Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Studies consistently show that word-of-mouth–one person advocating to another to try a product– is the most powerful marketing tool that exists. We employ others’ recommendations especially to select books, movies, and TV programs. But more than that, we actually ask for suggestions. “Please market to me,” we in essence are saying.
We all have go-to people in our lives, the folks who have the same reading and/or viewing tastes as we do. Being a foodie, I also have restaurant frequenters I turn to to point me in the right direction.
When I’m at a loss as to what to read next, I ask Rachelle Gardner. She’s a prolific reader, and while she and I don’t always agree on how much we liked a book, she has stimulating suggestions. I’ve also pinpointed certain film critics who can convince me via their reviews to check out a movie I didn’t know I wanted to see.
It’s all well and good to know that word-of-mouth is powerful, but how do you tap into it consistently and effectively?
Deliver the goods. If you write a strong manuscript time after time, you develop a following. And those who discover your books want to show how smart and insightful they are by telling their friends about you. They are choosing to attach their reading reputation to your writing reputation, which is exactly what you want.
Connect rather than collect. Avoid the trap of working to collect “likes,” whatever form they may take. That’s just a statistic. Instead concentrate on how to connect with your readers. In a Forbes article on the power of word-of-mouth (which you can read here),Suzanne Fanning, President of Word of Mouth Marketing Association, advises, “Give your fans the gift of you.” That sums up how to approach each opportunity to connect with your readers, whether that’s online or in person.
I remember Dani Pettrey telling me about a book signing she had earlier this year in which only a handful of readers turned out. (It was a dark and stormy night, making it challenging for fans to get to the store.) Despite the small number, Dani describes that as the best book signing she’s ever had because she had the opportunity to connect on a deeper level with each person. I just know those fans increased their loyalty and enthusiasm multiple times because of that event.
Give them reasons to talk. Be funny, be inspirational, be open. Don’t be afraid to let readers get to know the real you. Above all, provide them with material they can “talk” about, whether online or in person. “It really depends on you understanding your consumers and what they like about you and providing whatever it is they need from you,” Fanning observes.
I appreciate that she specifies the importance of knowing: 1) what readers like about you and 2) what they need from you. Those are two different elements and can help you to decide what you share about yourself.
And it helps to direct how you write and what you write about.
I remember a few years ago walking with Debbie Macomber several blocks in San Francisco to a restaurant. A man was shoving his way through the crowds of people, and it occurred to me that, if he happened onto someone with physical challenges, the man might well ruthlessly push that person aside.
“You should put that guy in one of your novels and make him infamous,” I joked to Debbie.
She responded, “Oh, no, I’d never put someone so nasty in one of my books. My readers don’t like that sort of person.”
I was surprised at the adamant way Debbie was “taking care of” her readers. But I appreciated that she would never foist a character on them they had no interest in meeting. Debbie knows what her readers like about her (she’s seriously nice) and what they need from her (uplifting stories).
Give readers a voice. Ask them to vote for their favorite cover design, to name a character, to choose a title. Use your imagination as to ways to invite readers to invest in the creative process with you.
Fanning points out in the Forbes article: “Lay’s is an excellent example to highlight how they empowered their fans to ‘Do Us a Flavor,’ and allow consumers to create a new flavor of potato chips to hit store shelves. Over 3.8 million submissions were sent in 2013, making it one of the biggest marketing campaigns for PepsiCo-owned Frito-Lay.”
Promote others. Help others to be successful, especially those who garner the same sort of reader you do. Yes, we’re talking about your competitors. By building them up, you’re establishing yourself as an influencer, a voice to pay attention to. And when you help others, they, in turn, will want to help you. Not to mention that it’s a gracious way to behave.
Ask readers to show off how much they love your book(s). Put together a FB or Instagram photo contest with readers in various settings holding your book. You could create several categories of winners so more than one person could earn a prize.
Ask readers to share with their friends and followers a video on how your cover was made. Becky Wade created How This Cover Was Made videos for each of her recent releases. Whenever I see that she has a new book out, I trot over to her website to watch the video. I find them engaging and fun, with the chance to meet the cover models and to hear about what was the first strand of the idea for her latest book’s “spiderweb,” as Becky describes her plots. You can check out her latest video here.
As a final bit of advice, take heed of this: John Moore, marketer for Starbucks and Whole Foods says, “If people are not talking about you, they are forgetting about you.”
Recall for us a time you saw the power of word-of-mouth at work. What creative ideas have you used to get word-of-mouth going?
How to tap into the power of word-of-mouth. Click to tweet.
Writers: Give the gift of you to your fans. Click to tweet.
Interesting post, and I loved the story about Debbie macomber. I feel the same way; I don’t write nasty characters. Even needed villains have a good side. The ‘character you love to hate;’ has no place in my writing heart, or words.
* There are two methods I’ve used that I hope would generate word-of-mouth, though I have no real way to make a quantitative judgement of how effective they are.
* At book signings (I’ve held, I think, seven) I remained standing, and greeted people as they approached, even if they looked to be walking past. Some returned the greeting without stopping, some just walked on, and some topped to chat. I gave them my full attention; it didn’t matter to me if they bought a book or not. One sale wasn’t going to make a difference in my bank balance, but having a Real Live Author talk to them as if they were they only person in the store, made a difference to THEM. (And for what it’s worth, after the signings, the inventory of “Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart” was usually gone within a week.)
* In my blog, I always try to provide a very personal response to comments, and use the commenter’s name whenever possible. Individuals have taken the trouble to read that which I have offered, and they took further time (and sometimes courage) to say something. They deserve the best I can give. And everyone’s name is important to him or her; again, they deserve to be addressed by name. (Also, Blogger sends an email notification of new comments, not keyed to a response to one’s original comment…using the name assures the reader that you’ve seen her comment and have replied.)
* I do have to disagree about the ‘photo with my book’ idea, but then I’m an English-educated Asian, the worst of two worlds when it comes to reticence. I just couldn’t ask that!
And speaking of the importance of names, I herewith apologize to Debbie about not capitalizing Macomber, in the very first line! I need to hier a poofreeder.
Andrew, I’m speaking again this coming weekend … would you be praying for me? You know I need it. 🙂
Prayers going up, Shelli. Thanks for giving me – all of us – the opportunity to support you!
I’ll pray for you too!
I’ll be praying, Shelli!
Thank you all so much! Means the world to me.
Andrew, you’ve keyed into the importance of being personal–in a good way–with every potential reader you come in contact with. The effort is worth its weight in gold. And speaking of Debbie Macomber, the first time I met her, she had flown into Sacramento to meet with 40 avid fans. Yup, 40. That spoke volumes to me about how much Debbie values each and every fan.
What would Jesus do?
Connect, with his heart attuned to the other person’s need, not his marketing plan.
I write to an imaginary audience of real people (and I’m not telling who they are). I don’t write everyday to everyone. But I do write everyday to someone.
Shirlee, I don’t know if you read nevil Shute’s ‘Round The Bend’, but one of the lines that stuck with me is “No religion can survive a campaign of paid advertising.”
I will add it to my to-read list, Andrew. Per my Google search, it sounds intriguing.
Shirlee, I so appreciate your line: “I do write everyday to someone.” There’s no better way to personalize your writing than to envision a real person as you write.
Oh, I’m thrilled you mentioned Becky Wade! I had heard of Becky and instantly took a liking to her because she’s from Texas. Cause you know, I’m from Texas. 🙂 And then sweet Courtney Ballinger (and she is so sweet) mentioned Becky as one of her inspirations. So … I got to sit by Becky at the ACFW conference … lucky me! After getting to know her a bit, I went home and read My Stubborn Heart … and I just finished A Love Like Ours … oh, so good! I just love Becky’s sense of humor. Like a dream come true, Jennifer Major and I met up with her at a book-signing and went out together to talk and laugh. You can bet I soaked in all her wisdom. She’s one of my favorite authors now. I’ll be reading all her works, you can bet on that, too … if you were a bettin’ person. 🙂 I’m a huge fan. I’d say Courtney and Jennifer played a huge role in that. And I loved seeing the videos on her website now that I’ve read the books. Thanks so much for that … icing on the cake.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Eek! Yes, Shelli!
It was so cool to go to the Firewall B&N and see a multi-author book signing, scope out the ambience (om-b’yonss) and feel the fun in the air.
But what was even more cool was sitting with Becky at dinner and peppering her with questions and soaking up all her wisdom, especially considering Shelli and I are pre-pubbed and here’s a woman with quite a few books under her belt.
And at the end of that dinner, I had quite a bit of Chipotle under my belt, but that’s another story, y’all.
I remember seeing a photo on FB of Jennifer and you at Becky’s signing and had to squelch my jealousy. 🙂 I’m a total Becky Wade fan myself.
One of the wisest posts to date. I particularly valued not collecting likes. I actually shed 2/3rds of my Facebook community because I did not know so many of them, but I have often been tempted to drum up support and likes for my page. Its not the right way. As for helping others to be successful, I so salute that, despite having seen that misunderstood by some.
Peter, it’s hard to discern why people make friend requests on FB. Time and time again I find myself pondering whether to accept the requests. It’s a complicated business.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Ahhh, word of mouth.
For the 4 mission trips I did in Bolivia, I had to raise a chunk of change. Nearly 3000$.
Prior to the 2nd trip, I was sharing my fundraising challenge with a van full of ladies while driving home from a ladies retreat I’d just led.
A friend piped up from way in the back seat. She felt that God had a message for me:bake.
Bake my way there.
You see, I have a slightly tasty cinnamon bun recipe and I sorta was in the city newspaper for it. So, along with my chocolate paté (pah-tay) and maybe a cheesecake or two, I’m kind of a weensy bit famous around these parts.
So, long story short, for the next 3 trips, I baked nearly 9000$ worth of support.
How did I rake that in?
Word of mouth.
An announcement from the pulpit, me putting it on Facebook, friends telling friends and each time, God showed up… and I flew off to Bolivia at the expense of other people’s waistlines.
People I’d never met would call me up and order goodies. And yes, Mother’s Day was fun for everyone else, I’d just collapse after 15-20 dozen buns, 5-10 cheesecakes, and 6-8 chocolate patés.
For one day!
Did I mention my husband makes a very handsome delivery guy?
Laura Frantz has done the “where is my book?” thing and it’s a blast! She’s also done the “name this character” thing.
And friends? Happy Thanksgiving from Canada!
Happy Thanksgiving, Jennifer!
We are thankful for YOU, Jennifer.
Happy Thanksgiving, Jennifer!
Happy Thanksgiving! Like Andrew said … we are thankful for you!
Jennifer, thanks for the great example of how word-of-mouth can work. I loved your line that you made your trips at the expense of other people’s waistlines!
I appreciate your mentioning Laura’s two examples of how to build word of mouth. Laura is such a conscientious marketer of her books. And it’s not something that comes naturally to her; so be encouraged, those of you who don’t think you can ever be an effective marketer.
We visited New York City this summer. We got off the subway around Central Park, and we were hungry. A man came up and asked if we wanted to take a tour of Central Park. I told him the first thing we needed to do was eat. I asked for suggestions. We ate at one of the places he recommended, and we even returned another day.
Many people knock Facebook, but it’s a powerful tool for recommending books, food and stores to people.
Thanks for sharing these great tips!
I know, Jackie … without Facebook, I don’t think I would have ever connected with my childhood best friends.
I remember being in Asheville with my sister and stopping at this wonderful, hole-in-the-wall used bookstore. As we were leaving, we asked the proprietor for restaurant suggestions. She suggested the Greek/Italian place next door. Get this. She had never eaten there, but she knew it must be great because everyone she saw leaving there carried out take-away boxes! We tried it, loved it, and had food left-over. The waitress automatically brought us take-away containers without us asking. Every time we go back to Asheville we now stop at The Apollo Flame Bistro and Used Paperback Books next door.
How funny that the bookstore owner had never eaten at the restaurant but figured it was great. A ringing endorsement indeed!
So many great tips here, Janet, and I particularly enjoy your personal stories about clients. I suppose that would fit under your advice to “Be funny, be inspirational, be open. Don’t be afraid to let readers get to know the real you.” Thanks so much for your wonderful post and all your efforts here!
Your welcome, Meghan. While Dani and Debbie are clients with our agency, Becky isn’t. I’m just a fan of hers.
I haven’t thought about these questions quite the way I did today: 1) what readers like about you and 2) what they need from you.
If we can answer these questions accurately, we’ll be a long ways down the road to knowing our brand, won’t we? Not that it’s just about knowing our brand, but when we know the answers, we can write more effectively and with more focus. I’m pondering this today. . . .
*And I’m with Megan Carver. I enjoy hearing client-experience stories. 🙂
Jeanne, I really liked those two questions as well. They go a long way toward helping a writer find focus (and his/her brand). I’m glad I was able to send you off to ponder a couple of important questions.
Great article! I really appreciate the practical nuts and bolts that your organization constantly provide in your blog. What a blessing to us authors!
Thanks, Malinda. I’m glad you can be of service; that’s why we started the blog and what keeps us writing posts.
These ideas are inspiring because they take the focus off numbers and put it back on actual people. That mind shift helps me. I never want to feel like I’m using people–or their “likes.”
Hannah, I know some people are motivated by numbers, but I think most writers are much more interested in the individual reader. But when the industry keeps singing the same tune about the importance of numbers, it’s easy to forget what motivates us.
Kristen Joy Wilks
As a reader, I love finding out how a cover was made or getting the chance to name a character.
Thanks for your response from a reader’s perspective, Kristen.
Thanks Janet for the inspiration and ideas! Word of Mouth does seem to be the BEST!! (I know I’m breaking all the correct grammar “rules”…sorry…I just love the !!)
I’ve seen the Word of Mouth work beautifully in the art community in our area. The artists are very well connected with one another and support each other with great enthusiasm. They have several groups that meet regularly and offer lots of classes for those willing to give art a try. They’ve established a fantastic network of shared interest.
At our quarterly O Street Gallery New Artists Receptions, we only post an Event on FaceBook and usually do no other advertising…and between 300-400 people show up. We do have some really yummy food and great live music too. All the artists tell their friends…and they tell their friends…and etc! After our first event, we were completely blown away by the response from the art community and have learned so much about the power of Word of Mouth!
Thanks for sharing how word-of-mouth worked in your community when the artists supported each other. I’ve seen the same dynamic work in the writing community; authors can make each other seem more established than they really are.
My own personal experience (both as a reader and a writer) with social media very much echoes the tips you’ve provided here, Janet! Great thoughts.
Thanks very much for mentioning my ‘making of the cover’ web site pages and videos. They’re some of the most popular things I offer all year. 🙂
Becky, I appreciate your letting us know how successful your cover web pages and videos are. I know I sure enjoy them. And thanks for contributing a comment. I appreciate it.
Becky! I really enjoyed the videos. So fun! 🙂
I’m a member of several Facebook groups that have followers in the audience I write to (stepmoms). When I self-published a devotional book for stepmoms this past summer, I asked the admins of the groups if I could send them the book for free (PDF form), and if they liked the book, would they promote it on their sites? I noticed every time that the day they promoted the book—especially if others on the site chimed in about the book—sales increased. Although I’m an active member of the groups and could have promoted the book myself, I think it was much more effective for someone else to do it for me.
Thank you Janet for your suggestions on how to tap into word-of-mouth. It’s am important part of selling!
Gayla, I once heard that if you want a compliment to have the greatest force possible, you should tell someone, who will in turn report back to the person being complimented what you said. Something about the statement traveling to the intended source through another person adds strength to it. You were using that concept AND generating word-of-mouth through your promo strategy.
And it all takes time. . . Connecting, is my word for the year. This article highlighted the nature of connecting in the real life of a writer. How sweet it is. We think of writing as a solitary business, and it is to some degree, but really, it is a means of allowing our voice to connect with others. I am finding my Monday blog feature, Guest Bloggers, to be the blogs I look forward to publishing the most. Today I feature Shirlee Abbott. If you’ve a mind to, hop on over to see what she has to say about a massive remodeling project. I loved this post. Thanks, Janet.
Norma, it’s so true that writing often is about connecting rather than being isolated. If we can remember to think that way when it comes to marketing, our hearts and minds will be aligned.
Wow, thanks for this post, Janet. It is very helpful.