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What running a literary magazine taught me about marketing

May 19, 2010

I’d worked in agencies for years, but an important lesson hadn’t really stuck.

I was convinced that my literary magazine was such a good idea that people would immediately subscribe. It was a good idea, widely praised and broadly welcomed. And some people did subscribe. But not as many as I thought and not as quickly as I’d hoped.

And that’s how I learned, in the deep way that failure teaches, that the basic marketing challenges don’t change: how do you get distracted people to notice your product, how do you get skeptical people to consider your product, how do you get thrifty people to buy your product, how do you get people who presumably have a life to champion your product.

These challenges exist in all markets because they are rooted not in the nature of media but in the nature of humanity. They dictate a marketing process, which goes something like this:

Awareness>>Consideration>>Action>> Loyalty

With sufficient charm or money or diligence, you can accelerate this process.

But you can’t ignore this process. Yet I keep seeing people who think these rules don’t apply in social media. Some of these people, I’ve been told, hold very senior marketing positions.

In my experience, social media users are prey to two distinctive mistakes.

1.  They compile zillions of contacts but then don’t proceed to consideration. Rolodexes don’t buy anything. I think consideration can take the form of symmetrical conversations (most of us) or asymmetrical streams (Roger Ebert), provided the content of the latter is rich enough.  But it needs to happen.  In some ways, this is even more true of some facebook self promoters who do nothing but add friends and fan pages.

2, They go directly to purchase, without building any relationships.  Calls to action are important, but so are calls to awareness and calls to trust.  This is especially important in the arts. I want people to buy my book, sure. But there’s a useful prayer exercise:  pray that others receive what you want for yourself.  When I engage in that exercise, I realize I don’t want to have to buy the books of everyone I encounter on twitter. I am willing to consider the books written by people I know on twitter. At some point, the product needs to be the closer.

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