Technological advancements over the last 20 years have brought us amazing new products. Back in 1992, who would have predicted they would be holding an iPad today or listening to music via mp3s?
The rise of e-books offers several lessons about marketing a disruptive product. (Richard Drew – AP) Of course, the truth is that the growth of these niches has led to the downfall of others, like the desktop computer and compact disc markets. So if you’re venturing down an untraveled path, how do you promote a new product while avoiding alienating an existing audience?
Overcoming Customer Perceptions
My company distributes eBooks; when we started, people doubted the necessity of electronic books and preferred bound books. We had an uphill battle to climb in public perception, but a few moves helped enormously:
• Focus on the advantages your product or service offers. You can use direct examples comparing your product to the old technology.
• Educate your customers so they understand how to use the product. Fear makes people wary of anything new.
• Keep your discussion points simple – they don’t need the technical jargon, they just want to know why they need it.
• Offer free trials to get your clients hooked.
We were, understandably, worried about alienating the audience that loved standard books. Our marketing approach was to draw comparisons that proved both items had a place in the market. Rather than pushing an ultimatum to make customers choose, we invited them to try us in addition to their regular bookstore.
We pointed out that bound books were best for bathtub reading, but our items were more convenient for travel. We also established common ground with our audience, highlighting our paper-saving methods for environmentally friendly readers.
The bottom line was that we never wanted to replace bound books – we were trying to serve the same purpose of making reading accessible.
Overcoming Competitors’ Perceptions
We understood the advantages of bound books (centuries’ worth of history, a psychological head start and a comforting feel), and we also understood the value what we were selling (portability, convenience and price). But we had another benefit: Our format was perfect for new types of literature, particularly flash fiction.
Whereas publishers wouldn’t spend thousands printing copies of very short books, e-book publishers were attracted to these quick reads that translated perfectly to tablets and e-readers.
This led to another marketing shift; we needed to market ourselves as making publishing more accessible.
In traditional publishing, the very small number of bestsellers pays for the rest of the books being published. Despite this, authors only net between 6 percent and 10 percent of the profits – and only 20 percent of those books are actively promoted. In addition, it takes 18 months to get a book to market.
Because of this competitive marketplace, many possible hits face rejection – the first Harry Potter was rejected 9 times, Gone with the Wind faced 38 rejections, and the first Chicken Soup for the Soul received a whopping 140 rejections.
Electronic book publishers don’t incur the same expenses for storage or production, so they’re able to leverage these rejections into revenues. Everyone can be published and reach a large audience, which attracts writers who aren’t necessarily looking to make a buck but are instead interested in sharing a story or creating art.
This ability takes the power out of the hands of a few publishers and gives it to the people, who can choose what’s hot and what’s not. This simple power shift makes it clear that eBooks aren’t “watering down” the marketplace – they’re beefing it up.
We’re obviously not living in the same world we were in 1992. As things change, so should our approaches to the marketplace. Don’t apologize for a new solution you’re able to offer. Instead, show why your niche belongs in the marketplace alongside your more experienced competitors’ products.
There’s room for both of you, and customers will recognize that.