rise Art.
The reason we’ve had such a good response is due in part to the global nature of the event, which differentiates the Rise Art Prize from other contests out there. It’s open to artists everywhere, we have judges located all over the world, and our global panel includes some of the biggest names in the art world – from renowned artists Harland Miller, David Bailey and Gavin Turk, to acclaimed editors from magazines like the FT How to Spend It and After Nyne.
That said, I believe an even greater reason for the competition’s success is that it is something tangible that brings the community together and is something for people to get behind. Next February’s exhibition will be our debut award of the Rise Art Prize. We’re going to bring together over 500 people to celebrate at the ceremony. And while the immediate impact on our sales may not be directly attributable to the event, we’ve already noticed that the competition has had a major impact on how Rise Art is perceived and how customers view us as a brand. And this isn’t just reflected anecdotally. Engagement numbers, from product views to social likes and comments, have increased dramatically since we launched the competition.
As Founder and CEO of a digital marketplace, I’m constantly taken in by the allure of data, digital marketing and attribution. I’ve found it easier to invest in activities that can be readily quantified, replicated and scaled in a relatively short time period. Activities that are primarily brand-building campaigns often take a back seat with this world view.
But the longer I run Rise Art, the more strongly I believe that digital companies should be investing early – and often – in offline brand campaigns to complement those that are digital. By creating the Rise Art Prize we’ve been able to transform our digital product into a physical experience and increase our brand reach, engagement and trust, all while perpetuating our mission of bringing really great art to everybody.