Why Knowing Customers Is the Secret Weapon to Your Creative Business
Why Knowing Customers Is the Secret Weapon To Your Creative Business.
Most of us are never happier than when we’re making things. When we started our creative business we thought joyfully of making and selling the things we love to create. We weren’t dreaming of doing a tax return or updating the online shop. And yet we know only too well how important these things are to get to do more of the thing we love - MAKE.
In times gone by, when I ran my own show selling products, I lumped the task of creative business marketing in with all the things I didn’t want to do. The word “marketing” conjured up tacky polyester suits and BOGOF offers and people trying to pressure me into buying things I didn’t want. I thought it was probaby a necessary part of business that I couldn’t do.
So I didn’t - and my business died.
Thankfully I’ve learnt that’s NOT what creative marketing has to be. I still hate all that icky stuff (and with good reason), but now I know that telling people about the things you make can be a genuine delight all round when it’s done with honesty and trueness.
Marketing should really be called “understanding people better so that you can help them.” I’m convinced that if you have a product and business that has real people at it’s heart, things will start to fall into place.
The approach I’m about to describe isn’t the fastest on results and it’s not full of gimmicks. But it does work, and I know, because I’ve launched three unsuccessful ventures without it, and one successful business with it.
Here’s what I’ve learnt about creative business marketing from reading, from trial and error and my own good and bad experiences, along with some concrete actions you can take to re-think your approach.
Don’t Start With A Product - Start With A Person.
The key to selling more isn’t hidden inside a product. It’s hidden inside a person.
People don’t buy things, they buy to fulfill their needs or aspirations. Most makers exist in the gift market. They’re making and selling things that people don’t need to buy out of necessity (like toothpaste) but will appeal to some kind of feeling or desire.
The big question isn’t whether that necklace is blue or green, it’s about who the person wearing it wants to be when they put it on. Or what giving the necklace as a gift will say about the giver’s relationship with the receiver?
These are the kinds of things we need to know about our customers when we run a creative business. Usually we start with what WE want to make, but the art of selling is much more OTHER people centred. It’s all about them, not about me.
That doesn’t mean you need to scrap what you make and start again. Far from it. But it might need a tweak, just one tiny thing, to take it from something people admire to something they’re clamouring to spend money on.
Customer knowledge needs to inform everything we do, from the colours we work with to the way we package to the kind of shipping we offer. Once everything becomes more and more focused on who is going to buy from us, we’ll appeal to them more deeply, and in turn, sell more.
That’s why you can’t sell to everyone. Narrow down your audience, get to know them, then do everything you can to make your product serve that particular set of people.
I dare you to start from back to front - not with the product you want to make, but with the product your customer is longing to buy.
The Best Way To Find Out About People Is To Talk To Them.
If you’re curious about someone, the best way to find out about them is to ask a question. Why should customers be any different? One way that I got to know clients in my own creative business was to create a quick survey for them in Google Forms.
I wanted to know their biggest struggle - so that I could help to solve it. I wanted to understand some of the words and phrases they used to talk about their business - so that I could mirror their language and make them feel at home when I write. I wanted to know where they do or don’t look for information about their business - so that I can turn up where they already hang out, find more of the same kinds of customers there, and introduce them to my work.
I asked a few other things too, though I kept the survey very short, and I offered a discount in return for answers. The results were extremely insightful.
Even with a handful of responses there were clear patterns about what my customers did and didn’t like.
They all used the same phrase to describe their business
They all preferred to get less email
Their biggest struggle was the same
And here’s how I used those insights -
That same phrase became one of the foundation keywords of this post so that when other, similar customers search for it, this post might rank as their answer.
I confirmed to myself that sending one monthly email to customers was better than sending one every week.
I reckoned I had an opportunity to develop a new service that could directly help to solve the struggle they named (more of this coming up very soon!).
Can you see how asking a few simple questions in a quick, online survey started to give me key insights to serve customers better and reach more of them? That’s what the heart of creative business marketing is. Not cheesy sales patter, but genuinely answering with stories and solutions that meet someone’s desire.
You Need Marketing and Marketing Needs You.
One of the biggest hurdles with a post like this is making the leap to your own specific circumstances. It seems like a lot of hard work when you’ve got orders to make and runs to the post office and emails and accounts to catch up on.
But here’s the thing (and don’t shoot me) - saying you’re a creative who only wants to make things when you’re a one-man-band is a bit like saying you’re British and you expect sunshine 365 days of the year. I understand, but your ideal customers WON’T just find you. You need to go out and put yourself in front of them and probably invest between 40-50% of your time doing it.
Plus, I can’t bear the thought of you making all those wonderful things and NOT doing any marketing. Because otherwise how will we discover how beautiful your work really is and how good you are at doing it?
The “you” in your brand, and the story of how you work, is one of the key things that can set your creative business apart from a faceless, bigger giant. They might rank number one on Google, but they’ll struggle to replicate the kind of personal relationship a smaller brand can provide.
It’s the feeling that you’re dealing one on one with a person, that feeling that you might call them and they might actually pick up the phone and talk to YOU. Big brands can hardly ever do that.
Here’s What You Ask.
Right, let’s get practical. Here’s a list of questions you could ask yourself to start to get better connected with your customers and get creative business marketing working for you.
I know you can do this, because I know you’re honest and I know you make lovely things and I believe they can genuinely solve a need or desire for someone. Plus, it will save you hours spent on that product you’re dying to make that no one is going to buy.
In every case you’re looking to find out something about your customers, then use that insight to hone your business in order to sell more. Here goes.
Who are my customers?
I know you’ve heard this before.. but seriously, if you don’t really know, then find three people based on your best guess of who you think your customers are and ask them some questions.
Once you’ve found out their age, circumstances, where they live, what they read and what their biggest struggles are, as well as anything else you’d like to know, you need to turn your answers into insights you can use.
If it turns out you’re dealing with a set of people who care about the environment, then it might be time to reconsider that plastic packaging you’re using. Or if all of your customers are dedicated Vogue readers, then it might be worth asking how you can get a feature there.
Conversely, a feature in Vogue might be a huge waste of time if all your customers are reading the Angling Times. The point is that you need don’t the biggest accolades - you just need to know the people who really matter and get them to trust you.
How are they affected by their circumstances?
Say that in general your customers all have children under the age of 5 or 6, you can probably assume they’re pretty tired and short on time. Is there a shipping option you can offer that would mean the least possible work for them?
Is there a particular stage-of-life product they’re all looking for? Perhaps party bag toys or gifts for endless kids parties? Find out where they’d look for that and how much they’d pay, then make your product fit the gap.
If you then find that most of your customers are shopping online then make sure that SEO becomes part of your plan. It might not sound interesting (I think it is and I love it!), but if that’s where your customers are searching, then learning basic SEO may well be worth 100 times more than growing your Instagram account.
What do they need or desire?
This is the killer insight. This is the thing on which everything else rests.
They aren’t going to buy your hand-thrown vase just because the texture is nice (though that might help) but because it fits with a certain aesthetic they saw in a magazine that they aspire to.
Or maybe they like that it’s not mass-produced, or they respect the fact that you built your own business to spend more time with your family, or because you made that vase in a barn in Wales which conjures up a rugged, atmospheric lifestyle which is deeply attractive compared to their job in the city.
If it’s the last one, then get back on Instagram and post pictures of the Welsh landscape. If it’s the first one, make interior magazine and blog PR your biggest aim.
Can you see how customer insights need to be the drivers not only behind how you tell people about your business, but behind every single decision you make about it?
So Don’t Be Afraid.
Creative business marketing doesn’t need to be tacky and nasty and something you hate. It’s just a simple process. A process of loving people enough to ask them questions and act on their answers. Of putting them first, and yourself second.
That’s what creative business marketing really means - and you can do it.