"Marketing" always seemed intimidating to me. It still does, sometimes. When you start talking to experts about marketing, you start hearing buzz words and references to demographics and metrics, you start seeing charts and Excel spreadsheets, and it all starts to look pretty intimidating. If you're not someone who is data-centric, it can overwhelm you fast. 

For sure, marketing does rely on data and metrics. You need to know who is buying your product, the effectiveness of an ad or email or campaign, and the data that best describes the group you're trying to reach. All of that may sound way more complicated than it is, though. So let's see if we can make this thing less scary. 

Marketing is about people connecting with people.

That's it. Sure, there are deeper reasons for these people to connect. When you're marketing, you typically want more than a conversation with someone, such as you might have on social media or at a cocktail party (people still go to cocktail parties, right?). In fact, the difference between being popular on social media and having a successful social media marketing platform really boils down to one thing: Do your followers take the action you call them to take?

You may have heard the term "call to action," or CTA. This is what you want your audience to actually do. If you want them to buy a car or buy a book, if you want them to read your blog post or subscribe to you on Twitter, if you want them to come see your play or buy a ticket to see your movie, all of those things can be summed up with your CTA.

"Buy my book for just $2.99!"

"See Deadpool in theaters nationwide!"

"Subscribe to my YouTube channel!"

Those are all CTAs. They tell the reader what action you want them to take. 

Now, a good CTA usually asks for something but offers something in return. Using the examples above:

"Buy my book for just $2.99 and read some thrilling fiction!"

"See Deadpool in theaters nationwide and experience what has everyone wearing their brown pants!"

"Subscribe to my YouTube channel to see more tips about fitness from the road!"

NOTE: Exclamation points aren't necessary for every CTA. In fact, I usually tell people that there's a global exclamation point shortage, and we should conserve as much as possible, lest they run out. I just happen to have a few extra from my rations, and I wanted to share them with you, good reader. Because I care. But the lesson here is: Use exclamation points sparingly! Otherwise you just always seem like you're shouting everything.

So the call to action is your way of keeping the conversation going beyond your tweet, or email, or ad, or billboard, or whatever marketing tool you've chosen to use. But the point of the marketing itself is the conversation. Call it "conversation with benefits." Everyone gets something out of the communication. That's your goal.

"Relationships are built on trust."

You've heard that adage before, so you might be glazing over right now. Here's how it applies: 

Imagine if you went to a party and met a few dozen people, and every time you met them you said, "Hey, I'm an author/I make apps/I sell tires and you should buy my product!"

You've had some communication with these folks. You've given them your call to action. But they somehow never follow up. They leave you hanging, standing there with your plastic cup filled with ginger ale and tears. 

That's because you didn't have any sort of rapport with them before you made your pitch. There's no trust.

You didn't take any time to get to know them, or to learn anything about them. Your communication was one way.

Marketing is about relationships—we know that. And relationships are about trust. And trust is built when people see that you have as much interest in them as you want them to have in you.

You may have heard someone, at some point, say that you need a "platform." Authors, in particular, get this all the time. "You need to build an author platform. Your author platform is the key to your success." And then they're left with some vague directives to build a mailing list and build a website and write a blog. 

For sure. Absolutely. Do all those things. A mailing list alone will be gold in your pocket. But a platform is something a bit more complex.

A platform means you have a means of reaching a large group of dedicated followers, known colloquially as "fans." Building a platform means you have spent time nurturing relationships with your audience. You know them as well as they know you. That's how relationships work.

Ok, I admit it—you can't possibly get to know every single fan of your work or your product, once they get past a certain number. Chances are, though, you're not there yet. You probably only have a few fans right now (or you wouldn't be reading some author and podcaster's blog post about his marketing philosophy). 

The good news is that having a few fans means you have a great chance to develop a meaningful dynamic with this group, and encourage them to go find you more fans.

Here's my advice for building a following, in exact order:

  1. Decide who your people are. Figure out who it is that you're wanting to talk to, and ultimately who you want to sell your stuff to. Identify what they like, what they read, the movies they watch, the products they like to by, their age, sex, race, geographic location—anything that will help you narrow down who your Ideal Reader/Ideal Customer/Ideal Client is. We'll call them your Ideal Audience just to simplify things.
  2. Go to where your Ideal Audience hangs out. If they prefer Facebook over Twitter, get a Facebook page (not just an account—create a page dedicated to your work, so you can target your audience, not just your friends). If your Ideal Audience likes to go to the movies, maybe you look at the cost of advertising before films in the local theaters. If they like to go to baseball games, you can look into sponsoring the local team, or renting some retail space in the stadium. Whatever puts you in their line of sight.
  3. Start talking to them about them. Have you ever been stuck at a party with the guy who wants to tell you all about his vacation or his last doctor's appointment or his boring job? Don't be that guy. Be the one who walks up to someone, introduces themselves, and then asks, "So what do you do? What are you into?" And then listen. Ask follow up questions. Get their take on related things. That's the conversation that will lead to people finding you fascinating. Humans tend to be far more attracted to people who seem attracted to them. So show them you care. Ask open ended questions on Twitter, offer chances for people to give comments or feedback on your blog posts, use ads to get people to take surveys for a chance to win a prize. Open your conversation by talking about them more than you, and they'll stick around long enough to hear your message, too.
  4. Always make your pitch a win-win scenario. It doesn't have to be a huge reciprocating offer—you don't have to give every person who buys one of your products a free T-shirt or a 50% discount, though those things can definitely help attract a fan base. What I mean here, though, is that you always want to offer some form of incentive or reward for your Ideal Audience as they take your call to action. Like in the examples I gave above, it can be as simple as "Do this and enjoy that." But the offer can go up and bigger from there, depending on your resources and your budget. "Join my mailing list and get 3 books for FREE!" Or "Click here to start your free 30-day trial." Or "Bring your car in on Sunday, mention this ad, and get a free tire rotation!" Ask your Ideal Audience to take the action you need them to take, and offer them something in return for taking that action. 
  5. Encourage them to share. People are social creatures. And by nature, we all like to spread good news. If we find a bargain on something, and we have a friend who needs it, we're likely to share that with them. But sometimes we get a little hung up on our own take on things. We smile when we get a free book for joining a mailing list, but it never occurs to us to tell our friends that they could get a free book as well. That's because most of us are a little hung up on scarcity thinking. We tend to think that if we tell someone about this really great free thing we got, there won't be enough for us. Or, let's face it, sometimes we just don't think about it. It isn't always psychology. Either way, though, you'll up your chances of word spreading about you and your products or services if you actually tell people to spread the word. So do that. You can just ask: "If you like this book/ice cream/tire service, tell a friend!" You can also create an incentive: "Give this code to your friends, and every time they sign up you'll get 10% off of your next purchase!" There are a lot of ways to encourage people to share, but the best usually involve asking directly.
  6. Keep offering more and more. It's tough to just pour freebies into the funnel, but that isn't the only offer you can make. Fans like to interact with the people they admire, so you can sometimes offer things you might never have thought were valuable. Set up an "Ask Me Anything," or AMA, for instance. This would be you making yourself available for a live chat, either text or video (up to you), where your Ideal Audience can ask you any questions they like and you answer to the best of your ability. This is a great way to interact with your Ideal Audience, because it's direct, but it's also scalable—meaning you can talk to lots of people at once, rather than just one or two at a time. You may not be able to talk to every audience member directly, but you'll be able to answer enough questions that people will feel they have a shot at talking to you. People love to connect with the people they follow and admire, and you'll be surprised at how much you get out of this personally. The point to this step, though, is that you should always be asking yourself, "How can I offer something more to my audience?" Maybe you just send a weekly email to update them on your life or your products or about your industry. Maybe you offer them a giveaway for a free iPad or one of your products or an Amazon gift card. There are endless possibilities.
  7. Respond to their feedback. Eventually people are going to start talking back to you. It's what people do. We like to offer opinions and advice and we like to ask for opinions and advice. And in this age, where email and social media make it easier to contact people directly, plenty of feedback can come our way every dat. It's important that you respond to this. Answer every email possible. Respond to every tweet. Reply to every blog comment. Yes, there may come a time when this gets overwhelming. You may not be able to keep up a 100% track record. But try. Because this is where fandom is born. And fans—raving fans to borrow from Ken Blanchard and Shelly Bowles—absolutely love to get a personal reply from you. It makes them feel like they matter to you, which they should. And it makes them some of your biggest advocates out in the world, which you want.

That's the process I recommend. And true confession: I'm not always good at it myself. That's something I really want you to remember, because sometimes we get advice from experts and professionals, and we come away feeling inadequate and deflated. "I don't do that," we think (sad emoticon). And because we don't already do it, we think we can't do it.

But the truth is, you're already good at marketing. You just may not know to call it that.

How many times have you gotten your friends or family to go see the movie you wanted to see? How often have you gotten someone to meet you for coffee? How frequently do you manage to get advice from someone, or get them to give you a ride when your car is in the shop, or get them to pick you up at the airport? 

We leverage our personal relationships to get what we want or need all the time. It's part of the social contract. We can do it because of reciprocity—the practice of exchanging something with someone else, for mutual benefit. Your father-in-law is fine with giving you a ride home from the airport because he knows you'd do it for him. Your friend will loan you a couple of bucks for a soda because you've loaned her a couple of bucks for lunch here and there. Your boss will let you take next Friday off because you're known to volunteer on holidays to cover someone else's vacation. 

Just keep that in mind. Reciprocity is how relationships work. We're all in this together. There are no one-way relationships. 

And when it comes to building a platform and a fan base, and marketing to them, that's the super secret key to success. Give as good as (or better than) you get, as often as possible, and eventually reciprocity starts paying you the dividends you're after. That's life. That's marketing. 

All that said, let's try a real-world example.

My book, Evergreen, is on sale right now, all the way through the end of February 2016, for just $2.99! If you are looking for some great fiction, with lots of thrills and action, this is your chance to pick up an ebook and enjoy!

And once you've read it, I hope you'll do two things for me: Review it on Amazon, and share it with your friends! 

And for that, I want to thank you in advance, and invite you to email me any time you want to talk about the book, ask me a question, or just break the ice! I'm always thrilled to hear from readers, so ask me anything!

There go the rest of my exclamation marks. I give them to you, because I care. 

Catch a free preview of the book to the right, and click through to buy if you love what you read! 

(that last exclamation mark snuck up on me)


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.


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