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Word of Mouth Marketing

Monday, September 3rd, 2007
Posted in Advice by Joel Gross

The music industry today is facing enormous challenges. How do you market new bands and singers to people who no longer listen to the radio? MTV rarely plays music and when they do it’s prepackaged, bubble-wrapped remakes put out by established superstars. People in their twenties and early thirties listen to music almost exclusively on their Ipods and MP3 players and usually that music is ripped or illegally downloaded online. Focus groups, studies and other research have shown time and again that most people now make their musical selection based on word of mouth marketing/ viral marketing.

The old behemoths of advertising; radio, television and printed media are no longer nearly as effective as they used to be. Music companies have poured billions of dollars down this new black hole with little results and they are desperately looking for new methods. Many of these major media companies realize that they need to get involved in word of mouth advertising, but they have no clue how to do it. Major companies in other industries have stumbled badly when they attempted to control viral marketing; Wal-Mart secretly paid bloggers to write nice things and when they were outed it was a huge black eye. Dell’s poor customer service towards a major blogger led him to write an expose on them and caused severe brand damage. Bosley Medical harassed a patient so much he created a major negative website about them that has greatly harmed sales numbers and brand value. Obviously, music companies need to try to avoid similar problems.

Sadly, the music industry has not yet learned. By trying (and failing) to stick to their old model of selling music via albums in record stores, they have completely missed the new digital paradigm. To make matters worse, they have made vast swaths of the population their enemy by trying to fight for the old, obviously outdated ways. The music industry successfully sued and shut down Napster several years ago, only to watch in dismay as their steep decline in profits only steepened. Now they use spyware, traps and other shady methods to try to trap their own potential customers, creating enormous ill will and sending their brand values into uncharted negative territory.

Recently, Columbia Records has begun to see the light and hired Rick Rubin, a free-thinking man who could lead Columbia into the new age and bring Columbia monstrous profits if he handles it correctly. Rick Rubin understands that he needs to focus on word of mouth marketing, but does not yet know how to do it effectively. Viral marketing is a strategy that encourages people to tell their family and friends a marketing message.. and then have that message be strong enough that those people share it with their family and friends and it continues to spread. Apple has mastered this strategy. The way they built hype around the new iPhone and got people excited about it was sheer genius. Steve Jobs understands the power of the internet and it’s relation to communities of individuals and how to leverage both to completely dominate word-of-mouth marketing.

My advice to a theoretical unsigned musician who is trying to break his way onto the national scene would be to engage in an effective viral marketing campaign. How do you do that? Here are some basic steps to take in pushing a new album:

1. Have good music. Obvious requisite. But I have heard tons of good bands that are barely known in Seattle and no one knows of them elsewhere and that is who I am addressing.
2. Write/pick one really catchy tune, whether it be funny, sad, rockin’, whatever. The most important aspect of this song is that it be something people love or hate the first time they listen to it. Songs that exemplify this would be Tenacious D’s “Fuck her gently”, ACDC’s “Hells Bells” or David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. All 3 songs are very simple songs that grab your attention and you either love or hate right away. The key here is to generate strong emotion in your audience.
3. Put the aforementioned song on your own website, on both your band and personal myspace page, on your facebook pags in an easy to use music player. For free. Yes, I know this means giving up some small profits right now, but consider it an investment in the future for when you are 60 years old and playing the Super Bowl with your wrinkles flying around. Include at least THREE more of your other hit songs for free on the same pages.
4. Now it is time to kick off the viral marketing/ word of mouth advertising campaign full blast. Ask everyone you have ever met to link to your website with the anchor text “new punk rock (or whatever you play) music by Emo Boyz (your band name here)”. You are engaging in what is known as “Search Engine Optimization”. This will help make your website come up first when people search for “new ___ music” or “new music”… which people do literally millions of times a month. It will also make your website come up first when people go to Google and type in your bands name after one of their friends says, “Hey, i heard the new Emo Boyz song and it was great/sucked”. If they can’t find you in 15 seconds, they will forget about you and move on. Add every possible person you can as a friend on facebook and myspace. Singers recently have started to hit it big, just by adding thousands of friends on myspace. If you don’t want the drudgery of adding tens of thousands of people by hand and sending each an individualized message, you can pay to use the services of a ‘bot’. Yes, they are annoying, but they can get you a several thousand friends very quickly. Place fliers everywhere you go- plaster your city in fliers advertising your next few gigs and have your website URL in big, bold letters on it. Ahh, I almost forgot- pick the SIMPLEST possible URL. The URL needs to be a .com, because people are retarded and always type that in. Emoboyz.com would be ideal. Every time you play a show, go to class, pick your nose, or talk to a girl, tell them about your website.

Results: What will happen when you do all of that?

The opinion of the masses is a ginormous ship that is very difficult to turn, but once you get it headed in your direction it will be unstoppable. The goal here is to make a quick emotional impression on people with your hit song. You want people to send the link of the song they just heard to their friends, either because they loved it or hated it (hate works too.. look at the popularity of certain sob stories/ urban legends on the internet). You want people to tell their friends your name.. once people hear the name enough times they will look you up either through conventional means if they are old school or just by Googling you like everyone else. The viral part of it comes when you start to hit a critical mass of people and enough opinion makers are mentioning your name that it starts to stick in peoples heads and they start to listen to you. In today’s world of mass internet access, it will happen very fast… you could become a YouTube sensation overnight with millions of views in a matter of days.

Hello, Tonight Show. Goodbye, shitty venues and no pay.