Building your fanbase means getting comfortable with the “know-like-trust” factor
Don’t talk to strangers.
Don’t accept a lollipop.
Definitely don’t get in the car.
You learned these rules when you were five, and, if you’re like most people, you probably still basically follow them.
Even if you’ll talk to strangers, it makes you nervous. What if you get stuck with someone who turns out to be boring or annoying or who you just really don’t like?
You’re not taking that lollipop. And you’re absolutely not taking a road trip.
Who do you willingly go on a journey with? Someone you know, for sure. Someone you like. Someone you trust.
And how do you know that you know, like, and trust someone enough to take a trip with them?
Because you’ve had many interactions with them over time, and they’ve proven to you that they’re good traveling companions: they’re interesting, thoughtful, helpful.
The audience journey has three major stages
If you want your future fans to show up at the destination (i.e. buy your work), you have to invite them into the car a lot earlier than that so you can journey along with them.
The journey begins with “know-like-trust”
Imagine you’re standing on a street corner holding your creative work…a book, a comic, a CD of a podcast or music, a portfolio, a painting, whatever it is. And you’re holding it up and yelling, “Hey, buy my thing! It’s about vampires! I spent five years on it! It’s really important to me! I love vampires! Ten dollars!”
The vast majority of passers-by would cross the street rather than have to talk to you. Strangers don’t trust that your thing is worth their time and money. Why should they? They don’t know you, and therefore they can’t like you.
That’s why you may sell a few copies to your friends and family, but no one else perks up when you post your new release on Twitter.
Before you start asking anyone to commit money… and for many cultural products, even more important: before you ask for time… you need to have a number of touchpoints with potential new fans.
You need to establish what’s in your work for them.
This is not about deforming your work to suit the tastes of random people. It’s about using the XY Story Formula to find the core attraction of your work for specific new audiences, and then talking about/displaying that attraction, in many ways, over time, WHERE your ideal audience lives, to start building your fanbase.
This is called an “awareness campaign”
What does this look like concretely? Depending on your work, it might be blog posts, it might be Instagram posts, it might be videos like the one below. It could be live performances in a park.
This is where your creativity serves you well: anything you can imagine, as long as it’s designed to be incredibly helpful to your target audience and does not ask for any kind of sale, can count.
This is why marketing can—and should—be…fun.
Yes, I said “fun.”
When you’re doing it right, it’s playful, it’s helpful, it builds strong connections with all kinds of new people, and the feedback you get when you are being truly helpful will actually stoke your creativity in general. When you are truly empathizing with your fans, making them feel heard and seen…
When you’re truly providing useful, enjoyable content that feeds what your fans need and are searching for, it will make you feel great.
Ask yourself: What kind of content you could create that would speak directly to the fans that you want to attract?
There are two more stages to the audience journey.
Once you’ve let people get to know (& like & trust) you a little, you can “ask” them in one way or another (like opting into your email list or signing up for a live event) to show you that they’re all-in.
And when people take a concrete action that tells you clearly that they want more of what you have to give, that’s a welcome mat that you cannot ignore.