Five things you can do with merch to deepen your relationship with your audience.

Pump It Up Magazine Radio

[This article was written by Vanessa A. Ferrer, founder and CEO of Merch Cat.]

“Fan engagement” and “direct-to-fan” are hot topics these days because it’s finally come to light that fans are the real gatekeepers in the music business. And by now we should also know that merchandise is one of the surefire ways that artists can make solid money today.

Like most other revenue streams for artists, being successful at your merch biz is highly dependent on your fans.

The good news is that in addition to being a cash generator, your merch can actually be used as a fan-engagement tool. When you’re using your merch to engage your fans, they’ll feel connected to you. When they feel connected and a part of your journey, they will be likely to buy more.

So how exactly can you use merch to engage your fans?

1. Offer limited edition and exclusive merch items

Nothing gets a fan going like fear of missing out (FOMO). It’s the good ole law of supply and demand. Limited supply = greater demand, and when it comes to exclusives, your fans will likely act on the fear of never being able to obtain that item again.

A Nielsen 2013 study revealed that fans would spend $2.6B more a year if they had opportunities to buy exclusives and behind-the-scenes content. We can only guess that the dollar amount has grown over the past few years.

This is pretty easy to do. If you’re touring or have a web store, kick off a new season with items that will only be available for a couple of months or the length of your tour. If you’re on tour, create items specific to that tour or album you’re promoting — or if you want to get more personal, design a merch item that’s indicative of something that’s going on in the band’s world or represents someone in the band.

2. Specials at the merch table at your shows

The best time to get your fans to buy is when you have them in person and they’re running on the adrenaline of a “concert high,” this is why 80% or more of merch sales occur at live shows.

At your shows, offer deals like:

  • buy-one-get-one-half-off
  • discounts to the first 10 fans (or whatever number makes sense for you) at the merch table
  • special merch bundles

Deals offered ONLY at the merch table will get your fans coming over for fear of missing out, and it’s the perfect time for you or your merch person to have a chat with them if possible. Either way, the fan who’s basking in the glow of your awesome show and the deal they’re getting may just see something else they want to buy while you have them there.

3. Ask what items they’d like to see on your next merch run

Since your fans are the number one consumer of your merch, doesn’t it make sense to ask them what they’d like to see on your next merch run?

You may think they’d want a beanie, but maybe only a small number of fans actually wear beanies, and the majority would rather sport a trucker hat. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe your female fans are dying for a ladies T or tank, and maybe they’d help you think of things you never would’ve thought of putting out there.

Inviting your fans to contribute to ideas will keep them engaged, and also up your chances of selling the merch they suggest. Where should you do this? Wherever you can reach your audience, but we’d recommend email blast and social media.

4. Invite them to submit designs or help you choose one

Along the same lines of asking fans what items they’d like to see, another good way to engage them with merch is asking them to actually help you select the art – either by submitting something or by choosing from some designs you put out there. Either way this is a win/win because you’re inviting your fans to be part of your process, and you’ll likely be creating an item that they’ve already approved of, so you’re increasing your chance of sales.

5. Contests, call-to-action, and crowdfunding

Most of us already do this without realizing it, but creating calls-to-action and contests with merch as the reward is a great way to use merch as a fan engagement tool.

The best example of this is via a crowdfunding campaign on a platform like Kickstarter or PledgeMusic where merch is used or sold as an incentive for fundraising or as part of a pre-order campaign. Not up for that? Simply ask fans to post a picture with your merch using a special hashtag, and reward the person with the most likes with a meet-and-greet at your next show.

Ask fans to share their latest merch purchase on socials and in their network with a special code or link for others to buy it, and if a purchase results because of that share, reward them with more merch, a special item, or a ticket to your next show. Empower your fans with the tool; incentivize them to be your brand ambassadors and they will!

At Merch Cat, we believe that artists need better ways to capitalize on their merch business, specifically at the live show. This is why we started by building the Merch Cat platform to help you get the fundamentals down. We also recognized that artists need better ways to capture their fans in the moment at the live show, which is why we created Merch Cat FAN, coming in late spring. Merch Cat FAN will be connected to the Merch Cat app for central real-time inventory and sales tracking. It will allow fans to purchase your merch:

  1. in-app at shows, to pick up at the merch table or send home
  2. anytime, anywhere at your discretion. It will also easily capture fan data.

If you’re not already using Merch Cat to sell and manage merch at your shows, we invite you to get acquainted for 30 days on us before we launch our FAN app. Visit and use the promo code: MCFAN1.

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