What can you learn from the music industry about how to improve YOUR sales?

What can you learn from the music industry about how to improve YOUR sales?

For those of you who’ve followed me for very long, you know I’m a music dude.

I was a house music DJ in college…

I still make electronic music on my computer…

I love all kinds of music — from classical to flamenco to hard rock to hip-hop to electronic (of course) — and can appreciate good music in ANY genre…

And I also follow the music industry.

Here’s an interesting stat about the music industry…

If it weren’t for Taylor Swift’s recent album, 1989, 2014 almost went down in history as the first year in recent memory without a single album topping 1,000,000 in sales.

The album is nearly dead.

Singles — downloaded — are still alive and well, for now.

But album sales are a shadow of their former self.

Which is bad news for musicians who are trying to live by the old model.

Heck, even the world record for highest-distributed album ever — this year’s U2-Apple flop — was a failure.

And yet, there IS still demand for albums, in some corners.

It’s becoming a niche collector’s market, for one. Like vinyl still is today. Even though people know they can buy and download CD-quality audio instantly from their computer, some are still drawn to having the hold-in-your-hands copy of the albums from their favorite artists.

It’s also a way fans can give extra support to their favorite artists on tour. Most big artists (and even the smaller ones) are sustained by their touring. But their best fans — who show up for shows — are willing to shell out even more than today’s high ticket prices to “get the CD they were selling at the show.” Maybe it’s habit. Maybe it’s a way to give the band a little extra love. Maybe it’s just more collector’s instinct.

And for some artists, the album is not a collection of songs, it’s an experience. Artists who make a bunch of songs and put them together on an album just to have an album are doing the worst in today’s market. There are other artists who are turning the album into an experience itself — who are telling a story with their music. A good example is the most recent release from John Digweed and Nick Muir, called The Traveler. The best way to describe it is as a soundtrack to the book by the same name by author John Twelve Hawks. The album is not just a collection of songs — it’s a musical interpretation of the story, featuring voiceovers by the author himself.

I hope you understand I’m not just talking about music…

Yes, I am talking about music. But there are so many lessons that can be transplanted from here to your business.

And it’s in this same spirit that I wanted to share some takeaways from an article titled 5 Ways to Influence Fans to Buy Physical Music, on the sonicbids blog.

I’m going to quote each of the five recommendations the article itself, then share what lessons I’d apply from it to your marketing…

“1. Visually compelling covers: If your cover is a legitimate piece of art that people might display on their coffee tables or in their shelves, they’re more likely to buy the album. Vampire Weekend’s covers are always simple but excellent, prominently featuring the band’s name in that distinct Futura font. Many metal bands have eye-popping covers; Opeth’s Heritage and Dragonforce’s Maximum Overload are so cool aesthetically. Meanwhile, Kanye West’s Graduation cover was created by an actual modern artist. Beauty is the in the eye of the beholder, but just make sure your cover isn’t a total bore to look at. (Aphex Twin’s recent Syro totally failed that test.)”

What you think is your product or service isn’t necessarily your product or service. There are many levels of the customer experience, and by serving the customer on different levels, you’re going to get better results.

For example, there’s a reason I decided to include a wine tasting and dinner with my workshop next week. Does it have anything to do with writing copy? Nope. But it creates a better experience. There’s a reason I decided to have it in a brand new hotel, in the middle of a popular new and updated business district. Does it have anything to do with writing copy? Nope. But it adds to the feel of the event.

Don’t just think of the product. Think of everything. It does have an impact. Not just on initial sales, but on referrals and word of mouth.

“2. Limited edition bonus tracks: Include a few songs that are only on limited editions. Sometimes, these won’t end up on iTunes or Spotify for quite a while – if at all – and this can incentivize completists to purchase a physical copy.”

Bonuses matter. They matter in music. They matter in marketing. They matter everywhere. If you want someone to buy your product in the first place, it doesn’t hurt to throw in a bonus. But if you want them to go all-in with you and get the bigger package, don’t hesitate to pile on the bonuses.

Plus, it leverages something called the Zeigarnik effect. What’s that? In short, people want completion. Zeigarnik was a Soviet psychologist who studied memory. She did research based on an observation that waiters were able to remember unpaid orders remarkably well, but minutes later after the order was paid, had almost totally forgotten what the order contained. Our brains somehow process incomplete things differently. Applied to products, people will tend to choose the option with all the features over one where they’re getting something that seems incomplete.

“3. Extra swag and merch: Include stickers, patches, posters, T-shirts, and any extra additions you can think of that might make fans want a physical copy of your music. Besides, all that swag can be great publicity!”

Okay, some of the lessons here are the same as from the previous. So I’ll go down a different path.

I used to do trade shows. And what I learned in trade shows is that people like stuff. Cheap stuff, nice stuff, it doesn’t matter. People like stuff. And it doesn’t matter the audience, either. I’d be dealing with the CIO of a major state agency making a tech buying decision, and they’d want the stress ball we were handing out at our trade show booth.

I heard of a long-term marketing test where they were testing dozens of different bonuses to get more registrations for credit cards. Relevant items. Irrelevant items. Nothing beat a set of steak knives. For a credit card. Steak knives. Like I said, people like stuff.

Find a way to include stuff with your offer, and you may boost response.

“4. A variety of formats: There’s a certain contingent of fans who fetishize music collections; the only problem is, CDs might not be what they want. Release on vinyl, or even old-school cassettes, to ensure that you’re hitting all your markets and giving yourself the best chance you can.”

If you’re selling content — information — how do your customers want to consume it? Maybe it’s by download. And that’s great. But don’t discount the power of physical products. Even if they’re going to rip the CDs to digital and put it on their phone the moment they get it. They may just want to have the thing they can hold in their hand.

Better yet, give ‘em options. Either test a bunch of different options… Use the digital version as a down-sell… Or let them choose. Different buyers will like different formats, and you may make the sale simply by catering to their wants.

“5. Lyrics in the liner notes: Especially if your words are hard to decipher (like in fast hip-hop, loud metal, or just if you have a weird voice), putting your lyrics on paper can be a major draw for fans. I still treat the lyrics to Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris like a favorite book of poems.”

Again, give people different ways to consume what you’re selling. Video versus audio versus transcripts are one consideration. And this can apply to the product itself, or the marketing around it. How many of us are annoyed by the long video sales letters, but will immediately click away so it lets us choose to read the transcript? How many people buy as a result of the sales letter being put in video format, who weren’t going to sit down and read it all?

Here’s one more big lesson from the music industry…

The rules are ALWAYS changing. What worked yesterday may be an inferior model today. What works today will be outpaced tomorrow by something else.

The underlying principles of direct response — what I like to focus on here at Breakthrough Marketing Secrets — don’t change much through the years. People still buy for basically the same reasons they always have.

But the application of these principles — where they meet the market — is always changing, zigging, zagging, innovating, and evolving. Especially as technology changes.

If you’re not on your toes, you’re going to be like the behemoth record labels who are in a panic right now that they’ll remain relevant for another three years.

Or, remain nimble and ride the changes, and you’ll be in pretty dang good shape.

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr

Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets