Ben Arment wrote a post the other day that inspired this one. As a matter of fact I ripped off his title (and modified it a little) but I only did so because he’s 100% right.
It you want to create a platform, regardless of whether you are an author, professional speaker, widget peddler, or service provider… it’s all about the distribution channel.
You can have the best product or idea in the world but if you can’t get it in front of potential buyers (i.e. generate awareness to an audience) then you might as well pack it up and go home.
Every day there are millions of ideas and new products that launch and die far before they really even have a chance to live. It’s not because they were bad, it’s just because they had poor distribution which led to the inability for enough potential to catch on (think Tipping Point).
What does a Distribution Channel look like?
Well, let’s take an author for example. An author can write a jammin’ book, top notch with excellent content but simply putting words to the page won’t make it sell or create an audience. You must have buyers and ways to connect with them. For the author, this is where the publisher comes in (at least in the traditional model). Publishers have distribution that most authors don’t. They can get books into stores and into the other sales channels usually far easier than an author can on their own. Access to these stores and other retail outlets provides a scale that many authors can’t create, at least not easily. And… even though we know the traditional model is rapidly changing, for now the example still fits.
Sure, you could self-publish or make a digital ebook but you still need distribution. You might not need a bookstore but you do need a way to get your message in front of the people who can consume it and that’s what distribution is really all about… the vehicle to get the product/idea to as many potential buyers as possible. That’s where a lot of people get confused too. They think simply having a blog and being on Twitter or Facebook is the answer but those are just tools that are a part of the mix, not the end all because guess what… you still need access to an audience.
Oh, and even if you do get access it doesn’t guarantee that you will have success. That’s the trick pony that there is no special formula for. People have to actually want what you have to offer once they see it.
To Rent or Own? That is the question.
There are two ways to access a channel. You can rent someone else’s or create one yourself, one that you own.
Depending on what it is you are trying to sell or share, renting could take on the form of advertising to someone else’s network (think placing ads on Facebook or getting your ___ promoted in the newsletter of another author or maybe a guest blog post on the blog of someone with more traffic than you, etc).
Then there’s the option of owning it. Owning takes more work (and time) because you often need to build it. You can invest and grow and sometimes even “Rent to Own” in strategic ways where you tap the power of someone else’ distribution channel with the purpose of building your own. This happens when you move beyond haphazard promotion onto strategic marketing geared towards long-term results. To own it, you must have a plan.
Owning it is best. It’s harder and takes longer (in the beginning especially) but you have far more control in the end… and one day when what you’ve built is big enough… you won’t really need to rely on the channels of others nearly as much as before (think Seth Godin moving from the traditional publishing model… which BTW works for him but doesn’t mean it will work for you. Seth has spent years building his platfoorm and most authors can’t just pick up and abandon the traditional system or a hybrid thereof just yet until they build channels of their own or at least better understand how to tap some of the alternative channels that are available).
Platform only Exists with Distribution
People talk a lot about “platform” these days, especially the “author platform,” but really platform is just a way to elevate your voice, a way to be seen (or heard) and rise above the crowd. There are many tools to build one. The problem is that it’s a big crowd with a lot of others fighting for a platform too. It can get noisy and the stage changes daily so you must be smart and proactive if you want your voice to get heard.