Written by Ivana Karabova - as part of Commission Mission.
Independent artists and tech startups might seem like they operate in two different worlds without crossover. However, there are some undeniable similarities. Both indie artists and tech startups usually start out with very limited or non-existent marketing budgets and have the mindset of "bootstrapping" their business/career until they find the right audience.
Startups, though, are the ones applying the bootstrapping mindset effectively to their marketing and promotions. Understandably, artists who are just starting out tend to focus on their primary mission - making and sharing the best music possible. However, if you want to become a successful independent artist, you have to consider the fact that marketing yourself and your music is going to be an ever-present element of your career.
We live in an increasingly digital-first world, and plans are thrown out of the window when unexpected events bring everything to a standstill. That's why it’s vital to have solid foundations so that your marketing efforts are consistent. Here are three essential marketing strategies that can help independent artists transform their promotion efforts into growth and sustainability mindset.
Strategy 1: Funnel Your Audience
Funnels are one of the core strategies that tech startups use as a basis for their marketing plans. The funnels usually differ slightly based on the industry, but the basic principle is that startups use different marketing efforts (social media, email, ads, etc) to lead their audience down a funnel that reduces the pool of potential customers to the ones that are the most interested and committed.
Tech startups that offer software as a service (think Zoom, MailChimp or Shopify) realise that most of their audience will stay at the top of the funnel - the awareness and interest stages - and therefore will never be committed enough to pay for any of their services. This is why they distribute their resources accordingly and spend their time, money and effort disproportionately on the lower stages of the funnel. The number of potential customers is smaller, that's for sure, but they are more committed to spending their time and attention on the startup's product or service.
How Independent Artists Can Use This Strategy
Think about the different stages of the marketing funnel as they relate to music fans. You'll have to realise that most people that are aware of you and your music will never be super-fans dedicated to your every move - and that’s okay, they’re still important. It's more important, however, not to do it at the expense of an early dedicated audience who have the potential to be your super-fans and who hold the most significant long-term value.
What does this mean in practical terms? For example, you can still pitch your songs to playlists and hoping to go viral, but don't do it excessively and at the expense of the time you can spend engaging more meaningfully with your already existing fanbase on social media e.g. doing Instagram Live or sharing your favourite tracks and playlists with them. Try adopting this mindset of managing your resources based on the marketing funnel to make your promotion efforts more sustainable.
Strategy 2: Create Content Efficiently
Content is one of the most important aspects of any startup's marketing efforts. Whether it's to educate, inform or entertain, startups usually view content - a blog post, podcast, social media posts or video series - as a crucial way of making customers aware of the business and its product or service. One of the biggest challenges of producing high-quality content, that draws the audience in and helps to convert them into customers, is time. With so many different digital platforms and forms of communications that need to be covered, it can be challenging to keep up with creating the right content for the right platforms consistently.
With limited time resources, one of the crucial elements for executing efficient content creation is planning. It might seem like a simple and straightforward concept but maximising your production time is all about planning things. One of the more developed examples of efficient content creation is presented by Gary Vaynerchuk in his Content Model. He argues for planning things out and repurposing the same content for different platforms. This way, startups are able to create high-quality content efficiently and keep it coming consistently.
How Independent Artists Can Use This Strategy
Every time you’re planning to do anything (e.g. songwriting, performing, recording), think about the extra things that you can do while you are at it. What does this mean? Here are two examples of efficient content creation:
If you’re writing songs or in the studio, you can record video/audio snippets talking about your thoughts and processes. You could use these later when promoting your record with a behind the scenes videos or podcasts.
If you’re doing a livestream, you can plan out a structure of your broadcast that takes into account the interactivity of the live audience. Ask fans to send you questions and requests in advance, so they have a reason to tune in. Make sure that you save the recording of your livestream - you can edit it and use any interesting snippets later on your other social media platforms.
Once you get the ball rolling on planning your content production, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and lose sight of the goal. A good strategy to stay on track is always to ask yourself two questions: "Is the piece of content relevant to my brand and my audience?" and "Does it serve a purpose - does it educate, inform or entertain?" If the answer to both questions is yes, it's worth spending your time on it.
Strategy 3: Have a Clear Value Proposition
A startup's value proposition is a statement that answers why someone should do business with the company. The most crucial aspect of any value proposition is clarity - clearly explaining what you’re offering. This doesn't just mean describing the product or service itself but also everything else that enhances the customer's experience.
Tech startups that are disrupting industries usually do not have the brand recognition and financial resources of established corporations. This is why a clear value proposition helps them differentiate themselves when they are just starting. With a more defined perspective, they are able to attract the right customers—the kind of customers who agree with their ethos and support the brand beyond just the money exchange.
How Independent Artists Can Use This Strategy
The situation startups find themselves in is quite similar to independent artists who also initially lack financial resources and brand recognition compared to mainstream major label artists. This is why the concept of a value proposition to differentiate yourself can be helpful to create a sustainable and relevant brand. How can you apply this strategy to your day-to-day mindset when promoting your music?
Be as clear as possible in any communication with your audience. This applies to obvious things like release dates to hype up interest but also to less traditional parts like crowdfunding for a new album or creating Patreon-like subscription - be fully transparent about why you need their support and what they can expect in return. Take your fans on the journey with you - emotional ups and downs, "boring" behind the scenes bits, successes, failures and everything in between. They will appreciate it.
Have a clear perspective to give your music and your brand a context - what other things apart from music are you passionate about? Do you read a lot? Share your favourite books and your thoughts on them. Do you have causes that you care genuinely about? Promote them with your reasons why. Do you love baking, makeup, hiking or extreme sports? Share your love for these things. Share your favourite artists, and your love for them. There is nothing more endearing to fans than knowing their fave is just as human as them.
As time goes on your most loyal super-fans will want to buy into more than just your music heavily. Being clear about who you are and where you are coming from can be helpful to differentiate yourself and tip a causal listener over the edge into a life of loyal fandom.
The world of social media and digital marketing can be quite overwhelming. The possibility of quick viral success can be really exciting, and it can be tempting just to ride the wave. However, without strong foundations and sustainable growth mindset, you can easily miss the opportunity to turn that buzz into a loyal following. These marketing strategies can help you be ready for when the time comes. Being an independent artist is never easy, but with the right mindset, it has never been more possible to succeed than it is today.
Commission Mission was created by Young Guns Network and London In Stereo to commission 20 new and experienced freelance writers to create articles to inspire, inform and entertain young people in the music industry who are struggling during Covid-19.
The supporters who made this project possible were Association of Independent Music, London In Stereo, Musicians Union, Motive Unknown, PPL, Remi Harris Consulting, Small Green Shoots, Young Guns Network, Youth Music.