Strategic Marketing for Artists, Part Two: The Story Chooses Sides

This post is part of Brian Tate’s series, The Seven Elements of Strategic Marketing: Tools for Artists to Advance Their Careers and Communities. Part One was: Strategic Marketing for Artists, Part One: Marketing Is Storytelling.

“True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure. The greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation—(and) the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.”

– Robert McKee, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting

TV ads, Internet ads, movie trailers, electronic billboards, celebrity endorsements, product sampling—they are all applications of marketing, but not the thing itself. Like electricity snaking through wires, marketing can travel via advertising, promotions and public relations, but it is older and greater than those conduits. Marketing is powered by a primal form of energy, the Story, to which it attaches a Call-to-Action. When those elements are expertly combined, their effect is intense.

The most recognizable form of marketing may be Consumer Marketing because its call-to-action is so simple: to buy. But there are other types: Political Marketing wants us to vote, Cause Marketing to donate, Destination Marketing to visit.

No matter its forms, marketing operates by seven principles:

  1. The Story, which unites complex themes into a narrative of broad appeal and personal relevance. An effective Story lets people to find themselves within it, rather than outside it.
  2. The Message, which refines the Story to a compelling phrase. The shorter, the better.
  3. The Audience, which receives the Message and is divided into four groups:
    1. The Core Audience, that deeply identifies with the Story and supports the Message.
    2. The Target Audience, that could identify with the Story and support the Message, if given the right reason.
    3. The Unfriendly Audience, that is fundamentally opposed to the Story, the Storyteller, and the Message, and would rarely if ever switch to a favorable view.
    4. The General Public, also known as “everyone.” They won’t respond with love or hate because they don’t care. As such they are not an audience at all, and all attention devoted to them is wasted.
  4. The Campaign, a series of initiatives that package the Story and deliver its Message.
  5. The Call-to-Action, that makes clear what the Campaign wants its Audience to do.
  6. The Measures of Success, that determines the Campaign’s effectiveness.
  7. The Follow-Up, that outlines the Campaign’s sustainability and its next cycle of activity.

It helps if the Story is factually true, but because facts can be proved or disproved, they are trumped by belief. In summarizing a belief, or a narrative, the Message can stoke passions that transform audiences into participants—because the Story chooses sides, and it encourages us to join the winning team, or the “right” side.

Examples include:

Steve Jobs in 1994, shortly before he returned to Apple to rescue the company from bankruptcy. His belief, or Narrative: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same. His Message: “Think Different.” The Core Audience: Early adapters to new technology. The Target Audience: People who want more from life and from themselves. The Call-to-Action: Make Apple an indispensable part of your life. The Measure of Success: Increased sales, media, and cultural impact.

Johnnie Cochran in 1995, defending O.J. Simpson against murder charges. His Narrative: Corrupt LAPD detectives planted bloody gloves on O.J. Simpson’s estate to frame him for murder—but the gloves don’t belong to Simpson. His Message: “If the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit.” The Core Audience: Anyone who distrusted or disliked the LAPD. The Target Audience: Jurors. The Call-to-Action: Find Simpson not guilty. The Measure of Success: Acquittal.

George W. Bush in 2003, as world opinion mounted against an impending Iraq Invasion. His Narrative: Saddam Hussein is stockpiling Weapons of Mass Destruction and aiding terrorists who hate America. The proof of our claims may be ambiguous, but Saddam can’t disprove them. Waiting for “actionable intelligence” would put our nation at risk. His Message: “The smoking gun could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” The Core Audience: Neo-conservatives, and anyone who feared terrorism or distrusted Saddam Hussein. The Target Audience: World leaders and the mainstream press. The Call-to-Action: Join our coalition or get out of the way. The Measure of Success: The number of nations that joined Bush’s “Coalition of the Willing,” and of media organizations that supported the invasion.

Barack Obama in 2008, addressing his ability to win the presidency and create change. His Narrative: The Bush-Cheney administration has damaged America’s image, economy, and safety. Hillary Clinton is too tied to ‘90s politics to make a real difference, and McCain/Palin would only set us further back. Instead we need a grassroots movement to elect a promising, lesser-known candidate who can create true change. His Messages: “Change We Can Believe In,” and “Yes We Can.” The Core Audience: Anyone who wanted nothing more to do with Bush/Cheney, distrusted Hillary Clinton, feared McCain/Palin, and/or believed Obama could deliver on his promise. The Target Audience: Undecided and unregistered voters who were unsure of Obama. The Call-to-Action: Vote for Obama. The Measure of Success: Win the White House.

How did Jobs, Cochran, Bush and Obama accomplish those feats? As artists, what can we learn from them to help advance our careers and communities?

Be sure to read Part One and Part Three of this series.

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