In the last week, I stumbled upon three killer good marketing campaigns that made me smile because they were so clever and interesting and creative. They all were very directly related to stories and writers, so I dug into each of them to see what was going on – and to see what lessons we could all draw from them.
So first, the campaigns:
Jessi Klein is the executive producer and head writer for the Amy Schumer show. She has won Emmy’s. She had written for Saturday Night Live, and just had a book of humorous essays about motherhood and life come out from Grand Central. You’ll Grow Out of It got rave reviews by People and New York magazine, among others.
For the promotion of the book, Jessi wrote and starred in a series of sketch comedy pieces for Ann Taylor Loft. I saw one pop up on Facebook as an ad and clicked on it because I didn’t quite understand what it was all about – and then I did understand.
The clothing company partnered with the funny lady because the funny lady is a young hip of-the-moment mom and that is exactly their target customer. Partnering with her makes Loft instantly seem hip and hot, and gets them all kinds of clickable attention online – proved by the fact that I clicked on their ads.
For Jessi’s part, it allows her to get her book in front of hundreds of thousands of readers in a way that is organic and interesting, and not based on the typical hollow message: “I have a new book – buy it.” People who discover her through the Ann Taylor Loft sketches get a taste of her sensibility, her storytelling chops, and her humor – and if they enjoy it, the book is a click away.
It is, in other words, super smart marketing on both their parts.
Netflix is airing new episodes of the hit show Gilmore Girls, which was a show on the old WB network, and to celebrate the new programmer, they turned more than 200 coffee shops around the country into pop up versions of the fictional Luke’s Diner from the show. They gave away free coffee on October 5th – and fans, and Twitter went wild!
I watched a few Gilmore Girl’s episodes with my own girls but was never a superfan, so I don’t know the whole inside scoop about the importance of diner and coffee and the Netflix revival, but I saw #LukesDiner trending on Twitter and got curious. (And yes, for those of you who don’t understand the appeal of Twitter, this is one of the reasons I love it…for the surprises, the randomness, the sense of discoverability.)
I clicked around to see photos of people lined up around the block to be part of the experience, and was amazed by the energy that went into this stunt – each coffee shop had special coffee cups, coffee sleeves, signs, character cut-outs. Someone – probably a LOT of someones -- did a lot of work to pull this stunt off.
And why would they have done that? All that work to give a few thousand people a free cup of coffee?
As The Atlantic wrote: “Netflix’s marketing strategy, in all this, may have been bursting with all the buzzwords of the current moment, from the “pop-up” to the “fan service” to the general assumption that attendees would snap and Insta and tweet and otherwise find ways to transform their “experience” into media, thus spreading the word—and, yes, the buzz—about the show’s return. But the “experience,” in that sense, was in the end less about Luke’s, and less about Netflix, and more about fandom: It was a celebration of the fact that people cared enough about Lorelai and Rory and their hyper-literate lives to get up early on a Wednesday to do that caring with other people.
Audiences are no longer merely audiences, to the extent they ever were; more and more, viewers are part of a show. They influence creators. They bring beloved series back from the brink. They show up. They take selfies. They share them. They tag a friend. And: They love nothing more than being audiences, together. They form, across the expansive and invisible geography of the Internet, their own communities.”
That’s the kind of word of mouth that happens for books at book clubs, or when you see people reading a book you love on the subway, or when everyone is talking about a book and you don’t know what they are talking about.
Yup, another random Twitter thing. I saw this flood of Tweets with the hastag #askanarchivist and my youngest daughter happens to be doing work in the archives in a London library right now on a semester abroad, so I was immediately intrigued.
I clicked around the most charming conversations about books and librarians and preserving history and felt a momentary sweet connection to my far-away child. I got to share the fun with her, and it was a lovely thing.
It also made me really happy to see all those archivists having a moment in the sun, because what would we all be without libraries and the people who preserve a culture’s writing?
So what can we learn from these three events?
1. Think of your reader. This is a simple idea but so key – and all three of these campaigns did this. They thought of their audience and what would engage and delight them – not just how to get them to buy a product or an idea. We need to do the same. There is an insightful interview with the romance writer Jennifer Crusie in the Chronicle of Higher Education that hits on this. She is talking about academic writing, but all of this applies equally to anything you are writing, too. The article was posted by one of our members posted in the Author Accelerator Facebook group – THANK you, Barbara! Here’s an excerpt of the key bits, with highlights by me:
Q: What did you learn in graduate school that helped you as a fiction writer, and what do you think graduate students and academics could benefit from learning when it comes to writing books?
Crusie: One of the smartest questions I had to answer in an academic job interview was, "What does the writer owe the reader; what does the reader owe the writer?" It really nailed a fact that is so often overlooked: Writers and readers are very different species with very different needs, caught in a symbiotic relationship.
All writing begins with the need to communicate, even if all it communicates is "Please accept this dissertation so I can graduate." We’re all grabbing people by the arm and saying, "Listen to this," because we have something we need to say.
Readers, on the other hand, want to be entertained and informed. They pretty much put themselves in our hands, offering up their time and their money so they can listen. And while they listen, they read their own experiences, biases, and conclusions into what we’ve written. They insert their own worldviews into the white spaces. And very often they judge the success of a piece of writing by how much space the author has left them in the text.
Before I became a fiction writer, I wrote to put down on paper these brilliant ideas I had that everyone should just agree with. After I became a fiction writer, I wrote to communicate brilliant ideas with enough clarity and openness that readers could collaborate with me as they read. Or, to put it more bluntly, once I started writing fiction, I recognized that the audience I was writing for was as important as the ideas I needed to communicate.
Q: Do you have advice for academics on how to make their work more engaging?
Crusie: Audience, audience, audience, audience.
Once you get past your first completed draft of whatever it is you’re writing (you get to do anything you damn well please in the first draft, it’s for you), you have to think about who will be reading it. And I don’t care if your readers are all academics; academics love clear, insightful, focused prose as much as anybody.
It’s important in the revision process to look at your work through the eyes of your readers. Are they going to feel that your essay is just one more damn slog after a day full of slog? Or are they going to be refreshed by its insights and the way you’ve communicated them?
So look at a sentence you just wrote. Is it as clear as it possibly could be, written in good old Anglo-Saxon English? And is the idea it contains worth the trees that will die to print it, not to mention the minutes it will steal from your reader’s life? Because this piece of writing is not about you anymore, Sparky. Now it’s about you and the reader.
Lee, my mentor, used to talk about the woman on the bus, exhausted after a full working day, coming home to read what you’d written. I’ve never forgotten her. Before I send anything off to be published, I do a woman-on-the-bus read-through because I owe her everything I’ve got to give. We ask so much from our readers: Give up a chunk of their lives they’ll never get back, give up a chunk of their incomes they’ll never see again, and all to read what we have to say.
It’s an incredibly arrogant act to publish anything. Our only saving grace is to always remember that we’re doing it to serve the reader.
2. Think outside the box. A comedian and clothing store partnership doesn’t make immediate sense, nor does an interactive Twitter event for people who quietly work to preserve books – until it makes perfect sense.
3. Think big. Imagine the person who first raised her hand and said, “I know! Let’s turn 200 real coffee shops across the entire country into fake coffee shops from the show!” People probably laughed at how hard that would be, and how expensive, and how preposterous. Until they didn’t.
Now you may be thinking, Jennie, wait – stop. I’m just writing my first novel. I can’t be bothered with stuff this! This is national level marketing! Blockbuster marketing! You don’t expect me to do something like this, DO you?
I do expect you to do it! You can know your reader and consider what she wants. You can look in your backyard for ways to connect with your reader. You can think creativity, outside the box, and bigger than you have thought before.
A bit of background:
- Terranea is a beautiful resort in Palos Verdes, California, just south of LA
- Mary Jo is the author of a series of books for kids about peacocks, who are abundant in Palos Verdes.
- She is working on a novel that has nothing to do with peacocks.
- She hired an assistant for a few hours a week to help her do all the tasks she wanted to do that were related to her writing career
Here’s Mary’s note:
“I just had a great meeting with the Community Relations Director at Terranea today, Gaye Vancans. I have my three books in their shop, but I've always felt they could do more with P is for Palos Verdes. I suggested to her that they showcase my book to conferences. My new assistant came up with a cost sheet which would give them $2.50 a book and me $5. They have 100-500 conference attendees multiple times a year, pretty sweet.
And, unbeknownst to me, Terranea had just started this amenity program where they suggest a gift for conference attendees where a % is given to a local non profit--Palos Verdes land conservancy or marine mammal care, or something like that. They proposed that they would charge the conference more, so I would get my money and the non profit would get theirs. They suggested a falcon raptor rescue because I have both in my book and they have a program at Terranea, which keeps sea gulls away. Perfect!
Then they talked about a new program they have (Jennie, you'll love this) where they train their employees to connect with guests on a "story" level. For example, a guest asks for a suggestion about which beach in the area is the best and the employee personalizes it with a story -- "my family loves Abalone Cove. You hike down the cliff, it's private. We always see dolphins and once my daughter saw a whale. It was amazing, she was only five and she couldn't believe it. She always wants to go there." So, Gaye is proposing they use my book for training their employees because so many of them live out of the area. It's like the "a picture is worth 1,000 words". And she wants Terranea to give one of my books to each employee.
Lastly, she asked if I'd come to the evening cocktail parties to sign my book. I'm already thinking about losing ten pounds and getting a new wardrobe!
And Terranea is starting a "reading room" where they have books by local authors about the area. She wanted my books, two copies of each and they want to increase their supply of them in the shop because they think they'll be selling more.
Then she asked me what I was doing now and I told her about my novel. She actually teared up and said it was such an important issue, so topical and said she hoped I'd think of Terranea when it launched.
I didn't get much writing done today, but it was great. And Jennie, I never would have done this if Dan Blank hadn't suggested hiring an assistant to free me up to write. I hired an assistant and had her contact Terranea and area realtors to market my old books. They were her first tasks. She created the emails, point sheets, cost sheets. We both went to the meeting.
I'm also writing two articles for Peninsula News--one about a unique house on the peninsula and the other is on domestic violence--October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month-- which helps my platform for the novel.”
Can’t you just FEEL Mary’s energy? It’s awesome! She’s doing exactly what Ann Taylor, Jerri Klein, Netflix, Gilmore Girls and the national archivists are doing – working hard, putting the reader first, using the resources she has available to her, doing one small thing and then another to connect with readers.
Now it’s your turn to get inspired!