Startup Marketing Is Like A Touring Band

November 5, 2014

As Retro Mocha has refocused our energy this year into our website and consolidating our efforts towards a few smaller projects, we've taken to blogging more and building up an audience. Recently, it struck me just how much this kind of marketing is like being in a touring band.

Our Goal

For the last few years Retro Mocha hasn't been the best at marketing our products. So, this summer we took a look around and realized that it is a lot easier to launch a product to an audience than it is to launch a product without one. There are lots of examples of this, and even some great guides on how you can grow an audience that you can sell to.

From my own experience, I know that the best way to create a long term relationship with an audience is via email.

Twitter is nice for quick one off connections, and Facebook is great if you can get people to share your stuff with their friends, but both channels are terrible as a broadcast medium. I believe most tweets only hit like 5% of your followers and Facebook keeps showing Facebook posts to fewer and fewer fans.

When you send an email, it sits in the inbox and doesn't go away. You can deliver a ton of value in emails and nobody is going to limit or censor your content to a particular format like Facebook or Twitter do. Best of all, the only people that get your email are people that ask for it.

Oh, and when you send an email, people can just reply to it and start a private conversation with you. That is a really powerful connection that you don't get with Twitter and Facebook.

So, our goal is to grow our email list.

Bands need an audience too!

A band needs an audience of fanatics who love what they do and will show up to concerts, buy t-shirts, and download their music. To be successful as a band, you need at least 1,000 true fans who will buy everything you put out because they just love what you do.

The 1,000 true fans model is pretty much what we are going for with Retro Mocha because we know that if we find 1,000 people who love what we do, it will be easier to create products that our fans want to buy. It will be easier to promote products even beyond our audience because they will share our stuff with people they know.

When it comes to getting off the ground as a band, blog, or business, building a fan base that will buy what you create is key.

Going on tour

Touring is something that we take for granted in musicians. If you are in a band, you drive around and play whatever gigs you can land.

Have you ever thought about why bands go on tour or why they gig at every little show they can when they are starting out?

Bands tour because playing a show is the best way to create an experience for someone that turns them into a fan of your music.

Think about it, when you see a band perform live, that is an experience that creates a memory you tell friends and family about for years. The lights, the sound, the smell, the people, it all creates an impression on you.

Now, compare that experience to when you listen to music on Pandora while you surf the web. Do you ever have that kind of amazing experience that you tell your friends about when listening to Pandora? Probably not.

Touring is how bands make fans.

I try and do that in how we blog. After each blog post is written I take it "on tour" where I might post it to Hacker News, Twitter, Stumble Upon, LinkedIn, Reddit, Facebook, etc. Basically I will try and match the topic of the blog post to whatever community I am posting to and if it doesn't fit, I won't post it.

For example, a startup marketing related post like this might land on Hacker News, the /r/startups subreddit, Growth Hackers,, maybe a couple entrepreneur Linkedin groups, and so on and so forth. Also, I will sometimes reach out to someone with a particular audience on Twitter and share the post with them asking them to share if they think their audience will appreciate it.

Another similarity is if you guest post on other sites, it is sort of like being an opening act for a famous band. In both cases you are trying to perform in front of a larger audience with similar interests to try and win over a few fans.

The point is, much like a band going on tour, we promote our content to whatever audience we can find that fits the topic. A heavy metal band isn't going to find many fans in a country and western bar, and a blog post about collecting chia pets isn't going to get a lot of attention in an online community of tax lawyers.

The single most important thing you can do in marketing a business or starting a band is to figure out where your audience hangs out, and to perform in front of them where they are at.

Slowly gaining fans

Each time we do this, we gain a few fans in the form of email subscribers. The way we do this is to simply have an offer at the bottom of every page to follow along with our experiments. We don't pitch a product or do a hard sell. It's our way of soft selling to the people who are already predisposed to like what we do.

We could have a better, more compelling pitch, but we aren't trying to convince everybody to like us or buy our product. The goal is to attract the people who love what we do, not just like what we do.

People who love what you do are true fanatics who will buy what you sell and tell your friends how awesome it is naturally.

For example, even though we took away twitter share buttons, people are still sharing our stuff on twitter. More importantly, we don't tell people to share it, they share it because they genuinely like what we wrote. They share it because it's good enough that they think it can make their friends' lives better.

Fans become fans when we make their lives better, and we only get new fans when someone is impressed with our work.

Since we're going for true fans, a post that gets 2,000 visits from various traffic sources might only bring in 5 new fans. Yet, unlike your average run of the mill subscriber, our list is incredibly responsive.

Our open rate is about 65% and our unique clicks sit around 25%. I've never had an email list respond that well.

Part of the responsiveness is that our list is very small - 47 at last count. However, you can easily have a small list with a 10% open rate and a 3% click rate, so it's not just the small list that is helping. My opinion right now is that the people who subscribe have seen our work and might become real fans of it.

Since we are looking for just true fans, we aren't growing our list as fast as some people might. We aren't looking for tire kickers just looking for a free ebook. That being said, our growth is slow and steady. If we keep at this long enough, we'll be an "overnight success" in a few years.

How a real band gets fans

I feel like a lot of bands start out this way too. New bands play some small gigs every week and maybe you gain a couple fans each week. After a few years, that really adds up and bands are playing bigger venues. At some point the band "hits it big". It's not because they all of a sudden figured out how to play music that people liked. It's that the band finally had enough fans that they couldn't be ignored.

For example, back around the year 2001 or so, my buddy had me listen to a band called Dredg. I really liked their music and I told my friends about them. I think it was the next year that they played a show in Omaha at a bowling alley. I went to the show and there was like me and one other guy who had heard of Dredg before. It was super cool because it was like a private show for about 10 or 15 people.

Fast forward about three years and two albums later and Dredg came back to Omaha to the same venue. Guess what? They weren't the opening act anymore and the room was packed with probably a couple hundred people. Not long after that they were showing up on Fuse and playing bigger festivals like Coachella.

Dredg built their audience by touring and playing shows. Each show they gained some fans and after enough time, they were a legit, popular band.

Keeping our fans happy

The number one mistake we could possibly make with our audience is to forget why they are fans and to become selfish or greedy. I've seen it over and over again. A site gets popular and the owners slap on a ton of ads, start pushing product just to make money, and they forget why people cared in the first place.

Fans become fans when we make their lives better, and they stop being fans when we no longer do that.

So, our goal is to create things that make our fans' lives better. It's not a lot more complicated than that. I know that if we sell out for a quick buck that the game is essentially over. That doesn't mean that we won't ever sell things to our audience. It means that we can't sell crap or promote junk products from other people just to get a big affiliate commission.

Bands have basically the same problem. There is a point where it is tempting to take the easy money and sell out your craft. For example, if you were a punk band in the 80's with a small, but loyal following and you decided to become a hair metal band doing rock ballads because that was popular at the time, you probably sold out. You might make short term money doing that, but your fans will leave and never come back.

We never want to treat our fans like an ATM. We don't hard sell and we only sell what we believe in.

In fact, we don't even email our list unless we have something valuable or interesting to tell them about. You know, something we think they would like.

I think most really great bands take the same kind of approach. A band might write 50-100 songs a year, but you only get an album of say 12 tracks every few years. What happened to the rest of the music? Honestly, not every song is a great song and as a fan of great music, you don't want a band to record and distribute every single thing they write. Not all of it is great or worth buying.

Success takes a while

Real success in business or music takes years. Sure, some people "win the lottery" in both where they catch lightning in a bottle, but in music those are called "one hit wonders" and no artist wants to be a one hit wonder, no matter how big the hit was. Real artists with decades long careers don't rely on one hit to keep them going. They have fanatics that love their work. Successful artists make music their fans will love and are rewarded by their fans with concert ticket, t-shirt, and album sales.

We create content, tools, and services for you - our fans. I know that if we do this long enough, we will find success. I expect it will take years, but the stuff we are doing years from now will be made for the same reason we are building stuff now - to make your life better.

- Brian

About The Author

Brian Knapp is one half of the dynamic duo that runs Retro Mocha. You can follow his hilarious puns on Twitter.