Marketing Your Art the Right Way

Selling Art, Not Selling Out

Nicolas Cole on Learning from Everything You do, the Importance of Helping Others, and the Benefit of Marketing- Cracking Creativity Episode 63

Nicolas Cole looks like someone out of a fitness magazine, but it hasn’t always been that way. When he was growing up, he was sick almost every day. By the time he was 17 years old, he weighed less than 100 pounds. He missed school a lot and didn’t have many friends. So he turned to World of Warcraft.

World of Warcraft became his escape from life. He played so much that he was one of the top players in the entire game. That is until he was faced with a tough decision. He could either continue to pursue his video game career on his own or receive his parents’ help and go to college. He chose college.

It was at this point that Nicolas took the principles from gaming and applied them to fitness. He went from less than 100 pounds to 170 pounds by gamifying his workout routines. He also wrote about his fitness routines and his journey on Quora and became one of its top writers.

In this episode find out why you should learn from everything you do, why you should help others, and why marketing is not your enemy.

Here are three things you can learn from Nicolas:

Learning from Everything You Do

One of the biggest lessons Nicolas learned was applying knowledge he learned from one industry and applying it to another. That’s exactly what happened when he started to pursue fitness. He took the lessons from World of Warcraft and used them to become fit.

Nicolas believes this is what separates the most creative people from everyone else. “If you look at the most creative people out there, they are the people who are most open to that question. They’re okay looking at every single thing, every single industry, different, the same, all over the board, and asking the question, ‘What can I learn from this?'”

It’s also the difference between people who are innovative and those who aren’t. “True innovation is really at that intersection between almost conflicting, but somewhat parallel industries. And it’s really the intersection between art and marketing.”

He believes artists can benefit the most from this concept. “Even if you’re an artist, it’s not just about your art in your industry because your art in your industry might seem the same as it’s always been done, and you’ll never stand out. But if you bring it to a different space, you could be the most innovative person on the planet.”

Help Other People

One of the things Nicolas learned was you don’t have to be special to stand out. Many people have this misguided idea that those who succeed are special, but they aren’t.

Nicolas points to himself as an example. “That’s the whole story you want to share with people is I wasn’t special. I was the farthest thing from special. And I can’t tell you how many people told me that I was crazy.”

Nicolas gained about eighty pounds of muscle over a few years, not because he was special, but because he was persistent and someone helped show him the way.

Nicolas believes this guidance was crucial to his journey and thinks people who get help should also pay it forward. “When you have someone do that for you, it’s really important, I think, to then, you go back and you do it for the next person. And whether it’s a one on one situation or whether it’s just ‘I’m going to take everything I learned, and I’m going to put it out, I’m going to make it accessible, and I’m going to try and reach the largest audience possible’, either way, it’s important for that kid to know that’s it’s not about being special. It’s not about ‘I was gifted and you’re not.’ It’s just you make the decision that you’re going to make this happen, and here, ‘I’ve learned these lessons the hard way, I’m going to pass them on to you so you don’t have to learn them the hard way. And then just follow the path that I took and you’ll hit the same results.'”

Nicolas believes whether you do it yourself or get help you should give back. “It’s one of those things too that, if you do have to do it yourself, it kind of gives you a different skin, but at the same time, I think it’s also important to go back and help the next kid.”

Marketing is Not Your Enemy

Artists are notorious for their resistance to marketing. Nicolas believes it isn’t about being pushy. It’s about getting yourself out there and fighting to be seen in this noisy world. “I think that when you’re an artist… when you’re creating something that is your own, from scratch, it’s a very different sort of place energetically than when you’re extroverted, and you’re trying to get people to pay attention to it. And so I think a lot of people will see those as conflict. They see those two sides as almost working against each other. And that’s why a lot of artists are not big on wanting to learn marketing or understanding how it works, but when you really step into it, and this is something I learned first hand, is that marketing is an art in itself. It is an art to get people to listen to what you have to say, especially in 2016 when there are so many social media channels, and so many ways to communicate with people. It’s a very noisy world. So, getting heard through all of that, is an art.”

This lesson is something he had to learn first hand. And the way that he did it, like he does everything else, is by re-framing it. “Again it goes back to the re-frame. You could be the artist that is insanely creative, but you see marketing as a burden. And you fight it and you’re the victim and nobody understands, and you’re super creative, and I shouldn’t have to market this. Okay, that is a road, and you’re fully allowed to take that road if you like, but if you re-frame it, and you realize you now have more control than ever to expand your art, and now your art isn’t just what people listen to or read or see, but it’s also how they get there and how they see it. And the process of after they’ve consumed your art,,How do they stay in touch with you? What about you learn about yourself outside of your art?… There’s so much more that you can do for yourself as an artist when you see the whole thing as art. You see it all as working pieces. And you realize that when you just put a couple of pieces in play that will allow you to make money, okay, there’s nothing wrong with that. But taking ownership and having the confidence to step into that challenge and realize that it’s all an art. The end product is art and how people got there in the first place is art.”

Shownotes

  • about Cole
    • intersection of creativity and getting your work out into the world
    • interests in different and conflicting industries
    • passions include fitness and had a passion for competitive gaming, health space, creative marketing, and writing
      • combining passions into a story that people can follow
    • Skinny to Shredded
      • people wanted to learn from how he became fit
      • at 17-18 he was less than 100 pounds, now up to 170 pounds
      • broke it down for people so they could learn from him
    • Confessions of a Teenage Gamer
      • being a teenager who was sick
      • missed school and didn’t have many friends
      • played a lot of World of Warcraft and became a top player
      • story of how it all got started

4:19 “There’s a huge disconnect between people that think ‘I have to fit into this niche or I have to fit in this one thing in order to be successful.'”

  • growing up not knowing he was sick
    • felt like he had a sickness every day
    • wondered if this is what it was going to be like for the rest of his life
    • used World of Warfcraft as an escape
    • learned discipline at a young age which he has applied to bodybuilding, music, school, marketing and everything else

9:24 “I learned the fact that, when you really apply yourself to something, and you’re disciplined about it, even if it’s a video game, you learn a fundamental lesson about discipline and of goal setting, that it really doesn’t matter how you learned it, once you learn it, you can apply it to everything.”

  • developing discipline
    • finds questions on Quora and answers them
    • his profile on Quora
    • believes mentors are extremely important
    • had a mentor in World of Warcraft
      • sought out player to learn from
      • learned from him for eight months
    • didn’t have an option for being disciplined because of his sickness
      • learned the lesson inherently
    • period where he decided to quit WoW
      • he felt lost because he spent so much time in the game
    • saw the biggest parallel through fitness
      • was like a video game in real life
      • challenges, levels, etc.

13:24 “When you take something that has been the foundation of your life for four years and you decide to give it up, you sorta like around like, ‘Well then, who am I? What am I doing now?’ And so, it took me about two years after that to distill and think back and realize what I had learned from the game. And it wasn’t just World of Warcraft specific. And taking those lessons and looking for new goals and new challenges, applying those same lessons, and drawing the parallel and seeing them through.”

14:40 “When you get into any sort of hobby or passion or something that you’re passionate about, even marketing, I find marketing to be a whole art in itself. When you get into it, it’s really fun, and when you break it down, it’s all the same. Every industry, every interest, you start at level one. You learn the basics. You move up… with each level you go up you meet better and better people. There’s better competition. You have to work harder. You have to stay at the top of your game. There are strategies to everything. It’s all the same lessons. It’s just a lot of times we miss that because we think it’s all industry specific or talent specific.”

  • learning lessons from everything you do
    • it’s not about liking something or not liking something, it’s a question of why
    • Why does it work?
      • asking why is not subjective, it allows you to learn
    • saying something is good or not good doesn’t help you
    • Taylor Swift – you don’t have to like her but you can learn something from her
      • What can you learn from her?
      • the most creative people are open to the question
      • people who are open are more creative
    • founder of Lulu Lemon
      • dad was gym teacher and mom was a seamstress
      • saw the intersection and created higher end gym clothing
      • created new market of gym fashion

18:04 “If you look at the most creative people out there, they are the people who are most open to that question. They’re okay looking at every single thing, every single industry, different, the same, all over the board, and asking the question, ‘What can I learn from this?'”

19:04 “True innovation is really at that intersection between almost conflicting, but somewhat parallel industries. And it’s really the intersection between art and marketing.”

20:08 “Even if you’re an artist, it’s not just about your art in your industry because your art in your industry might seem the same as it’s always been done and you’ll never stand out. But if you bring it to a different space, you could be the most innovative person on the planet.”

  • why he decided to stop professional gaming
    • realized the game itself changed
    • wasn’t as into it anymore
    • a lot of people are not supportive of his gaming
    • he was give the option to go to college with help or pursue WoW without help
    • contributed to his feeling of being lost
    • had a blog and wanted to get involved in eSports, but it was new in 2007
    • was part of the group that laid the foundation for people to make money through Youtube/blogging/etc
  • why he pursued fitness
    • went to the gym for health reasons
    • learned he had Celiac Disease and had to change his diet
      • from pizza, chips, burritos, etc. to brown, rice chicken, and vegetables
      • had a fractured spine because of hockey
    • also learned he had form of arthritis
      • needed to keep muscles around spine active and healthy or they would atrophy
      • had two options: he could either take a pill or become more active
      • started going to the gym
    • combined need to be active with bodybuilder’s diet
    • re-framed his mindset to that of a sport
    • set goals, and changed to a healthy diet
    • Jairek Robbins recounts his time as a logger thinking he was better than the job and how he changed that mindset
    • The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday – turning obstacles into your advantage
      • they come from as far back as Marcus Aurelius
      • translating lessons from history
      • learning through biographies and the best lessons people have to teach us

28:30 “I think re-framing everything, that’s the whole point of us having challenges. You have to find a way to re-frame it and have it work to your advantage. And If I really wanted to look back at my story, my journey, all of those important pivot points have been because of a re-frame. It’s taking something that I could have seen as negative and instead making it work to my advantage of when you can do something like that, you notice your growth is exponential.”

30:30 “I think the more that people talk about it and the more they challenge themselves to look at the things that are really tough, but finding ways to make it work for them instead, that’s where the real growth happens.”

  • the importance of giving people what they are asking for
    • two months after starting on Quora
    • started reading and writing there
    • Is it possible to change your mentality such that you cannot recognize yourself anymore?
      • quickly wrote two paragraph answer
      • took before and after pictures (looked like completely different people)
      • 3-4 hours later, friend told him he was on the front page of Reddit
      • answer got over a million views
      • people kept asking him the same questions: What did you eat? What was your workout?
      • decided to put up eBook of what he ate and the workouts he did
      • put up site on Squarespace
      • sold copies in ten countries
      • look for questions people are looking for
      • lesson in getting things done
      • has been working on current book for five years
      • put it together in one weekend

35:58 “When you have an idea, get it done. It’s not going to be perfect. That’s the whole point. Nothing is going to be perfect. It’s a constant journey. So, do it to the best of your ability for right now, and get it out, and move on.”

  • The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
    • Resistance preventing you from doing what you want to do
    • it’s better to finish than try and make something perfect
    • get over your perfectionism
  • stuff he put in his workout book
    • put some mindset things in but wanted to save his story for his new book
    • wants books to complement each other
    • not being special, just being determined
    • other people telling him he was crazy
    • helping others and having a mentor
      • mentor showed him how to do it
      • trained with him over a year
    • being accountable to other people as well as yourself
    • surround yourself with people who will keep you accountable

40:00 “That’s the whole story you want to share with people is I wasn’t special. I was the farthest thing from special. And I can’t tell you how many people told me that I was crazy.”

40:34 “It’s one of those things too that, if you do have to do it yourself, it kind of gives you a different skin, but at the same time, I think it’s also important to go back and help the next kid.”

41:28 “When you have someone do that for you, it’s really important, I think, to then, you go back and you do it for the next person. And whether it’s a one on one situation or whether it’s just ‘I’m going to take everything I learned, and I’m going to put it out, I’m going to make it accessible, and I’m going to try and reach the largest audience possible’, either way, it’s important for that kid to know that’s it’s not about being special. It’s not about ‘I was gifted and you’re not.’ It’s just you make the decision that you’re going to make this happen, and here, ‘I’ve learned these lessons the hard way, I’m going to pass them on to you so you don’t have to learn them the hard way. And then just follow the path that I took and you’ll hit the same results.'”

  • physical transformation
    • started lifting at 19-20 and started seriously at 20-21
    • realization that his diet is what affected his transformation
    • phases for the reactions he got
    • at first he thought it was amazing b/c people were paying attention to him
    • it gave him a false sense of confidence
      • thought his external appearance would change things, but it doesn’t on its own
    • attention vs. greater sense of self and intention
  • gaining confidence
    • it happens as a process
    • attraction/attention as a result of what he looked like or who he was
    • pickup artists – becoming more comfortable with the process
    • being good with who you are and the process
    • you’re not selling, you’re trying to work together for mutual benefit
    • giving other people the opportunity to do great work and being yourself
    • there’s no formula for confidence
    • know who you are and you will attract the right people

48:44 “It’s just  this process of getting clear on who you are, what you bring to the table, and just putting yourself out there. And doing it over and over again.”

51:05 “You’re not selling them on ‘Look at how awesome I am. This is why you should date me, or this is why you should be friends with me or work with me.’ You’re just cool with who you are and what you’re about, and that’s real confidence. And people are attracted to that. And then you realize… you’re not asking a girl out, you’re giving her an opportunity.”

  • approach to writing
    • write every day (journals, blog, Instagram, etc.)
    • social media lets you practice writing in public
    • Mastery by Robert Greene
      • examples of how people mastered their craft
      • Beatles hit 10,000 hours of practice before they became popular
      • 10,000 hours in private vs. in the public
      • Beatles practiced in public
      • played for 8-9 hours per day
  • first thing he published on Quora
    • talked about contributing writing for Elite Daily
    • figured out he didn’t want to write factual pieces
    • figured out questions on Quora are just the starting point
    • people are interested in the story
    • stories being more powerful than facts
    • the power of writing every day
    • course on how to be a top writer on Quora
    • writing one good answer a day
    • friend took course, in less than 2 months had 100k+ views and been published in three publications
  • leveraging the opportunities in front of you
    • never knowing which thing people will resonate with
    • consistency will always win

1:00:50 “It’s like, once you understand and you find ‘Here’s how you play the game well, just go. Just keep practicing.'”

  • job as a digital marketer
    • works at Idea Booth – everything from digital marketing to experiential events
    • he directs social media creative
    • also does influencer marketing
      • finding thought leaders in a niche and targeting their audience in collaborative way
      • reaching out to foodies with Instagram marketing for restaurants
      • Tim Ferriss as an influencer
      • 5-10 years from now resumes might become extinct
      • having an audience and doing things on your own
    • your network helping you
    • building trust

1:06:21 “I think that people are going to see really soon that one of the most valuable things you can have isn’t really ‘Oh I was part of this school club or whatever’ on my resume. It’s do you have an audience or not.”

1:07:31 “It’s hard to explain to a lot of people, but, especially when you’re young, I think. You come out the gate, and you’re like ‘I’m going to charge for everything.’… You have to do a lot of free stuff. You have to a lot of free work and a lot of free collaborative efforts, and you have to see them as investments in yourself and in those relationships. Building your network, trying new things and using different people’s skill sets to make an even better product or an even better project. And then once you get to a point, you can start ‘I’m going to be more selective.'”

  • why artists push back
    • was against the idea of advertising when he was studying creative writing in college
    • the idealism of being an artist
    • getting your thoughts, feelings, and ideas out there
      • spreading info through art
    • Confessions of Teenage Gamer
      • what it was like to be a teenager that was sick
      • being sick during that time and being a ranked gamer
      • using Quora as a marketing channel through short story answers
        • people checking out his book because of his answers
      • putting pieces in different places all being art
    • building a connection through platforms
      • sharing a connection with people
      • appreciating what artist creates and the thought process of creating
    • marketing being a learning process
      • open-minded people will learn it faster
    • artist vs. marketer
    • J.R.R. Tolkien writing Lord of the Rings during World War I
      • Nicolas wrote a college paper on it
    • even big stars are trying to engage on a personal level
      • transparency, authenticity, and openness

1:09:53 “I think that when you’re an artist… when you’re creating something that is your own, from scratch, it’s a very different sort of place energetically than when you’re extroverted, and you’re trying to get people to pay attention to it. And so I think a lot of people will see those as conflict. They see those two sides as almost working against each other. And that’s why a lot of artists are not big on wanting to learn marketing or understanding how it works, but when you really step into it, and this is something I learned first hand, is that marketing is an art in itself. It is an art to get people to listen to what you have to say, especially in 2016 when there are so many social media channels, and so many ways to communicate with people. It’s a very noisy world. So, getting heard through all of that, is an art.”

1:11:03 “Again it goes back to the re-frame. You could be the artist that is insanely creative, but you see marketing as a burden. And you fight it and you’re the victim and nobody understands, and you’re super creative, and I shouldn’t have to market this. Okay, that is a road, and you’re fully allowed to take that road if you like, but if you re-frame it, and you realize you now have more control than ever to expand your art, and now your art isn’t just what people listen to or read or see, but it’s also how they get there and how they see it. And the process of after they’ve consumed your art,,How do they stay in touch with you? What about you learn about yourself outside of your art?… There’s so much more that you can do for yourself as an artist when you see the whole thing as art. You see it all as working pieces. And you realize that when you just put a couple of pieces in play that will allow you to make money, okay, there’s nothing wrong with that. But taking ownership and having the confidence to step into that challenge and realize that it’s all an art. The end product is art and how people got there in the first place is art.”

1:15:55 “A lot of people don’t even realize they’re marketing themselves. They’re like, ‘I’m going to start a blog and talk about my art. but I don’t want to market.’ You’re doing that already, you are just calling it a different thing.”

1:18:48 “People are starting to realize that it’s all about transparency. It’s all about being very authentic and very who you are and very open and sharing that. It’s not about ‘I’m going to create this facade. I’m going to hide behind it. You’re never going to see me again.'”

  • after releasing memoir
    • celebrate it
    • longest project he’s ever worked on
    • at some point he realized it needs to be done
    • wants to build more with fitness
    • six books he plans on writing afterword
    • Nerd Fitness
  • favorite quote
    • approaching things like they are fresh and new without needing to be perfect
    • trying something new, risk, and reinvention without pressure
    • once Elizabeth Gilbert finishes a book, she lets go of it

1:22:04 “The joy of reinvention removes the pressure for perfection.” – Steve Jobs

  • morning routine
    • makes sure to meditate for 15 minutes every morning
    • usually reads poetry or something similar
      • reading 365 Tao by Ming-Dao Deng  – tidbits to get you thinking
      • his meditation is about feeling
      • find your center, then set intention for the day
    • things changed for the better once he started meditating
    • stopped for a year and everything went wrong
      • looked at every aspect of his life, but didn’t know why he was stressed
      • 10-15 min of meditation in the morning are crucial
    • you don’t need to start with 10 min, you can start at 3-5 min. and work your way up
    • sit in silence and ask “Where am I at?”
  • creative people
    • head of creative at Idea Booth
      • taught Nicolas how creativity and marketing are related
    • BGO – Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious
      • biggest answers are the simplest
      • takes someone who can look at the whole landscape
      • Chief Creative Officer
        • former CCO of Digitas
  • learning resources
  • definition of creativity

1:34:07 “I think creativity is the intersection of two ideas. A lot of people might think it’s just an idea, like it’s one thing, but really, when you think about it, something that’s creative takes two things, or more than two things and it jams them together. It kind of smears it around and creates something new as a result. So it’s not really one thing that is creative. The one things is a product of two things.”

  • how to be more creative
    • expose yourself to new things and combine them with other things to create something new

1:33:38 “I think what anyone can do to be more creative is to expose yourself to as many things as possible because whether you’re reading, whether you’re traveling, whether you’re talking to people, and especially what you’re experiencing, all of those things are going to contribute to your creativity.”

  • challenge
    • put something out every day, no matter how small, how big, where, how, or where you do it
    • the act of consistency teaches you more than trying to make something perfect

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