“In order for the product to speak for itself, it needs someone to talk to.”
In the movie “The Wolf of Wall Street”, Leonardo DiCaprio, portraying Jordan Belfort, a penny stock broker, tells a room full of salespeople at a seminar to “Sell me this pen”. As he hands his pen to a salesman, the salesman convinces him by saying, “It’s an amazing pen.” Unsatisfied, Belfort hands the pen to another salesman and repeats the challenge. Again, Belfort gets a similar answer describing the pen’s finer’s features, and he moves on the next salesman, and the next.
This simple challenge reveals a common mistake in business and creative work. It’s that we try to sell our product to everyone. An overwhelming majority of us are guilty of this, as we attempt to convince just about anyone of how good our work is, and when they’re uninterested, we only keep persuading.
A clearer root of that problem is that we haven’t decided who our product is for, or who exactly are the right people for us to pitch our product to.
As Jordan Belfort explained in real life, a better answer to the pen-selling challenge would be to ask the potential customer what his needs are — For example, what kind of pens does he usually use? What does he usually use a pen for? How often does he use a pen?
Belfort elaborated, “Once I have that, I say, ‘You know, Bill, based on what you’ve just said to me, the pen I have here is the perfect fit. Let me tell you what it’s about…’ Then you can tell them about what you have, because you’re filling a need. Most average or newbie salespeople think that they’re supposed to sell you the pen, when a really seasoned salesperson will actually turn it into a qualifying session to find out what you need.”
Conversely, if your pen doesn’t meet your potential customer’s needs, you could respectfully let him go and tell him, “Well, sir, I believe this pen that I’m selling here isn’t a good fit for you. It has been a pleasure doing business with you nonetheless.”
The key is to know the right kinds of people to convince, the kinds of people that are worth impressing. Just as in economics, it’s when they have the demand, and you have the supply. They have the need, and you have the means to fulfill it.
Seth Godin often talks about finding people with “Otaku”, meaning those who are crazy about something, that they are willing to travel far and wide to check out the latest inventions and developments. In other words, they are the early adopters, because they are the first to try the newest things in the market.
“Start with people who will drive 20 miles, and finish people too lazy to cross the street,” Godin wrote in his book “Purple Cow”. According to Godin, these early adopters are far more worth persuading than spending ad dollars trying to persuade anyone else. Because only a tiny portion of the audience is interested in trying new things. Most people just want to go for what’s already tested and proven, as they depend on the recommendations and opinions of these influential early adopters.
So, in order to build a great audience, you need to let your product be for one particular group of people. In that, you’re dominating a niche instead of a market. And of course, you need to make your product so good that it attracts the early adopters, and so good that it would be hard for them to not recommend it to their friends.
In Peter Thiel’s definition, “A start-up is a small group of people that you’ve convinced of a truth that nobody else believes.” — Art, essentially, is about bringing together like-minded people who share the same interests or worldviews.
And that’s what makes art such a powerful tool — Whatever message that you’re communicating to your audience, it’s going to affect them wholly as individuals, whether it is by your intention or not. It’s your responsibility as a creative to give out hope, and to help your audience’s hearts soar, to be a reliable voice of good.
As a cautionary tale, think of the Werther Effect — Following the publication of Goethe’s novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther”, young men were inspired to take their own lives, as they mimicked the main character in the story’s conclusion where he shot himself with a pistol. These young men were dressed in the same clothing as the character, and Goethe’s novel was often found at scenes of the suicide.
Anyway, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to ponder on what problems you aim to solve or the message that you wish to communicate through your work.
A good framework to have in mind is, as the essayist Paul Graham advised aspiring entrepreneurs, to leave the sexy-sounding business ideas behind. Instead, build on you r own needs — Instead of asking “What problem should I solve?”, ask “What problem do I wish someone else would solve for me?”
Just by a slight shift of question, a rich trove of ideas opens up, and you could find a lot of important things that need to be said, and aren’t talked about enough.
Taking inspiration from Twenty One Pilots, they brilliantly flickered through ideas and genres, boldly singing out anthems on salient subjects such as anxiety, depression, and insecurities in their album “Blurryface”, and the weight of fame in “Trench”, to name a few.
Commenting on their songwriting, singer Tyler Joseph said, “(There’s) a couple of different songwriters inside my head. One of them talks about, maybe like a worldly satire thing like student loans or going to college, or construction. The other guy will talk about something maybe much deeper, internal, introspective struggles, trying to figure things out, answer the big questions…And then there’s a new guy who writes about being in love, because I’m married — And not that it’s all sparkly every time but it’s powerful. It’s hard not to write songs about that because it’s so real.”
Joseph is definitely aware of the importance of their message, as he said, “Our career decision-making is heavily influenced by the fact that we know we play live shows almost every night. So we can’t write a song or say something that we don’t want to say over and over again.”
He also said, “It’s amazing how music is actually a living, breathing thing where one particular thing that you’re working through or one thing that you’re saying at the time can help you get through a certain thing but as years go on and as the song sonically sounds the same, what it can mean and what those words can mean can change depending on where you are.”
A good message goes a long way, much farther than you know. And your power to communicate your message through your art really does make a huge difference in people’s lives. Your art does matter — Always use it positively.
More Than Transactional
Perhaps the hugest milestone in marketing is when businesspeople realized that it goes far beyond promoting a product or running ads — Instead, marketing is about forging lasting relationships with your audience.
Your relationship with your audience must be much deeper than transactional — It’s about honoring that trust, keeping them happy, and just genuinely trying to be a good human being.
As Lady Gaga put it, it can’t be “Thanks for buying my record, f- – – you.” Rather, it should be “Thank you for buying my record — And I will live and die and breathe my art to protect your dreams because you protect mine.”
Do something cool for your fans. Make collectible versions of your product, launch an interactive activity to make your audience feel like they’re a part of a huge extended family.
In promoting their album “Nightmare”, Avenged Sevenfold’s guitarist Zacky Vengeance said that he was always thinking of clever ways to reward their fans. “I worked a lot on our album cover, and I didn’t just want to post it on our website one day and move on,” he said. “We wound up breaking it into 18 pieces and hiding them on fan sites all over the Internet, and then posting clues, so fans could put together the puzzle.”
Personally, I remember rushing to the record store (which unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore) when I was 15 to get Avenged Sevenfold’s latest release, “Hail to The King”. It was a really cool digipak version of the album, and I also got two free Deathbat coasters. Proud fan I was.
Also, it’s never a bad thing to run the extra mile in maintaining a good connection with your audience.
Seth Godin once shared about a doctor he knows who makes a point of calling patients even if it isn’t bad news. “If your routine tests come back with nothing to worry about, he calls and tells you,” Godin said. “This is a monumentally simple task, but it’s remarkable nonetheless. ‘It’s simple,’ he told me, ‘That’s what I want my doctor to do for me.’ ”
In a similar vein, Avenged Sevenfold is well-known for stopping their shows if they see people injured in the crowd, even letting them watch the rest of their performances from the side of the stage. They’re also generous in making their audience’s dreams come true by letting the fans replace them on their instruments for a song. Imagine how incredibly memorable that moment of your life would be, playing onstage with your most adored musicians.
Sometimes, when you’re knee-deep in your work, it’s easy to forget that you’re doing a service, or creating meaningful things for people who care. It’s amazing that by just being good to your fellow human beings, you’re adding a ton of richness into your work. It happens too that we’re so fixated on building an audience, we forget that a human element is what binds it all together.
Always remember that connecting with audience is a lot more than simply putting out your work. It’s about offering them your hope, strength, love, and your never-ending kindness. It’s about being there for them, as best as you possibly can.