Nuts & Bolts: Comedian: Email Pulls in Crowds, Social Is Ephemeral
Comedian Steve Hofstetter thinks of even social networks as middlemen. The most direct way he can market to his fans, he says, is through email marketing.
And, yes, he did use Twitter, Facebook and his email list to urge fans to buy his most recent album "Pick Your Battles" on its release date, Feb. 15, 2011. That move propelled the album to No. 1 on the iTunes comedy charts, according to his Facebook post that day in which he thanked fans by saying "for the next 24ish hours, you can have three of my other albums FREE."
However, Hofstetter believes his email list is his main conversion tool because it gets fans to come to his shows. In the end for Hofstetter, the show's the thing.
Target Marketing: What's funny about direct marketing—thinking of yourself as a brand?
Steve Hofstetter: Well, nothing's funny about direct marketing. But direct marketing certainly helps funny. And funny helps direct marketing. Things are more likely to be clicked when they're funny.
In terms of thinking of myself as a brand, I've always understood that performers are a brand. We sell ourselves on stage every night and to think that we're not a brand is silly. Some people have the mistaken impression that selling themselves is selling out. And that's not true. If you sell something you believe in, you're not selling out, you're just selling.
TM: Do you try to relay humor through the channels you use—such as social media and mobile?
SH: I definitely try to use humor … Sometimes I put real things. When my wife was going through a double mastectomy and reconstruction and, you know, I'm getting all these silly Facebook birthday wishes, I made a little video saying, 'Instead of wishing me a happy birthday, here's a charity to donate a dollar to.'
So, sometimes I'm serious. But for the most part, people follow me because I'm funny. So if I stop being funny, then I've given them a really good reason to stop following me.
TM: How do you try to convert your fans? For instance, do you try to get them to go to your shows, to buy your album and so forth?
SH: For a comedian, the best way is to get someone to go to a live show. Because not only can they see what I do with no filter, they also now have a shared experience. I just got invited to a wedding of two people who met at one of my shows.
SH: Yes. And maybe I'll go. I don't know. That might be fun.
TM: Cool. And you would bring your plus one?
SH: Oh, sure. Yeah. I mean, I'm married, too. I would say, 'Yeah, free food.' But it's in Michigan and we live in LA. So not exactly free.
TM: No. Yeah, that'd be a very expensive piece of chicken.
TM: … What channel works best for interaction?
SH: The thing that I've gotten into a lot lately is Reddit. And Reddit is not as much a direct marketing tool as it's an indirect marketing tool, because if you can be engaging and you can be funny and you can be interesting, then people are going to be interested in you and then it becomes marketing later on. I think that's actually the best. My philosophy on viral marketing—and bear in mind, I'm the guy who set the record for Facebook friends. … When MySpace Comedy launched, I had different profiles in different cities for each local tour. And I was 73 of the top 100 comedy profiles. But one thing I never do. I never hard sell, because I believe the perfect sale is one where the buyer and the seller both get a great deal. And it's a lot easier to sell something once you have a rapport with somebody, once someone trusts you. And so what bothers me is the tendency of this shouting that goes on on the Internet. You know, virtual shouting. It turns people off to good messages that could actually reach them.
TM: What channel works best for conversion?
SH: One thing that I'm doing now is I have a giveaway on my site. I have a free album download, which would have an actual retail value of $10, because that's what it costs to get it on iTunes. And it's something that people want. It's not a marketing tool. It's an actual item of value. But the downloaders have to sign up with their email address. And I believe having your own email list is the best conversion. Because Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, these will all eventually go away. It's a matter of time before something new comes up. Some will last longer than others, but look at MySpace. Flash in the pan for two years and then it disappeared.
So I think that being able to reach people without a social network middleman is the most important thing.
TM: What's the size of your email list?
SH: My tour list is probably around 30,000 with emails at 50,000 total. … How long did it take to build that up? Oh, years. Because you build it up and then someone leaves. And then someone changes their email and forgets to update it on all the lists they're on, you know? Especially, I have a huge college following. So I can't tell you how many dead .edu email addresses I have after graduation every year. So it's probably about 10 years or so since I started doing it and the majority of it has come in the last couple years.
TM: Why has your list grown the most during the past couple years?
SH: Just becoming more popular. For all of the direct marketing you can do, nothing beats consistent word of mouth.
TM: How often do you perform list hygiene? (I.e. Get rid of the bad addresses from the graduates—if they don't work, that is. Some do.)
SH: About once a year. But bouncebacks are no big issue, I have a spam filter that gets rid of them.
TM: How do you get fans to opt in? At shows? Other ways?
SH: I do get people to opt in through shows. But I can tell you one direct result. … But I can tell you that my last album hit No. 1 on iTunes. … And that only happened because I have this viral reach. And so, when the album was coming out, I told people to go pre-order. And, when I went to sleep—because it comes out at midnight—so when I went to sleep, it was at No. 28. And I sent out a Twitter, Facebook and email blast saying, 'Hey, if you're gonna buy it, buy it today. Let's move it up the charts.' And I woke up and it was No. 3. And it kept moving up until it hit No. 1. And it was that direct reach that made that happen. Is that direct financial gain? Sure. I can tour wherever I want, because I can bring out a few hundred people, because of my lists and because when someone comes up to me at a show and they say, 'Hey, that was great,' I don't just let them walk away. They sign up for the email list, they download the album. They go from a casual fan to an actual fan.
TM: Do your influencers get extra perks? Like what?
SH: Every so often, I'll do something like, 'All my albums for $5.' Or just, 'Hey, thank you guys for doing this. Today, you can download any album for free.' Something like that. Like where I'll just do random things for people who are devoted. But also, like after a show, if someone's talking to me and they're clearly a big fan, you can tell the difference.
When someone is quoting jokes to me from three albums ago, I know they're a fan. And so when I see that, sometimes I'll just hand them an album. I'll say, 'Hey, thanks for the support. This one's on me.' Something like that. And that's not something people forget.
If they take the time to support me like that, the least I can do is thank them. … What the philosophy really comes down to for me is: The best direct marketing is, 'Be an appreciative artist.'
Don't forget that without your audience, you'd be washing dishes. So that kind of philosophy, I think, ends up reaching a lot of people.
TM: As sometimes happens now, do your fans expect you to be their fans? What do you do about it?
SH: Yes. … There's a difference between a fan and someone who wants to use a celebrity for financial gain. I know who my fans are. When I tweet something, I know that there are 10 people who are going to retweet it, no matter what. And I know who those people are. I see those names over and over again. … So I know who those people are. If one of them sent me a message and said, 'Hey, my brother's in this contest. Can you go vote and help him out?' I would. But when someone comes on to my Facebook, because you can see your new likes, and so when someone comes on to my Facebook and immediately posts like, 'Hey, my brother's in this contest. Will you go vote for him?' That's very frustrating to me, because that's someone trying to use me. And trying to use my influence. People who are genuinely devoted to my comedy, I'm devoted to them, too.
People who wouldn't care if I retired, I don't need to care if they leave.