Marketing in the Digital Age

20 Jan|Cathleen Mair

Event report, by Cathleen Mair

On Tuesday 20 January, fifteen of us gathered at the Albion in Clerkenwell for the first in a series of business seminars for bohemians and creative entrepreneurs. Tonight’s class was with Tim Hunt, former marketing director of the Guardian, and now advisor to audio start-up Curio, and our host was Tom of the Idler.

Tom opened the seminar with the gentle reminder that, unfortunately, art doesn’t sell itself. Every good artist has to learn to market themselves. Think Damien Hirst. Think the Beatles. This probably wasn’t news to our group of bohemians. We had a sculptor and street artist in our midst, but also an amateur upholsterer, two commercial film makers keen to move into independent film and an interior designer setting up a literary retreat in Ibiza – all set on turning their passion projects into a business.

But, as one person pointed out, how can you be innovative and make yourself heard above all the digital noise?

Tim suggested the digital age is actually a fantastic time to be running a small creative business. Never before has there been such a wealth of free or cheap tools to help you with your marketing, from Mailchimp to SurveyMonkey, and we are increasingly moving away from thinking in a linear way about the customer-product relationship. As the success of Uber and Deliveroo indicate, entrepreneurs are better suited to succeeding in the complex network of interactions that take place in the digital world.

And now, perhaps more than ever, having a heart and being authentic matters.

No one has an audience anymore, argued Tim. Instead, businesses are increasingly formed around communities, replicating the way in which interaction takes place online. Having a clearly-defined purpose and a story to tell as a small business or an artist truly sets you apart in this sense, allowing you to build a community around your product. And communities are great tools for entrepreneurs: not only do they allow you to get valuable feedback and insight from your users, but true fans can also help do your marketing for you!

As a result of this shift, the way we talk to customers has also changed. Speak to customers like you would any human being, suggested Tim. Use humour and share the stuff behind the scenes, inviting people to join the journey. Dojo, the London-based city listings app, was cited as an effective example of such colloquial communication with users. Innocent Smoothies’ distinctive but funny tone of voice similarly contributed to its success. Spend time getting to know your audience, where they hang out and how they communicate with each other so that you can tailor your message to them.

On the topic of social media, Tim warned of the risks of wasting time on Facebook and Twitter. Social media works to scale engagement once you have a presence; building a beautiful Instagram feed is useless if no one sees it. Prioritise things that actually give you return on investment of time and money. Partnerships and live events, for example, can be useful for reaching new audiences and scaling your reach. In all of this, knowing your audience is obviously key. If you’re building beautifully upholstered benches, the Pinterest community might be a great place to build a brand. Which social network works for you depends on what you’re creating and who you’re creating it for.

That said, Tim underlined the continued importance of the mailing list. Email is the single best way to communicate with your audience: it is a relationship of trust worth building. Often overlooked in favour of the younger and trendier social networks, email remains a key way of communicating directly with your community and most likely, the best sales channel you can build.

Yet, while all marketing may be digital now, creating valuable, physical experiences, rooted in community, is crucial. Indeed, as Tom reminded us towards the end of the evening, the quality of your product should be the priority. Don’t lose sight of your creativity and your art.


Join us for our next Business for Bohemians seminar on accounting with Johnny Martin, the numbers coach, on 17th January. The final seminar is with Hilary Gallo, former corporate lawyer and author, on negotiation, which takes place on 31st January. Book here.