Converting Fans Into Customers Lesson 1: Exposure

Black and white photo of musicians performing in front of big crowd in the street

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast I’ve started to frequently indulge in with my morning coffee (Made It In Music) and I came across a quote (which I will paraphrase below) from a man named Dean Diehl (his episode is linked here) that really drove home a point for me:

“Most failures look exactly alike, but the paths to success look completely different.”

Now, as usual, when I sat down to write this article on how to convert your fans into customers, I realized a few things when I started writing it.

First of all, I have way too much information to share on the subject, and I can’t fit all into one post… so I will be yet again doing a series of posts to hone in on specific strategies.

But perhaps more importantly, Dean’s quote applies here just as much as it does anywhere else – there is no one right way to do something and ensure it will be successful.

So, rather than tell you how you are going to turn your fans into customers… I am going to tell you what has worked and does work for other people… but it is up to YOU to take from, improvise, and implement these strategies in a way that works for you and your audience. (Side note: if you missed Fans vs. Customers: 3 Common Misconceptions, I highly recommend you check it out here).

That being said, let’s begin shall we?

The first lesson on how to turn your fans into customers is exposure.

Lesson 1: Exposure

This may come as no surprise, but if someone has never heard your music, seen your art, or watched your videos… it is tough for them to make a decision to purchase it.

Of course, though, in this instance, they have already done so – they’re already a fan – they’ve been exposed to your work, and they like it. That’s a great first step towards that fan becoming a customer too… so what’s the next step?

Expose them to it again.

It might seem obvious, but repetition is critical in any form of advertising or sales conversion (in any kind of business). It’s why jingles are written to repeat a slogan to stick in your head. It’s why McDonald’s ads are plastered on everything from benches to billboards. And it’s why Super Bowl commercials would cost you your right leg to air for 30 seconds, but big companies who can afford them run them again and again throughout the entire broadcast.

Billboards downtown in a city, lots of advertisements (Coke, Wicked, M&Ms, Budweiser)
Like it or not, we are being exposed to things everywhere, every day.

The point is: repetition = sales conversions. That is a proven strategy.

The good news for you as a creative type is that repetition is also the reason why people remember lyrics to the songs they listen to. Or why they can quote their favorite movies. Or why they can re-tell their favorite jokes word-for-word – all these things happen because those fans have consumed your work repeatedly. Being able to repeat and remember something like lyrics, or scenes, or quotes is almost always a sign of a higher than average level of fandom.

In marketing, this is called the Rule of 7: a theory that suggests people need to be exposed to something at least 7 times before they really start paying attention to it (and consider purchasing it). The more they are exposed to that something after those 7 times, the higher their likelihood of actually buying it will be.

How’s that relevant to you?

Well, the same rule applies to your fanbase – a casual fan who hears a song they like for the first time on the radio isn’t likely to rush off to purchase tickets to your concert – whereas a fan who knows all the words to your songs sure is. And all fans start the same way: they all begin as someone who was never aware of your very existence. How big of a fan they become after that… well…

That takes us to our next concept and lesson in exposure: the frequency escalator.

The frequency escalator is a sales/marketing theory first developed for use in the sports industry, which is where I first came across it (I studied Sport Management in university).

The frequency escalator theory builds upon the 80/20 rule known as Pareto’s Principle – a theory stating that 80% of a business’s sales come from 20% of its customers. Using Pareto’s Principle as a base, the frequency escalator theory suggests that by moving your fans “up the escalator” of fandom, your fans, with each step up, become closer to the “die-hard” level of fans who make up your top 20% of fans (and thus, 80% of your sales).

Frequency Escalator theory diagram
This is the frequency escalator (I do not own the rights to this image – linked here)

But is it true?

Let’s take a look at how the entertainment industry structures its revenue, and you can tell me.

You don’t need to look too hard or far to see how this is actively put into practice in every form of live entertainment – just compare front row ticket prices for any of your favorite acts to tickets for the sections further away from the stage. The type of fans who pay additional fees for “VIP sections,” “meet-and-greet packages” or even “pre-public access” (which is a fee paid for just the chance to spend tonnes of money if they actually land a front-row seat) are far and above in a different classification of fan level than those who decide to purchase a ticket in “whichever section is available” weeks after the tickets went on sale.

And the artists/industries know that too – and so they utilize that information to pad their wallets – because those fans WILL pay if they want the level of access they desire.

Now, this article (and it’s follow-ups) is not meant to be a study guide on how to gouge your fans into spending more money –but I chose this easy example to demonstrate the different behaviors of fandom – and those behaviors shift with varying levels of exposure.

As stated earlier, every strategy for success works differently depending on the artist, their fanbase, demographics, etc. Still, here are a few examples of ways you can boost your exposure to both new fans and existing fans alike (as don’t forget, more exposure helps to move them up that escalator).

Exposure Through Association

Quite simply – associate yourself with other acts/things your fanbase might like and that they would come across. This is how sponsorship agreements work – one brand/artist forms a partnership with another so that they mutually expose their work to each other’s existing fans in the hopes of mutual appeal.  

Jagermeister, for example, sponsors and promotes loud, “party attitude” bands – because the values and attitudes that come with that type of music also align with their brand and customer base.

Jagermeister bottle and 4 shotglasses
Just the smell of this stuff takes me back to my days playing in a loud, party rock band – much of this product was consumed.

Or maybe you’ve noticed how Spotify playlists work. Certain artists get paired up with each other based on what Spotify has identified as a mutual appeal (that’s what the “fans also like” tab is for). Frequently, Spotify will play those artists automatically in each other’s fans’ rotations. Hint: you don’t need to be a major artist to start pairing your music with other artists in playlists on Spotify (more on that at another time).

This doesn’t just apply to corporate agreements either, or even other artists for that matter.

Take, for example, the artist Derek Riggs. Anyone who knows the band Iron Maiden is familiar with his artwork – and his name as an artist immediately is associated with the art he’s done for them. I can also think of my own personal example where I’ve liked one band’s artwork so much that I’ve looked to see who did it – and then reached out to hire that artist for my own projects.

As you can see, an association can be a powerful tool to act as a gateway to bring new fans to your work from somewhere you’re already likely to find them.

Which leads me to my next form of exposure:

Exposure Through Collaboration

This strategy is prevalent in hip-hop music, but it’s becoming much more commonplace in other music genres and types of artistic mediums than it ever was before.

Off the top of my head, here’s a couple examples:

Want a good example of how this works? I found this COUNTRY song when looking for music by Zakk Wylde… he guests on one song… and I really liked it.
  • When I type in “Chris Stapleton” (a country artist), “Bruno Mars” (a hip hop / R&B artist), or “Ed Sheeran” (a folk-pop artist) into Spotify, the song BLOW, which they all collaborated on appears on each artist’s profile. At the time of writing, this song has almost 72 million plays and is not yet a year old.
  • Ozzy Osbourne (heavy metal) on his latest album included collaborative songs with Elton John (rock, pop-rock) and Post Malone (rap).
  • Kid Rock, once a prominent rap artist, successfully transitioned to a new style of music (under the same artist name) with the success of the hit single “Picture” – a duet with Sheryl Crow.

I could list collaborations for days, but the point is – by featuring other artists on the same piece of work – they appear to each other’s already existing fanbases. With any luck, that will convert some of each other’s fans to become fans of their own work.

While I write about music examples a lot (it is my bread and butter), this can work in other mediums as well (i.e., joining writer’s circles, working in art groups/forums, etc.).

The options for collaboration are only as limited as your own creativity.

Exposure Through Different Channels

Cast a wide net, and you will catch more fish – that couldn’t be a more applicable statement, then when it comes to exposing your work to a broader audience.

For example, look at how many different types of social media exist. Each has its own specialty – twitter uses short sentences for quick messages, youtube is video-based, LinkedIn is for career connections… you get the idea. But with each medium delivering a different type of message to a different kind of person… the more you utilize, the more exposure you will receive.

Channels of exposure are not limited to social media either. Any successful publicist will give you a list that looks like it belongs to Santa Claus of all the different options and mediums of how you can exposure your creations/work more frequently and to a larger audience.

Some examples include:

Wall of band posters - KISS, AC/DC, Ramones, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Jimi Hendrix, Dire Straits
  • podcasts
  • placement in video games, film, & TV
  • magazines
  • blogs
  • newspapers
  • news broadcasts
  • charity
  • signs
  • banners
  • email campaigns
  • direct mail
  • merchandise (think walking down the street and seeing someone wearing a band t-shirt)
  • word of mouth
  • posters

…like I said, the list goes on for a long time. Once again – you are only limited to your own creativity when it comes to finding ways to expose your work.

Lesson 1: Exposure – Conclusion

By now, I think I’ve hammered the lesson home: the more you expose your work to your fans, the more likely it is they will pay more attention to it. The more attention they give your work, the more likely they are to purchase it.

Now, you don’t want to become so over-saturated and in their face and annoy them to the point that they get sick of you… but in today’s world, where information and content is posted so rapidly frequently, the likelihood of your stardom level ever coming to that point would be an excellent problem to have.

Remember, you are ALWAYS competing with millions of other artists for fan attention – don’t be shy in making sure some of it goes to you.

Next time, we’ll continue to look at how you can turn your fans into customers – by engaging with them.

Be sure to like and follow The Creative Wealth Project (and share it with your creative friends and colleagues) for more artist interviews and articles to help grow your creative career!