CIU111.3 (3/3): Indie Marketing Techniques
Indie marketing techniques were the point of focus during week 9. The SAE blog on Medium.com of the same name was, like others, full to the brim with helpful, useful information, and tips for getting yourself noticed and attracting new fans, customers and followers without access to the financial backing and advertising reach of some larger competitors in the field ("Week 9: Indie Marketing Techniques", 2015). It discusses the importance of standing out, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your brand, and understanding the psychology behind why people make certain choices rather than others. There is a great section on comparative variance, with tools to help people think objectively about themselves and their brand, something that is not always easy to do. The blog also raises the interesting point that as creative practitioners, we often find that our customers and our users are not the same people. That is to say, one party often pays us to supply a product that will be used by another party. This is such a unique situatio and one I personally haven’t ever given enough thought. Fortunately, I have the opportunity to do so right now.
As I discussed in my post last week, I have always appreciated the importance of my online portfolio in gaining and retaining fans, users and customers. What I haven’t always appreciated is how different all these factions can be. Not only are they different but their wants, needs and expectations of me can be in complete conflict with one another. Yet, at the same time as they are conflicting, they are also completely reliant on one another. Confused? Me too. I guess an example of what I’m trying to explain is as follows: Let's say, my customer, someone paying me to do a job on a professional level, does not want me posting vulgar or distasteful things publically, at risk of it affecting their brand by proxy. However, my users, fans and followers, respond best when I post things of such nature. Now I’m in a position where I have to get fans to get a job, to get more fans, to get more jobs, and everything I do to gain one completely ruins my chance of getting the other.
At the risk of boring you with more talk of my time on reality TV show The X Factor, it is a great example of this whole conundrum. I did the job, I gained fans and people knew about me. Great! But then because I’d done the job and people knew me, other people didn’t want to be my fans because I was no longer seen as a struggling artist. So, I got the job but lost fans. Before it, I had fans, but not the job. It is the age-old tight rope that so many creative people have walked throughout time. Thanks to this week’s subject matter, I can see clearly now that it is because we work in an industry where our users and our customers are often different people. How many times have fans complained about a project their beloved artist has done, not realising that said artist is likely at the whim of some very powerful and financially invested superiors? The fan feels as though they are the customer, but they are not who the artist is working for. This is why the whole idea of indie marketing has taken off so much. It is not just because many artists don’t have any money or help or corporate backing, but because appearing to have none of these things is in itself desirable and beneficial. This is so important for people in the creative industries to get their head around, not only because money is not always freely available for things like marketing and advertising, but also because the whole idea of indie marketing has become an advertising style in its own right. So much so that even large, corporate, that is to say very un-indie companies, now strive to make their marketing efforts seem indie, in an attempt to trick customers into using a product they think is cooler than it actually is.
A great example of this became apparent to me recently when I noticed the country being flooded with seemingly organic, independently produced information about a new Australian artist named Vera Blue.
From out of nowhere, Vera Blue was featuring as a guest vocalist on songs by established indie artists, had posters for her new album Perennial (2017) plastered on every wall of every hipster neighbourhood in town, was the featured artist on Triple J, and was being interviewed by every indie music mag and newspaper in the country. The hypnotising, eerie, porcelain faced image of her album campaign was impossible to miss and unmistakable. Before I had heard her utter a single note, I knew her name, her song titles, her look, her sound, her everything. I could not help but feel curious about how an indie artist could, with seemingly no lead-up, become the most exciting and talked about singer in the game. In short, I smelt a rat. The first confirmation of a bad smell was finding out she was signed to Universal, one of, if not the biggest record labels in the world. How did this mammoth company stumble across Vera Blue? Well, she was a runner-up on The Voice Australia, a reality TV show that works in conjunction with Universal, in 2013.
But, I thought, surely the indie music community wouldn’t so willingly embrace a singer who had done so well on such a show. I certainly didn’t expect a radio station like Triple J to have a featured artist who was a runner-up on a reality TV show that they routinely separate themselves from. But sure enough, they did. But it wasn’t before Universal had played a little magic trick first. What trick? Erase and replace. See, it wasn’t Vera Blue who was on The Voice, but a sweet hearted, redheaded little folk songstress named Celia Pavey. Like they have done so many times before, they snapped up Celia before she won the show, which would enter her into pre approved, awfully restrictive contractual agreements, and locked her away in a writing camp for a few years. Then, they flooded the streets with the most perfect, unassuming marketing campaign. Celia Pavey was never cool enough to smash the indie scene, but Vera Blue is. And why? Not because Vera Blue is cool, but because, and this is important, people who like Vera Blue are cool.
Without a doubt, the section of the Indie Marketing blog from week 9 (2015) that made the most impact on me was the section titled ‘What Makes A Bestseller?’ This is where the blog addresses the importance of word of mouth. I used the term organic earlier to describe the marketing tactic used in Vera Blue campaign, and I think it is the best word for what so many artists rely on, and so many major companies try to emulate; the organic, wholesome spreading of an idea, concept or product. Now, we have all heard of word of mouth, and I personally have always thought about how exactly certain ideas spread this way more than others. I’ve also always been interested in why certain ideas or products spread this way more than others. Obviously, over the years, many marketing teams have studied this and used their findings to make this work in their favour. What the blog says is that it in terms of word of mouth, it is not the product that is important, but the user. This information is backed by Kathy Sierra’s 2015 book entitled Badass: Making Users Awesome (2015).
Sierra goes into detail about the importance of the user over the product. She notes that 92% of people say that they trust recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising. This is important information for anyone getting his or her product out there without all the cost. But Sierra also stresses that we are looking in the wrong place if we are worrying about what people are saying about our product, rather than who is saying it. I suppose when I think about it, this makes perfect sense. In my own life, I would be much more likely to try something new suggested by a friend or family member who I consider to be cool and in-the-know, rather than I do not.
It seems so obvious to me now that I feel silly for not thinking about it more before. When creating something new, advertising something new, or exposing themselves or their brand to the public, one should always ask; would the coolest person I know think this is good? Is this something that cool people would talk about? Is this something I would talk about? If I talked about this, would it make me seem cooler or not? It is so easy to think of these questions as silly, or unimportant in the greater picture, but in reality, they are probably the most important of all. After all, if they seem irrelevant to getting the job, remember the job is probably solely concerned with how other people feel about you and your work. I am so grateful for this being the topic we touched on. I truly feel like it has opened my eyes to something that was right in front of me the whole time, something so simple, yet so easily overlooked.
It is funny how sometimes the simplest of concepts can be the most potent.