When Scarcity Makes Marketing Truly Successful

Samuel L. Jackson

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Adam Mansbach is a marketing genius.

Actually Adam Mansbach is an author – and an extremely successful author as of a couple of weeks ago. He writes novels, but has not been the huge success that every author yearns for. At least until now. He recently wrote a children’s bed time story book. It is illustrated, as these things are, and it is of a similar tone to books that I bought to read to my kids some twenty odd years ago.

His new book has a title that jumped out though. It is called “Go The F**k To Sleep”.

And there is a YouTube video too… The movie star, Samuel L. Jackson, narrates. Its well worth looking at, because it is quite entertaining.

But that doesn’t have a lot to do with the marketing. That is where the genius lies – accidental genius as it happens.

The story goes like this:

The author did a reading of the text at a bookshop on April 23rd and told the audience that if they were interested they would be able to pre-order the book on Amazon. The next morning it had hit 125 on the Amazon sales chart!

Now the tactic of getting people to pre-order is pretty standard stuff in marketing to try to build a pressure wave of interested buyers in order to be able to sell into other channels. Amazon acts in the role of reference customer for all the small book stores and for international sales agents.

He had also sent out a pdf of the book to a few booksellers to prompt sales… and they forwarded the digital version to others. Mansbach, by his own admission, is not web savvy and so as the virality grew and social networking rapidly built huge interest in the book, he got his lawyers to send out cease and desist letters. That clearly wasn’t going to stop the spread of the book, even before Samuel Jackson did a read of the book with a video. So he and his publisher decided that it was not going to be productive to start suing people and instead it might be useful to work with people who are on the web. That led them to license the book to Audible.com who in turn got Samuel Jackson to read it. At that point in time, the whole project became super viral.

The book, when released, immediately shot to #1 on Amazon’s best seller list a few weeks ago when it was finally released.

So let’s look at what was going on here.

First a great title – something that had to get people’s attention. Second and perhaps most important – the author had at play the one thing that is virtually impossible to get in the digital world – scarcity. Digital ubiquity means that everything is available to us at all times. Except at one point in the life of a project – the point at which it is released. The author and his publisher had totally the right idea with their concept of doing the readings to small audiences with the invitation to pre-order from Amazon and then emailing a pdf to selected retailers.

What then happened was the blueprint for how you would want to market any new digital product: the few became marketers to the many…

I presume that what Audible got out of the whole venture was a very inexpensive brand promotion campaign that made them visible to a lot more consumers than they had before.

So the take away from this story is that if you have a digital product and you want to build its visibility you have to think about how you can take advantage of the scarcity that exists before the article is released. It means that you have to think very carefully about the branding, and the initial presentation to the market, and you have to have a lot of organizational skills in place to ensure that you can move extremely swiftly as and when that viral moment crystalizes.

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