Lesson 5: Marketing

What You’ll Learn: As good as your work may be, few are going to know about it without a sustained effort to market your products, services and creations to others. Marketing may sound distasteful to some, akin to selling out, but it does put food on the table and builds a following and perhaps even a legacy.


“Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your
unknown known is the important thing.”

~ Georgia O’Keeffe       


For many creatives, marketing is part voodoo and part witchcraft. It can seem that way, especially if you ever watched Mad Men. Marketing is also a creative art. People make a good living being marketing professionals. They are the reason why you prefer Coke over Pepsi or know that the final season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel got the green light.

Promoting yourself can be difficult for many creatives. It certainly was for me. When I was in the thick of running my own creative company, I had no problem shining the light on my clients and gaining them tons of awareness and publicity. But when it came to promoting myself and the company, well, let’s just say that that guy behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz was more well known than I was.

This duality still amuses me. I have spent the better part of my life singing on stage, doing improvisation, performing in plays and getting paid to stage some pretty big productions. But ask me to say a few words about myself at a local chamber meeting and I would fall into a bunch of self-deprecating one-liners that got laughs but no leads.

As we talk about marketing in this part of this lesson, we’ll keep it pretty generalized. Every creative, every market and every customer segment is different. The marketing needs of a videographer are very different from that of an actor or trapeze artist. Also, marketing requires continual experimentation, in part because the world is changing at a breakneck pace. Yes, you want to develop some consistent key messaging that makes your story compelling and authentic. But how you deliver that message and when should remain fluid and open to continual experimentation until it resonates and sticks in the minds of your audience.

The Basics

Get educated. If you’re not an expert in marketing, there are other creatives who are. This may be a great time to barter or trade if you don’t want to become an expert yourself. Otherwise, there are plenty of boutique agencies and gig workers who can devise, refine and help you share your message with your target audiences, either on the web, social media or other platforms. Many of these people will work with you on a per-project or freelance basis.

Know your target market. The days of shotgun marketing where you broadcast your message to a broad audience and hope it hits someone is long gone. You want to think like a sniper. Figure out who is open to your message about what you are offering and hit them strategically with messages formulated with them in mind. If you can figure out your audience’s pain and be the solution, you can open a door for a potential sale.

Marketing is not advertising. Marketing is focused on changing your target audience in some way, whether it is changing their knowledge, awareness or belief. In contrast, advertising is about paying to get your message out in front of your audience. Marketing doesn’t have to be costly or even have a cost. Some of the best marketing in history has been free and broadly shared.

Tell a riveting story. Story-driven marketing has replaced advertising. A well-told story captures your imagination, holds your attention, keeps you in suspense and pays off with a meaningful emotional experience. Stories connect you to an audience in ways that mere words or pictures in a brochure or a web page could never do. Tell your unique story, make it stick, and you will connect with your customers for a lifetime.

Set targets and goals. The success of marketing is in the numbers: the number of leads generated, leads converted into sales, and sales turned into repeat sales. It’s easy to blow a fortune on a marketing campaign that goes absolutely nowhere in terms of sales. If you haven’t figured out how to move your customer through the sales funnel to the point they are ready to buy and don’t have a way to measure the effectiveness of that funnel, you’re wasting valuable time and money.

Master the four Ps. Positioning, Product, Pricing and Promotion are essential to making your creative business successful.

    • Positioning: This is the perception that your target customer has of your product or service. How does it solve the customers’ problems? Is it a niche creation, or does it have broader appeal? What attributes does it have that your prospective customers will find attractive? Why would a customer want to buy it initially and subsequently?
    • Product: This is what you’re selling. Think in terms of the value it will bring to the customer. How is it packaged or presented? Is it packaged with any other value-adds, such as being a limited or signed edition? Where will it be available, and how will it be distributed/delivered?
    • Pricing: Low price doesn’t guarantee a sale. It’s all about the value your product offers for a specific price point. Part of this is determined by the market and your competitors’ positioning. Pricing can also be determined by how you want to be perceived in the marketplace, i.e., Tesla vs. Ford.
    • Promotion. This is the messaging you plan to use, plus the tools you’re going to use to spread the word, including advertising, public relations, marketing, social media, events, collateral and your fan base.

Toolbox Essentials

In the days before the Internet, marketing creativity was a real hit-and-miss proposition. Deep down, you just knew there was a demand for what you had in mind. The challenge was finding customers, clients or fans without spending a small fortune on advertising and lead generation.

The Internet is filled with sites that cater to nearly any creative pursuit possible, from making custom playing pieces for Dungeons & Dragons to those shopping their latest collection of wrapped wire earrings or fairy wings. Plus, you can monetize what you know on YouTube, TikTok or a number of other sites through affiliate programs and subscriptions.

There are some basics you can start with. Even in this anything-is-possible world where nearly any creative concept can find an audience, the basics of marketing will help you find them more quickly and, more importantly, keep them engaged.

Develop a sustainable plan and manageable budget. Your plan doesn’t need to be War and Peace, but it does need to be effective. Build your marketing plan so it fits your budget. You can always adjust your plan down the road, taking advantage of those strategies that are paying off for you. Your plan should never be chiseled in stone (unless you’re a sculptor). Your marketing needs to be flexible and responsive so you can hone in on what resonates with your ideal customer or client.

Have a great product or service. This is something of a “duh!” but the market is flooded with great campaigns for less than stellar creative. To grab and keep an audience, your product or service needs to be aligned with who you are and deliver on the promise you’re making.

Build a trustworthy brand. A brand is not your logo. It is the sum of the experience people have with your product and you, the owner of a creative enterprise. Invest in developing a brand with an unparalleled customer experience. Being bland with your brand is a shortcut to failure. Invest in a strong, professional brand that aligns with who you are and what your customers will identify with and value.

Get a website. In the old days, a website was a luxury. Now it is your 24-hour a day storefront. Make sure your website has the information your customers want and need to make a purchasing decision. Be honest and transparent. Customers can smell a phony miles away. Connect with them on a personal level. No matter what you’re offering, people are investing in you as well as your creativity.

Make a solid pitch. You should be able to answer the question “What do you do?” in a couple of short, powerful sentences. If you can’t explain your business using a traditional elevator pitch, you need to simplify it so that anyone can understand your unique place in the market. It needs to be punchy, memorable and serve as the core of the story you’re telling. We’ll cover this in greater detail in Lesson 8 but remember, you never know who you are talking to; at a party, at the mall or in your dentist’s waiting room.

Get social. Social media is free. That said, don’t make it all about you. If all you do is pitch your product or service on social media, you’re going to lose your audience and, worse, prospects. Use social media to share expertise or great ideas, demonstrate new ways customers use your product or service, post videos of customer testimonials or share limited-time offers. Create added value whenever that extends beyond you whenever possible.

Data is your best friend. This goes back to knowing your customers. You should track every interaction with your customers so that you can market effectively to them over time. A prospect isn’t always ready to buy when they first come into contact with you, but mastering the data will help you stay top of mind as they go through the buying cycle, going from a prospect to a customer. A well-maintained customer database can help you effectively target emails, social media posts, offers and e-newsletters to specific segments of your audience at specific times.

Invest in sound design. If you aren’t comfortable with your graphic or web design skills, find someone who is. This is not the time to cut corners or have your 12-year-old nephew design your business cards or website. If you want to be taken seriously, be serious about your marketing materials and spend the dollars necessary to make your business shine in the mind of your target audiences. Just as important, make sure your look matches your aspirations as a creative business. You aren’t going to get a Tiffany’s customer with a Walmart look. Your business will be judged by your looks, especially in the world of visual and performing arts.