Three Lessons From Street Artists on Selling Your Product

What can you learn from street artists?


Pronoy Chaudhuri

3 years ago | 7 min read

New Orleans is a fantastic place to visit. Their history, their food, and their music are celebrated globally and attract over 18 million tourists annually. As with many large tourist hotspots, locals flock to the streets in an attempt to earn a few bucks.

Along the French Quarter, you can see artists banging buckets and foretelling futures. Near the riverside, you can see off-brand superheroes strutting around and motionless men painted in many bright colors. These people spend 8–10 hours a day entertaining the masses and only have a few dollars to show for it.

This is simply business as usual.

For street artists, one drawback to performing publicly is that there is no expectation for observers to pay. This incentivizes them to find unique ways to commercialize their art.

Recently, on my trip to the Big Easy, I encountered a unique group of artists. At the beginning of their performance, there were only a few audience members. Near the end of their 30-minute act, there was a crowd, chanting and cheering, and the artists walked away with over $1,000 in contributions.

This is how they did it and what you can take away when selling your product to the masses.

Lesson #1: Understand Your Market

In the street artist game, grabbing an observer’s attention is relatively easy to do. What is truly difficult is making them invest the time in watching a performance.

With so many competitors potentially lined up on the same street, artists must stand out if they want to gather a crowd. Therefore, they have to think about the best ways to target their primary market: tourists.

This is a very difficult challenge for performers to figure out; however, the unique group of artists that I encountered seemed to have a solution.

The artists began their performance with a big dance supported by loud music. This drew a considerable amount of tourists, including myself.

Then, they introduced themselves and said they had a special show for people of all ages and nationalities. This engaged tourists and families with small children.

Next, they asked certain audience members to be a part of the performance (this will be important later). They specified asked for:

1. Eight rich men2. Three young ladies3. Four small children

Once the volunteers reached the middle of the make-shift stage, the grandmaster lined them up in a row and boldly announced:

“By the end of our performance today, our crew’s fastest runner will jump over all 15 people, so don’t go anywhere!”

To the naked eye, this was impossible. Most of the audience members were intrigued and wanted to watch this happen; thus, they were hooked and invested in the performance.

By understanding that tourists look for family-friendly shows that have a high entertainment value and showcase an inclusive environment, these artists were successfully able to attract this market segment.

Also, they employed a guerilla call-to-action by advertising to viewers that they will see a person jump over 15 people at the end of the show IF they watch the entire performance.

Overall, these actions enabled them to make tourists invest time in watching their performance, surmounting a common problem for street artists.

How does this help in selling your product?

Like street artists, companies can also have a hard time marketing their product to potential clients.

One common reason is that many businesses try to build a product based on what they think a customer would want instead of actually checking in with the customer.

This results in multiple hours invested in building a product that no one would use.

Instead, if product teams were to get to know their market and understand how they think, they could be building products that truly engage their target users.

Lesson #2: Add Unique Value to Your Product

For the most part, it is safe to say that a tourist has seen a street performance before. You can find bucket drummers and caricature artists anywhere from New Orleans to New Delhi, so it’s rare to find a standout performance.

Consequently, this acts as a primary driver for why many tourists don’t pay to watch artists. They simply feel it isn’t worth their money since they can watch someone else do the same thing somewhere else.

For street artists, a saturated market threatens their livelihood. For example, I remember walking down Bourbon Street and seeing two groups squabble because the drums from one group’s performance were drowning out the music being played by the other group’s boombox.

To become profitable in such an environment, it is paramount to have a performance unlike any other in the world. The unique group of artists that I encountered figured this out and did something quite ingenious.

First, they got the four small children that volunteered to be a part of the performance to stand up. Next, they asked them to do some silly dances to some 90's music; standard stuff that volunteers would do in a street performance.

Then, they thanked each child for their act and gave each of them a $20 bill.

Yes, you read that correctly. Each child got a $20 bill. This was something truly unprecedented that no other group in New Orleans was doing. The audience was truly shocked.

The grandmaster composed the crowd and explained himself. He said that those children were willing to dance in front of 100 strangers and that they were brave to do so. He felt that each child deserved to be paid for their performance since many young artists in the area do the same thing but are stiffed by passersby.

By demonstrating this pain point to the audience, they were sympathetic to the grandmaster and his crew and understood the impact of their contributions. This was a direct factor in the average contribution being $20 rather than the standard $1.

How does this help in selling your product?

For many companies, it is difficult to generate sales when competing in a saturated market. Take e-commerce for example. With similar types of products being sold by multiple vendors online, how can one company stand out from the rest?

By adding unique value to your product, this can attract the attention of your target market, and with the right conversion tools, lead to sales.

For the street performers that I witnessed, they paid $80 to the children volunteers and got over $1,000 in contributions by the end of their show.

That is over 1250% in returns.

Lesson #3: Close the Sale at the Right Time

In North America, asking for contributions can be a taboo subject. Many groups like waitstaff, bellhops, or street artists, rely on goodwill to get through the day.

Sometimes, these people ask for contributions upfront. This can be interpreted as greedy behavior and may result in lesser or even no contributions.

For others, they may not ask for anything so they seem polite. This allows people to make their own decisions on what to give, resulting in a mixed bag of contributions.

Overall, with an inconsistent level of pay, this creates a sense of anxiety for such groups who may have to live paycheck-by-paycheck.

For a street performance, there tend to be two types of audience members. One type leaves immediately once the performance is over while the other offers some goodwill before going along their way.

This is an example of inconsistent pay and something that many street artists have to go through. The unique group of artists that I encountered recognized this and had a battle plan.

Instead of asking for contributions at the end of their performance, they asked for them directly before the finale.

Although this was a difference of 30 seconds, this had a real impact on the pay they received.

When a performance is over, its value is gone. Therefore, some people don’t feel like paying.

When a finale is about to start, an audience has invested a lot of time in the show and would feel like completing it. Consequently, they would pay to see the conclusion.

This tactic had worked very well. From a crowd of 100 people, I could only see two to three people leave the circle. This demonstrated that the timing of their ask was very powerful.

How does this help in selling your product?

Many service-based companies rely on inconsistent pay, especially those that are season-dependent. For example, consider driveway sealing businesses. In North America, they repair driveways after seasonal damages and are especially busy during the springtime.

A poor time to target leads would be in the winter when driveways are covered in snow. There would be no value in purchasing the service then.

A great time to target leads would be at the beginning of spring. With many ruined driveways, these companies can easily make sales when they bring damages to the attention of homeowners.

Therefore, closing sales at the right time can be an amazing way to significantly increase revenues.

In such a saturated market, these three lessons have led to big returns and if employed when selling your product, could lead to its further success.

What are some other lessons that could be applied to sell products successfully? Feel free to add a comment letting me know — I love reading great ideas.


Created by

Pronoy Chaudhuri







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