I’ve used this phrase a lot in the past year: “human-centered marketing.” To me, this is the type of marketing that truly works. The kind that moves books. That creates a career for a writer. That develops a sense of fulfillment in the process.
Today I want to talk about what human-centered marketing is, and how it does (and doesn’t) relate to so many author platform and book marketing trends you may have heard about in the past decade.
Let’s dig in…
Marketing “Best Practices”
One of the more controversial things I wrote in my book, Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience, is to avoid best practices. I understand why writers seek out best practices with marketing: they want tried and true strategies that won’t make them embarrass themselves.
The problem with best practices? Everyone is doing them. Usually they are copying a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a marketing strategy that used to work really well when it was unique and new. But now everyone is doing it, and oftentimes, they are half-baking it. They put in the minimum effort, hoping for the maximum result.
They end up with the concurrent feelings of “I’m doing everything I’m supposed to be doing to grow my author platform and market my book,” and “Gosh, nothing seems to be working.”
You have likely seen a lot of these best practices in the past few years, and have perhaps become overwhelmed by them.
Maybe you have been told you that you need a newsletter list, that you have to create a compelling “lead magnet”, that you have to use hashtags left and right, that you should run a webinar, do a blog tour, create a course, get on Medium, buy social media ads, or do 100 other tasks.
Can each of these tactics work? Absolutely.
But they each have a critical flaw: too much content, not enough actual engagement. For the person creating them, sometimes they hide behind this content. They can create a beautiful author website, setup an email list, create a lead magnet, send out newsletters, post them to social media with hashtags, link to them in Facebook groups, and so on.
They put all of this content out there, but oftentimes have very little engagement with another human being. They end up with a few social media “likes” to show for it.
On the flipside, it overwhelms people with content. When I started my company WeGrowMedia nearly a decade ago to work with writers and creators, most people didn’t have email newsletters, and online courses were this fresh new thing. People still needed to be convinced that social media, blogging, online video and so many other things were viable ways to market their work.
But today, I often hear from readers who are hesitant to sign up for yet another email newsletter, podcast, blog, or social media channel. There has been an open floodgate of content coming at them for years.
Psychological Marketing Triggers
How have people tried to make their online content more compelling? Two ways: exaggeration and ‘fear of missing out,’ otherwise known as FOMO. These are psychological triggers that encourage people to take action.
For example, a writer recently shared with me a course that she liked which taught the practical steps of how to self-publish a book. 90% of the course was about the specific ways to format a book, to upload it to a distributor, etc. Of the entire course, three minutes of it were focused on marketing. But to make the course seem more appealing, the instructor added the phrase “bestselling book” to the title.
Why? Because it makes the entire course feel more valuable. It’s an exaggeration.
Could the steps taught in the course apply to a book that happens to become a bestseller? Yes. Will these steps help make a book a bestseller? Um, maybe? Not any more than 3 minutes of diet advice will give you six-pack abs. Or 3 minutes of financial advice will make you a millionaire.
I suppose I could try to do both in a single sentence: “To get six-pack abs do lots of sit ups and to become a millionaire, save your money and hire a good investment broker.”
But that advice is simplistic, and exaggerates the likelihood of the potential outcome. You probably see promotions like these all over the internet. “10 Easy Steps to Launch a Bestselling Book in Just 10 Days!” Things like that. Otherwise useful advice is oversold with exaggeration.
The other psychological trigger that is often used is fear of missing out. Limited time deals or access. This one is remarkably effective, as indicated by sales we see at stores and online retailers. While it makes sense to pay less for an item you need, how often in our lives have we bought something we ended up not really needing, just because we didn’t want to miss out on a good deal? (Yes, I have a barely used pasta maker sitting on a shelf. I mean, did I really think I needed to make my own pasta?! But it was such a good deal!)
You see FOMO used all the time with authors and creators. And while there is nothing wrong with it, my concern is when it becomes the only way to market something. For example: a limited time book deal or bundle that go away at midnight. Even when these deals work and bring in an actual sale, the end result doesn’t usually lead to the books being read and enjoyed. Like my pasta maker, the books just sit there, unread.
Trust, Communication, and Relationships
What does work? Years ago when the phrase “author platform” first came out, I defined it as consisting of two things:
I’ve often heard that the only marketing that really works is word-of-mouth marketing. If you consider what that is, it is exactly as I described: good communication, between people who know and trust each other.
Not a website, not a newsletter, not a blog, not a limited-time bundle deal.
How does an author develop trust and communication with their potential readers? Knowing who your audience is, knowing who connects to them, knowing what resonates, and having conversations and connections.
In other words: actual engagement with real human beings.
Every success story relies on them. You will never hear an interview with a successful author or artist that doesn’t reference how communication, trust, and relationships were a key factor in their success.
That is what human-centered marketing is. Connecting with real people, in meaningful ways, and in the process establishing the skill of communicating what you create in a way that creates trust, engagement, and professional relationships.
This is baked into human beings. The desire to connect. To co-create. To share. To support. To communicate.
But this may sound scary to some writers because the other thing baked into human beings is fear of social rejection. So sometimes we tell ourselves it is better to post a blog on Medium or use a hashtag, than to reach out to an actual reader, author, librarian, or event organizer.
But time and time again, I’ve seen human-centered marketing work to help a writer not just establish their career, but ensure it is filled with a sense of meaning and fulfillment, not hollow social media numbers.
This process is geared towards introverts (as well as extroverts and people in-between.) So many writers I speak to describe themselves as introverts, and they fear it prevents them from reaching readers. But being an introvert is not a liability, it is a strength.
Human-centered marketing allows them to connect to their audience in a way that feels natural: one-to-one, on your terms, focused on listening, filled with empathy, and one person at a time.
What’s more is that this kind of marketing only becomes more powerful over time, unlike most marketing tactics which flame out quickly (such as those based on exaggeration or FOMO.)
This is the marketing I help writers do. The stuff that feels great and actually works. They are skills that grow over time.