Let’s take a closer look at the Marketing Mantra that we mentioned last time:
Attract generally; attract specifically; engage fully; provide more.
Using this sequence, you can discover your audience, service them and enthuse almost anybody about anything. Deviate from it or any of its steps, and you can end up in the marketing wasteland where many of you probably reside currently.
Here’s how it works:
Have you ever tried to sell a specific product (like your book) to a general audience (like the world at large)? This amounts to lobbing tennis balls into an auditorium full of strangers, as we theorised in an earlier article in this series — the result is that you soon become an annoyance and end up expelled from the arena, with hardly anyone catching your tennis balls.
No— it’s very difficult to sell a specific product to a general audience. Having said that, this is what a great deal of ‘conventional’ marketing tries to do, which is where Google ads and Facebook ads and search engine optimisation and all the rest of that paraphernalia come in: they are ‘shouting from the rooftops’ while making an effort to isolate a more specific audience through algorithmically targeted promotion.
Conventional approaches like that are a bit like a bunch of hunters firing off arrows into the forest in the hope of hitting edible prey. Slightly more sophisticated approaches, using tailor-made audience descriptors, are like the same archers firing off arrows into a part of the forest where edible prey is known to hang out — hence a slightly higher success rate. But still pretty random.
When human beings moved from depending on nomadic hunters for food to the domestication of animals and growing their own food, civilisation took a big leap out of a subsistence level of survival up to something a little more sustainable. And the same thing can be done by using organic marketing.
Organic marketing says ‘Attract generally’. What does this mean? It means the equivalent of domesticating your ‘food’.
You create vehicles, spaces, zones — in practical terms, social media groups — into which you entice your slightly more specific audience out of the general ‘forest’ and into an area that you control. Social media empowers authors to do this — it wasn’t really possible before, unless you owned your own bookshop.
As you filter out a slightly more specific audience from the general background of ‘readers’, you begin to create ‘warm prospects’ — people who have at least some inkling of awareness or interest in your work or similar works.
This is where the more conventional tools of the trade come into play. I call them ’external tools’ because they are on the outside of your book: the cover, the blurb, the way the book is positioned with others of its kind, any connected advertising campaign and so on. This is aimed at people who have not read your book — these are the ‘warm prospects’ who have wandered into the general vicinity of your work because of their related interests.
Covers, blurbs and so forth should NOT be attempts to ‘tell the story’ of the book; nor should they be simply based on 'what the author likes’. A swift scan of some self-published books on the internet will soon disabuse you of the notion that ‘the author knows best’ when it comes to these elements. ‘I like it’ is often the worst reason for accepting a particular cover design, and the number of blurbs I have seen which are story summaries (and therefore ineffective) is unnumbered.
So what should they be?
Book covers and blurbs and posters and all the rest are ‘attention-gathering tools’. They should be designed to grab, hook and pull in attention. How do they do this? A cover does it by a) appearing similar enough to books of a related kind to send out the signal to the passing browser that ‘This book belongs to such-and-such a genre’ but it should also b) appear different enough to stand out. It’s that gap — the gap between the similarity of the book to others of its type and the difference which makes it unique— which sucks the attention in like a vacuum cleaner.
You need a cover to suck enough attention in that the passer-by then reads the blurb.
A blurb should take the maximum vacuum power of the story — the key gap, hole, threat, risk, loss or other ‘vacuum’ at the heart of the tale— and compress it into a powerful statement which leaves the reader wondering what the outcome of things will be.
You need a blurb to be strong enough for the potential reader to open up the first page and read it.
At that exact point we switch to the next part of the mantra.
As soon as the potential reader turns to the first page of your book, you should emit a little cheer — so far all your ‘external’ marketing work has succeeded. You’ve drawn the general reader into an area that you control, and then turned him or her into a specific reader by attracting enough attention to get that first page opened. Now everything depends upon your story itself.
To engage readers fully, your work needs to apply the principles contained in my book How Stories Really Work. These are principles which have been in operation since storytelling began and which lie behind the success of every great and good piece of fiction ever written or spoken. Of course, hardly any of these authors read my book before they penned these masterworks — my book was only published in 2016. But How Stories Really Work is a condensed analysis of what every successful author has done to create an effective piece of fiction throughout history.
In summary, this is the use of highly specific tools to grab, glue and guide readers through a story, scene by scene, until some kind of resolution occurs.
Using these tools — tools ‘internal’ to the story — the author makes sure that readers are fully engaged and complete the tale with some kind of emotional impact having occurred.
If all has worked well to this point, we can move onto the final part of the mantra.
A reader who has been drawn in from the wilderness, attracted to a specific product and then engaged fully through to its end will reach for more. A writer who wants to be successful in commercial terms will provide more and more material for fans to buy and read. The end result of this is that the writer will grow a viable following of fans and superfans, readers who will eagerly await the next release, thus ensuring commercial growth from there on out.
Learn this mantra; remember it. It can be applied to any product: if you were trying to sell pizzas, the same mantra applies — you would attract a general pizza-eating audience, focus them on your specific pizza with packaging and advertising copy, and engage them fully with great flavours and satisfying consumption. The more satisfied your customers would be, the more of your pizzas they would want to buy.
What makes organic marketing successful where conventional marketing so often fails is that it puts the producer in control of what happens, just like agriculture put human society in control of its future in ages past. You no longer depend on random arrows striking suitable prey; you ‘grow your own’ supply.
More soon, but if you’re impatient, check out my ebook The Seven Levels of Attention.