Converting Fans Into Customers Lesson 1: Exposure

Black and white photo of musicians performing in front of big crowd in the street

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast I’ve started to frequently indulge in with my morning coffee (Made It In Music) and I came across a quote (which I will paraphrase below) from a man named Dean Diehl (his episode is linked here) that really drove home a point for me:

“Most failures look exactly alike, but the paths to success look completely different.”

Now, as usual, when I sat down to write this article on how to convert your fans into customers, I realized a few things when I started writing it.

First of all, I have way too much information to share on the subject, and I can’t fit all into one post… so I will be yet again doing a series of posts to hone in on specific strategies.

But perhaps more importantly, Dean’s quote applies here just as much as it does anywhere else – there is no one right way to do something and ensure it will be successful.

So, rather than tell you how you are going to turn your fans into customers… I am going to tell you what has worked and does work for other people… but it is up to YOU to take from, improvise, and implement these strategies in a way that works for you and your audience. (Side note: if you missed Fans vs. Customers: 3 Common Misconceptions, I highly recommend you check it out here).

That being said, let’s begin shall we?

The first lesson on how to turn your fans into customers is exposure.

Lesson 1: Exposure

This may come as no surprise, but if someone has never heard your music, seen your art, or watched your videos… it is tough for them to make a decision to purchase it.

Of course, though, in this instance, they have already done so – they’re already a fan – they’ve been exposed to your work, and they like it. That’s a great first step towards that fan becoming a customer too… so what’s the next step?

Expose them to it again.

It might seem obvious, but repetition is critical in any form of advertising or sales conversion (in any kind of business). It’s why jingles are written to repeat a slogan to stick in your head. It’s why McDonald’s ads are plastered on everything from benches to billboards. And it’s why Super Bowl commercials would cost you your right leg to air for 30 seconds, but big companies who can afford them run them again and again throughout the entire broadcast.

Billboards downtown in a city, lots of advertisements (Coke, Wicked, M&Ms, Budweiser)
Like it or not, we are being exposed to things everywhere, every day.

The point is: repetition = sales conversions. That is a proven strategy.

The good news for you as a creative type is that repetition is also the reason why people remember lyrics to the songs they listen to. Or why they can quote their favorite movies. Or why they can re-tell their favorite jokes word-for-word – all these things happen because those fans have consumed your work repeatedly. Being able to repeat and remember something like lyrics, or scenes, or quotes is almost always a sign of a higher than average level of fandom.

In marketing, this is called the Rule of 7: a theory that suggests people need to be exposed to something at least 7 times before they really start paying attention to it (and consider purchasing it). The more they are exposed to that something after those 7 times, the higher their likelihood of actually buying it will be.

How’s that relevant to you?

Well, the same rule applies to your fanbase – a casual fan who hears a song they like for the first time on the radio isn’t likely to rush off to purchase tickets to your concert – whereas a fan who knows all the words to your songs sure is. And all fans start the same way: they all begin as someone who was never aware of your very existence. How big of a fan they become after that… well…

That takes us to our next concept and lesson in exposure: the frequency escalator.

The frequency escalator is a sales/marketing theory first developed for use in the sports industry, which is where I first came across it (I studied Sport Management in university).

The frequency escalator theory builds upon the 80/20 rule known as Pareto’s Principle – a theory stating that 80% of a business’s sales come from 20% of its customers. Using Pareto’s Principle as a base, the frequency escalator theory suggests that by moving your fans “up the escalator” of fandom, your fans, with each step up, become closer to the “die-hard” level of fans who make up your top 20% of fans (and thus, 80% of your sales).

Frequency Escalator theory diagram
This is the frequency escalator (I do not own the rights to this image – linked here)

But is it true?

Let’s take a look at how the entertainment industry structures its revenue, and you can tell me.

You don’t need to look too hard or far to see how this is actively put into practice in every form of live entertainment – just compare front row ticket prices for any of your favorite acts to tickets for the sections further away from the stage. The type of fans who pay additional fees for “VIP sections,” “meet-and-greet packages” or even “pre-public access” (which is a fee paid for just the chance to spend tonnes of money if they actually land a front-row seat) are far and above in a different classification of fan level than those who decide to purchase a ticket in “whichever section is available” weeks after the tickets went on sale.

And the artists/industries know that too – and so they utilize that information to pad their wallets – because those fans WILL pay if they want the level of access they desire.

Now, this article (and it’s follow-ups) is not meant to be a study guide on how to gouge your fans into spending more money –but I chose this easy example to demonstrate the different behaviors of fandom – and those behaviors shift with varying levels of exposure.

As stated earlier, every strategy for success works differently depending on the artist, their fanbase, demographics, etc. Still, here are a few examples of ways you can boost your exposure to both new fans and existing fans alike (as don’t forget, more exposure helps to move them up that escalator).

Exposure Through Association

Quite simply – associate yourself with other acts/things your fanbase might like and that they would come across. This is how sponsorship agreements work – one brand/artist forms a partnership with another so that they mutually expose their work to each other’s existing fans in the hopes of mutual appeal.  

Jagermeister, for example, sponsors and promotes loud, “party attitude” bands – because the values and attitudes that come with that type of music also align with their brand and customer base.

Jagermeister bottle and 4 shotglasses
Just the smell of this stuff takes me back to my days playing in a loud, party rock band – much of this product was consumed.

Or maybe you’ve noticed how Spotify playlists work. Certain artists get paired up with each other based on what Spotify has identified as a mutual appeal (that’s what the “fans also like” tab is for). Frequently, Spotify will play those artists automatically in each other’s fans’ rotations. Hint: you don’t need to be a major artist to start pairing your music with other artists in playlists on Spotify (more on that at another time).

This doesn’t just apply to corporate agreements either, or even other artists for that matter.

Take, for example, the artist Derek Riggs. Anyone who knows the band Iron Maiden is familiar with his artwork – and his name as an artist immediately is associated with the art he’s done for them. I can also think of my own personal example where I’ve liked one band’s artwork so much that I’ve looked to see who did it – and then reached out to hire that artist for my own projects.

As you can see, an association can be a powerful tool to act as a gateway to bring new fans to your work from somewhere you’re already likely to find them.

Which leads me to my next form of exposure:

Exposure Through Collaboration

This strategy is prevalent in hip-hop music, but it’s becoming much more commonplace in other music genres and types of artistic mediums than it ever was before.

Off the top of my head, here’s a couple examples:

Want a good example of how this works? I found this COUNTRY song when looking for music by Zakk Wylde… he guests on one song… and I really liked it.
  • When I type in “Chris Stapleton” (a country artist), “Bruno Mars” (a hip hop / R&B artist), or “Ed Sheeran” (a folk-pop artist) into Spotify, the song BLOW, which they all collaborated on appears on each artist’s profile. At the time of writing, this song has almost 72 million plays and is not yet a year old.
  • Ozzy Osbourne (heavy metal) on his latest album included collaborative songs with Elton John (rock, pop-rock) and Post Malone (rap).
  • Kid Rock, once a prominent rap artist, successfully transitioned to a new style of music (under the same artist name) with the success of the hit single “Picture” – a duet with Sheryl Crow.

I could list collaborations for days, but the point is – by featuring other artists on the same piece of work – they appear to each other’s already existing fanbases. With any luck, that will convert some of each other’s fans to become fans of their own work.

While I write about music examples a lot (it is my bread and butter), this can work in other mediums as well (i.e., joining writer’s circles, working in art groups/forums, etc.).

The options for collaboration are only as limited as your own creativity.

Exposure Through Different Channels

Cast a wide net, and you will catch more fish – that couldn’t be a more applicable statement, then when it comes to exposing your work to a broader audience.

For example, look at how many different types of social media exist. Each has its own specialty – twitter uses short sentences for quick messages, youtube is video-based, LinkedIn is for career connections… you get the idea. But with each medium delivering a different type of message to a different kind of person… the more you utilize, the more exposure you will receive.

Channels of exposure are not limited to social media either. Any successful publicist will give you a list that looks like it belongs to Santa Claus of all the different options and mediums of how you can exposure your creations/work more frequently and to a larger audience.

Some examples include:

Wall of band posters - KISS, AC/DC, Ramones, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Jimi Hendrix, Dire Straits
  • podcasts
  • placement in video games, film, & TV
  • magazines
  • blogs
  • newspapers
  • news broadcasts
  • charity
  • signs
  • banners
  • email campaigns
  • direct mail
  • merchandise (think walking down the street and seeing someone wearing a band t-shirt)
  • word of mouth
  • posters

…like I said, the list goes on for a long time. Once again – you are only limited to your own creativity when it comes to finding ways to expose your work.

Lesson 1: Exposure – Conclusion

By now, I think I’ve hammered the lesson home: the more you expose your work to your fans, the more likely it is they will pay more attention to it. The more attention they give your work, the more likely they are to purchase it.

Now, you don’t want to become so over-saturated and in their face and annoy them to the point that they get sick of you… but in today’s world, where information and content is posted so rapidly frequently, the likelihood of your stardom level ever coming to that point would be an excellent problem to have.

Remember, you are ALWAYS competing with millions of other artists for fan attention – don’t be shy in making sure some of it goes to you.

Next time, we’ll continue to look at how you can turn your fans into customers – by engaging with them.

Be sure to like and follow The Creative Wealth Project (and share it with your creative friends and colleagues) for more artist interviews and articles to help grow your creative career! 

Fans vs. Customers: 3 Common Misconceptions

Music fans in crowd with hands in the air making a heart shape

In the entertainment and creative industries, the words fan and customer are often used interchangeably, but the two are actually quite different sets of people. While both are particularly important to building a successful career as an artist, it is easy to see just how distinctively different the behaviors of each group are.

For example:

Fans are people who:

  • Listen to your music/appreciate your art/watch your videos/read your writing
  • Follow, share, like, and engage your pages and posts on social media
  • Speak highly of your artistic work and you as an artist
  • Identify themselves to others (and sometimes also providing recommendations to others) as a fan of your brand

Customers are people who:

  • Purchase your music/art/film/written works
  • Attend your shows and live events
  • Purchase and flaunt your merchandise

The critical difference that becomes notably apparent, of course, is that while fans may provide moral support, brand affection and help spread brand awareness, it is customers who take the extra step and actually support your brand with their wallets. As most of us are well aware, you can’t have a successful career as an artist without the cash flow to pay for you to keep doing it.

So does that make customers more important than fans?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Artists and creators are presented with unique landscapes and sets of challenges that other industries don’t have to deal with because of the relationships and roles both fans and customers play in their success.

As such, here are 3 common misconceptions to keep in mind while growing your audience of fans and customers alike.

Misconception #1: Social Media is The best Metric to Measure Success

It seems today that everywhere you turn, every piece of business strategy and advice is geared towards establishing a strong social media presence. While this is undoubtedly a useful and important tool to help an artist build their following and engage their audience, it should not ever be considered a real metric to measure success.

Yes, having a massive social media presence is sure to give your ego a boost and make you feel admired. It also definitely holds some value in boosting your social proof and clout. Yet, as a standalone metric to measure success, it fails because it does not distinguish between casual or passive consumers and active consumers of your brand.

Let me demonstrate with an example.

Suppose you have started a new band, and you have created a Facebook page for your group. You and your bandmates have invited all your friends to like and share it, and a large chunk of them have done just that. After only one week and without any music actually released, you look and see that your page has over 2,000 likes already! That’s wonderful!

And then you play your first live show 2 weeks later – and nobody shows up.

Ever heard that story before? It happens all the time – because so many bands quickly forget that social media numbers don’t actually measure what they think they do (or want them to).

All we need is more likes spray painted to side of wall
If only we could support our careers on “shares”, “likes” and “follows”

The truth is that a social media “like” doesn’t always equate to one from an actual fan – one “like” or follow from a casual friend who has never actually listened to your music is worth the same as one from a superfan who buys everything you ever release.

Furthermore, people often “like” posts/articles/things without ever actually engaging with them. For example, I personally know that when I share articles from my site onto social media, often, friends will share/support them with a “like.” Yet, the metrics on my actual website tell the real tale of who actually took the time to click and read through what I’d posted (spoiler: the numbers don’t match up).

A band with 100 real fans who show up to their shows and listen to and purchase their music/merchandise is, in reality, far more successful than the band with 100,000 social media followers who can’t fill a small bar because nobody ever actually attends their shows.

Remember: a social media “like/share/follow” takes someone half a second to register and costs someone nothing – I’m not saying it is entirely worthless – but do keep that in mind when assigning it a value in the real world.

Misconception #2: Business Practices and Strategies for Traditional Industries Apply Exactly the Same Way To Creative Industries

This section should be taken with a grain of salt because learning new business practices and techniques is never a bad thing to do… but it needs to be said that the entertainment and creative industries operate a little differently than most other business sectors do.

Perhaps the sports industry is the exception, but for most businesses, their marketing focus is bent on turning customers into fans… whereas in the creative industries… that sequence is flipped.

For example, Coke spends a fortune in advertising trying to create enthusiasm and passion surrounding their brand – they don’t advertise to create awareness, and they certainly aren’t concerned with “the next thing coming.” Their main product and source of revenue has been the same soft drink since the company started. Instead, what they want is for you to consciously choose their product every time you buy a soft drink – that is, to become brand loyal (or, a fan). Coke wants to turn customers into fans.

Corporate companies spend millions of dollars every year in efforts to strengthen and maintain their brand identities. They accomplish this through a multitude of tactics and associations designed to resonate with their customers on a deeper level. For example, think of Molson-Coors using the slogan “I Am Canadian” to identify and associate their product with their customers’ senses of national identity.

An artist is in precisely the opposite situation. An artist, through their creative work, usually already resonates on a deeper level of meaning with their audience right from the beginning (that connection is how people become fans). Therefore, an artist spends most of their time and money promoting spreading awareness of who they are and engaging their audience to hopefully translate that existing connection into a sale.

They are also always under pressure to create new things (music, videos, etc.) because they cannot rely on their product (one song/book/video, etc.) to continuously re-sell to their same consumer base. The only way to generate new sales from the same clients requires them to release entirely new products regularly, all with the hope that their passionate and enthusiastic followers open their wallets each time as they switch between being fans and customers.

Let’s look at the sport industry for further demonstration:

A passionate sports fan might follow his/her favorite team on TV, he/she might have a tattoo of the team’s logo, and you might find him/her every Friday night arguing passionately with anyone who will listen to him/her why his/her team is the greatest thing to ever grace the earth – he/she’s a super fan, right?

Sports fans in Philadelphia Eagles gear crowd the streets waving flags celebrating their Super Bowl LII win

Yes – except for if that person doesn’t ever to the games, purchase merchandise, or pay for a sports package that allows him/her to follow his/her team on TV – that person is not really worth any more to the team they cheer for so passionately than someone who doesn’t care about sports all.

The goal of the sports league and team is then to take this person’s passionate fandom and turn it into a sale.

In most other industries, customers purchase products all the time but frequently switch brands due to factors like pricing, immediate needs, or convenience. In creative industries like the music industry, diehard fans turned into customers will shell out almost infinite amounts of money to get exactly what it is they want. If you don’t believe me, look at concert ticket prices for any massively popular artist.

The point is, the focus for a lot of traditional business advice is on how to turn customers into fans. However, that work is already done for you in a creative field. There’s a good chance anyone following your work is already a fan (which is super valuable), so instead, your focus should be on turning those fans into bigger fans and actual customers.

That brings me to my next point.

Misconception #3: Fans and Customers Should Be Treated Separately

At the beginning of this article, I very quickly demonstrated the differences between fans and customers. After reading, you may have found it very apparent that only one of those groupings is going to support you with their wallet. Perhaps also, you decided that you should prioritize your efforts to focus on one group over the other.

Yes, but also no.

Yes, it’s impossible to have a successful career supported without paying customers, but the truth is… you want your audience to be people who are both fans AND customers at the same time.

Hip hop artist in a crowd full of hands singing with mic and giving high fives

While it’s human nature to infinitely group and classify everything and everyone based on differences, in the case of building a successful career as a creative, there is no reason to separate fans from customers in your marketing efforts.

Looking at fans, there is value in having a passionate audience who speak highly of your work, share it with others, and become an ambassador to your product. In an ideal world, all of these people would be your biggest supporters with their wallets too. That doesn’t always happen – but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them either.

You never know where the tipping point is for a fan to make the next jump up in their commitment of fandom, which might be a purchase of tickets to your show or your latest album (or single, in today’s case)… and even if they don’t, maybe from their recommendation, someone else becomes a fan who does.

The music industry not overly long ago went through a severe piracy outbreak (hello, Napster) because the music business as a whole started ignoring fanbases and treated music fans as cash cattle. When the fans collectively had had enough, they stopped supporting the industry’s greedy behavior. Don’t make the same mistake: fans don’t exist for you to suck their wallets dry, but they will support you when you generate value for them at an exchange.

Fandom is always a starting point for building a successful career, and while not all fans will purchase your products or artistic creations, that doesn’t mean they never will. Ultimately, that decision is their choice to make; how they interact with your art is entirely up to them; and so you can only create it, put it out to the world and stand by what you’ve done.

The takeaway here is simple:

Treat both your fans and customers the same way; with dignity, and your chances of having a successful career that will last you go up significantly.

Fans vs. Customers

Now that you’ve seen a few misconceptions regarding the differences of fans and customers, and how to acquire them, perhaps you’re now wondering how to turn a fan into a customer?

In my next post on the subject, I’ll be covering just that.

Until then, make sure you sign up to follow The Creative Wealth Project, so you never miss a post or a new featured artist!

Never stop learning and never stop creating.