Predictably Unpredictable

You can always count on true artists to surprise you. With a sense of regularity, the greats always deliver the same quality with a different twist. The same gets old, so it’s important to keep things fresh. We put less stock in sequels that merely re-deliver the original and our hearts into sequels that reinvent the wheel. We come to trust creators that, in any other forum, would not be trusted. And we always look forward to the next trick.

Want to be great? Learn to surprise audiences on a regular schedule.

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Two Options? Or Just One?

While people do not enjoy an overwhelming number of choices, they enjoy even less not having a choice at all. Pretty obvious day to day, but how does that apply to business, entertainment, and marketing beyond? When you give customers or audiences only one choice, they are quicker to create another one of their own: “No thanks.” By providing more than one option, you expand your chances at inspiring them to consider the options first before considering their exit. That contemplation period is irrefutably valuable to marketers looking to convert users or customers. Depending on how you position the product and alert everyone to his or her options, you at least stand a chance at starting a conversation. That’s half the battle.

Do Not Charge Fans You Haven’t Earned Yet

I will not pay for your album without hearing it first. I will not buy your book without reading a good chunk of it. I will not spend a dime until I know that it will be a good use of my time. And I’m not alone in this anymore. There’s far too much noise fighting for audience money these days. To stand out, you need to be really talented and really clever. Reviews and popular consensus can help you reach the top. But you have to catch the attention of the people first.

The loyalty of fans goes a long way. I will, however, support artists and brands that have earned my trust over time. I do not think twice before paying for a Sam Mendes film, a Black Keys album, or a Legend of Zelda video game. Over the years, these names have consistently won my affection. But I didn’t pay for them at first. I saw my first Sam Mendes film in a class, heard my first Black Keys song in my brother’s car, and played my first Zelda game in a friend’s basement. Their talent and quality converted me alone. I became a loyal fan for life. The idea of curating loyal fans is not new or revolutionary. Brands as strong as Apple, In-N-Out Burger, and Pixar learned this very early on.

Creating brilliant products is not enough. The challenge is to convert freeloading bystanders into fans willing to pay. The trick is to acknowledge that fans won’t pay for you until you earn their trust. Therefore, the most effective way to develop a following early on is to share your work far and wide for free. Give great content away and audiences will thank you for it. When you have enough fans to scale your brand, start monetizing. Watch the loyalty role in.

The Age of Calling Bluffs

With access to the entire information landscape through the Internet, access to public opinion has accelerated tenfold. While this accessibility may constitute a deep saturation of noise, one very exciting trend is evolving out of it: audiences are far less susceptible to clever marketing tricks and far more in tune with quality content. Audiences can smell turds. No longer can clever movie trailers, print agendas, or viral campaigns smooth out rough edges and scale a property. Produce bad content with good marketing, and audiences will call your bluff. You will lose.

The key to success on the horizon rests firmly in quality content. No shortcuts anymore, only good ideas. Your work can pierce the noise with a strong and honest idea at its heart. If you are good enough, people will love and promote you for it. Focus all your money and attention on producing quality work.

As for marketing your content? Inspire true fans to do that for you. Be wary of spending a lot of money on marketing in this climate – the people may assume you are polishing a turd.

Why Do Choices Scare People?

Most people hate too many choices, in part because they are afraid to make the wrong one. I enjoy choices and the analytical process of breaking them down (anyone who shares a fine meal with me will understand this). Sometimes, however, too many choices get out of hand – you end up narrowing them down to a select few personal choices of your own (when overwhelmed, my defaults for Thai food are Panang Curry, Pad Thai, Pineapple Fried Rice, and Tom Yum Soup). From a consumer-facing position, assume your customers are terrified by choices and help them make the appropriate one. A series of options, binary logic, or a game of twenty questions can go a long way for narrowing things down. If gamified, the decision-making process can even be fun. As a consumer, know what you like, why you like it, and be flexible enough to discover new choices based on the key components of things you enjoy. Either way, choices do not have to be scary. Be prepared to help people get through them or be prepared to get through them yourself.

Involve Your Audience

Building an audience can be a long and humbling process. Extreme networking in disguise. Every little thing counts. Every smile, every gift, every anecdote. It all builds to a greater public image with richer public value. As if offering something of value isn’t hard enough, you must befriend hundreds of thousands of random strangers along the way.

Successful performers form an intimate relationship with their audience. Like building trust with a friend, an entertainer must build rapport and loyalty with his or her fans. Something as big as inviting a fan to guest star or as small as retweeting a post can win you a fan for life. Even little acknowledgements can make a person’s day. Invite fans to be a part of what you’re trying to accomplish. Encourage them to join the conversation – and be sure to respond. Never be too proud to ask your audience questions, for feedback, or to help you out. Encourage a two-way street between you and them – and hold up your end of the bargain.

Live Performance

If you want to connect with your audience, you must share a room with your audience. You must get up on stage and entertain. Campaigning politicians and rock stars learned this a long time ago. Beyond entertainment alone, a successful live performance can communitize the audience around your personal brand. Everyone sharing a room together will feel apart of a big family, a family with your surname. Audience applause and energy are contagious; spread adoration for you and your product by collecting or streaming as many fans as possible into one room.

Unlike Netflix’s Reed Hastings, Steve Jobs never hid behind the veil of a press release or blog post. He stood on stage, fielded questions without fear, and put on a live show. I am convinced Apple succeeded on the foundations of its audience’s oohs and aahs at these keynote events. I am convinced Apple advanced forward because Steve Jobs knew how to put on a show. The collective power of audience intrigue spreads like a virus, and that intrigue can only be fostered in person and en masse.

If you want to build a brand, learn to overcome stage fright and put on a great show. This goes for anyone trying to make an impression on the market or on the world. You must show your face to the crowd.

Side note: one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen in person happens every Sunday night in Santa Monica. If you haven’t already, all Angelinos you must check out The Toledo Show – a “Cabaret Funk” band that performs every Sunday night 9pm at the classic Harvelle’s. $10 cover, two-part set until around 1am, totally worth every minute. The new definition of “cool.” Thank you, Adam Speas, for introducing it to me.