Are You a Chevrolet or a Ferrari?
by Mary Ellen Stepanich, Ph.D.
Thirty-four years ago I was studying for my Ph.D. at Purdue University, learning more than I wanted to know about management, marketing, human behavior, and how to improve work performance in people and organizations. The field was called “Organizational Behavior,” but those of us in the program called it “the applied psychology of management,” or “how to get people to do what you want…and love it.”
We also learned something about marketing and strategic management, or how to assess your organization’s competitive position in the market, and then figure out how to improve it. One of the marketing analysis models I particularly liked was an assessment of the generic strategies of (1) low-cost leadership, (2) differentiation strategy, and (3) niche marketing. Those approaches are more easily understood by using the following model:
How does this relate to marketing your books? Well, compare your product(s) to this model of automobiles. For example, have you written a Ferrari of a book for a market of readers that is narrowly focused, such as a glossy picture book for children aged five to eight? If so, you need to follow a niche marketing strategy. Or have you written a variety of General Motors style books – memoirs, romances, or cozy mysteries? Then, you might want to think in terms of a differentiation strategy, positioning yourself in multiple genres. If you plan to crank out KIA-style ebooks at 99¢ each, you’ve probably chosen a low-cost leadership strategy.
There are risks for each competitive strategy, of course. Low-cost may mean success can only come with high sales volume, and that can increase cost-of-sales (marketing) and ultimately lead to loss of profit. If the pursuit of low cost also results in reducing product quality, the strategy is self-defeating.
One of the hazards connected with differentiation, especially in the field of book writing, is that it may result in early burnout, or a possible difficulty in maintaining quality while writing in different genres. Such a writer may lose touch with the various markets and misjudge what the reading public really wants.
Focus and specialization is the natural pursuit for most writers. We tend to do what we do best – i.e., specialize in the area that matches our interests and talents. The risk, of course, is that the demand for our specialization may erode, or even disappear. In today’s book markets, the focus on genre is becoming complicated, as more and more sub-genres are created. For instance, I think of my novel as a romantic-comedy-mystery-travelogue (with a touch of “cozy” thrown in.) Such a cross-genre product makes it especially difficult to attract an agent.
My advice – for what it’s worth – is to know yourself and the type of product you want to produce, and to know your market and the type of product they want to buy. As I once read somewhere:
Be who you are as loud as you can,
and those who value what you are
will beat a path to your door.
Dr. Mary Ellen Stepanich is a retired professor of organizational behavior who always told her students at Purdue, “I’m very organized, but my behavior is a bit wonky.” She has published articles in academic journals (boring), show scripts for barbershop choruses and quartets (funny), and an award-winning radio play, “Voices from the Front,” for Sun Sounds of Arizona (heartrending). Mary Ellen lives in Peoria, Arizona, with her cat, Cookie, and blogs on her website, MaryEllenStepanich.com.