Often in the digital marketing workshops I teach I hear filmmakers and other screen media creators tell me, “But I just want to make movies! I don’t want to worry about this kind of stuff!” I completely understand. It feels frustrating and unfair, and there is a risk that marketing activities can eat up a lot of your time and energy. And then what will you have left over for making your films (or documentaries or TV shows or webseries or transmedia experiences)? In a perfect creative world we would all have very rich patrons who would free us to explore and create and fail and succeed as our path takes us. This, however, is not reality, especially in the world of independent film and other screen media. In this issue of From Search to Screen I explore why it is important to use and develop a marketing brain and how it can empower content creators.
Some of my students have actually physically flinched when I start talking in marketing terms about their work. I understand the aversion some artistic people have to the thought of “selling” themselves and their projects like used car salesmen. However, the most fundamental thing you need to understand is that marketing is just about making people aware of you and your creative work, it’s about connecting with an audience. To be effective it takes time, strategy and…(wait for it) creativity.
Why should screen media creators “do” digital marketing?
- Because YOU can. The Internet empowers those who create like never before. It represents a massive opportunity to reach people in your audience 24/7, anywhere in the world. And you don’t need an agency or a broadcaster or a distributor to do so.
- Tap into the power of your audience. Because of this direct access to fans you can tell them exactly what you want to about your work, listen to and observe what gets them excited and inspired, what moves them, and then respond. If you can align your work with audience desires you have dramatically increased your chances for success and growth.
- Fewer compromises necessary. The more time passes, the more you own the direct relationship with your audience, the fewer compromises you will have to make with the gatekeepers (agencies, broadcasters, distributors). In fact, if you are very successful online, you may not need them at all.
- A loyal fanbase is a huge asset. A highly engaged audience that follows you and gets excited about you and your work represents an advantage. You can leverage this audience directly and even monetize them through crowdsourcing campaigns like Kickstarter. But you can also use them to attract advertisers, sponsors and investors. The more people involved in a project who come with significant online fans the better its chances of getting made because they can be leveraged in so many ways.
How do I get started marketing my creative work online?
There’s a number kicking around that freaks out a lot of creative people, the 80/20 rule. It states that to be successful you need to spend 20% of your time creating and 80% of your time marketing. This oversimplifies the issue and can actually act as a barrier to people because they cannot see how to make such a serious investment of their already overextended and precious time. It can be overwhelming to get started but here are some basic guidelines and rules to help it feel a bit less daunting and make the implementation more effective:
- Start small. Focus on one online venue to begin with and learn by doing. If you are already on Facebook or Twitter for personal reasons start there. If you like to write think about blogging. If you love images play around with Pinterest. Begin where your greatest comfort level lies.
- Be strategic. If you are already comfortable online or once you get there, spend some time thinking about what you are trying to accomplish. Do some brainstorming and set realistic goals. Who are you trying to reach and why? What does success look like?
- Be authentic. This is a theme I return to over and over again. The more authentic you can be – to your project, to your own core values, to the audience you are trying to reach – the more effective you will be and the less “salesy” your marketing will feel. Your conversations will grow organically and your chances of developing real relationships with your fans will increase dramatically.
- Schedule your time. When you are trying to write you accomplish more on a set regular schedule. You need to do the same with digital marketing activities. Not only will it help you make sure you fit them into every day, it also helps to make sure this does not consume your life. This schedule may have to be flexible (production tends to be very consuming) but always try to find some time each day to spend in this way.
- Pick your battles. This echoes starting small, but even as your marketing skills progress you need to not try to do everything on every social network. Focus on the 2-3 tactics or venues that most closely align with the goals you set (although I do recommend that SEO always be one of them).
- Measure and respond. You may have gut instincts about what is working and what is not, but it is imperative that you are gathering and following the numbers available to you online. This is perhaps one of the greatest assets digital marketing gives you. Analytics from your website, blog, and social networks give you instant insight into where your efforts and resources are best spent. Not everything is going to work. It is good to discover what is and what isn’t so that you can be more and more effective. Be prepared to change goals and tactics as necessary and in response to what the numbers tell you.
- Find the right support. When you begin your digital marketing journey you are likely going to be on your own, but as time goes by it is worthwhile finding support for these activities. You can look to the other people involved in your project or external resources like myself where you can sometimes get free advice through blogs like this one or invest in training in workshops and seminars. (If you are in Canada, the Independent Production Fund is about to start a cross country workshop series in digital marketing).
- Be creative. As a filmmaker, a writer, a television director, a web series creator, a transmedia designer you have mad creative skills. This is one of your greatest personal assets in the world of digital marketing. Thinking outside the box and finding new and exciting ways to leverage online tactics, engage and attract audience and generate buzz almost better than anything else.
A final word
Yes, digital marketing is going to require an ongoing investment of your resources. Yes, it will take time (it’s not going to happen overnight). But it is worth it and necessary. Screen media is much more expensive to create than almost any other art form. Even if you can squeeze out one or two ultra-low budget projects, you will not be able to make a living this way. You need others, you need an audience, you need investors, and marketing is the key to making these connections. You need to incorporate marketing thinking into your creative brain. It will need to inform but not cripple your process. If you can find that balance you are well on your way to success in the world of opportunity offered online.
What Do You Think?
Do you have questions about my thoughts on the creative brain vs the marketing brain? Have you found a balance in creating film, TV or web series projects and marketing them online? What were the results? I’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts, ideas, questions below or send them to me at annelise (at) veria.ca or on Twitter @veriatweet.
Or revisit the previous issue: 10 SEO Tips for Film, TV and Web Video