Should you advertise online?

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Organically building an online community is part of a balanced digital PR plan, but when used effectively, advertising can be a centerpiece of your music marketing strategy.

online music marketing strategyFor most independent musicians, particularly those with a DIY ethos, advertising just isn’t a part of the music marketing strategy. It is seen a costly endeavor that can easily be circumvented by strong content and engaging with an existing online community. But is this correct? In most every industry in the world, advertising is seen as a legitimate component of an effective marketing strategy.

Focusing on building your community organically is part of a balanced digital PR strategy, but when used effectively, advertising can magnify your existing PR efforts. The reasons for advertising generally fall into two categories: awareness and conversion.

1. Awareness
Advertising can give you a great opportunity for your name, logo, mission, etc. to be seen by hundreds, thousands, and even millions of people. These advertisements don’t necessarily drive someone to engage in any way (to purchase or otherwise), but may simply act as a way to get the viewer to associate a brand (or band/artist) with a certain topic, issue, or community. Each “touch point” is an opportunity for potential fans to discover your brand, become familiar with you, and interact with you.

2. Conversion
Advertising can also be used to directly drive conversion, be it subscriptions, social sharing, purchasing, etc. These advertisements also provide a vehicle to get your message out to consumers who may not yet be familiar with you, your band, your music, etc.

Timing your advertising

With any kind of advertising, timing is everything. Before you begin to plan out when you should be spending money on advertising, you’ll need to determine your goal. A few examples could be:

1. Increasing pre-sales for your upcoming album
2. Driving traffic to a sales page with exclusive bundle offerings
3. Announcing an upcoming tour
4. Driving ticket sales
5. Developing awareness and association among fans of similar acts within your niche or genre

The end goal for your advertisement campaign should determine when you launch the ad and how long and how often it runs. Obviously, if you have a specific date, such as ticket sales or album release date, you should have a good idea of when to start your ad campaign. If your music marketing strategy is to build awareness, the timing and frequency is less dependent on a specific timeline and should be approached in a way that fits your weekly, monthly, or annual budget.

Types of advertising for musicians

The type of advertisements you include in your campaign should be dependent on the focus of your campaign (awareness vs. conversion), where you spend your time online, and where your target audience spends its time online.

The list of different types of advertising is seemingly endless given that the advertising opportunities for a platform are determined by what sort of content it serves to its users. Different common forms of advertising you may want to consider include:

1. Display ads. The most common advertisement that you see on blogs, websites, and Facebook. Display ads come in several sizes and can be located in several locations around a website, including banners, sidebar ads, advertisements embedded within content, and lightbox pop-ups.

Given the general disregard for display advertising (aka banner blindness), these are typically best used for awareness campaigns as the conversion rates are can be extraordinarily low, though when used on a site or page already branded with your content, they can spur an album sale or action.

The cost of display ads depends on the number of opportunities the website in question has to run different advertisements across it’s platform, as well as the level of overall visibility and influence that website has among a market. Facebook display ads can be inexpensive given the very high amount of inventory, where an industry-leading blog with a single banner ad opportunity may be quite expensive given the lack of inventory and the high level of influence.

2. Search engine ads. Google is certainly the reigning king here, but all search engines, as well as websites with search function (e.g. Twitter) offer search engine advertisements as well. The idea here is that your advertisement, or even simply your band name or image will appear at or near the top of the search engine results based on a pre-determined list of keywords.

Search engine advertising can be a great way to convert highly qualified fans and/or potential fans to engage with you or purchase from you, as those who will see your ad are doing so because they specifically searched for something related to you and your music.

With search engine ads, the more specific you can be, the better your results will be. If you use a broad keywords such as “New York City” or “music,” a huge percentage of people viewing your ads will be searching for something that has no association with your advertisement. A specific keyword however, say “NYC indie rock band” or “socially conscious hip hop” will be seen by fewer people but will be delivered to someone far more likely to be looking for something just like you and your music. Finding the right search term for your act is crucial if you want to have success with search engine ads.

3. Pre-roll ads. Video is an important digital medium. Pre-roll ads are a short video advertisement that run before another video that allow you the opportunity to get your message to well-qualified potential fans before they view a video. The effectiveness of these ads greatly depend on the overall qualify of the ad you can put together, as well as the targeting you pick.

4. Retargeting. Have you ever noticed that you’ll see the same ads pop up from website to website? This is called retargeting. Several ad platforms, Google included, offer you the opportunity to run display advertisements specifically targeting those who have, say, visited your website.

Coming back to the idea of “touch points” and your music marketing strategy, someone who has come in contact with your brand in some way will continue to see your brand through retargeting and will hopefully develop a stronger awareness and association with you. With each touch point, you become more likely to convert those who are highly qualified, but had not yet felt an association strong enough to take action.

5. Sponsored stories. Featured blog content, Facebook’s “Boosted Posts,” articles, or videos brought to you by brand XYZ are all examples of sponsored stories. In essence, you are paying for increased visibility of your content. This form of advertising allows you to ensure your content is seen by x number of people, and if that content is focused on advocating an important message directly connected to your brand, or focused on directly driving people to an opportunity to make a sale, it can be highly effective.

Optimizing your advertising

While understanding the reason for advertising and the different types of advertisements that are available to you, there are still several factors that need to be considered in order to effectively optimize your next ad campaign.

1. You must have a budget
Advertising is an investment. Hopefully you will see a return on your investment (ROI), but sometimes, particularly when you are focusing on overall awareness, the ROI may not be in the form of money. With this understanding, you’ll need to determine how much money you can actually invest into advertising. This may ultimately dictate the types of advertising that are available to you for your next campaign, as some ads can be far more expensive than others.

That said, many ad platforms offer different cost structures and should be considered when you are determining your budget:

Cost Per Click (CPC). With CPC, you pay for x number of clicks at x number of dollars per click. You are paying for the action being taken, so these advertisements are likely to cost more than other forms of advertisements.

Cost Per Impression (CPM). You pay for x number of people to view your ad at x number of dollars per thousand people. No action is guaranteed here, only that people will be served your ad, even if they don’t notice it, so the cost is typically low.

Flat Rate. You may come across advertising opportunities that charge you a flat rate of x number of dollars per day, week, or month for your ad to be served to an audience. The high-, or low-cost here is determined by size of inventory, influence, and demand.

2. You must know your target audience
As with any form of marketing, understanding your target market is critical to success. Just as with your content strategy, you need your ad to connect with people in order to be effective, and the best way to ensure it connects is to craft it with them in mind. Without understanding who your target is, you lack the understanding of how your ad should look, what sort of messaging should be included, what colors to use for the advertisement, and what the call to action should be.

3. You must have a key performance indicator (KPI)
Running an advertisement without a metric to determine it’s effectiveness is practically worthless. Whether you want your ad to drive sales or increase the size of your fan base, you need to have a KPI you can measure every advertisement against in order to understand which form of advertisement is most effective, and which message, style, or call to action is most effective.

If you learn how to prepare ads and run them effectively, they can be part of a music marketing strategy that measurably moves the dial towards helping you accomplish meaningful goals. In those cases, the cost of advertising can most certainly be well worth the return.

Jon Ostrow is a regular contributor to Disc Makers Echoes blog. Follow him on Twitter @jon_ostrow.

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