Curation: The Most Underrated (and Teachable) Skill for the Promo Professional Today
You’re a professional curator.
That’s a surprise to some of you, but that’s what you are.
Every day, you sort, sift, and select specific products from thousands of options in our industry and then assemble them into collections to present to a client.
This is why it’s somewhat baffling that as an industry of professional curators, we’ve never tried to codify the craft of curation. We never talk about it as a skill. We never teach our sales teams “How to Master the Art of Curation for Your Client.” We never create webinars on how the art of curation is a golden key that opens the door to client affinity and trust.
Curation is the most underrated—yet vital—creative muscle in our business.
And it’s a skill deftly wielded by the admired “creatives” among us, whether inside the industry or outside of it.
Like with most creative endeavors, many people think that the craft of curation can’t be taught. “You either have taste and style or you don’t,” some say. But everyone learns how to cultivate taste. No one is born into the world with exquisite taste; it’s an accumulated skill, one acquired through cultivation (which we’ll discuss in a future post).
So, since it can be taught (or at least, caught), then what are these seemingly mystical skills that “some people have and others, just ... don’t?”
Before we answer that, let’s lift the hood for a second and look underneath the very popular buzzword to uncover what curation really means for us in sales:
Curate > verb (kyoor-eyt): To select, organize, and present (online content, merchandise, information, etc.), typically using professional or expert knowledge.
What this banal explanation (courtesy of the Oxford dictionary) doesn’t say is that curation is more than “collecting,” it’s more than gathering, in fact, careful curation is a catalyst for sales. Whether it’s the streetwear fashion mogul hyping their latest finds on Instagram, or the promotional products distributor curating merchandise for their biggest customer, or the supplier building collections for their distributor customer: curation radically accelerates sales.
(I) Curation Cures Decision Fatigue
What separates the pros from the amateurs in this business is that the amateurs force their client to make all the decisions: they overwhelm their clients with an avalanche of ideas. They are not specialists in any sense of the word, they only specialize in confusion. They force their customer to ask all the questions rather than vetting and qualifying, in short, they quickly wear their client down with idea overload (and along the way, commoditize their way into cost comparisons).
The amateur collects, the pro curates. The pro sifts the multitude of ideas through a special filter only they possess: unique knowledge about their customer, design options, product trends, the customer’s vision, tone, message, and strategy, and more. The pro weeds through the clutter with a very sharp scythe, her eye of discernment brings order out of chaos. It’s a developed intuition. You could almost call curation the art of the purpose-driven pause.
Your skill at curation should be mindful, intentional, and lighten the customer’s load (at the very least) by winnowing down the overwhelming options to select a pristine solution.
Do you want your customer wading through overwhelming options or do you want them to learn to trust your skill, your intuition, and your eye?
(II) Curation Connects + Catalyzes Sales
In her article, “Secrets of the Creative Brain,” author Nancy Andreasen wrote that for years, she had been asking what was so special about the brains of creative people. And in her own version of a eureka moment, she wrote, “the answer finally came to me: creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections.” By doing so, they “see things in an original way—seeing things that others cannot see.”
The most famous curator today is the renowned art expert, Hans Ulrich Olbrist. In fact, the word “curator” was first ascribed to those that curated art shows. In The New York Times, Olbrist wrote that “‘the ‘cur’ in curating can obviously be freely associated to curiosity. It is a desire to want to know and to connect what we know.”
Professional curators are insatiably curious, and as such, they make connections for clients faster.
Since curators are always-observing sponges of learning, and because they cross-pollinate from a variety of fields (not just inside-industry resources but from a varied diet from design, fashion, trends, food—the wider the variety, the better) they are able to make decisions faster.
The most creative curators are relentless autodidacts and multi-hyphenates who are able to advise clients with a strong opinion because they possess a deep bank of cultural knowledge.
Clients revere their opinions because this knowledge leads to insight. And insight is a small but mighty bridge of trust that ignites ideas and accelerates the sales process, creating a catalyst for sales growth.
The pro curator in this business advances from order-taker, to taste-maker, to sales proliferator.
(III) Curation Crafts a Story
When Ted Church of Anthem Branding spoke at one of our very first skucon events, he said that a tactic he loves to utilize with prospects is to take one of every item from their branded merch, display it all out on tables, and ask the prospect, “what story does this tell?” In most cases, the story is disjointed, unclear, or even just stylistically uninteresting. It might tell a story, but it’s a very boring story.
Obrist said that “the most important job of the curator is … to help the artist tell the story and connect (to) the viewer.”* For our industry, you could translate his advice this way: The most important job of the curator is to help the client tell their story and make an emotional connection to the end-user (the audience).
Sotheby’s summed up the craft succinctly by saying that “to curate is to filter through the material, recognize important connections, and present the resulting story in an engaging way.”
We’ll cover this more in a future post, but curation is an unobtrusive character behind every brand’s merch-storytelling. It’s a sales accelerant because humans are hard-wired to process ideas through the lens of a story. And every brand’s merch tells a story.
Curation is for Closers
The overwhelming magnitude of options today demands that we curate our lives. We, as consumers, curate everything: our social feeds, our movies, our podcasts, our news outlets, our wardrobes, our food, our communities, our books, our music, even our next date.
Because we are naturally curatorial in our consumption, we must—absolutely must—be a professional curator for our clients, matching their high demand for a curated lifestyle with our deeply developed instinct and insight.
In the meantime, some homework: Take some time to note how—and from what sources—you curate your world. As you cruise along in your normal, everyday, note where you watch, listen, read. Pay attention to your curiosity meter: Is it high enough? Wide enough? Wild enough? The best curators have a ravenous appetite, they pay attention to everything, cross-pollinate from everywhere, and—this is the secret—they bring these “outside” experiences to bear upon their craft.
You’ll learn a helluva lot just by observing your own curating behavior, and you’ll soon discover that the art of curation is not just for “the creative people,” but curation is for closers.
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