What Marketers Can Learn From Artists

Photo Credit: Benjamin J. DeLong
As marketers, we get caught up in analytics: A/B testing, PPC, ROI, bounce rates, and…phew! While performance-based strategy and hitting those KPIs is paramount, it’s important not to lose sight of the art in our craft: the excitement, passion, and deep belief in a product that make this job so fun.

Artists are some of the best marketers because they infuse their strategy with drama, performance, and passion. We’ve collected examples from musicians, comedians, thespians, and viral video stars who can teach us how to get back in touch with our inner Michelangelo (or at least inner D’Angelo?)

Sincere Engagement

Lady Gaga With Fan
Lady Gaga brings a talented fan onstage in Winnipeg (Maria Aragons)

True two-way dialog over social media is the best way to build loyalty and engagement. The artists that do it well cultivate intensely loyal fan base, from Gaga’s “little monsters” to T.Swift’s shrieking preteens. Swift famously scheduled Google+ Hangouts with fans before her album release, and Gaga is known for personally responding to fan mail on stage. But the scale can be much smaller. Replies on Twitter, personalized emails, and Facebook responses go along way to turning leads into customers.

Remember that Facebook message involving a kangaroo on a unicycle from Samsung Canada? Or that personal email from Lego to Luka, a heartsick seven year old who lost his Jay ZX minifigure? Or the hilarious recent Groupon Banana Bunker engagement? These brands proved they had the wit and heart of an artist, and won themselves lifetime loyalty.

Reach More of Your Target with Brand Extension

K-Pop stars are killer at this. This glossy brand of pop music from Korea, involving lots of men’s eyeliner, and synchronized dancing in mini skirts, capitalizes on brand expansion. K-pop queens the Wonder Girls, for example, appeared in their very own TeenNick movie; they film tour documentaries, and partner with clothing brands and cosmetic companies. Psy (of Gangnam Style fame) was such a huge sensation thanks to his crossover appeal in music, fashion, and glamour. “The way into American pop culture is through fashion and film,” Morgan Carey, an L.A. music consultant, told the NY Times.

KPop Stars SISTAR (씨스타)
KPOP stars SISTAR (씨스타)


Taking your success and parlaying it further into similar lifestyles creates an ecosystem within which you can cross-promote. Of course TV’s Cake Boss should have a bakeware line, and naturally 50 Shades of Grey has a licensed line of adult toys (not to mention wine, and so much more…) Marketing is at its most powerful when it impacts your research and development to drive new products in new verticals.

The “Leak”

Musicians are great at “accidentally” leaking shit. This simultaneously creates buzz, exclusivity, and pre-release reviews. “It can be hard to describe your own work for your promotional materials, reviews are a great way to help you do that.” says musician Solveig Whittle. Plus, as we all know, the best promotions don’t come from a PR firm, but from your best friend exclaiming, “Did you see Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s album was leaked? It’s so gooood!”

And you don’t have to be Kanye to pull this off, either. The Leak works for plenty of other platforms. NetFlix memorably “leaked” House of Cards episodes before the season premiere this February. And their Twitter response? #nailedit

President Frank Underwood House of Cards

Make It Fun. Make It Easy

Today’s audiences don’t want any hassles. Myself included. When I see a product that interests me, I want instant access. And I’m willing to give away my email address to get it. Musicians, even big-time stars, know this: like free downloads and pay-what-you-can albums à la Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead. Comedians, podcasters, and app developers are doing this too.

Comedian Louis C.K.
Louis C.K. blowing his own mind with how much he made on that special

Louis C.K. put up a PWYC comedy special online for $5.  He racked up one million dollars in 10 days. Boom. When engagement is easy and fun, people turn out, so make it a no-brainer!

James Moore, author of Your Band is a Virus: Viral Marketing for the Independent Musician, writes, “The best approach is to have your professional product intact and easy to access – then market aggressively and watch your audience grow.”

Create Exclusivity

With album sales falling at the hands of internet pirates (*raises hand* yeah, I’ll admit to it), musicians have to make albums desirable again. How do they do it? By offering limited availability, special one-time packages, and exclusive offers.

Eminem and The Wu Tang Clan, for example, have each released music that retailed for $100 or more. According to Perry Simpson of Direct Marketing News, Eminem sold out of deluxe packages of The Marshall Mathers LP 2, which ranged from $40 to $300. The Wu Tang Clan will auction off a secret album later this year. Only one copy exists (housed in a secret location in Morocco, no less), with bids rumored to be in the millions. Forbes apparently  traveled to the secret Marrakech location to get this exclusive clip. Whether this “exclusive” was pre-orchestrated or not, it clearly stirred the pot.

Wu Tang Clan's Exclusive Box
Wu Tang’s Premium Edition

Even if you’re marketing a product that can easily be obtained for free, once fans get hooked, they’re more likely to pay money down the line. Once I fell in love with free apps like Evernote (srsly, how did I live without it?) or Strava (I’m gonna beat your nine minute mile, bro) – I now pay for the upgrades and premium functionality. Dropbox, too, gets you hooked with two gigs of free space, then charges for added storage. The same goes for our music tastes. Simpson writes, “with the steady rise of vinyl record sales, it becomes clear that music fans are more than willing to pay a premium for their favorite artists’ work.”

Let Others Tell Your Story

A lot of times we try to control our marketing messages. But there is a lot to be said for a certain element of abandon.

Indie filmmakers are champions of this approach. The Blair Witch Project, for example, is one of the greatest viral marketing case study in the last 20 years. Was it real? Was it staged? Everyone had their own theory. The major fuel for the fire? The filmmakers didn’t respond. Relinquishing control to the speculation fans was precisely what created demand and anticipation. We had to see it for ourselves to decide. The Blair Witch team just sat back and watched our rumors rage (and box office sales skyrocket).

Blair Witch Project
Blair Witch goes guerilla to spark the rumour mill

Even viral sensations, like the ALS ice bucket challenge, encourages the message to spread organically from person to person. Inevitably the message shifts and evolves as its transferred (this helicopter water drop has got to be the most epic interpretation). This loss of control may seem risky, but as the message is personalized from each fan putting their twist on it, it becomes more relatable and shareable each time.

Take It To the Street

Niche theatre and film has a lot to teach us about guerrilla tactics. Title 66 Productions of Montreal uses live art, busking, and street performances to turn heads. “Digital marketing” doesn’t mean strictly online as in-person antics can result in great social amplification as well. Title 66 handed out flyers with the event website and collected testimonials on film to entice their sidewalk fans to the theatre.


Creating Instagrammable or tweetable moments in the real world helps amplify your message. People are inspired to share photos and video of what you’re doing to their communities. Put up posters with a specific hashtag for the stunt (remember the “make it easy; make it fun” rule!) and watch the crowd gather.

Get Granular

If you have a low budget or startup product, one of the biggest challenges is where to focus your small budget. Don’t get overwhelmed by thinking macro. Start local, and get granular. Indie musicians are awesome at this. Posters, buttons, and local radio interviews help build their local fan base. But it’s more than just merch.

James Moore of Music Think Tank suggests, “Contact writers individually and let them know which of their pieces you enjoyed rather than going through the main channels. Start a blog of your own and offer cross-promotion….And target non-music specific publications that have music sections.”

This works in any marketing application. Mozilla Firefox, for example, started super small. With grassroots outreach to fellow open-source enthusiasts, it eventually eclipsed Internet Explorer. Here’s to you, little guy! Not so little anymore…

Bottom Line: You’re An Artist, Too

So don’t let the analytics and results-driven side of marketing make you forget the fun: ’cause, you’re a motherfuckin’ artist yo’self! The best marketers embrace the comedic, interactive, and creative side of our art as well as the numbers.

Our Third Wunder co-founder Liesl Barrell, spotlights two brilliant examples: a Montreal theatre company who created a whole Twitter ecosystem between three Molière characters, and how Uncalled For improv creates the most hilarious emails ever.

Check out what she and other marketers have to say about the intersection of art and analytics:

There’s another other side of the coin, too. Check out What Artists Can Learn From Marketers for more great examples of artful marketing…

What marketing lessons have you learned from musicians, theatres, filmmakers, artists or street performers?

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 One thought on “What Marketers Can Learn From Artists

  • Joey

    Good reading Emily!

    If anything, artists have a passion for what their preaching. They have to considering how tough it is to survive as an artist.
    Marketers also work as “waiters” doing jobs that they aren’t necessarily passionate about to allow them to explore projects they genuinely care about.

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