Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Why Listening is Just as Important as Talking and why your target market may be able to avoid you - Marketing This Thing Part II

There are 2 types of marketing that those of us with maker businesses have to be thinking about - there is strategic marketing (this week's topic) and operational marketing.

Strategic marketing is about positioning our businesses to make money.

One of the ways to do this is to put the customer at the center of our core business thinking and decide what products and services to produce in the first place based on them.

This is no different than what any other type of business has to do to make money.

Now for makers this is not about selling just to be selling -

if we are not creating a business selling something that we are passionate about and is uniquely our own than we are not creating anything anyone will ever miss when it is gone and it soon will be ...

to make room for the passionate stuff that someone willing to put the time and energy and hours into discovering and working and reworking is dreaming up right now in their pajamas or their office suit or their McDonald's bright red shirt -

someone (to quote Will from Monday) who is not afraid to die on that treadmill.

A photographer who's soul yearns to roadtrip the country and photograph rusty cars in junkyards and battered old street signs should not be snapping birds on branches because maybe birds on branches are trending right now ...

(although I would totally hop on the hedgehog train if I were you - I had previously predicted the fox trend and am now predicting the hedgehog trend)

but a strategic, customer centered marketing focus would ask the photographer to think about just how infrequently most people change their wall art and maybe license her images for use on other products or maybe create a humorous 'junk in your trunk' greeting card line or package her photos in such a way that customers are more likely to buy them such as producing a Blurb coffee table book of her photos and selling that.

Now in one sense this does not really expand this photographer's "target" market (again I am picturing ducks in a shooting gallery) because her market is really the people who love her aesthetic (and the people shopping for those people) but it does give them more reasons to buy from her and more ways for her to operationally market her work.

Before I discovered Etsy I created and sold a line of scrapbook-type hanging boards that I called Graffiti Boardz.

I sold them in a few stores at the Jersey shore, but mostly I sold them at local craft shows, street fairs and music festivals.

I made them for about 3 years (it was a part-time thing) until I talked to the album frame manufacturer who fabricated the metal framing I used around the boards about resizing them just for me. I wanted them to make me a 12" frame (the size of standard scrapbook paper) instead of the 12 1/2" frame (the size of a standard record album).

Within a few weeks they had fabricated the special sized frames (yippee) for me and (not so yippee, maybe just a yip) for Michael's and A.C. Moore which they promptly stocked the frame department with and labeled scrapbook frame.

(yes, I am taking total credit for scrapbook frames in the craft stores ... as well as the Cheesecake Factory's crispy crab wontons ... I take total credit for those, too and possibly Obama's economic plan, but we'll see how that works out first)

Anyway back to the new (to me) Etsy marketplace because although these boards had sold very well at local craft shows where you need a broader appeal product with a high 'mom' factor (niche products will not make you the queen of the local craft show circuit) I knew instinctively they were not the right aesthetic for Etsy and that the big old internet, which was getting bigger by the nanosecond, demanded niche thinking.

(plus I thought hanging scrapbook frames were about to be everywhere - and I was tired of making them and my scrapbook store-owner friend, who sold me all her scrappy leftovers at below wholesale prices was ready to move on, too)

Of course, if my heart and my soul were still screaming Graffiti Boardz, I would still be making them (I am sure with a gazillion little adjustments by now) and truly if my heart and my soul were still needing to make them, then I would be making the selling part work ... even on Etsy.

So, what does all of this have to do with listening instead of talking and our so-called elusive "target market" - well, I knew that a successful creative business needed to be customer "focused" at its core -

putting the customer at the center of our business thinking in the beginning as hard and as much work as this can be -

is still alot easier than putting them at the center of our bullseye and "targeting" them later on by firing products at them and seeing what we can hit.

(due to the popularity of video gaming, customers are increasingly agile and able to avoid this type of 'targeting' anyway)

If we don't make what people want to buy

(note - I am not talking about things that everyone wants to buy - we'll leave that to Target)

then no matter how clever or creative our operational marketing is - it will probably fail.

Now, we have to do this without silencing our creative voice because if there is not a whole lot of what is uniquely us in our making then no amount of operational or strategic marketing is going to work for long anyway.

This is where alot of makers get stuck - they either decide to make what sells and it ends up looking an awful lot like what everyone else is making

and then spend alot of time looking for someone to buy it or get pissed or depressed if no one does

or they decide they want to make what they want to make no matter what

(which is, of course, totally ok if you are not wanting to sell it)

and then spend alot of time looking for someone to buy it or get pissed or depressed if no one does

but if other people are the center of a business, and I think they are, then it is just as important to listen to them in the beginning as it is to talk at them at the end.

Staying true to our own voice while seeing customers as active partners and not passive 'targets' is totally possible for all of us.

On Friday I will talk about some very specific ways we can do this in Part III of Marketing This Thing - Strategy is Not Just for Generals.

(I know you may lose some sleep waiting - please don't hate me for this)

*listen print by the amazing and uniquely herself elle moss


Vivika said...

Awesome post, and well worth the time for any budding artist and marketer to read.... I'll be linking to it in my own blog this week if that's ok with you...

ThePeachTree said...

What an amazing post!!!!!

Catherine Ivins said...

Thanks Amy- link away Vivika- thank you!

xo said...

This is exactly what I've been working out in my head for the last few months and you said it wonderfully. I'm tired of chasing trends (how did that happen?) and I'm headed back to what has always worked for ME. When I'm creating my metalwork from my heart, it doesn't matter what's trendy - it matters that my hand comes through in my work so that buyers see it and appreciate it and purchase something they can continue to appreciate for years to come. Keep writing - I want to keep reading!

Thanks :: lynn

Catherine Ivins said...

I think your heart knows what you need to do, too- otherwise the actual making part becomes work and no fun anyway!

hugs to you Lynn

Sherry said...

I love this, Cat. I truly believe that if your heart and mind are in sync, your hands will follow. And, the customers will not be far behind.


Isabel said...

Awesome post look forward to reading more:O)

Dawanna Young said...

GREAT post. Can't wait to read the rest!

zJayne said...

When I need to relax and blog read...and want to enjoy some humor.. I run (type fast) over to Olive Bites!

Yet again, what a treat. How true...and I TOO take credit for stuff that universal consciousness scooped right from my thought process.

Oodles of good year vibes to you!

KJ said...

GREAT post, Cat. This is something I kind of, uh, ignored the importance of until the past six months or so when I really woke up and decided instead of thinking "oh, no I don't do that" when someone asked if I could offer this that or the other that I should be thinking, " CAN I do that?" In my mind, it's not necessarily just about creating things that people want to buy...but also removing as many potential obstacles that keep them from buying as possible.

And you are TOTALLY right that it's not just about making things to sell. It's about making things you love..that will sell.