An introduction to authentic marketing

By Francesca Margherita

Photo by Jeremy Cohen, featuring Will Campos of Dungeons and Daddies

Promote your business in a way that feels true to you with these time-tested strategies.

Marketing and messaging are essential to achieving long-term success as a creative entrepreneur. If you’re new to the ins and outs of promoting your creative work, it may not feel natural at first, and the idea of "marketing" yourself and your work might even seem a little awkward. But marketing doesn't have to mean putting on a “salesy” persona (at all!).

Authentic marketing centers on strategies that feel true to you and your brand, designed to help boost awareness about the cool stuff you’re producing, to build trust with new and longtime fans, and to make it super clear how people can get in on the excitement and join your membership community. Remember, it’s all about personal connection; your most loyal fans become members because you invite them.

Here, as part of our series on authentic marketing best practices, we dive into practical approaches for building and executing marketing strategies, from researching your audience’s preferences to setting your membership marketing plan in motion.

If you’re already familiar with the basic tenets of marketing, and you’re looking for deeper tactics and inspiration for marketing your membership, jump ahead to How to turn fans into members.

Research your audience and peers to inform your messaging

Authentic marketing is all about sharing what you’re making with a group of people you’ve taken the time to understand. So before you start throwing marketing spaghetti at the wall, and certainly before you put money into paid marketing or ads, take a moment to explore these three important areas: your audience, your peers, and your messaging.

1) Who are you talking to?

Good question! When you’re preparing to get serious about marketing, it’s helpful to create audience profiles, or descriptions of the types of humans that make up your current and target audience. This can help you fine-tune your messaging, determine what your fans will find valuable, and even identify potential new members.

Start with identifying your super fans — those folks who excitedly tune into every episode, regularly buy your prints, or enthusiastically post photos of your gallery show on Instagram. You can start by chatting with them, if you feel comfortable. If you’d rather not reach out one-on-one, you can also get a pretty solid sense of your fans through audience polls and surveys and a little basic sleuthing. Consider these research questions:

  • What does your audience care about and what motivates them? See if you can uncover what they were looking for or trying to accomplish when they found your work.
  • What other content do they like, love, and engage with?
  • What types of posts or products do they get most excited about?
  • Where do they hang out, both in-person and online?

The goal here is to get a solid idea of who you’re talking to and what they want based on facts — not instincts or assumptions. Doing this helps you talk directly to segments of your audience and tailor messaging accordingly. (We’ll get into messaging in a bit!)

2) Who are your peers?

Identify three to five creators you’d consider comparable to you and take a closer look at what they’re doing with their fan community, how they’re doing it, and what you can learn from them.

Pro-tip: If you’re hoping to get to know other creators using Patreon and marketing their memberships, check out the Official Patreon Creator Community Discord server!

Reflect on the following:

  • How do these comparable creators sum themselves up? Check places like their social media profiles, Patreon, and websites for a one-line summary — their “elevator pitch.”
  • What do they offer fans? How much do they charge? What do you notice about their membership benefits and their online store?
  • Where do they communicate with their audience? Do they use social media, chat and messaging platforms (like Slack and Discord), email lists, or blogs? Do they host live events? Make note of channels with higher usage and engagement.
  • What are they really good at, and what could they improve? What do you notice garnerst a lot of excitement and engagement among their communities when they post it? Are there any particularly unique or inspiring ways they engage their fans? What seems to fall flat?

Once you’ve done your research, pour over your notes and look for the gaps. What is no one else doing? Why do you think that is? Try to glean whether those gaps are opportunities — something your audience could be into but that isn’t happening right now — and identify a potential niche for yourself.

Pro-tip: For a pay-it-forward way to get insights into how similar creators market, message, and deliver value to their fans, offer a peek behind the curtain. Consider giving them a follow, signing up for their membership, or subscribing to their email list.

3) How will you talk to your fans?

Now that you better understand who you’re talking to and you’ve learned a little from your fellow creators, it’s time to focus on how you want to talk to your own fans. The goal is to stay true to you while making sure your marketing feels clear, cohesive, and relevant. Try a few of these exercises to start honing your message:

  • What three words best describe your creations? Maybe they’re “hilarious, colorful, and irreverent,” “technical, structured, and informative,” or “bold, sparkly, and ambitious.” Whatever suits you! Use these terms as a North Star to bring a sense of consistency to your messaging. That doesn’t mean you have to use them all the time, but keep them in mind and let them light the way as you craft copy.
  • Decide what you’ll share and talk about. Will you give members a look at work in progress or just share a final product? This will make your content and messaging feel more focused and help fans understand what to expect if they become members. Think about aligning your messaging and marketing with the benefits you offer to your members.
  • Develop a list of key messages. Think about themes that run through your work and what you want people to take away, and jot down a few ways you might instill those things into your marketing.
  • Revisit your mission and vision statements for inspiration. Your mission statement highlights the “why” behind everything you create and share with your membership, and your vision sets out what you’re working toward. Inspire fans to join you by integrating it into your marketing language.

When in doubt, tap into your community and ask fellow creators for feedback on the messages you’re crafting. Once you actually kick off your marketing plan, pay attention to member engagement to determine which messages resonate best with them.

Put your marketing and messaging into action

Once you’ve gotten familiar with the essentials we covered in this article and given them a try, you’ll have built a solid foundation for how you’re going to market your membership. It’s now time to set some goals and make a plan to put these learnings into action.

Where do you want your business to go next? What do you want to accomplish in the year ahead? Identify two to four measurable goals you want to work toward and write them down. For example, your goals might include specific, time-bound things like:

  • Increase your Instagram followers by a specific number in the next year
  • Promote your Patreon on social media three times a week for the next three months
  • Publish a minimum of two blog posts each month this year
  • Convert 2% of your fan base on your largest social channel to become members of your Patreon
  • Grow your membership by 15% over the next three months
  • Improve monthly retention of your existing members

Once you know what you’re working toward, you can start laying out your marketing plan more concretely. Plus, specific goals make it easier to track (and celebrate!) your progress. To get started, take a look at the month ahead and write down two actions you’ll take every week to move you closer to hitting the goals you’ve outlined. Add specific times in your calendar (like a meeting you invite yourself to!) to get the work done, and pay attention to how your community responds to the changes you’ve made.

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