Why Louis C.K. Is One of My Favorite Marketers

November 5, 2012

As I sit here tapping out this post, it’s a commercial break during Saturday Night Live. I’m watching this because tonight’s host Louis C.K. emailed me earlier asking me to do so. OK. So it wasn’t just me. It was a bulk email to his entire database but as you can see from the screenshot below and the formatting therein, it was obviously written by Louis himself. What does this mean and more importantly why should you care? 

In addition to being a favorite comedian of mine, Louis C.K. has tips marketers could learn from too. Part of me knows that the idea of this would make Louis’ eyes widen as he thought of business types pouring over his work for tips to help them build their brands and sell more stuff. Alas, I’ll have to imagine his eye-rolling, sighing, and swearing.

Here’s what you need to know.

The Impact of Platform

What I’m saying here isn’t particularly groundbreaking. You may recall that last spring, Advertising Age had C.K. at the top of their “Digital A-List.” This was because he bucked the system, built his own channel and sold for a mere $5 his self-financed stand-up special “Live at the Beacon Theater.” He’s not just doing this on album sales either. As a comedian, C.K. tours extensively. Naturally, the tickets are only available on his website as he says in the web copy, “So no crazy high ticket fees, no scalpers, no annoying emails, no joining a thing that you hate.” How great is that? None of us want to join something we hate.

Key Take-Away — Platform matters. A lot. With a community built around your brand you suddenly have the distribution that we used to pay brick-and-mortar stores and record companies a premium for. C.K.’s story highlights the impact that social media can have on business. After cultivating a community (over a million Twitter followers isn’t a bad start), he carefully came up with a way to sell to them that was quicker, cheaper, and more personal than the transaction had previously been.

But Nick — my shower curtain ring company isn’t an edgy comedian. How can we do this? Good point. Though you may not yet be creating comedic material about your weight and parenting that friends send each other YouTube clips of, you need to be thinking more like that in terms of your own content. Maybe you have a funny vignette about what happens when you have lousy shower curtain rings. Don’t forget about the Will It Blend? guys.

A Naked Launch

What about piracy? Good question. Ever the straight shooter, C.K. launched “Live at the Beacon Theater” not with a glitzy traditional media presser or even a controlled social post. Rather, he submitted to the most bare-knuckled, unfiltered crowd online — a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” or AMA. This resulted in some serious questions about how the album worked and why he was doing it this way. More importantly, C.K.’s honesty helped online taste-makers spread the word and deterred people from trying to hose him via piracy.

Key Take-Away — Consider more transparent communications, especially via social media. If you don’t feel you’re Reddit-ready yet, start with a simple Twitter chat and maybe bring in your leadership to take questions. Ford has done this with CEO Allan Mulally. When people understand your goals, they’re more likely to participate and share with others.

The Conversation Continues

Of course, as every shrewd marketer probably realized, this platform provided C.K. with a great opportunity to build his email list. However, Louis has bucked convention here in a couple of ways as well. First, as we all know, you have to provide an opt-out mechanism in your emails. Louis’ first broken rule is having users pre-set as opted out of the program so they have to proactively click the button to receive emails.

Next, the email barrage didn’t start right away. Honestly I think I can count the emails I’ve received since buying the album last spring on my hand. But really, do I need to hear from Louis more? He probably knows this and carefully plans his emails to not abuse this asset. And when he does email, it’s simple text-only rather than rich HTML. On the afternoon before his SNL debut, he sent the email below (click the image to open the full email in a new tab). It has an honest tone but it’s also not content light. The result is correspondence that feels more like an update from a close friend that a “star” whose album I purchased.

In addition to being great for fans, think about this from Saturday Night Live’s perspective. While it probably didn’t tip the scales dramatically, this shout-out likely resulted in a few more live viewers and DVR-recordings. Compare for a moment the role of a guest on traditional media and new media. Most guests simply prep and show up for taping. Few take it upon themselves to market the show (that’s the network’s job, right?). This stands in stark contrast to the online world where we frequently tweet-out other places our work has appeared or podcasts we’re guests on.

Another cool email thing C.K. did? One of those few emails I’ve gotten sold an album for another up-and-coming comedienne, Tig Notaro. Both examples illustrate how C.K. is an exemplary new media marketer. It’s not just about him. It’s about supporting other programs and artists.

Key Take-Away — As Mack Collier frequently writes and speaks about, “rockstars” know how to create loyal fans (Mack’s got a whole book on this concept coming soon that you should check out). They do this by building deep connections with their fans. Last month at the Social Brand Forum, Collier told of a marathon 15-hour autograph signing event Taylor Swift did in 2010. “Most rock stars want to have an emotional relationship with their fans … that lead to sales,” stated Collier.

C.K. is no different. Most people that bought the album are more like Taylor Swift’s fans than they are like transactional customers of a store. Are you treating your best customers like fans? You might need to think a bit more like a rock star or an edgy comedian and work to produce personal and impactful moments of “Wow!”

Remember to Tip Your Wait Staff

The final take-away here — none of the stuff C.K. did above is really in his job description as “the talent.” Usually the channel distribution, marketing, and customer communications are the purview of business managers and record labels. C.K. just did it anyway. This is important to note because I know that just a few of you read this and had the little voice pipe-up and start saying, “Well, that’s nice but we couldn’t do that for X, Y, and Z reasons.” This would have been the easy answer for C.K. anywhere along his journey. Instead, he was brave and decided to be the change in his business.

Ultimately, we don’t just want “repeat customers.” We want rabid fans. Entertainers, especially those that are digitally savvy like C.K., have several tips and tricks we can adopt to build more closer, emotional connections with our community. And if we do it right, we’ll even end up selling more too.

Who treats their fans right that you could emulate for your brand? As always, I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.

Photo via Flickr user 1323

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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.