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Ashley Barron's Blog / Marketing A Novel

Spanx Me, NaNoWriMo!

Spanx Me, NaNoWriMo!

Forget “March Madness.” Instead, make it “March Marketing Madness.”

As part of all this basketball craziness, I recently filled out my bracket for the family pool. I’m not doing well; I think even my sister-in-law’s grandmother is ahead of me. Still, there is value in participating in creative activities outside of one’s normal comfort zone, and staring at all those match-ups got me thinking about business.

In “March Marketing Madness,” the sports teams are replaced by companies. The purpose of the competition is to pair them up with other businesses or organizations to develop a brand new marketing initiative that combines each one’s products and/or services.

The only requirement is that the new marketing initiative both involves and benefits self-published and indie-published writers.  In other words, it becomes a national brainstorming session on how to find new and creative partnerships for marketing our books.

Official brainstorming sessions could be held at all the Starbucks’ nationwide, and CBS Sports could supply a tweaked version of their bracket model as the official contest form.

Why am I suggesting this? Simple. One of the most challenging areas for the self-published author is marketing. It’s a different skill set from writing and can create ongoing obstacles, especially for those writers who may not be comfortable with the outgoing style and non-stop pace of social media marketing.

One of the reasons I like to watch interviews with people actively engaged in starting up or running a business is to learn from their marketing experiences. What have they tried? Where have they failed? What do they count as their biggest success?

As far as I’m concerned, Shark Tank is “must see TV” for small and micro-business entrepreneurs, which includes most authors. One of the areas in which we self-published authors tend to face a challenge is in understanding how to effectively pitch the best parts of our books to potential buyers.

Yes, I’m talking about the blurb.

Sometimes, the parts we the authors find most interesting or valuable aren’t at all related to what the readers might highlight as the most compelling aspects of our novels. (I also think it would be helpful for Amazon to expand beyond the information categories they currently display on a book’s page, but that’s a post for another day.)

Fortunately, positive and informative reviews help to fill any marketing gaps left by the authors, which is why, of course, reviews are so critical to us and to our success.

I think ABC should spin off a “junior” edition of Shark Tank and run it on ABC Family – or on a YouTube channel – for all those business-minded teens and early twenties out there. I would like to point out that this suggestion is not completely out of left field, as Shark Tank has very high ratings with the under-18 crowd.

How invigorating!

The best entrepreneurial minded programming I ever regularly watched, however, was Donny Deutsch’s old show, The Big Idea, on CNBC. It was aimed at the small business audience and was brilliant in its simplicity. Until…it became popular and they changed the format and lost their core audience and it was cancelled. A genuine shame.

What’s my point about all these small business and entrepreneurial-minded shows? It’s this: successful entrepreneurs harness the power of grassroots marketing. Also known as word-of-mouth marketing, it is the most reliable, most affordable, most secure, most coveted method of gaining new customers. (Or in our case: readers.)

Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, made the rounds on the business shows this past week. She’s on the cover of Forbes, and is the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire. Equally as impressive, she did it without selling a single share of her company.

In one of the interviews, she talked about how her father would encourage her to fail on a regular basis. In fact, the topic “what have you failed at this week” was normal dinnertime conversation in their house during her teenage years.

Mr. Blakely redefined the purpose of risk and recalibrated the impact of failure in his children’s lives. By encouraging them to experience failure, to understand it, one small action at a time, and while they were still very young, he turned the business world’s biggest stumbling block into a building block for his children.

Well done.

If, as a business person, you can overcome your fear of failure, you will face zero “manufactured” obstacles on the path to success. You will have a better understanding of risk values and will possess far more hands-on experience than your peers.

Personally, I learned that one the hard way.

Another topic Sara Blakely emphasized in the interview was that she had spent zero marketing dollars while turning Spanx into a household name.

I think a touch of semantics is at play here.

Creating a quality product is your first marketing expense and, arguably, the most important. Social media is your second marketing expense, and it is one I would rank equal with the quality of the product. While Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and all the others are free to join, they are most certainly not free to use.

What am I talking about? Time. It equals money.

How much time does it take to build up a network, a base, using one of these accounts? If you’re a company, you are paying the salaries of the people who run your “free” social media (and your blog and website).

I checked the Spanx page on Facebook and it has 117,294 likes. On Twitter, Spanx has 14,203 followers. A lot of time and care went into building those numbers and those communities of fans.

So aside from being an exemplary business model, what does Spanx have to do with self-published and indie-published authors?


KDP Select is a hotly debated new tool for building brand awareness. An author gives away his or her product for free in return for free marketing from global powerhouse, Amazon.

The goal in giving away your work at no cost to the reader is to convert those “I tried it for free” customers into buyers of your other current and/or future works. KDP Select is considered free marketing, unless you count the cost of writing the book, creating the cover, and turning the whole thing into an e-format.

No, not free; not exactly.

Those who are into KDP Select are really into it. Those who are against it are really against it. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.

Something that will help the debate going forward, and that will increase the amount of “free” marketing KDP Select offers, is competition. Right now, Amazon is the only company actively engaged in directly harnessing the marketing power of self-published and indie-published authors.

Which company will be the next to figure out ways to use their own marketing campaigns to tap into the momentum and social media reach of the self-published authors?

I nominate Spanx.

With $250 million in annual sales, and an average price point of, say, thirty dollars, how many products do you think they’ve sold? How many customers do you think they have? (Besides me, that is.) How many of those customers purchase novels?

Oprah famously gave Sara Blakely an opportunity to take Spanx to the next level. I have to wonder if Oprah realized, at the time, that Sara would eventually join her as one of only three self-made female billionaires in America.

And now… “Spanx Me, NaNoWriMo!” The first match-up in “March Marketing Madness.”

Here’s how it would work:

Spanx hosts a short story competition for self-published and indie-published writers. The one main requirement is that a plot line involving a Spanx product must be included in the short story. In addition to the shapewear that made them famous, the company now sells legwear, apparel, swimwear, and Spanx for men. Those categories provide a lot of, a-hem, options for the creative minds in our community.

Spanx teams up with NaNoWriMo, a 501(c) 3, who will actually run the competition. To my way of thinking, this is a natural pairing. The powerhouse marketing ability and deep consumer reach of Spanx combines with NaNoWriMo’s technical abilities and deep reach into the writing community.

The idea is to keep the entries under 2,000 words. I’m seeing stories that are light and fun, and a competition that is open to all genres and both genders. I also see a lot of new word-of-mouth marketing territory being covered.

Alongside each story submitted are links to the author’s website, blog, and social media. All of this cross-linking will move up everyone’s rankings in the search engines, and will provide a special incentive for the authors who enter the competition.

Once the entry date closes, let the voting begin. During this period, post samples of some of the stories on the Spanx blog, even if some of the stories (I’m thinking SciFi and Paranormal writers here) poke a little fun at the various and unexpected uses of the brand’s merchandise.

Blast out those press releases and get Sara Blakely camera ready for all those interviews announcing that the top five winners will be revealed on the Spanx website on X day at Noon Eastern time.

I hope that Spanx is prepared to handle all that web traffic. Of course, if it isn’t, it would make for a great headline: “Readers Overwhelm Spanx Website! Amazon Concerned.”

Take the top fifty stories, create an e-book anthology, and sell it at online e-book retailers to raise money for literacy programs connected to NaNoWriMo.

The Spanx brand has now established itself as a leader in the fight for global literacy. NaNoWriMo has attracted new corporate sponsors to help provide funding for education programs for young writers. Self-published and indie-published authors, now recognized as social media marketing powerhouses, are already brainstorming for next year’s “March Marketing Madness” competition.

I’d call that a win-win-win.

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  1. Haha How do you come up with these ideas? They’re fun and could work, too!

  2. I LOVE it, Ashley! What a fantastic idea – for Spanx (great products, by the way) and indies. Talk about matrixed marketing. Brilliant!

    Keep that brain cooking up great ideas!

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  4. What a great idea! Now you have my brain cogitating on innovative use of Spanx for dragons…

  5. You’re so freaking good at this stuff, Ashley.

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