How do you kick on to the next level and inspire new followers and fans beyond your current base? In this article Mark Knight, founder of RCM and Major Labl identifies 6 proven growth strategies from the brand marketing world and considers how they could be applied to improve music marketing effectiveness for independent artists.

1. Be Meaningfully Different:

Research from Kantar and BAV (Brand Asset Valuator) highlight the importance of 1) meaningful 2) difference. If you can build a business that combines these two behaviours you stand a greater chance of success. A good example of a business that combines both meaning and difference is Airb&b, they disrupted the hotel industry and gave people a way to unlock the value of their spare room or empty home.

For independent artists thinking about how you can deliver a meaningful difference in your music project is certainly a challenge, remember it’s relatively easy to be different, but meaningfully different is a tougher nut to crack. But that shouldn’t deter you, often one can lead to the other. Start by thinking of the simple ways you could stand out in social media news feeds.

For example:

  • We will never take a band bio photo in front of a brick wall
  • All of our content will be shot in black & white
  • We will only ever post videos on Instagram
  • We will replace full-length music videos with 15 & 20-second clips
  • We’ll donate a proportion of merch revenue to charity
  • Pay what you want for our release (Radiohead)

2. Listen with your eyes:

Just because we listen with our ears, doesn’t mean we choose with our ears. In the world of Instagram and Facebook, around 80% of the content is viewed with the sound off. The first job is to engage the eyes not the ears. There are parallels in the business world. Think about food or drink… once again the first job is to engage the senses of sight or smell. Taste only comes into play later in the purchase journey. A big part of the success story of Aperol Spritz in the UK is the distinctive Orange colour. People see it before they taste it and say “I want one of those.”

RCM favourites PORCELAIN work with motion graphic artists ensuring every video posted to their social feeds looks amazing. The band generated over half a million video views before releasing any music.

3. Fake it to make it:

In the advertising world, there is a phrase ‘fake it to make it’ which basically means if you behave like you are successful, people will start to believe you are a successful business. In this world, there is no mention of struggle only success. That could mean replacing tube carriage advertising with big billboards or TV… Nothing screams success like the big screen.

Admittedly as independent artsits, you can’t just spend your way to success, but there are subtle things you can do. Your job is to generate hype and desire around your music.

Can you replace the reality of the everyday grind with a little glamour by including a quote from a taste-maker in your next press release. Or could you persuade an influencer, to appear in your next video and help promote it?

Recognise you don’t have to celebrate every radio play or urge fans to tune in. This is not the behaviour of a big successful band. This is a chance for new people to discover your music. Thank the DJ and producer and ask them for a quote you can use in your future promo.

Critically consider how you use your social media feed. Learn from successful influencers and behave like an influencer. Ask yourself how each post conveys success over struggle, after all, social media is surely about portraying your best possible life. Make fans aspire to be you, don’t wallow in the drudgery!

4. Don’t forget about retention:

CRM or customer relationship management is big business, globally this category is predicted to be worth $81.9bn by 2025. The recent GDPR and Apple privacy changes have put consumers back in control of their data. Lazy email spam is no longer tolerated. The moment consumers fail to see the value they reach for the unsubscribe button.

Online design platform Canva uses its email CRM to share new product features and tips with its customers. It’s a great way to encourage their customers to use the service more often. The Pareto principle states that 80% of business will come from 20% of your customers, and while those numbers may be overstated it stands to reason that the people with the closest relationship to you will be easier to convert than someone that is hearing from you for the first time.

Independent artists need True Fans

So what does this mean for you as a musician? Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 true fans theory suggests if you can build true personal relationships with 1,000 of your fans that is enough for a successful career.

Imagine if you had 1,000 people who bought everything you released, bought tickets for every show and told everyone they knew how amazing you are, that would be powerful. As an independent artist, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that new Likes and new Followers equal new fans. In reality, the Like or Follow is like a First date, they are initially attracted to you and you have a chance to impress them. However, unless you engage them in conversation they will ghost you forever, and be little more than an un-used and forgotten number in your phone.

Have you been using social media the wrong way?

The reality is most independent artists use social media in the wrong way, they have been wrongly conditioned to think the follower count is the key to success when in reality the focus should be on the engagement rate. 

To grow engagement you need engaging content and a plan to reengage fans that goes beyond blindly posting on your wall and hoping. At the early stage of your career as an independent artist, you have the opportunity to interact with fans on a one to one basis through direct messaging. This is essential to creating those real fan bonds.

Don’t stop there! Use the Facebook Pixel to continue to retarget anyone that has previously engaged with your content and pages. Unless your new followers continue to see and engage with your content, you will fall out of their feeds. Study your analytics to understand what content works best for you and what times of day are more likely to yield the best results. For every pound or dollar, you spend on reaching new audiences, independent artists should spend the same if not more on re-engaging existing followers

5. Create a movement:

When Elaine Welteroth joined Teen Vogue as Editor she came with a vision. She didn’t want a magazine she wanted a movement. After all, there were lots of things teens could read, but how many things could they really believe in and get behind. Elaine aimed to create a meaningful difference between Teen Vogue and other publications by replacing light celebrity and beauty news with hard-hitting opinion pieces on Ohio’s abortion ban or Trump’s America. Elaine Welteroth was credited with turning Teen Vogue around.

The history of music is synonymous with subcultures and movements from Goths, Punks, Mods and Rockers. What’s the next one and could you be the band or artist that starts it? If you can’t start one, think about how you could attach yourself to an existing community to reach and engage like-minded fans. Hashtags can provide a simple way to connect your content to an existing movement, moment or community.

6. Product Led Growth:

Product Led Growth is powerful, this concept removes the salesperson or the ad campaign. If the product/service is good enough it will inspire users to share it organically, because users recognise their experience with the product or service will be improved by inviting others to join them.

Facebook is an obvious example. The service is better when your friends are on the platform, this principle allowed Facebook to grow largely by word of mouth marketing. As a musician imagine if all of your fans shared your new video on Instagram tomorrow, not only would the reach be incredible, but the shared endorsement would be a game-changer. The next time you are creating content or promoting a gig consider what you could do to encourage people to share, what could you do that would directly benefit them as well as you.

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Words Mark Knight