Marketing matters to anyone wishing to build a business, advance a career, or become a viable author or thought leader. You know that.
But in the wrong doses and with the wrong timing, marketing can kill creativity, thwart innovation, and stall the very professional growth necessary for long-term or next-term success.
Ironically, too much reliance on marketing data at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons can create a brand or book that has the very qualities that lack authenticity and do not lead to brand loyalty.
I’ve actually had the following two conversations with branding clients recently. We were discussing how books help build brands and establish authority and thought leadership status.
Client 1: “I want to examine the current best-selling books, analyze which book categories are performing the best, and then create a book plan from there.”
Client 2: “I want to figure out what I have to say in my field and if I even like writing. And then after a while we can examine the market, platform-building, and marketing. Is that okay?”
Which client do you think is more likely to prosper in becoming a successful author and thought leader?
Maybe both. Maybe neither. It depends. The answers might surprise you.
Let’s Begin with What Sells
In the crowded marketplace of books and brands, there are still a few reliable factors that give a book or brand success.
Fascinating Ideas & Surprises
Fascinating ideas and surprising ideas sell well. Why? Because of how we human beings are wired. Certain emotions elicit powerful emotions that compel us to respond and want to share. But you cannot market-analyze your way to fascination.
33-year-old Jason Silva has been obsessed with awe, neuroscience, and reality for years. His Shots of Awe videos became a YouTube phenomenon, which also landed him a role as host for National Geographic’s BrainGames show.
Did Silva analyze the market to see if “awe” did well in the market? No. He is addicted to cognitive ecstasy and to the delightful combination of ideas. It turns out, though, that according to Jonah Berger’s research in Contagious: Why Things Catch On (a NYT best-seller) brands, products, articles, and books that inspire awe can become “contagious.”
Lewis Howes became obsessed with what makes people great. A former professional football player whose career got way-laid by injury, he is also the brother of Christian Howes, one of the world’s top jazz violinists. Surrounded by greatness combined with an inner drive to succeed, Howes shaped his urge and curiosity into a consistent brand via a podcast, consistent offers, and massive community-building that primed the field for his book The School of Greatness to become a New York Times best-seller and just landed him on Ellen. Twice in one month.
Struck with a competitive spirit, Howes might have aimed to write a NYT best-seller from the get-go, but he also knew that to do so would require much more than market analysis.
If you “write-to-market,” that’s fine, but chances are you will short-circuit the innovative approaches that could distinguish not only your book but also your business or brand.
A Great Trend Business Story
Software design firms like creative agencies can be brutal places to work. Richard Sheridan started off with a novel idea years ago: Build a design firm in which people actually enjoy working there. He founded Menlo Innovations in 2001 in Ann Arbor essentially with that premise. And it worked. From that, his company has earned champions and fans by constantly delivering on custom software via their signature High-Tech Anthropology approach. From that success story, he published Joy, Inc.: How We Built A Workplace People Love (Portfolio Penguin, 2015).
Mark Hatch has lived a similar story. Founder and CEO of TechShop, he has been a prime leader of the maker movement. The success stories and the take-aways Hatch has framed from those stories, he published The Maker Movement Manifesto – a book that furthered the cause.
What both of these thought leaders have in common is this: They started successful companies. They gathered credence and numerous successful stories. From that success they extrapolated the applicable principles. Those principles tied into a big trend, a cultural wave that made their books primed for publishing.
In neither case did they start a book strictly by over-analyzing the market.
The Personable Touch
What earns customer, community, and reader loyalty is the personable, surprising, creative touch.
For authors, that means they have to begin with an idea, a personal story, and/or a business story that they care about unfolding. To be personable, thought leaders can choose what failures and vulnerabilities they share and how they frame them. They can learn to fashion a public writing voice and brand voice that resonates with their character. But they rarely can manufacture the personable touch by market analysis.
Where to Start
Start with Care & Curiosity. Find your burning question borne from your or your business’s heritage and experience. Find the idea you cannot help but pursue over the next three years or more. If you’re not in it for at least three years, don’t bother building your business or starting a thought leader book.
You have to know in your heart of hearts what’s jazzing you about developing a brand or book. To earn $200 K or to build another $3 million in revenue doing what you love is not an intention. It’s a goal. A worthy goal, mind you, but still a goal.
Tell me what excites you about your work or the potential of your work in the world, why developing a brand or authoring a book and expanding your platform thrills you, how you love the process of what you do and the media in which you work, then maybe we’re getting at core intentions.
Tell me where you truly envision yourself a year from now at your best. Intentions drive you, day-in and day-out. 50-plus years of social psychology reiterates that purpose more than profit fuels most human beings in business and the arts and in general.
Then, if you have clearly defined annual revenue goals – a gross income goal, separate revenue stream goals, a profit goal – then a wise consultant or coach should take note and develop a strategy according to both your intentions and your goals.
Start with the Story You’ve Lived. Thoughtful leaders do two things: One, they tell a Story that captivates people, lifts them up, and brings them back for more. Two, they live that Story. The Story comes from their own lived experience, their professional experience, and their core principles derived from those experiences. Such leaders are not perfect. They’re complex and genuine, more full of solid character than sizzling personality.
How to Build
Apply Creative Process
Most corporations and agencies have creative departments and marketing departments. Creative develops the product. Marketing sells it. It’s an on-going, often messy process between the two. But creative trumps marketing in the sequence of things.
The creative process engages faculties other than the rational, analytical decision-maker. In fact, the beauty of the creative process is that it can help us become aware of what most psychologists and even economists consider about 95% of the embodied mind. Jonathan Haidt calls it the elephant mind that guides our political and moral decisions. Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman calls it the Lazy Controller. Timothy Wilson calls it the adaptive unconscious.
Imagination, emotions, and intuition are foundational faculties that drive and influence the little rational guy who thinks he’s in charge – the one who wants to analyze all the data before making a decision.
In creative cycles, you choose brand names and book titles and website architecture with imagination, emotion, intuition – and with marketing savvy. You take creative risks to step outside of what everyone else is doing while having integrity.
You identify and define the core of problems. You view problems and decisions from various angles – and trump your own assumptions about what you think you know to be true and right. You love your mind-at-work and at-play. It demands you love the material and the craft.
A client wrote me this note after discussing her website-in-process: “I deeply appreciated and enjoyed our conversations last week. Something mysterious and meaningful is happening as we talk about the project in these new ways, and I thank you!”
Another client wrote to say she no longer feels like a flaky freelancer but feels like a creative professional and that even her husband has recognized her increased focus, passion, and well-being.
Another corporate client – a marketing expert for a major corporation, no less – started her website as a catalyst to pursue her own creativity. She originally wanted the site to be a vehicle for self-expression. But we took it beyond that and found ways the site could fulfill her personal passion and fulfill her new professional pursuits. As we worked together, that prototype site led to her getting syndicated blogs. As we refined her storytelling and blog writing, she landed speaking gigs. As we refined her storytelling and speaking, a well-known publisher approached her to write a book.
The Emotional ROI
As much as some marketing specialists know how to play upon the chief emotions of consumers, they often do not understand the emotions that drive their clients (or themselves).
So, if you jump in with marketing strategy first, you’re likely making decisions from a superficial place, only about 5% of your mind’s pool, so to speak. What seems smart market-wise in the short-term can be deeply un-gratifying soul-wise in the long term.
If marketing trumps everything when developing a book or brand, you’re missing out on the “deeper” picture, not just the bigger picture. An aspiring author who – while drafting page 1 – thinks about the marketplace is doomed to fail or at least doomed to craft hack work. Why? She constantly will be second-guessing her own ideas, experience, and voice.
There’s nothing wrong with crafting hack work, by the way, if the author’s aim is to churn out work and get things done and make a few bucks. And if the author is a serial author with a huge following in standing, then that author has found a formula that works for an already defined marketplace.
Still, the thought leader with no market-savvy will starve. I have had to reiterate this point to more than one client – especially authors who sell their books for big advances who think they’re “set.” They’re not. If you’re a reader, read John B. Thompson’s Merchants of Culture to shutter at what the industry looks like. And then get with it. On your own terms.
Marketing has its Place
Marketing has its place. Its role comes once you have established your deep intentions and distinguished them from measurable, attainable, and action-oriented goals (also in place).
Just as a professional who wants to write and publish a nonfiction trade book should define an audience’s psycho- and demographics and should know the field’s market before wasting too much time drafting, a person who wants to launch an online business should define similar elements.
And yet, here’s the tricky thing: Good marketing requires you bring full empathy and imagination to the table.
Love it All
And then love your creative process while you can. Author of We Learn Nothing Tim Kreider talks about the absurd marketing steps he has taken since he finished his book. Here are some excerpts from the Times piece, “Like the Video? I Wrote the Book”:
“The sudden, insane hoola hoop-like popularity of social media and mass dinosaurian die-off of print has publishers panicked and willing to try anything, and so writers, typically reclusive types who are used to being able to do their jobs without putting on pants, now find themselves shoved on camera and hawking their books like mattresses on Presidents’ Day.”
“I now find myself, to my surprise, looking back wistfully at the two years I spent writing my book. ..For a long time I imagined that the time after I’d finally finished this book would be a kind of indolent, well-deserved afterlife. It’s hard to accept that the part you had to make it through to get where you thought you wanted to be was where you wanted to be all along. The part you hated was your favorite part.”
The ultimate stance is to love it all – the creative, the marketing, and everything in between.
It’s your one astonishing life after all. And you can’t sell that. (Can you?)
If this blog speaks to you I invite you to join our The Tracking Wonder Quest Community. Our community is comprised of professionals, entrepreneurs, creatives, teachers, coaches, and consultants dedicated to doing business from a place of authenticity and wonder. I’d be pleased to have you join us.