Marketing is a way to build an audience.
You've mastered your craft and learned to express your vision. You know you're good, and everyone agrees.
Still, you don't know how to "market" yourself and the work you're producing. What you’re looking for is an audience. You want people—beyond your family, friends, or teachers—to know you and what you can do. Yes, you also want to make money, earn a living, but first of all, you want an audience.
Before Launching Your Business
1. Know Your Audience. Too often, when we ask a creative about their audience, the response is all too often, "Everyone!" But to say "everyone" means that you are talking to No One. You need to know "who" you want your work to appeal to and "why" they should care. The more time you take to size up your audience, see them concretely, know what they like and the problems they face -- the more prepared you'll be to get your enterprise off to a good start.
2. Size Up Your Audience. Think about where you'll find your audience, customers, or clients. What do they read or buy? What programs do they attend? You'll find they share preferences -- they like the same music, are attracted to the same colors, are regular readers of the same websites, or use the same social media. They buy the same products, use the same services, share many of the same values -- social, political, and environmental -- and have similar educational and cultural backgrounds.
3. Look At Your Competition. There are many reasons to know your competition -- how it appeals to its audience and its competitive difference. But there's something more to be found in looking at your competition. It provides a mirror that helps you see your audience. If your audience likes your competition, you want to figure out why. And your competitors -- especially the successful ones -- have done the research already. Why not use it? Their websites, promotional materials, the channels they use to tell their story, etc., can suggest things you can do and things you should avoid.
4. Learn What You Like. Find and analyze the websites that appeal to you most. What features do they have? How do they use visual material? What's their tone? How do they talk to their readers? What language do they use? Tough, Sweet, Stuffy, Funny, Serious, Personal? Knowing how they express their message will help you think about how to present yours.
5. Think About Your Brand. A "brand" is the promise we make to our customers, client, or audience. It's often subtle. It doesn't scream. Its strength is that it consistently reminds the audience that they get the same value, same quality, same features -- every time.
To help you understand "brand" -- a rather slippery term -- take a look at this excellent discussion by Michelle Pujadas of Zer0 to 5ive. Others that can help you:
You'll find that a "brand" is more than the "look and feel" of your website, product, and promotional material: It is the idea that comes to mind when one thinks of the artists, performers, or business. (What comes to mind when you think of Billie Eilish. Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, or Beyoncé? If Eilish or Grande come first to mind, you're probably a Gen Zer. If Swift or Beyoncé, a Millennial.)
6. Putting It All Together: The Design Brief. Whether you're working on your own or hiring a professional to create your website and promotional material, you'll want to write a Design Brief. It is a way to define the purpose of the design, the style of its writing, and what you want it to achieve. Think about the story you want to tell, how you want to connect to your audience, and how you want your audience to see your company or creative work. (More discussion.)
You don't need to be starting a business to write a design brief. If you're an artist or performer, a design brief can be extraordinarily valuable. It will bring together how you want to present yourself. It will help you think about how you want to talk to your audience about your art. It will help you create a public voice. The discipline of thinking about one's "brand" and then writing a "design brief" will be helpful when you apply for grants and residencies.
7. Test Your Brand Before You Go Public. Make sure to share your website with a group of trusted friends or family members. If possible, test it with people who are similar to the audience you want to reach. Ask them for their opinions, and make sure they know that you want their honest feedback! Were they confused by some sections? Did they find your language too private or special? (Avoid the jargon of your profession. Even those in your profession won't like it.) Did they think it would motivate them to act -- email you, purchase your work, submit an inquiry form, or attend an event?
Now you're in business. You're ready to sell, present, market your talents, services, or products. You know the story you're going to tell. You've defined your audience -- who they are, where they are, and what they need. But now, you need to get the word out.
There are five ways to get the word out.
1. Paid Media. If you've got the money, you can run ads. But you'll find that paid ads eat up a lot of your budget. More importantly, they target a limited audience -- those that use traditional media, e.g., print and broadcast. (How many of the people you want to reach read newspapers, magazines, or watch local television?) If you've got a sizable marketing budget, you can, of course, get a significant reach and impact in the marketplace. However, it may not be worth the money unless you're trying to reach a mass market, and, even then, you'll need to be persistent with your advertising .. and that's money and more money.
2. Earned Media. If you can figure out how to get into the news -- run an event, stage a competition, launch a newsworthy application -- earned media is a powerful way to position your company. It provides credibility for what you're doing since other people are reporting on you. It's hard to get into the news, though. We often exaggerate the newsworthy quality of what we're doing. We find we're not exciting enough, novel enough, controversial enough, or simply interesting enough to become a news story.
3. Owned Media. Don’t overlook the media you control -- your website, newsletter, listserv, YouTube channel, blog, etc. You can use it to develop a context for your message with each element reinforcing your other content.
There is, though, a downside to “owned media.” It requires you’re able to attract your audience to your space. (When you use other media, you benefit from other participants using the same media to speak to their audiences.) In the case of “owned media,” you’ll need to connect it to your use of other media.
4. Social Media. Most current market strategies are built around Social Media. It is cheaper, can be more easily targeted to the audience you want to reach, and is more nimble and quick. It doesn't take long to write a tweet, add a Facebook comment, or put together an Instagram. But its popularity is also its drawback. It's easy to get lost in the clutter.
It’s natural for you to use the Social Media you are familiar with. It's not a bad place to begin. After all, you've got friends, family, followers you connect with through it, and they'll want to know what you're doing. They'll be your first supporters: if you provide them with copy that they can pass along (photo, short description, company slogan, a link to your website, call-to-action), they will quite likely be happy to pass the word on to their network.
Remember: The Social Media you use may not be the Social Media your target audience uses. (Does your family use Instagram or Snapchat? Does an audience of Gen Zers use Facebook or LinkedIn?) So, for example, if you want to attract people with a net income of $100,000 or more, you’d be better off using Facebook than using Twitter or Pinterest. (For a summary of demographic information that will be helpful to those thinking about the best Social Media for their target audience, look here.)
5. Strategic Relationships: Alliance Marketing. There's a truism we learn when driving in the snow. If someone else has plowed a road, use it. It's a principle that works for marketing too. Take time to develop relationships with other companies connected to the same audience you are trying to reach. They can be valuable allies. How do you create these partnerships? Offer services they don't offer and, in return, have them promote your services. You'll also get the added benefit of gaining credibility that comes when you're working with an established brand. (For more discussion.)
Marketing never stops. You need to take it on as a continuous process.
Update your website regularly. Maintain your social media presence regularly. (Identify one or two platforms and post to them at least three times a week.) Think of ways to get the news media's interest and get a story placement at least once a year. Here's when you can take advantage of your strategic alliances, producing an event that connects to your shared audience.
Even though you want to build your audience, don't forget your current one. Find ways to connect even after they've done business with you. Loyalty is a two-way street. You must continue to build a relationship with them that lasts beyond the purchase of a product, service, or ticket. Think long-term. (For more discussion on building loyalty.)
Remember: Stay laser-focused on your target audience and your brand identity. You'll find it tempting to move on targets of opportunity (a partnership that doesn't speak to your audience or presents itself in a way that undercuts the brand by changing voice, tone, or values). You might have a short-term gain, but your message will get fuzzy.
Marketing a small business is complicated, and each business requires different strategies. Need more guidance or have a question we didn’t answer here? Check out our Office Hours program to connect with a marketing specialist. A good objective outsider can help you stay focused.