Friday, September 14, 2007

Book marketers figure out "sense and respond" strategy

I talked in a recent post about marketers' inability to control their audiences (there are more and more examples every week about this difficulty). It's rare to see evidence that marketers are hearing that message--but some arrived today in a page one Wall Street Journal article.

As reported by Jeffrey Trachtenberg, Penguin Books has nurtured a breakout bestseller in Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir "Eat, Pray, Love" by reading the weak signals coming from the market, responding to them, and persisting. The book sold a respectable number of copies in hardcover (likely less than 100,000), but is now on the way to selling millions as a $15 trade paperback.

Here's what Penguin's marketers noticed:

  1. As it is published in hardcover, the book is chosen to be excerpted in O Magazine.
  2. February 2006: a very positive front-page review in the New York Times Book Review.
  3. March/April 2006: the book spends four weeks on the New York Times bestseller list (never rising above #12)--one week comes after the author's appearance on the Today Show.
  4. The author receives hundreds of emails from readers stating how the book affected them.
  5. Booksellers such as Barnes & Noble reorder the hardcover steadily through year-end.

Penguin felt that the book could be a paperback bestseller, and so ordered a large print run of 175,000 copies. They sent the author on a second book tour (seeing that her personality was an asset to marketing the book), and placed ads in outlets like Yoga Journal because of the spiritual themes of the book.

The book entered the paperback nonfiction bestseller list on February 11, 2007, and is still there today.

The "Eat, Pray, Love" story is not easy to replicate. It takes energy, confidence and persistence. It won't always work. But it shows two things: the customer is king (queen?). And marketers' best strategy, for more and more products, is to expose and nurture, not to push.