Julia Evans

A few early marketing thoughts

At some point last month I said I might write more about business, so here are some very early marketing thoughts for my zine business (https://wizardzines.com!). The question I’m trying to make some progress on in this post is: “how to do marketing in a way that feels good?”

what’s the point of marketing?

Okay! What’s marketing? What’s the point? I think the ideal way marketing works is:

  1. you somehow tell a person about a thing
  2. you explain somehow why the thing will be useful to them / why it is good
  3. they buy it and they like the thing because it’s what they expected

(or, when you explain it they see that they don’t want it and don’t buy it which is good too!!)

So basically as far as I can tell good marketing is just explaining what the thing is and why it is good in a clear way.

what internet marketing techniques do people use?

I’ve been thinking a bit about internet marketing techniques I see people using on me recently. Here are a few examples of internet marketing techniques I’ve seen:

  1. word of mouth (“have you seen this cool new thing?!”)
  2. twitter / instagram marketing (build a twitter/instagram account)
  3. email marketing (“build a mailing list with a bajillion people on it and sell to them”)
  4. email marketing (“tell your existing users about features that they already have that they might want to use”)
  5. social proof marketing (“jane from georgia bought a sweater”), eg fomo.com
  6. cart notifications (“you left this sweater in your cart??! did you mean to buy it? maybe you should buy it!“)
  7. content marketing (which is fine but whenever people refer to my writing as ‘content’ I get grumpy :))

you need some way to tell people about your stuff

Something that is definitely true about marketing is that you need some way to tell new people about the thing you are doing. So for me when I’m thinking about running a business it’s less about “should i do marketing” and more like “well obviously i have to do marketing, how do i do it in a way that i feel good about?”

what’s up with email marketing?

I feel like every single piece of internet marketing advice I read says “you need a mailing list”. This is advice that I haven’t really taken to heart – technically I have 2 mailing lists:

  1. the RSS feed for this blog, which sends out new blog posts to a mailing list for folks who don’t use RSS (which 3000 of you get)
  2. https://wizardzines.com's list, for comics / new zine announcements (780 people subscribe to that! thank you!)

but definitely neither of them is a Machine For Making Sales and I’ve put in almost no efforts in that direction yet.

here are a few things I’ve noticed about marketing mailing lists:

  • most marketing mailing lists are boring but some marketing mailing lists are actually interesting! For example I kind of like amy hoy’s emails.
  • Someone told me recently that they have 200,000 people on their mailing list (?!!) which made the “a mailing list is a machine for making money” concept make a lot more sense to me. I wonder if people who make a lot of money from their mailing lists all have huge 10k+ person mailing lists like this?

what works for me: twitter

Right now for my zines business I’d guess maybe 70% of my sales come from Twitter. The main thing I do is tweet pages from zines I’m working on (for example: yesterday’s comic about ss). The comics are usually good and fun so invariably they get tons of retweets, which means that I end up with lots of followers, which means that when I later put up the zine for sale lots of people will buy it.

And of course people don’t have to buy the zines, I post most of what ends up in my zines on twitter for free, so it feels like a nice way to do it. Everybody wins, I think.

(side note: when I started getting tons of new followers from my comics I was actually super worried that it would make my experience of Twitter way worse. That hasn’t happened! the new followers all seem totally reasonable and I still get a lot of really interesting twitter replies which is wonderful ❤)

I don’t try to hack/optimize this really: I just post comics when I make them and I try to make them good.

a small Twitter innovation: putting my website on the comics

Here’s one small marketing change that I made that I think makes sense!

In the past, I didn’t put anything about how to buy my comics on the comics I posted on Twitter, just my Twitter username. Like this:

After a while, I realized people were asking me all the time “hey, can I buy a book/collection? where do these come from? how do I get more?“! I think a marketing secret is “people actually want to buy things that are good, it is useful to tell people where they can buy things that are good”.

So just recently I’ve started adding my website and a note about my current project on the comics I post on Twitter. It doesn’t say much: just “❤ these comics? buy a collection! wizardzines.com” and “page 11 of my upcoming bite size networking zine”. Here’s what it looks like:

I feel like this strikes a pretty good balance between “julia you need to tell people what you’re doing otherwise how are they supposed to buy things from you” and “omg too many sales pitches everywhere”? I’ve only started doing this recently so we’ll see how it goes.

should I work on a mailing list?

It seems like the same thing that works on twitter would work by email if I wanted to put in the time (email people comics! when a zine comes out, email them about the zine and they can buy it if they want!).

One thing I LOVE about Twitter though is that people always reply to the comics I post with their own tips and tricks that they love and I often learn something new. I feel like email would be nowhere near as fun :)

But I still think this is a pretty good idea: keeping up with twitter can be time consuming and I bet a lot of people would like to get occasional email with programming drawings. (would you?)

One thing I’m not sure about is – a lot of marketing mailing lists seem to use somewhat aggressive techniques to get new emails (a lot of popups on a website, or adding everyone who signs up to their service / buys a thing to a marketing list) and while I’m basically fine with that (unsubscribing is easy!), I’m not sure that it’s what I’d want to do, and maybe less aggressive techniques will work just as well? We’ll see.

should I track conversion rates?

A piece of marketing advice I assume people give a lot is “be data driven, figure out what things convert the best, etc”. I don’t do this almost at all – gumroad used to tell me that most of my sales came from Twitter which was good to know, but right now I have basically no idea how it works.

Doing a bunch of work to track conversion rates feels bad to me: it seems like it would be really easy to go down a dumb rabbit hole of “oh, let’s try to increase conversion by 5%” instead of just focusing on making really good and cool things.

My guess is that what will work best for me for a while is to have some data that tells me in broad strokes how the business works (like “about 70% of sales come from twitter”) and just leave it at that.

should I do advertising?

I had a conversation with Kamal about this post that went:

  • julia: “hmm, maybe I should talk about ads?”
  • julia: “wait, are ads marketing?”
  • kamal: “yes ads are marketing”

So, ads! I don’t know anything about advertising except that you can advertise on Facebook or Twitter or Google. Some non-ethical questions I have about advertising:

  • how do you choose what keywords to advertise on?
  • are there actually cheap keywords, like is ‘file descriptors’ cheap?
  • how much do you need to pay per click? (for some weird linux keywords, google estimated 20 cents a click?)
  • can you use ads effectively for something that costs $10?

This seems nontrivial to learn about and I don’t think I’m going to try soon.

other marketing things

a few other things I’ve thought about:

  • I learned about “social proof marketing” sites like fomo.com yesterday which makes popups on your site like “someone bought COOL THING 3 hours ago”. This seems like it has some utility (people are actually buying things from me all the time, maybe that’s useful to share somehow?) but those popups feel a bit cheap to me and I don’t really think it’s something I’d want to do right now.
  • similarly a lot of sites like to inject these popups like “HELLO PLEASE SIGN UP FOR OUR MAILING LIST”. similar thoughts. I’ve been putting an email signup link in the footer which seems like a good balance between discoverable and annoying. As an example of a popup which isn’t too intrusive, though: nate berkopec has one on his site which feels really reasonable! (scroll to the bottom to see it)

Maybe marketing is all about “make your things discoverable without being annoying”? :)

that’s all!

Hopefully some of this was interesting! Obviously the most important thing in all of this is to make cool things that are useful to people, but I think cool useful writing does not actually sell itself!

If you have thoughts about what kinds of marketing have worked well for you / you’ve felt good about I would love to hear them!

Some nonparametric statistics math Networking tool comics!