Whether you’re an individual musician or part of an arts organization, marketing dollars are scarce. The good news is that having limited funds forces you to carefully consider the placement of every single penny and to be extremely creative with your efforts, two skills that are required for successful marketing with a small budget.
As many of you know, I am a huge fan of social media and strongly believe that this should be your primary marketing tool, regardless of budget size. According to a recent Pew Center Research survey, roughly two-thirds (68%) of U.S. adults are Facebook users and roughly three-quarters of them access the site daily. The statistics for the younger adult demographics on Instagram and Snapchat is also enlightening. Simply stated, the reach on social media is enormous.
But what else can you do beyond posting consistently valuable content on these platforms?
Below are four of my favorite low-budget tactics. There is no prescribed textbook with a vast checklist of actions because the landscape is constantly evolving. So give these a try and see what creative, personal flavor you can add to make them resonate further with your specific audience.
The following tactics take time and effort. If you’re serious about breaking through the noise, you must exercise patience. Apply these tactics frequently and consistently in order to reap the benefits over time. Our patience has been eroded in today’s world where tech businesses and popular apps work to solve our problems in the blink of an eye. While that can be great in certain circumstances, don’t look for a quick fix when hard work and effort conquers is the ultimate answer. There is no quick path to success when learning your musical craft and the same applies here. The short game will only leave you disheartened and frustrated.
Sermon over. Here are four of my tried, tested and preferred methods for marketing on a low budget.
1. Cross-promotions and Trades
The basic concept is mutual benefit through collaboration with similar, like-minded individuals, businesses or organizations. Both participating parties either gain increased exposure by sharing their information with a new audience (cross-promotion) or receive something in return for offering promotional assistance (trade).
Cross-promotions work particularly well for arts organizations that share program book ad space or e-communication/social media plugs, because their like-minded audiences already enjoy and appreciate classical music. Given the opportunity, perhaps another organization’s audience might be interested in learning more about your concerts and events?
Start by contacting those organizations that are a similar size as your own. If you’re a brand new musical startup, this might initially be friends and colleagues. Offer a plug in your newsletter, share information about their events on Facebook and in exchange, they can do the same for you. As you continue building your audience over time (growing your email list is incredibly important!), you can start reaching out to bigger organizations that have even larger audiences.
For individual musicians, you might need a little extra hustle and creativity.
An example of a trade might be to contact coffee shops or bars and offer to perform during one of their quieter nights. You’ll likely bring them extra revenue, an opportunity to show a different side of their business and potentially draw in an intrigued crowd that they might not normally have seen. As a result, you’ll be able to reach some of their existing audience to share information about upcoming performances, CD releases or other opportunities.
Other ideas might include appearing in church and school bulletins. If you’re performing a program of music from a particular culture, contact the respective cultural institutions or consulates of that nation and they might be willing to share news about this to their community. Just be ready to offer an incentive whether it’s discount tickets, a short performance at a service, or a class presentation for students.
As always, the key is to provide value through these cross-promotions and trades. Give more than you expect to get.
Lastly, ensure that you make your requests personal with clear focus on what the benefits are for them.
2. Posters, Postcards, Leaflets (aka. Guerilla marketing)
When you’re starting out with your marketing journey, expect to be working tirelessly in the trenches and on the front line. Strategically using printed materials can still be effective in getting the word out about a concert or event.
There are companies that will happily spread your posters around in a particular location for a fee (usually around a couple of hundred dollars) if you can afford it. They usually have an excellent knowledge of available locations for poster distribution, which saves you the time of hunting around.
If you want to do it yourself, I would recommend looking at the immediate 5-10 radius from where your event or service is based. Research any and all brick-and-mortar locations that might have patrons that are particularly interested in the arts or that serve those demographics that might be more accustomed to appreciating the arts.
You might only be able to print 20 posters so make sure the locations you place them at count.
3. Engage in conversations on Twitter
This is perhaps the most long-term marketing goal listed here but one that is completely overlooked.
Twitter is about conversations. You can post about your concert details here but don’t miss one of the more valuable opportunities that this platform offers: conversations with real people that might have a real interest in what you do.
Look at the major arts organizations, artists or ensembles performing in your area or near where you will be performing. Look at recent tweets by members of the general public and jump into the conversation. You can also search for specific hashtags (#classicalmusic for example) and then set the filter to only show those tweeted in a location near you.
The key here is simply to engage and connect. Don’t just say “Hey! If you liked this concert, you should check me out!” Imagine being at a party, jumping into a conversation from out of nowhere and immediately talking about yourself. Nobody likes that person so don’t be that guy.
If you devote time to this every week (or better yet, every day) people may start to look at your profile and decide that you actually look pretty interesting. This is just another form of relationship building, providing value and generating trust as a sociable human. Giving more than you get (are you understanding the theme here…?).
4. Facebook/Instagram Advertising
Hands down, Facebook (which includes Instagram) offers the most cost effective and highly personalized marketing tools to reach your audience. Instead of throwing your money out into the world with a prayer to the Gods that it will be seen, you can now track in real-time exactly who is seeing your ad, what your money is doing and how best to adjust to better serve your goals.
I won’t go into detail about the “how to” aspects of Facebook advertising but please be aware that while “boosting” your posts is a decent entry-point, you can do so much more with their robust Ad Manager tool. If you want to make the most of your marketing dollars, you need to understand the expanse of tools that are available on this platform.
Facebook advertising is an incredible way to spend your scarce marketing dollars and better utilize your efforts on these platforms.
All four of these marketing tactics can be highly effective when working with a low budget. Marketing doesn’t always mean spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on an expensive newspaper print ad or having a daily radio ad spot run for two weeks.
As stated above, these suggested tactics can take time and might require adjustment to suit your specific need. Just remember that marketing is entirely open to creativity. Feel free to use these as a framework but see what tweaks you can make to better serve your goals and more effectively reach your audience.