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.

Marketing (continued)

Other Ideas to Consider

You don’t need to rob a bank to mount an effective marketing campaign. There are plenty of guerilla tactics you can use to build awareness of your company and the creative products and services it offers. Some of them require a bit more sweat equity, but when you’re starting a business, there’s often more time than money available.

Networking. Relationships, particularly in many creative professions, are everything. Make sure you take advantage of networking opportunities, including local chamber or business development meetings, networking organizations and fundraisers. Get your face and name out there, so people start to associate a product or service they need with you and your business. If you’re in a smaller community and have tangible creative works to offer – a vase, painting, performance, cooking lesson or website consult – consider donating them at community auctions.

Sponsor something. Supporting a local event, festival or charity is an excellent way to build brand awareness and name recognition. Take a good look at their promotional package to see what you get for your money as you seek opportunities. Some levels offer “above the title” sponsorship (Presented by…) or advertising space in a program. Before settling on one level of sponsorship, look at the package above it. Often the additional cost gives you way more bang for your buck. You can also trade out a talent you have for a sponsorship level. An example would be a videographer who donates a promotional video for a community event in exchange for a partnership package.

Public relations. If you are doing something creative that is way out of the box or trendy, get to know a reporter who may be interested in your business. See if you can get an interview or follow up on a press release you sent them. This works well in smaller markets. If you’re in a metropolitan center, don’t waste your time unless you shred a work of art at the Seattle Art Museum (yours, not one already there). Promoting that your business exists is not necessarily news, so think hard about what story you have to share and look at the media you’re targeting to see what kind of news they are interested in receiving. You want to be strategic and not wear out the welcome wagon with superfluous “news.”

Blog up a storm. A blog on your website is a great place to share your expertise. Tie the blog into your social media channels and post links back to your website from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. You can also do a podcast and share it with your targets. Providing something for nothing is a great loss leader, especially if you’re relatively unknown in the field. Get people to subscribe to your blog to build a targeted mailing list.

Host seminars and webinars. This is another excellent way to share your expertise. In a world where Zoom has become the norm, host your session online to attract a larger customer base than you could reach in a physical room. Invite others to be part of a panel so that it’s not just about you and your products or services. If you just released a new book or film, think about doing a Q&A session with your fans. Use your database to invite guests to your event.

Become a speaker. The current environment is a perfect time to create a presentation and become known for public speaking. As the pandemic becomes endemic, there will be more and more opportunities to speak in public. Offering a new perspective that hasn’t been covered a hundred times could get you moved to the top of the list. You could become the next TED Talk star.

Telling Your Story

As a creative, no one can tell your story better than you. It may be tough to talk about yourself and your creativity, but you need to shed any shyness or humility here. You can be sure that the loudest and proudest out there in the marketplace aren’t the best nor brightest. But like the proverbial tree in the forest, no one is going to hear what you have to say if you can’t find an audience who’s interested in listening to your story.

This may take practice. As I noted, I famously used to tell people that “I make stuff up, and people send me checks” as my elevator speech. Writing, in particular, was never a chore for me, and I never really appreciated this talent in the earlier part of my career. Resist the temptation to minimize what you do, and you’ll find out how interesting you really are.

Remember, you are unique in this world, as is the creativity you bring along with you. Your work can’t always speak on your behalf. You need to learn to tell your story and do it honestly and transparently.

Robert McKee is the dean of storytelling (his course graduates have won 65 Oscars, 200 Emmys and 100 Writers Guild of America Awards). He also consults with businesses around the world, teaching what has come to be known as Storynomics, the art of using story as a business marketing strategy.

As humans, we absorb millions of pieces of data every day. Our respective minds automatically sort through all this data and decide what is relevant and irrelevant. Almost 99% of this information is discarded; only 1% is tagged for further attention.

Your brain likes to turn this remaining 1% of data into stories. Humans are storytelling machines. More than 60% of your daily communications are stories: stories you tell yourself (that narrator in your head) and stories you tell to others and about others. Stories help us understand the world around us and our place in this world. Recent MRI research has shown that our brains are hardwired this way. We love to tell stories, we love to share them, and we love to hear them.

Let’s run through storytelling in its purest form. If you’ve read or watched any story in your life, this should look very familiar:

  • As the story begins, the central character’s life is in balance, as expressed by core values (happiness/sadness, for instance).
  • Then, something happens that upsets this balance and changes a core value one way or the other (happy to sad, love to hate, etc.). This is known as the inciting incident.
  • Balance must be restored, so the character acts on their own self-interest to return to a balanced state.
  • Because of these actions, the core values have returned to their balanced state (sad becomes love again, or dissatisfaction becomes satisfaction).

The next time you watch a movie, see if you can spot these key moments that move a story along. Every story uses a variation of this same process.

How does that work in story-driven marketing in business?

  • As the story begins, the new homeowner (central character) is so excited (core value) to host Thanksgiving for the first time.
  • Then the dishwasher breaks (the inciting incident). The homeowner is freaked out because it’s the day before Thanksgiving, and 20 guests are expected.
  • They dread doing all those dishes by hand. Then they remember that your company has a special 24-hour emergency service and gives you a call.
  • Your repair person shows up, fixes the dishwasher and saves Thanksgiving.
  • The customer doesn’t have to do the dishes and tells all their dinner guests about your exceptional emergency service. They also share the story with all their friends on social media, creating even more awareness about your company.

As a creative, you have unique stories to tell. Think about the times you stepped into a situation that was out of balance, and you restored order through your knowledge, know-how and creativity. Because of you, balance was restored, and you solved the client’s problem.

What sent you on your creative journey in the first place? Why do you see the world differently than others? What do your individual and collective works convey to others? Does it help them find their place in the world, introduce beauty, teach a lesson, unearth a lost memory, or simply bring a smile to someone’s face?

As you know all too well, the marketplace is filled with sales pitches and noise. We’ve all heard how one product is better than another or that it’s priced lower than the competition. The vast majority of this endless marketing noise goes in one ear and out the other.

But story, especially a personal story that others can identify with, will not only be remembered but will often trigger a reaction, whether it’s a follow-up call, request for information or a sale.

If you want to geek out on story and how it can be used in business, Bob’s book is available on Amazon and at local booksellers.