By Michael Laskow
I love to read business books — especially marketing books. One theme that is repeated throughout many of my favorite marketing books is that you (or your product) need to represent just one thing. If you can't describe what or who you are as an artist in a single, succinct sentence, how can you expect anybody else to?

Why does that matter?

Imagine that you've just discovered a new artist that you're absolutely head over heels about. You tell a friend. The friend responds with, "What do they sound like?" If your answer is, "I can't really describe her," there's little chance your friend will run out to buy the CD.

On the other hand, if your answer had been, "She sounds like Lucinda Williams meets Sheryl Crow," then your friend would immediately have a mental picture and be able to decide if that type of artist would be appealing enough that he would go buy a copy.

I'm not saying that you need to change your music. I'm suggesting that you find a way to label it or describe it in such a way that it makes it easier for word of mouth to work in your favor.

And while we're on the subject of word of mouth, I'd like to publicly thank TAXI member Mary Beth Maziarz for sending me the book, "The Tipping Point." It's a very popular business book that explains what makes something "tip" and become the type of thing everybody is talking about. One of my favorite examples is the huge spike in sales that Hush Puppies experienced in the mid-nineties.

It was essentially a dead brand, but because a handful of influential, young New York "hipsters" rediscovered Hush Puppies, other people who wanted to be hip talked about the shoes, and most importantly, they bought the shoes. The scales tipped and sales soared.

Central to this theme is identifying the "sneezers" as best-selling business author Seth Godin calls them in his book, "Unleashing the Idea Virus." Sneezers are simply people who are influential — people who other people look to for advice and recommendations.

If you were going to buy a new guitar, who would you talk to other than the sales person at Guitar Center? Your friend Bobby from the band The Viral Evangelists? Yes!


Because everyone knows that Bobby is really cool. He's been around the music scene forever, and he always seems to know what the next big thing is. Bobby is a sneezer. He's a marketer's dream. He's a guy with influence and a large audience of fellow musicians that he can infect with his enthusiasm — be it for a guitar, the next hot band, a new Pro Tools plug-in, or his favorite recording studio.

Your job is to identify the sneezers who can help you infect lots of other people with the idea that your music is great. Who are the best people to proclaim "You've got to check out her CD, it's incredible!" Your aunt Nancy? Who is she going to tell — the ladies in her gardening club?

If you're doing Country music, then a great sneezer would be a DJ at a small Country station — more approachable than a DJ at a huge station, but still has thousands of listeners under his influence. Why not 50 DJs at tiny little Country stations all over the South?

If you're doing atmospheric New Age music, then your sneezers might be people who work at health food stores. You might also give it away to massage therapists who will then play it for countless clients while they work on them. If the massage therapists comment about how much they like your CD, then why not give them some copies on consignment that they could sell to their clients? That's marketing!

The big hurdle that you will need to overcome is motivating your sneezers. You want these people spreading your "germs" like a virus in an overcrowded elevator. But it's always been my experience that you can't really motivate anybody. They've got to be motivated from within.

Think about it for a minute or two. Remember when your parents tried so desperately to get you to study hard when you were in high school? Did their prodding or exhortations motivate you? A big, fat "NO!" on that one, huh?

But what about when you first discovered music. Did anybody have to motivate you to listen to music every chance you had? Of course not. You were self-motivated because you derived pleasure from listening. You received a benefit.

The same will be true for your sneezers. For them to be successful at spreading your virus, they'll need to be self-motivated. And what will motivate them to tell everybody they know that your music gets "Two Thumbs Up"? Great music! That's their benefit. They get to enjoy it, and they get to look like geniuses for recommending it. It always comes back to the music doesn't it? You can try every trick in the book to get people to buy your CD and go to your shows, but if the music is just good, not great, you probably won't succeed. However, if your music is exceptional, it will practically sell itself.

From where I sit, that's true for almost any aspect of life. The more passionate you are, the more motivated you will become. If your motivation level is high then you are likely to become exceptional. Once you become exceptional, the more likely it will be that people will be attracted to what you do. If you attract enough of the right people, they will spread the word to others and your "virus" will spread like measles in Mrs. Taylor's fourth grade class.

You really are the master of your own future. I just used a little marketing lesson to help you realize it ;-)

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