Just don't become this guy and you'll be fine.
You're screwed, man... seriously.
No, I'm just kidding. Even if you don't have a fan base yet, it's still possible to get your goods out there. In fact, getting your merch into more hands may lead to your name spreading across the universe (well, let's not get too excited).
Obviously, if you already have a fan base, one of the advantages is that you have a group of piranhas that are ready to bite at everything you feed them. On the other hand, though, just because you don't have dangerous, ugly looking fish nipping at your fingertips doesn't mean that selling your merch is going to be any different. It just means that you'll have to do some things to get more attention. You'll have to build your fan base.
So, let's cut to the chase. Just don't jump the shark!
Give Stuff Away
Look, you've probably already invested a lot of time and money into your merch (sucker). I get that. However, you might want to give away a few things to get the ball rolling. People don't know you yet, so you can't necessarily expect to make a truckload of money off the bat anyway (might help if you play in the MLB). When you're getting started, it's all about the sweat equity and adding value and contributing to society and all that humanitarian nonsense.
But when we're talking about giving away free stuff, remember that it doesn't need to be at random. You can be more strategic than that, and chances are you'll want to be. Even if you don't have fans, you should still have a few friends, right? Maybe? So you give them your swag to wear around town. Since you're giving them free stuff anyway, they probably won't demand compensation ("I did this for less than minimum wage, man"). Voila! You has walking adverts. One connection leads to another.
If you've got a showing at the local exhibit or a gig down at the pub, give some of your swag to the booker or the venue owner. It's a great way to suck up build a relationship with the people that can help you get more exposure.
Run Time-Bound Campaigns
Have you ever watched an infomercial before (purchase this in the next 10 minutes, and you'll get 30% off!)? My psychologist tells me I can't watch them anymore, because once one of those things comes on, the night is over man. I've got to have Kevin Trudeau's latest book.
There's a reason why businesses continue to run limited-time offers, seasonal sales, and year-end bargains (year-end is a little misleading when you consider that some businesses start their fiscal year in September). It's because they sell a ton of stuff. For whatever reason, if people know they can get something at a lesser price but only for a limited time, they're more likely to part with the green in their wallets. It's a feeding frenzy!
Online marketers do the same thing with e-book and product releases all the time. If you're selling your album on Bandcamp, you could lower the price of the album for a week. Then, you blast out the news by email, social media, phone calls and other means. You've got to work it to make it work for you, but the effort is usually worth the payoff. You can apply the same principles to art pieces or books too.
Use Social Media
You've probably noticed that social media is a visual heavy medium these days. Even if not for apps and sites like Pinterest, Flickr and Instagram (Pinterest is particularly great because you can attach price tags to photos of your swag), even Facebook and Google+ are giving more weight to photos and videos. Why not exploit take advantage of this trend?
What do you do if you don't have a followership? You buy one! I mean build one. What? That's what I meant.
Creating a following on sites like Twitter and Instagram isn't all that difficult, and though you may not be able to get your product in front of absolutely everyone, with some diligence and persistence you will find people who are interested in what you have to offer.
Of course, you can make YouTube videos, blog and even build up a mailing list to promote your wares too (which is definitely recommended).
Market Yourself Guerrilla Style
Sometimes you need to go big to break out of a rut. Like what my mom always said; when a hot dog just isn't enough, eat a jumbo hot dog instead. What a wise woman.
Incremental progression and daily work is important, but at times you have to do something more to create a steady flow of interest in what you're doing. Publicity, media attention and viral sharing are several ways of accomplishing that. How do you go about getting that kind of attention? Nude photos! Guerrilla marketing!
Perhaps you've seen examples of street art, where you're walking along and suddenly it looks as though you're atop a precipice leading into an abyss. Maybe you've seen crosswalks painted like McDonald's fries. Or bus benches shaped like Kit Kat bars. Those are all examples of guerrilla marketing.
Generally speaking, it's about using creativity as opposed to financial resources, so it's a method of marketing that should suit a beginning artist well. What you do is up to you, but make sure to apply creativity, feature your brand prominently (logo, name, website address, etc.), and get permission from local authorities. Otherwise, you could get fined by the police, and what was supposed to be a cost-efficient campaign suddenly turns into a very costly campaign.
Any thoughts? Leave your comments below and tell us all of your marketing secrets!
Cover image by The Car Connection