For many in the creative sphere, the dreaded ‘M’ word can be the source of all kinds of anguish…
Some of you may glide through marketing pursuits like a duck to water – whereas some of you may view the pursuit as a necessary evil; that annoying ‘thing’ that really should be tackled (at some point, but maybe not today).
Producing the work is the easy part. Convincing the world of your value in a fiercely crowded / global marketplace? Now that’s a different kettle of fish altogether!! It’s the frequently overlooked secret-sauce that WILL make or break your venture. Get the marketing right, and you can explode your income, profile, and success EXPONENTIALLY.
In this Masterclass, we’ll the examine the various marketing strategies that will enable you to reach a greater audience, connect with more clients, and sell more creative products. We’ll be focusing on free or low-cost channels, including social media, your website, and blogging – all things you can do right away, with very little technical expertise. Unlike most technical guides, we’ll also spend some time examining the ‘whys’ behind the marketing activities we roll out.
Ready to get the gears moving to take a slice of the action? Read on for the skinny…
The People Game
Whether you’re a photographer, author, cover-artist, retoucher, or artisan, you’ll find the principles of marketing / selling your wares are pretty much universal.
Marketing ISN’T about SEO tricks, algorithms, or the number of followers you have on Instagram – it’s about broadcasting value, creating desire, building relationships, and gaining the trust of your customers. At its core, it’s a ‘people’ game, with the ultimate aim of selling your product or venture.
“But I’m not a ‘People Person’ – people suck!!”
If that’s your current outlook, it’s probably be wise to consider an attitude re-adjustment. Perceive the act of marketing / selling as a joy. Be grateful to have the opportunity to connect and engage with your customers. Be grateful that it’s YOU who can help solve their problems. By following those actions, your attitude will re-align, and your reality will change.
You can STILL do phenomenally well, EVEN IF you are a cantankerous miserable git!! It’s just a case of leveraging that schtick, and maybe deriving some humour from your unique outlook. There’s plenty of fun to be had in that respect.
You Cannot Outsource Marketing
(at the beginning)
I’ve heard MANY creators state the following:
“I think I’ll just outsource this stuff, I don’t have the time for marketing…”
This is a gargantuan error, especially in the early years of your venture. Noone else on the planet will know (as well as you) the problems faced by your clients or customers, and how you’re uniquely positioned to help them. At the start, YOU must be the driving force of your marketing efforts. This is absolutely essential.
“Why is that?” they cry…
First off, you need to learn firsthand what’s working, and what isn’t. By pulling your sleeves up, and getting your hands dirty – you’ll gain a powerful understanding of what strategies are effective, what your market responds to, and the pros / cons of each platform.
This learning process is CRITICALLY invaluable – it can’t be gained via a training course, or passed onto you as secondhand knowledge. You need try things, iterate / improve, and change strategy when needed. Only you can go through these initial trials and tribulations, and learn from your experiences.
Once you’ve figured out effective marketing activities – THEN you may draft in outside help, to assist with daily and repetitive tasks, but not before then.
If you skip this step, you could potentially flush thousands of dollars down the toilet – by hiring marketing e-workers to handle your most important business operation (marketing). How will you know if they’re doing a good job? How will you know if your budget is being spent effectively? How will you know they’re charging a fair price for what they’re delivering?
From your time in the trenches you’ll have half a clue on many different aspects of the game. This will be incredibly valuable when you decide to hire marketing professionals later down the line.
If you seek success, you cannot avoid marketing.
Connecting With Your Tribe
That thing you do? That thing you sell? There’s a tribe out there, eager to be a part of it. Your tribe will be there to support and buy, regardless of how niche or obscure your venture may be. (Shoutout to the Seth Godin school of marketing, clever guy – look him up!!)
Of course some niches will be bigger than others. Your goat apparel brand may have a much smaller market than say, a boutique jewellery store… HOWEVER, if you can absolutely dominate this obscure niche, then there’s great potential to create a very lucrative venture.
You just need to find and connect with the people who like to dress up goats. THAT is marketing.
(Arguably the most obscure sentence I’ve written in my life…)
We’re incredibly fortunate to be part of the digital revolution, because our audience is now GLOBAL as opposed to regional. With a sound marketing strategy you can connect with the (tens of thousands) of people out there who share your vision, or desperately need what you’re offering.
The Hard Sell
Believe it or not, you don’t have to be ‘salesy’ like a used-car salesman to roll out effective marketing. This is the fear that most people have, when faced with ‘selling’. If anything, a hyper-aggressive pitch is often the worst thing you can do.
Screeching out the following (from every platform imaginable) IS NOT marketing, it’s ugly and annoying noise that will make people hate you:
“BUY MY BOOK!! ONLY $1 ON AMAZON!! HERE’S A LINK!! LOL!!”
Indiscriminately throwing promotional messages (like the above) into the ether WILL NOT get you very far. The same goes for constantly hawking 10% off promotions. Every single day, we’re bombarded with a bajillion promotional messages – and as humans we’re evolving to filter out / ignore advertising messages. It’s a recognised phenomena known as ‘ad-blindness (or banner blindness)‘ – look it up!!
Our collective bullshit detectors are dialled up to ’11’, and we’re all experts in filtering out (unuseful) digital noise. So how do we break through all this detritus, to share our genuinely useful products or services?
First off, you need to become a LOT more sophisticated than: “BUY MY SH*T” or “MY SH*T COSTS ‘X’, YOU CAN BUY IT HERE”.
If you’re selling a very basic commodity, like an ice cream on a hot day – then the above will pretty much do the business for you. You have a captive audience who want’s an ice cream (there and then), it’s just a case of your customer finding out whether it’s affordable or not.
Unfortunately – for more complex products or services, the game changes A LOT.
As modern consumers, we have a staggering range of ‘choice’ at our disposal when it comes to choosing any kind of product or service. A three second Google search can present us with more purchasing options than we could ever process – we’re truly spoiled for choice. This factor alone makes selling in the digital marketplace extremely difficult.
So how do we reach our audience, without the hyper-aggressive sales pitch?
Educate & Entertain
Throwing out dry / salesy promotional posts isn’t the only way to approach marketing. Think about how you could educate or entertain with your content. Educating or Entertaining brings VALUE to your prospects in some way. It builds rapport and trust – it’s a delicate slow-dance that brings interested parties into your world (without the hard sell).
Here’s some examples:
Suzy has an Etsy store, selling hand-made props and costume elements. As opposed to just throwing out a post that says “Cyberpunk Goggles, $10 OFF Today” (BORING) – she could create a post that contains a ‘How it Was Done’ guide, with pictures and a write up showing the process she uses for creating the goggles. Which post will get the most ‘Likes’ and comments (AND sales)? The ‘How it Was Done’ guide by a country mile!! It’s educational, it’s informative, and we get to learn a bit about Suzy’s story and her creative process.
People love to peek behind the curtain, to learn the magic behind an awesome product.
Wilf Mackerel has a new sea monster book out. Like most other authors, he could spam a couple of groups with a two sentence blurb and an Amazon link – OR he could do the following… Wilf could write a heart-felt Facebook or Blog post, about the time he encountered a basking shark when he was swimming as a teenager. Even though the creature is benign (unbeknown to young Wilf), he was struck with a primordial terror and the memory was scorched into his psyche. THIS was his inspiration, for writing the book. By sharing a genuine life experience, Wilf has entertained his followers – and piqued their interest in his story. No hard-selling involved.
Genuine personal stories and anecdotes can go a LONG way when it comes to promoting a personal brand.
Mike is getting pretty good at beauty retouching, and would like to drum up some business in the field. His first idea is to hit a load of prospects with cold emails, linking to his website – HOWEVER, he could also do the following… Mike could create an awesome time-lapse video series showing his creative process from beginning to end. With a big enough following, prospective clients will seek HIM out, as opposed to the other way round. Mike is both educating and informing with his content, whilst building authority within the field of retouching.
Demonstrations of your technical ability / prowess shows the world what you’re capable of – and builds niche authority in the process.
CONTENT IS KING. There’s literally a thousand and one ways to educate or inform with your content, it doesn’t always have to be about the hard-sell, or being ‘salesy’. Of course you can throw out more straightforward sales posts – but they SHOULDN’T be the backbone of your strategy!!
“Well DAMN… that seems like a lot more work than I want to do!!”
It’s a viper-pit out there, and the folks who CAN be bothered to go that extra mile – well THEY’RE getting your customers (even if they have an inferior product) Weave a narrative, tell a story!!
You see, it’s not about your product, it’s about the market’s PERCEPTION of your product. That’s why there’s a lot of ‘sub-standard’ stuff selling like gangbusters – the creators have found a way to effectively sell their wares.
The Fundamentals of Social Posting
Putting out content is an ART in itself… Here’s a list of some marketing fundamentals – many of these strategies actually go right back to the birth of print media and developed over the years for different media platforms.
Let’s take a look at some of the fundamentals of social posting:
Whatever you do, be CONSISTENT. If you’re going to share artwork across social media platforms, do it on a consistent basis. Same goes for video content, blog posts, or tweets.
The more predictable you are with your posting schedule, the greater success you’ll have with building a following and increasing engagement (‘Likes’, comments, subscriptions, sign-ups etc.)
It’s a devastatingly simple premise, but carries MUCH more clout than any other ‘trick’ or strategy. Even if your posting volume isn’t particularly high, your audience will be conditioned to anticipate your content.
Facebook Pages are being largely written-off, because engagement has dipped so low across the board. This is particularly true for brand new pages, where it can seem IMPOSSIBLE to gain any traction. A consistent posting schedule will increase your follower count faster than any other approach.
2. Respond to ALL Comments
What’s the number one thing you can do, that will instantly increase engagement with your content?
Again, another criminally simple strategy: simply respond to EVERY social comment as fast as you can. That’s literally it, no rocket-science involved for this one!! This is especially important when you’re new, and building trust / authority for your brand.
As you grow, it will become increasingly difficult to keep up with this – as social media comments can grow exponentially with your success… but DO endeavour to answer any questions or enquiries within a maximum of 24 hours.
Yes, it’s hard work – but noone said this was going to be easy 😉
3. Call to Action
After you’ve educated or informed with your awesome content, you need to ASK for some kind of action from your prospect – marketing professionals call this the ‘Call to Action’, and is absolutely essential when you do any kind of marketing online. If you don’t ask for the sale, you’re pretty much pissing in the wind!!
Here’s a look at a few examples:
Suzy selling Cyberpunk goggles: “I hope you enjoyed this walkthrough guys, if you’d like to score a pair of these goggles for yourself – head on over to X. Only 4 left – so don’t miss out :)”
(Suzy also employed a ‘scarcity’ tactic here, we’ll look into that in a later article)
Wilf selling his sea monster book: “Well that was my tale of woe, me hearties!! My story which was inspired by this fiasco can be found at X, where it’s available for FREE download via Kindle Unlimited. Have a read, and tell me what you think!!”
(Wilf came in with a double-whammy with his Call to Action – not only asking for the sale, but a review too!!)
Mike selling retouching services: “For more beauty retouch timelapses, be sure to hit ‘Subscribe’ to be notified of new uploads. Need some work done? You can reach me via my website, link in the comments!! Thanks for tuning in, see you at the next video.”
(Mikes video outro Call to Action asks for a subscription, and also gives interested clients an easy way to get in touch)
Beware the Vanity Metrics
Now before we move onto the next chunk of this Masterclass, I want to give you a heads up on ‘Vanity Metrics’. Vanity Metrics are intangibles such as ‘Likes’, page views / website visits, Instagram followers etc. – things that make you look good, but aren’t necessarily a marker of success.
What matters is SALES or COMMISSIONS… and even though Trudy the IG model has 25K followers – that traffic may not be converting into an income. I see it very often, with talented artisans and creatives – HUGE social followings, poorly monetised.
(“But Dean, not everything is about money!!” Of course not, but this guide written for those with the goal of quitting the day job or earning more from their creative business.)
Having beefy social stats can be good for social proof / building authority, but if you’re not properly monetising or marketing that traffic – then you’re pretty much just spinning your wheels.
A highly engaged community of 1000 who will buy absolutely anything that you put out, is much more powerful than 35,000 non-buying followers. Of course, it’s much more preferable to have 35K followers on any platform, but ensuring that traffic is leveraged / monetised properly is paramount.
Do not be fooled by Vanity Metrics. Social media ‘success’, and net income are two very different things. Exercise a level head, and don’t fall for your own hype.
Benefits VS Features
Now this is another age-old marketing tenet that’s as true today as it ever was…
When writing any kind of copy about your product / service / widget – try not to get bogged down by excessively listing all the features. This is dry. This is ‘salesy’. By nature we’re all incredibly selfish beings – and the ‘What’s in it for me?‘ factor is EVERYTHING when it comes to selling.
We’re not buying a hammer (product) – we’re buying a nail in the wall (benefit / result). Always keep this in mind when promoting anything. This is massive.
As opposed to listing features, discuss how your product will improve or benefit your customer’s life. As humans we have many needs – and a basic understanding of desire and motivation can be a supremely powerful tool in your marketing endeavours.
‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’ gives a very quick and decent overview of our basic, psychological, and self-fulfillment needs:
Getting a bit too technical here? Let’s simplify, and take a look at some real world examples:
Jim wants to sell book cover art to authors and publishers. Instead of just posting up his artwork and dropping a link to his website – he may do a post talking about how a cover re-brand for a prior project increased his client’s sales 10 fold (this happens a LOT.) A massive benefit of using his services!! What do authors want? Prestige amongst their peers, to entertain their readers, to be perceived as professional and capable, and to sell LOTS of books. Tap into these desires as opposed to talking about yourself and magic will happen.
Marie wants to sell quirky gothic hand-made jewellery. As opposed just posting a BUY NOW link with a crummy 10% discount, Marie could post a customer submitted photo (with a small testimonial) – showing the jewellery being worn by a (real-life) beautiful person, really enjoying the product. Social proof in action. We want to be desired, we want to be liked. People aren’t buying Marie’s jewellery, they’re buying compliments from their friends, family, and admiration from strangers.
Nadja wants to sell her portrait photography services. Instead of linking to her Instagram profile and saying ‘I’m available for hire’ (BORING) – Nadja could write a case study (with accompanying images) about how a prior client’s image portrait helped them to gain a modelling contract or movie role. The benefits are totally there without any need for the hard-sell: book in a shoot with Nadja, her photography gets people noticed!!
You’ll notice that all these examples are highly customer focused, and don’t whine on about all the features of your product or service. Always keep the ‘benefits’ in mind when you’re selling, and you’ll go far!!
Social Proof & Word of Mouth
Social Proof and Word of Mouth. The two POWER titans of sales and marketing – it would be a grave error to miss these badboys out from our Masterclass…
We’re pretty much sheep at the end of the day, no getting around that. We want to know if widget ‘X’ has worked for the other guy, and if it will work for us too. Why do you think Amazon Reviews are so powerful? We can find out from Joe Shmoe if the revolutionary new spatula design really does live up to the hype. Joe Shmoe’s review / testimonial will be infinitely more powerful than any marketing message we ever put out.
Champion your customer’s achievements and share their stories. When posting, leverage customer reviews, testimonials, submitted images etc. wherever possible. In a marketing sense, this is TWICE as valuable… Not only are you celebrating your customers, but you’re also proving to new prospects that what you offer is solving other people’s problems and making them happy. As herd mentality dictates, the new guys will also want a piece of the action.
Future sales are determined by the actions of past customers.
I don’t recall where I read that, but it’s a great piece of advice. The most beautiful place you can be, is where your product / service / widget sells purely on the recommendation of existing satisfied customers. This is the promised land, it really can’t be beat.
Your customers will put a lot more faith in what their colleagues / family / friends opinions, than whatever you (Mr Random Internet Marketing Man / Lady) ever has to say. If you think about it, a solid recommendation from someone you trust actually saves YOU a lot of hard work, shopping around and going through all the options.
“Well, my good buddy Joe Shmoe is a smart guy – and he rates this spatula. I think I’m gonna get the same one too.”
I’m very much into outdoorsy / bushcraft stuff, and watch a lot of videos on Youtube. A lot of the gear I buy is recommended by the presenters in the videos. I respect their opinions, and I’ve seen the gear in action. Off to Amazon I go to squander more of my cash!!
There’s literally no BETTER marketing than that ladies and gentleman.
Where’s the Technical Stuff?
“But Dean, you’ve not mentioned social media posting times, the latest Facebook updates, or Google algorithms??”
Listen… everyone and their nan harps on about the latest and greatest events in tech and social media – but these changes are ephemeral and fleeting. Not that important. The fundamentals listed in this guide are truly timeless, and are applicable to a wide range of channels. Every other day the tech giants will change the rules and trip you up in some way (anyway).
Don’t just rely on your social media profiles. You could be destroyed in an instant. Same goes for your Google position.
For whatever reason, your major social media channels could be annihillated overnight. It could be something as trivial as a breach of terms, or a technical glitch in the cloud. It is imperative that you also market via your own branded website AND a mailling list too. These platforms are entirely independent from your social media profiles, and Zuckerberg cannot get his hands on them!!
If you’re fully reliant on Social Media to generate your sales, then you have a problem. This needs rectified immediately. At the very least, beef up your mailling list to give you a solid independent sales channel.
I sincerely hope the above helps you to sell your creative wares. At the very least it would be great if this post inspires you to learn more about marketing, and continue your studies even further.
There’s some brilliant books out there, that will explain these core concepts better than I ever could.
All the best with your creative adventures!!
About the Author:
Dean Samed is a professional cover artist, and Photoshop instructor.
He now dedicates his fulltime attention to producing ‘the best goddamn stock photography on the planet!!‘
You May Also Enjoy:
• The Branding Masterclass for Creatives
• The Indie Authors Guide to Hiring a Cover Artist