Loyal readers will remember that I used permission marketing techniques to market my book Permission Marketing. If you wrote to: firstname.lastname@example.org (it still works), you get the first four chapters of the book for free. I ended up with an astonishing 150,000 plus requests, and it made the book successful.
With Unleashing the Ideavirus, I decided to follow the advice in the book and give the book away for free. (it's still free at www.ideavirus.com). We ended up, by my estimate, spreading 2 million copies around the world that way. As that happened, the hardcover edition went to #5 on Amazon US, reaching #4 in Japan.
So, with My new book, Purple Cow the challenge was to create a plan that represented the ideas in the book itself. In a nutshell:
- Sell what people are buying
- Focus on the early adopters and sneezers
- Make it remarkable enough for them to pay attention
- Make it easy for them to spread
- Let it work its own way to the mass market.
So, I started with a topic I knew a population was interested in — new marketing ideas. Books about change are important, but nobody gets excited about change they way they get excited about Jet Blue.
Working with my colleagues at Fast Company, we put an excerpt from the book on the cover of the February issue (In Praise of the Purple Cow). In that article, we mentioned that subscribers and readers could get a free copy of the book if they paid $5 for postage and handling (while supplies last, only in the USA, close cover before striking):
So far so good. More than 650 people signed up in the first 24 hours, and ALL the free books we allocated (about 5,000) will be gone soon after I write this. (In fact, all of the books are gone - please visit The Purple Cow Website for information on how to order a copy.)
The next step was to do something else remarkable and make it easy to spread the idea. So here goes: The book is NOT available on Amazon and NOT available for sale one at a time. The only way to buy one is to buy TWELVE! Visit the Purple Cow web page and you can see how you can buy a set. Obviously, the goal is to get you to share 11 with your colleagues, further spreading the word.
Did I mention that we ship the book in a real honest-to-goodness milk carton? We do.
So, pretty soon the 4,000 copies we allocated for this bulk offer will be gone.* Then what happens?
Well, my hope is that after seeding the sneezers, the book itself is remarkable enough and Purple enough that other people will want a copy. By then, my big-time New York publisher (who shall be revealed soon) will have books ready for every bookstore in the land.
This plan, which seems risky and chaotic, is exactly the sort of thing I'm recommending for most new products. Small risks, focused audiences, limited mass marketing. Not that risky. But if you're used to the other way, yes, chaotic.
*if you do the math, you can see it was hardly risky at all. With 10,000 copies printed, the first print run is extremely unlikely to lose money, even at the extremely low retail pricing we're using to get it started. You know what's risky? What's risky is telling you my plans in advance, because when they fail (and they do! often!) I look pretty dumb. But here I am, as a public service, marketing out loud.
A version of this article appeared in the February 2003 issue of Fast Company magazine.