A core axiom of non-bookstore marketing is that you are not selling your book, but the use of your content to solve a prospective customer’s problem. Showing your potential buyers how to do that may take a little creativity.
Brainstorming – group thinking to find innovative answers to a particular dilemma – is generally used to stimulate ideas. Apply this technique to finding new ways to solve your prospective customers’ problems and you can develop a new source of significant special-sales revenue.
For example, what if you have a book on dog care? You would probably consider a manufacturer of dog-food as a prospect. After talking with a product manager at one of those companies you learn that he or she wants to increase sales of their 20-pound bags of dog food. During a brainstorming session you come up with the idea of helping them solve their problem by placing a coupon in (or on) the bags offering a free download of your ebook to their customer. Voila. They sell more dog food and you have just sold 5,000 ebooks, since they will purchase the one-time-use codes in advance.
You may think, “So what. I don’t have a book on dog care.” Or, “My book is fiction and that won’t work.” If so, you are probably in analytic mode, not allowing your innate creativity to come through. Not everyone believes they are original thinkers, and they assume innovative problem solving is reserved for right-brain “creative types” who find ideas flowing liberally in a free-wheeling brainstorming session. In reality, we are all creative, but this trait is revealed in different ways.
Left-brainstorming is an alternative to traditional brainstorming that allows introverted, analytical types to unleash their innate creativity. It proceeds in much the same way as right-brainstorming. The problem is defined, and then people come up with novel ways to solve it. Participants offer their ideas in a quest for as many potential solutions as possible. The alternatives are later ranked according to their perceived feasibility.
Left-brainstorming deviates in one important way. It is initially conducted in solitude, encouraging more-systematic people to make valuable contributions in a comfortable way. Their ideas are usually targeted and concise for four reasons. First, they are written on small pieces of paper that are posted only when everyone reconvenes to discuss their contributions. Second, analytical people tend to describe things in a pithier manner. Third, there is no prolonged discussion of the idea until later in the process. And finally, people are not intimidated since there is no opportunity for others to dismiss their ideas. As Charlie Brower says, “A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip, and worried to death by a frown.”
After the period of seclusion, everyone gathers again to discuss their ideas. When a concept is presented, the piece of paper on which it was written is placed on a wall, grouped with others by topic. As the process unfolds, the initial concept is developed and honed so the end result is tailored to solve the initial challenge. The participants add to – or offer an alternative to -- others’ ideas, but in a less contentious environment.
Participants finally judge the applicability of ideas and eliminate those they feel are impractical. An explanation is given as to why an idea is being removed from consideration, so egos are less likely to be damaged.
Another benefit of this technique is that the problem-solving session can evolve over a longer period than traditional brainstorming. If the idea cards remain on the wall, people can contribute at different times. Those who were not in the original session can view the cards and offer their comments. If posted online, people from distant locations can also make suggestions, since the trail of ideas is visible and fluid.
There is no “one way” to come up with creative solutions to marketing challenges. No formula exists to unleash innovative thinking. Solutions to problems can arise at any time, through a brainstorming session or serendipity. The only block to coming up with new ideas is one’s belief that he or she is not creative. If you feel that way, seek those of similar ilk and try left-brainstorming. You may be surprised at the fun you can have doing what you previously thought was impossible.
Brian Jud is the Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales and author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books.