Getting Intimate With Your Fans

by SaskMusic

August 7, 2009 in Marketing & Promotion

It’s time to talk about lifestyle marketing. For those of you who attended “Your Fan is Your Customer…and the Customer is Everything,” this will be an extension of what was covered in that workshop.

More and more, we are hearing the term “lifestyle marketing”, and the need to really understand and connect with one’s fanbase if an artist is going to have a sustainable career.

But let’s back up. Exactly what IS lifestyle marketing? Well, there are many definitions out there. Simply put, it is "marketing activities that are centred on the customers’ opinions, attitudes, ways of life, and interests." These marketing activities blend seamlessly into the way current and future customers (fans) live their lives; companies and brands that actually pay attention to this tend to be the most successful. Ultimately, we are talking about establishing an emotional connection between your fan and whatever it is you are trying to market (your music).

Now you are asking yourself, “Alright, how does this apply to music and the marketing of an artist?” People want to be able to announce themselves to the world, and music is one of the main things people use to make a personal statement. Think of cars driving down the street...stereos blasting country, rock, hip-hop, punk, etc.. Now, think about the people behind the wheels. They are making a statement about themselves by choosing a particular style of music. (Thus the popularity of ringtones and ringbacks.)

This requires that an artist and their team have a really good understanding of their fanbase. You can also begin to see how branding and the image of the artist become more critical than ever. It is important for an artist and their team to understand their fans' values, beliefs, interests, consumption habits, etc, both in regards to music and in life in general.

This is a general overview, but let’s look at it more practically, as it applies to independent artists. (Since most independent artists do not have millions of dollars to hire consulting firms to do detailed analysis on customers and create large marketing campaigns!)

Let’s be clear – two of the largest success stories in lifestyle marketing, in my opinion, are artists: Loreena McKennitt and Ani Difranco, both of them independent do-it-yourselfers. Each of these women created companies that focused on understanding their fans and giving them what they wanted and needed. That foresight has translated into miles of success. I read somewhere that Ani Difranco sells upwards of 30,000 CDs a month. That’s incentive for understanding your customer base!

The Band is the Brand
What is branding? Again, there are a lot of definitions out there. One of the simplest and most accurate is courtesy “A brand is a collection of perceptions in the mind of the consumer.” How do you create this in music and for an artist? That’s a huge question – and would require a separate article. But, simply stated, your collective activities create the brand. The music you produce, the way your bio is presented, the photos you use, your live performance and how you interact and engage with fans, the clothing you choose, the retail options you provide your customers, the design of your website, other communities you connect with, other bands you perform with, the merchandise you sell, your logo, your press releases, the support team that you surround yourself with, and the types of venues you perform in. As you can see, the main elements of your career speak to the brand you are offering. My challenge to you is to define one key message you'd like to get across to your fans. Does that message fit with your fans’ lifestyle? Are all of your activities geared to that message? Are you creating an emotional connection that people can relate to personally?
Let’s look at some examples. For decades, punk artists have sold their CDs through local skateboard shops, partly because it’s reflective of their image and partly because that's where their fanbase can be found. Mainstream country artists? Cowboy hats, jeans, and often, a perceived image of “good ole boys and girls having a good time, while committed to friends and family.” They sell a sense of belonging, of “simpler times”, and of fans as family. And yes, I am using generalizations, recognizing that it is uniquely different for each artist within a particular genre. Madonna is another example – sexy, not held to boundaries, a chameleon with quick-change reflexes, music that people can dance to and feel good about, and which is reflective of today’s culture. Regardless of specifics, this should get you thinking about the image you are trying to present, and hopefully, get you thinking about whether all your activities are in line with that one message.

Data Capture, the Key and the Beginning
What do you really know about your fans? Do you know, for example,

• the last three CDs they purchased
• the last three live shows they attended
• how much they spend on music in a year
• where they hear and where they purchase new music (radio, MySpace, file-sharing, retail stores or digital downloads)
• which restaurants and other service-based businesses they frequent
• what kind of merchandise/clothing they wear
• which other artists they relate to
• what venues and festivals they attend
• how they spend their time, what activities they interested in, what they think about, what they believe in?

As you can imagine, this list can get rather lengthy. Now you’re probably asking, how can I get this information? Run contests and promotions at live shows or through your website. Make it fun, and offer some kind of incentive. You could ask for this information when people sign up as part of your mailing list or street team. You could pose these questions on your bulletin board, your MySpace site, on your website (and encourage your fans to email you back). Ask them…they are probably happy to share this information because it shows you are taking an interest in their lives, and making it easier to get what they want. And, you are engaging with them.

The key is what you do with this information once you have it. Look at the responses, find the trends, and use them to guide your choices. You can’t possibly be all things to all people. But if you discover, for example, that the majority of your fans eat at a certain local restaurant, then perhaps you want to approach that restaurant to see if you could sell CDs there. This is just one example. The key is to communicate to, and engage with, your fans. Figure out what emotional connection draws them to your music, and what they are saying about themselves by listening to your music. Then, you can engage in activities that fit seamlessly into the lives of your fans - both current and future!

By Lorena Kelly for SaskMusic. Originally published Autumn 2006.

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