You want to market yourself? Then let’s get real about it.
I have an amusing but cautionary business tale to share with you.
I guess everyone wants to make something of themselves and get ahead in life. In the past, I’ve read and also written about how great ideas have changed people’s lives, presumably solving all their financial problems. We’ve had discussion here about how to become a millionaire in so many steps by doing what we love. I’ve also written about just how easy it is to become deluded in the pursuit of a dream. It’s too easy to lose sight of reality when you’re chasing a dream. How many people out there have dropped their day jobs while trying out for a one-in-a-million shot at a talent contest? I’m sure too many.
If you want to be successful, you must obviously first have something to offer, which will actually sell. You need to have something that will be in demand, which is hopefully, of high standards. Unfortunately, wanting something badly enough won’t necessarily propel you towards your goals — it may take a lot of tries before you get a break, so don’t be discouraged if you get nowhere at first.
This is all just an intro to a story about something that happened to me a few days ago that brought to mind these standard lessons on business.
I normally park my car over at an open lot in San Francisco. It’s somewhere near the financial district and used mostly by office workers who perform their jobs in nearby corporate buildings. I’m a regular there and I’ve seen the clientele. Yeah, pretty much all business people.
After work one day, I approached my car and noticed somebody stuck a CD on my windshield. Interesting, as I’ve never received a free CD on my car before. I didn’t know what to make of it at first till I noticed that every other vehicle in the lot had the same thing on their windshields. Except with different designs. Somebody was enterprising enough to create multiple styles of packaging for their product since there were different CD covers (by the same “label”) glinting under car wipers.
I had no idea what to expect. It looked like an urban type CD. On the cover, it said “K-Rob, R & B Hood Legend”. So I hurriedly popped the thing in my player and what greeted my ears was nothing short of…..strange.
To some degree, I enjoyed the music. It kind of grew on me after a while, but in a way that I don’t believe the artists intended. After a while, I developed a serious earworm. At home I checked their “label” and I wondered whether they borrowed another R & B performer’s moniker. There’s a guy out there who already has an internet presence with the same name. I refuse to believe this music was produced by that same guy or outfit.
So this is a marketing effort by some people who clearly want to change their lives by getting discovered. It’s self-promotion attempted through word of mouth (aka street) marketing. Sad to say, I feel it is a misguided effort on promotion.
Why is this misguided? [Those responsible for this CD windshield drop and distribution scheme are hereby referred to as "They".]
#1 They targeted the wrong demographic.
Last I checked, soccer moms who drive large vans and work in 9-to-5 desk jobs aren’t really the type who’ll listen to this sort of thing. But I could be stereotyping and that would be wrong.
#2 They didn’t leave any contact information, just a name.
Maybe they were going for the mystery effect — you know, like the “Blair Witch Project” approach that hit you hard and made you wonder where it was all coming from. Yes, it certainly left me scratching my head.
#3 There wasn’t any clear direction behind the “marketing effort”.
What’s next after dropping the product on unsuspecting reviewers? We’ve been baited, so when are we supposed to be reeled in? There’s no contact info, so how can I reach them for some enthusiastic feedback? Then I saw the message inscribed in the inner sleeve: “KEEP GOD 1st!” and I thought that maybe it’s some sort of tribute. I’ll give them props for trying.
#4 They spent money before developing a strategy.
At least, that’s what it seems like. Again, I could be wrong and this could be all part of a huge master plan that my old-fangled capacities are failing to grasp. Things must’ve been functioning according to plan when they tested the market with a small budget expecting to see their street marketing strategy take fire. And I’m sure they felt particularly optimistic when they spent money on multiple eye-catching CD cover art that were certain to grab a good deal of attention.
#5 They should’ve gotten feedback from their personal network/inner circle/family/friends prior to casting a wider marketing net.
I apologize for being presumptuous but when your older sis tells you that you’re making too much noise in the basement with your homies, she may not be just saying it to annoy you. When your granny tells you the same thing, don’t always assume her hearing aid has malfunctioned. No, the music may not just be “misunderstood”.
Just like with approaching a new business endeavor or idea, or when reviewing a career change you need to do some basic groundwork to improve your chances for success. Why not do the following before executing your ideas or acting on a dream?
#1 Get some reality checks.
Believe in your inner circle, but yes, I agree you need to trust them first. If they tell you that you need to have talent before you try something like this, don’t ignore them. If you’re doing this for fun, then good — for starters, your heart is in the right place. Think harder about what strengths you could possibly have and move in that direction.
#2 Do some product, service, market or ANY research.
You have to start somewhere and it usually begins with some kind of study. I get that not all brilliant plans are founded on learning and study, in which case I’d chuck a lot of the resulting success to luck.
#3 Create a plan or strategy.
A real one, not a strange one that involves product placement of urban R & B hood tunes on the cars of corporate workers. Am I wrong to assume that most office workers listen to some other type of music?
#4 Watch the money and invest in your ideas or business wisely.
Unless you’re a big L.A. advertising firm who has gobs of money to turn nobodies into stars, I’d say it would be very wise to conserve your money as much as possible. And try to get a free agent who knows what they’re doing.
#5 Get the right people behind you and find the right support.
If your entire neighborhood thinks you’re hot, then you probably are. If they walk away while you practice, then go back to step 1: you need a reality check.
If you’re jostling for a spot in the entertainment field, be prepared for hard competition. In fact, this rings true for any field of work. My message here is that before you take a huge risk — say by quitting your day job or by spending your life savings on an idea — make sure you have a real skill and a business plan (and failing that, a plan B).
Now if I could only make that @#$*%^! earworm go away.
[For those of you into demos, I'd be curious to hear what you think of the tune.]
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