I'm a hypocrite. At least I think I may be.
I've spent the better part of 30 years in sales and marketing and actually own a marketing company. Yet, I find myself annoyed by commercials and blatant brand marketing campaigns. Perhaps being an insider in the game of marketing has tainted my objectivity and sense of appreciation for the cleverness of it all. But in the end, I fast-forward through commercials on my DVR and find product placements in TV shows and movies to be a bit tacky. I have often asked myself if I have ever really been influenced to make a purchase based on advertising.
The simple answer has to be, "Yes".
My subconscious awareness of a brand or product puzzles me. I've responded to discounts or low price offers in advertisements when it involves a product I'm already interested in buying, usually a commodity like food. But if I'm not already looking for or seeking a product or service, advertising just glosses right past me. At least that's what I rationalize.
Having said that, I do appreciate clever creative advertising. Watching the Super Bowl for the best commercials is like a holiday event. So I can admit that I am at least marginally affected by advertising.
In the entertainment business, it's all about advertising and promotion. In fact, the industry doesn't exist or renew apart from P & A (promotion and advertising).
An artist, actor, model, or perhaps anyone in the public eye will typically need to manage their brand and image with the public and industry. It's part of the process. It just is.
When I consider all the ways advertisers use to promote their product, service or cause, I am overwhelmed by the conditioning we, a free market society, have been subjected to over the past 100 years or so. Think about it. Nearly everything we experience each day has some promotion or advertising connected with it. Even the most human characteristic has a form of promotion. The outfit we choose to wear, how we do our hair, the personal hygiene products we use are all simply ways we tell the world who we are in the most basic way.
In the music industry, everything an artist does, says, looks like, sounds like, etc. is a direct or indirect form of advertising. The exception being that in the entertainment industry, it is advertising on steroids. It is an industry based on the senses and emotion. Promoting an artist involves engaging the potential consumer with a sensual or intellectual appeal. Guys like me in marketing understand this nuance and we do our best to enter the psyche of the targeted consumer to create a campaign that will attract them to the product, service or cause we assist promoting.
The hardest part of advertising is knowing how to calculate investment of funds and other resources (like time, creativity, etc) versus the measurement of the payback. For business newbies, the term is called ROI, Return On Investment. The magic or silver bullet in marketing is to find the best ROI campaign.
Measuring ROI in the music business can be difficult. Some would look for direct financial returns as the best measurement. Record labels, especially, are concerned about ROI because they function more like a bank now than in the past. They are looking for their investment to make a return in literal revenues. But as a new artist trying to make your way, some marketing investments won't have a financial ROI, but more of a branding ROI. What this means is that you are investing in spreading your name, talent and creativity to as many people as possible. You're selling yourself, not just your CD or downloadable music, or concert tickets, or merchandise. A branding campaign is likely the most expensive and most difficult one of all because it doesn't have a direct measurable ROI at first.
There have been many gigs, media interviews, songs, TV appearances, or just meet and greets that Spencer Kane (my 18 year old artist / actor son) has done the past three years that give him public visibility, but there has been no financial upside in the short term. It's all been part of the branding campaign. Even having a sponsor for shoes and clothes has often been simply a branding campaign for the sponsor and Spencer at the same time. There's no real financial upside to it.
One of the more frustrating parts of P&A in the music business involves touring and live events. There's not really an easy formula for how to fill seats at a venue when you're just starting out. There's the whole friends and family angle when you're just an infant in the process, but that gets old. Promoting your music and brand well enough to get a consumer to pay for a ticket to see you live is simply difficult. There's no short cut, no secret method. There's always co-branding where you attach yourself to an existing product or brand that the public already knows (think being an opener for a major headliner), but even that can cost money for a new artist (pay-to-play).
Refining your approach to marketing in the music industry is an ever evolving process. What works for one season, may not work the next. Redefining your image and brand may involve new music styles, new wardrobe or appearance, or even migrating to a different area in the entertainment business. Madonna has always inspired me regarding her ability to reinvent herself for different seasons and audiences. She is still Madonna, but somehow creates a new sound, image, or controversy to get the public to pay attention. Miley Cyrus does it all the time. It's the nature of the industry.
People's attention span, especially teens, only lasts so long. The "flavor of the day" mindset is very realistic for younger audiences. However, once they attach their emotions to that flavor, it stays with them for years. I recall my personal emotional tie to songs and bands from my youth. That is why the entertainment industry is so built around youth. It's the ability to connect emotionally and sensually with your audience that creates business. This is fact.
So here's a few quick tips about how to market yourself and measure the ROI to some degree.
1) PERFORM LIVE OFTEN
Sadly, with the advent of the internet age, artists think churning out mix-tapes or youtube videos is going to give them their big break. They offer free music for download in an effort to build their brand. While offering "samples" of the product is smart, giving away your product long-term just looks desparate. It creates the image that you don't value your brand. Beyond that, it's eventually costing a lot of resources that could be spent elsewhere. Once an artist has a lot of product built up, they need to focus on giving the public a live experience of the product. This is important because it does many things for your career. It helps you learn how to respond to audiences, but also allows audiences to experience more than just the music of an artist. It's a way to build an emotional connection that is deeper than the melody or lyrics. You're investing in your brand and building fans that will ultimately pay for your music. Sadly, social media fans don't easily convert to buyers of your product because they have been trained to expect everything for free. When you're trying to build a career and earn a living, free doesn't cut it. So taking every opportunity to perform will eventually create an ROI of product sales in merch at the event or new music you release later on. Performing live may involve a lot of free shows, non-paying gigs, travel expenses, and even some pay-to-play performances. The investment may be costly up front, but it will pay off down the road in revenues.
2) SOCIAL MEDIA
Not to contradict myself, but social media does have a ROI. The investment is the babysitting of posting and upload of content, responding to fans and engaging with them, and the managing of multiple platforms and software. Hiring a social media manager may escalate the ROI, but also may cost you finances to do. The viral effects of social media are proven when the right content or post is made available. But it is important to know that it is more a marketing tool of necessity than one of financial return. It builds a long-term snapshot of the artist and their life, which will give new converts a chance to get to know the artist and their music in short order. The ROI is usually the initial exposure of your music to new fans who may eventually come see you in concert or pay for your music.
Please take the time to hire a professional photographer, graphic designer, web developer, producer for music, etc. Many artists fail to realize that their image goes beyond the music they create. It is their wardrobe, the photos they post online, the album artwork, the press photos they furnish, the music videos they create, and even their merch booth display. For a few hundred dollars, for example, you can create a very visually stimulating merch booth at a live venue. It will easily impress fans and even industry folks who attend that you're serious about your career. Many think spending $100 on home printed paper CD label will save them money, but it may be costing them. Take the same $100 and spend it on a 5 or 8 foot banner. That visual will attract people to stop by your booth. This is especially true when performing at a large festival where you're not alone as an artist. A good photographer can be found about anywhere nowadays. Camera gear is relatively inexpensive. Even phones have great cameras. It's the little things you do with your image in marketing materials that make a good ROI.
I mentioned this before, but any chance you get to be a feature on an established artist's project, or have them featured on yours is brilliant marketing. Appearing at an event with an established brand is also important. This may seem basic, but it is important. The real challenge is that established artists don't like having parasites around. They don't want to use their fame and popularity to give you a freebie. Most will want some investment from you in exchange. Don't be offended. They have spent years and resources building their brand. Imagine being a wannabe chef and asking a national restaurant if you can offer your gourmet recipe to their clients and potentially taking away orders from their own menu. This is the reality of co-branding. It costs money most times but the ROI can be instant popularity. Just listen to radio. Rihanna has done something no other artist has done in history. She has more number one songs on Billboard than anyone. She hasn't done so alone, she has co-branded the majority of them by being featured or having a proven artist featured on her project. It has created a successful business ROI for her career.
5) PRESS RELEASE
It may seem trivial, but the power of a press release as it relates to marketing is very important. Having media tell your pre-planned news story can be very helpful. Writing a press release properly is very important and paying someone to do that can make a difference in first impressions with the media. You may not have the ability to craft words together or may think you're a lyrical assassin with words, but having a professional press release writer tell your story is an important investment. Many can also help distribute the press release to the right outlets to cover your story. Sadly, the local newspaper only builds local awareness, and in the music industry, you need to have a regional impact to build serious momentum. The ROI isn't an immediate financial one in most cases, but more of a brand awareness and can really build strong alliances with media outlets that will likely want to follow your progress over time.
Even though marketing (P&A) is essential, be careful not to get caught up in investing so much in P&A that you lose sight of measuring the ROI. At some point you will look at your bank account and music sales and scratch your head wondering why it isn't what you expected. Being careful in your investment of P&A and deliberate about measuring the ROI along the way will help you prevent going bankrupt in resources or emotion. The other balance to this is to avoid believing your own P&A and ignoring the reality that your brand or music may just not be desirable by the masses and it may be time to pack it in and focus on another way to earn a living. Sad reality, but one that can save you and those around you some frustration.