According to Merriam-Webster.com (link below), a snob is “One who blatantly imitates, fawningly admires, or vulgarly seeks association with those regarded as social superiors.” While snobs are rarely like the exaggerated characters portrayed in films, they do share common traits in varying degrees that make them easily recognizable: it could be their desire to own exclusive or expensive items, or the need to demonstrate their refined tastes, or to share esoteric facts they know about a particular subject, and so on.
Because there are snobs, marketers have long known that snob appeal works for a customer segment that values some combination of scarcity, uniqueness, or a high price relative to similar items in the market. I’ve had the pleasure of working with many arts entrepreneurs and can personally attest that snob appeal is effective in carving out market share and generating additional revenue. It doesn’t matter if a portion of a venture’s offerings, or the entire catalogue, is positioned for exclusivity as long as the story they are telling about their offering is compelling. It can be contagious too, because many consumers have a fear of missing out, and that fear is amplified when scarcity is in the mix.
The flip-side of snob appeal is that many likely don’t recognize the exclusivity, or if they do, they may not be able to afford it or find value in it. The unintended consequence is that it will negatively impact the arts economy as a whole because a portion of the population, say those newly interested in an art form, might assume they don’t have the intellect or resources to appreciate it. In this scenario, art becomes intimidating and uncomfortable for them. Imagine how they might feel when an “expert” says, “I don’t attend classical pops concerts because the music is too light,” or “That’s not art, it might as well be sold on a boardwalk!” That’s all it could take to stifle the enthusiasm of budding arts patrons who do enjoy listening to pops concerts or connecting with landscape art, from continuing their journey to other styles of art—or losing interest in the arts altogether.
This is a highly relevant point for the health of the arts economy. We have lots of statistical, demographic, and psychographic information about our groups of arts patrons and benefactors, but it’s limited data because it’s based on survivorship bias. That means that only survivors, or in our case, those who remain engaged as arts patrons, are counted. We will never know the percentage of the overall population that was close to becoming arts patrons but chose not to for whatever reason. (Survivorship bias can happen anywhere and you can read more about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survivorship_bias.)
Since this podcast focuses on arts entrepreneurship, let’s remember that all art is purchased with discretionary funds—and those funds can be earmarked for anything. Those in the arts are competing with giant and mature industries vying for those same discretionary funds: sports, automobile, home improvement, travel, etc. In that context, we should strive to welcome everyone regardless of their interest, because their interest and resources are the two most important assets that patrons have—and both change over time. Using an airline analogy, before a passenger can board a flight to take them to a destination, they first have to enter the airport. Let’s make that entrance a welcoming and engaging experience.
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