How to Market Like Coca-Cola– Pt. 1

Quick. What’s this?

coca cola

Unless you were raised by the Amish on an island near Antarctica—and maybe even if you were—you almost certainly had no trouble recognizing that logo. (Yes, even if you’re one of those unbearably cool Portland hipsters. 😉

Why is that?

If you guessed that the Coca-Cola corporation spend lots and lots of money buying brand recognition, you’re right—but you’re only partly right. The answer is a lot more complex than it seems. And it holds the key for indie book marketing that just might really work.


Let’s break down the reasons why.

There’s a big problem with “guerilla marketing” (or the latest incarnation, “sniper marketing”. Basically, it tends to sound a whole lot better than it is. What is it, anyway? Stripped to its most basic form, it’s about doing what major corporations don’t do to market their products. For indie publishing, for example, people are always recommending book readings, reviews, radio interviews, and let’s not forget bugging everybody we know to death on social media. But look at a typical quote from a typical site recommending actions exactly like these (find it here)

Guerilla marketing, says O’Connor, is “ground level” marketing and tailored to the individual book. “You’re trying to take an audience by surprise in some way where they least expect a book to turn up or that particular book to turn up. Guerilla marketing has that element of surprise as one of the prevailing characteristics.”
In other words, encourage all of your authors to do what it takes to get books in the hands of potential buyers.

It’s not that this is bad advice. It would be more accurate, I think, to say that it’s incomplete. The problem is that if all you’re talking about is how to get the book itself to readers, well, people already know where the book is going to turn up. Potential buyers can already get it into their hands. It’s on Amazon. Chain bookstores are done. Borders has already failed. (a very interesting article here)
Chains like B. Dalton’s and Waldenbooks folded years ago. And as for Barnes and Noble, they’ll probably survive because of products like the Nook, but hundreds of brick and mortar stores closed last year alone. (a good article here.)
Unless you live in a place like Portland (home of Powell’s Books—yay!), you may not even have an opportunity to read in a bookstore.

The real point, though, is that these things don’t happen randomly. People don’t listen to author interviews on radio or podcasts, go to web pages and blogs, find your book on Kindle, etc etc etc, unless they have a pre-existing reason to do so. That’s a big reason why pure “guerilla marketing” techniques really only work well for niche books, such as those on specific non-fiction subjects (and in a couple of other situations, which we’ll cover later.)

And it’s astonishing how quickly people become irritated, annoyed, and even angry if they are relentlessly marketed to in this way. The vitriol on Amazon towards writers who include links in their reviews to their own work is incredible. (If all of this were happening in real space, I think they’d get a lynching party together!) Few actions earn as much scorn as writers creating fake accounts and seeding them with reviews for their own work, or getting friends and family to do the same. Most people are beyond over being pestered about indie books on Facebook, Twitter, et al, etc., la la la, STOP IT WE CAN’T TAKE ANYMORE I’M NOT EVEN. (And Gregory, if you’re reading this, I KNOW that your experience has been different! However, I’m more and more convinced that not only are you basically one of the few, but you’ve also done a lot more types of marketing than you realize.)

It’s not that guerrilla marketing techniques never work for anybody in indie publishing. It’s two issues. First of all, if these techniques are all you’re using– if it begins and ends there– then they not likely to work except for very specific and specialized books (I’ll get into that in a later post, too.) The key is that you must use more than just these techniques, and that’s what this post series will be about.

So what is it that works?

If we want an easy answer, well… the truth is that there are no easy ways to market our books. None!

(Do y’all start to see why a Kindle book on this subject would probably never sell? 😉

But let’s go back to our major brand. Clearly, their advertising does work. Coca-Cola made an 11.8 billion dollar profit last quarter alone.

Can we, as indie writers, learn from what Coca-Cola is doing right?

If success were only a matter of a three billion dollar a year advertising budget, then no. But it is not. What is it that Coca-Cola is really buying for that advertising budget? Saturation is certainly part of it (you can have a Coke and a smile everywhere on earth except Cuba and North Korea.) You can see and hear ads for their products everywhere. But market saturation is also something that every indie author has the opportunity to get. Everyone in the world who has a computer can buy your book on Kindle. If that’s all it took, then we would have a Coca-Cola kind of success. So why is that not enough for us? What more is there?

(Here’s the big answer! Drumroll!)

The fact is that, yes, what Coca-Cola is really buying for a lot of that money is the opportunity to get their marketing in front of consumers. If we’re talking about the budget for airtime and space, that’s all it is. That’s a lot of what saturation means in their case. But that is only part of what they’re buying. There is much more to an advertising budget than that.

And because of that, it is possible for us to do what they do in every way except spending all that money.

There is nothing easy about it even if you already know a lot about how to do it. (Once again, this would not be a Kindle bestseller…) But you already did all that work on the book!! Not only that, but even though the so-called guerilla/sniper/ninja/whatever techniques seem to be easy and straightforward, they really aren’t. If only used on their own, they eat up tremendous amounts of time for what is usually very, very little return. If doing something else could help you to expose readers to your book, isn’t it worth it to at least try– although it’s not easy?

(Hint… the answer is supposed to be YES…)

But what does all of this really mean? What is Coca-Cola buying with the rest of its ad budget, the amount that isn’t simply about buying time and space?

We’ll start looking at that in the next post…

(And yay, I’m back from vacation and finishing the first version of SatSD! More about that very soon.)

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