Over the past couple weeks I’ve come across three different observations from marketing/business people I really respect who discussed the relationship between artists and their fans. These three things combined to remind me that many of you may not be aware of the hidden value of having a direct relationship with your fans.
Before I get into specifics, here’s a quick look at the three things that inspired this post.
Who Are Your Best Fans?
First, marketing genius Seth Godin wrote a post about considering how you treat your best customers, which can easily be applied to how you treat your biggest fans as well. In it, he makes this excellent observation:
If you define “best customer” as the customer who pays you the most, then I guess it’s not surprising that the reflex instinct is to charge them more. After all, they’re happy to pay.
But what if you define “best customer” as the person who brings you new customers through frequent referrals, and who sticks with you through thick and thin? That customer, I think, is worth far more than what she might pay you in any one transaction. In fact, if you think of that customer as your best marketer instead, it might change everything.
You Are The Product
The next thing that caught my eye recently was a post from Julien Smith (author of the highly recommended Trust Agents book), which suggests that the future of blogs is paid access. Again, this can easily be extrapolated to apply to fans. Here’s an excerpt that caught my eye:
Something big changed with the web. We could create personal brands, broadcast ourselves for free, and create a following. Except if we got popular, we started not being able to pay attention to everyone anymore. This is normal.
I’m thinking of Richard Nikoley. His (successful) experiment with not washing his hair for two years has led to articles in the Chicago Tribune and other places. He can’t handle the emails he gets anymore. Also Chris Guillebeau, who recently got 800 comments on a post he put out.
As Aaron Wall has said, popularity is an inequality between supply and demand. You solve it by raising price.
Books and conferences are price points– they are old methods that people are used to and don’t flinch at. I use both, and they work well. But there’s a problem with them.
Middlemen take over the old methods. They live as parasites off what you and I produce. Many of them do it without adding any value whatsoever.
There is something missing from Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans method. It is fine for artists, for producers of actual artifacts, artists, etc. This is one reason Seth Godin’s Domino Project is so interesting. It cuts middlemen out. But it still requires the creation of an artifact… of a product.
What if YOU were the product?
I believe that what people want when they read your book, when they come to see you speak, or sing, or when they buy art from you– I believe that what they actually want is you.
Direct To Fan Marketing In The Music Biz
Finally, I watched an interesting video of a presentation given by Mike King, a music marketing expert, in which he spends an hour talking about direct-to-fan marketing methods in the music industry. Here’s the video:
Ok, so what do I take away from these three things and why should you care?
I believe there’s a tremendous hidden value to creating a direct relationship with your fans because when you have to go through the gatekeepers – club owners, bookers, record labels, etc. – to reach an audience, you’re limited in what you can offer that audience. That’s not to say that you should ignore the gatekeepers completely and there’s nothing wrong with working with them, but the stronger the direct relationship you have with your fans, the more freedom you have to get creative in what you offer to them and ultimately how you monetize them.
Here’s a few examples:
Maybe your fans would love the opportunity to party with you and go on a bar crawl together? There’s probably people that would pay a lot of money to have that unique experience (this post keeps popping up). There may be lots of money in this for you, but there’s none in it for the gatekeepers. And you can’t do it unless you have a direct connection to your fans where you can make them that offer and they can take you up on it.
A direct relationship with your fans also allows you to better understand why they’re you’re fans and what they want from you. In the old model, you didn’t really have any way to communicate with your fans on a mass scale and therefore weren’t able to adjust your products and strategy to their interests. But now, if you have a direct relationship with your fans, you can ask them what types of venues they’d like to see you play. You can ask them who they’d like to see you perform with. You can ask them what they’d like to hear you discuss on your podcast. It allows you to better serve your audience, which in turn further cements your relationship with them.
A direct relationship with your fans also allows you to create your own pricing structure. For example, maybe you want to give a copy of your new album for free to anybody that bought your last album? Maybe you think that there’s more value in rewarding your best fans, than their is trying to get more money out of them. Well, the gatekeepers (your label) probably aren’t going to love that idea because there’s nothing in it for them. But if you’ve got a direct relationship with your fans and control your own sales process, then you’re free to do what you want.
Having a direct relationship with your fans allows you to think about what’s best for your career in the long term, as opposed to having to do what’s best for your gatekeepers in the short term. That’s the hidden value.
And is there anything more valuable than that?