How to Market When the Product is You

“Without Promotion Something Terrible Happens…Nothing”   –P.T. Barnum

Marketing yourself is one of the biggest challenges creative people face. No matter how much help you get from your agent, well-meaning relatives or friends; the person you need to get squarely on your side is you.

While there are notable exceptions, those P.T. Barnum types who have no problem being their own best ad man; the greater majority find it easier to promote virtually anyone and anything else, than to trumpet their own work and accomplishments. I’ve found the same with arts organizations, much more so than in dealing with business and industry. I think the reason is due to the intimacy you have with what you’re promoting.

Take for example tech or service companies that have a new product or training program they believe will be useful. They can talk about capabilities, improvements in quality and increased productivity; how they can improve what’s being done. That’s much easier to quantify in terms of ROI.

When the product is more personal – how much someone will enjoy your artwork, game or book; experience a concert or new play; what you’re promising is quite different. It’s subjective. And knowing that is what stops the creative business person in his or her tracks – because they want to deliver what they promise.

What to do? Once you get past your initial inclination — pulling covers over your head (not at all effective), wishing someone else will do marketing for you (costly and only works well when you’re prepared to be fully engaged), hoping you’ll get discovered and duly rewarded for your hard-earned talent (wonderful when that happens on its own, but not a waiting game most can afford to play), you need to find a good, practical solution.

The answer lies between knowing what inspires you and what makes you mad. If you’re devoted to the creative life, you’ve chosen to forgo what others might have advised would be a safer path. Revenue’s not guaranteed, there’s not defined career ladder, and you don’t know how what you’re creating today will be received when it’s eventually brought to market.

It’s the strength of your passion about what you’re creating and the belief others should want it that must motivate you to succeed. Beyond that, what’s crucial is a clear understanding of what’s distinctly marketable and knowing what to do to advance your product or cause.

It can be helpful to get mad –“How dare they not see that they should buy this?!” Then it’s good to step back and look at what may be missing in your approach. How can you be clearer, add value, convey excitement? What’s worked in the past to get you to buy or commit?

Marketability is unique to each situation. Ask yourself, does this advance a trend? Is it a departure from the norm, a new technique, require a particular mix of talents, or offer an audience new ways to engage? Ask yourself which elements are primary and what drives you to go back to your work again and again to do better? That’s how you’ll find the key elements.

Then look at tools and techniques you can use. Start in your comfort zone then expand from there. Outline possible strategies and make a case for how what you’d like to do is best suited to advance your goals. Now, go back to your publishers, promoters and friends. Ask what they suggest. Try several ideas out, reassess and decide what’s working well and what may need to be changed.

Keep your ego out of it as much as possible. It’s not about being accepted or rejected; it’s whether you’ve found the right message and techniques to convey what you believe in to your potential audience. If you believe you have something worth sharing, this is not sleight of hand; it’s acting on the strength of conviction that you wouldn’t be investing so much time and talent, unless you believe you have something of real value to impart. Success is both in doing the work well and in finding those who want to be part of the experience you can offer.

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