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Thunder and Lightning: Name the person you’re trying to help
Series: #3 of 10 Useful Marketing Tips for Publishing Your Ministry Book
A partially visible roadsign saying “nder Road” hung behind Ivan Filby’s head, just beyond reach to the zoom camera. Mike Elms asked, “What is that sign?”
Ivan, who lives in Belfast, told us about his “Thunder Road” street sign gift. The three of us were ostensibly talking about our Invite Press book project, but we were really just having some fun. As I listened to my two UK friends discuss the New Jersey rocker Bruce Springsteen, I once again thought of the paradox in art and communication that to speak to many, you must somehow capture the thoughts of one. To be universal, you must be specific.
We all want our book to take off, to catch lightning in a bottle. But how? Two weeks ago when I launched this series on book marketing, I wrote that my favorite definition of marketing is help. If you dream of universal reach, you must start with the specific and name the core person you are helping.
Today’s bottom line: To get your project off the ground, start with naming the core person you are helping.
Authors, hear this. The average layperson is stuck with a picture of marketing that no longer exists, if it ever did. When authors ask, “get me on Oprah,” (which still happens, even though the Oprah Winfrey Show is kaput), the unspoken assumption is that it is still possible to quickly connect with a wide array of people at once.
This is simply not how it works. It has been at least 20 years since you could reasonably expect to “mass market”—to craft a single message, disseminate it across a few critical media channels, and rake in the results.
Today’s marketplace is incredibly diffused. You cannot instantly launch from ground to stratosphere. Instead, it’s necessary to climb the skies by using booster stages.
The dilemma of marketing is that no one has the necessary resources to fund every booster rocket. We must choose wisely, and that begins with stage one. To help get your book off the ground, do this:
One. When you write, be specific about helping a person with a problem they are having. (Maybe that person is yourself.)
Marketing your project is inexorably tied to the project itself. Or rather, it is dang hard to successfully market a book when you aren’t clear about the reason the project exists. Hopefully when you write, you specifically speak to someone. Do you envision someone when you write? Are you compelled to address problems?
My first two books were written while ticked off—I wanted to address what I saw as bad theology about communication in the church. I wrote to pastors and church leaders to defend the need for a gospel-centered theology and practice of communication.
Two. When you market, name the person.
Now, here’s the task: Turn the person in your mind, the person for whom you write, into an archetype—an image, a persona. A profile.
Greg Stielstra, the aforementioned Zondervan marketing exec who wrote a book about the success of The Purpose Driven Life project, describes this person as your “driest tinder.”
Stielstra compares the situation to a man stranded in freezing weather. He must start a fire to survive. He may wish for lightning in a bottle to warm his buns, but alas he needs to do something now. This presents an urgent choice: Which of his available fuel options should he use?
Stielstra advises, pick the driest tinder—the one most likely to combust first. He writes, “Picturing a single match is a reminder of the finite nature of your marketing resources. No matter what they are--money, people or time--you only have so much. Opportunity costs are critical. How will you use your match? What will you touch it to? What tactics will deliver results? Use it wisely by building your marketing fire according to proven principles. You may only get one chance."
Ask yourself, who urgently needs what you have to say about your topic?
What is the core group that needs your book today? If you are writing a book about churches overcoming budget deficits, then you are speaking to finance committee chairs who need to reconcile bottom lines now. If you are writing a book about prayer, you are speaking to people with urgent needs and uncertainty on how to pray or whether it even works.
Sketch a few traits. You may be thinking of a specific person, but as you write, you are creating a persona, or a profile. Your driest tinder.
Once you have that, consder other options. Is there a secondary persona? A third?
Takeaway: If you speak to your core audience well, their enthusiasm will become the flame that catches and spreads. Successful marketing requires more fire than you can possibly alight on your own. Satisfy the first audience, and they will join you to help you spread your message.
Here, I’ll show you a secret about how audience analysis works for Invite.
My desire is to help solve problems for four audiences. In expanding concentric circles, these audiences form the target for the ministry of Invite Resources.
The tightest circle: 35-65, male or female, a lead pastor of a medium to large size American church, Wesleyan in theological orientation, loves Jesus, tired of political division, eager for innovative ways to help share the gospel. Perhaps even a friend or colleague, 1-2 degrees away (in the Kevin Bacon sense) from Invite’s growing stable of authors. A network of networks. If you’ve known of Invite’s work or talked to me in the last few years, hopefully you’re nodding your head and saying, yup. If so, then we are doing our job well.
The second circle: Decision makers at congregations from number one, above, including staff and lay leaders, who desire the same thing and are also on the lookout for solutions specifically to implement in church settings. This includes sermons, small groups, ministries, etc. Wheres the first audience can be an individual solution for a single person, this audience is seeking solutions on behalf of a group of people.
The third circle: Christian online influencers, again with Wesleyan/free will worldview although at this level more “Reformed” audiences may be possible. These are people who provide current commentary for the church, but not critics and peanut gallery types - I am talking about practitioners of good faith who seek innovative forms of ministry and means of communicating the gospel.
The fourth circle: the “trade” - a Christian book buyer or content user with no prior knowledge or experience of Invite who is attracted to our work solely by its messaging.
If one of these audiences connects with you, reply or comment. I would love to hear about current problems you face.
Note: This weekly note will return November 30, 2023. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.