The Tupperware Party As The New Marketing Metaphor

June 5th, 2007 · 4 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Every now and then, we are contacted by very kind individuals who are part of publishing “blogging outreach” programs. Based on our very careful, very detailed research, we have determined that these good folks are tasked with contacting bloggers of various persuasions and asking them if they would like free books.

Your corporate website is not friendly nor usable enough to serve the community you’re trying to build.

Truly, who doesn’t want free books?

Let us suggest that this is a good first step, but not nearly enough. Yesterday, we began discussing the concept of niches. Today, we’re going to start in on community and how you can use it to mutual advantage. That’s an important word there, mutual. In the olden days, before and after the invention of electricity, marketing was seen as a one-way endeavor: you market, they buy.

Today’s audiences are far to cynical to fall for this ploy. The most effective types of marketing come from trust relationships (note to Microsoft and your college outreach program: college kids know that those so-called “peers” are just trying to sell something; they’re not so much buying as wasting time). Part of building trust is building community.

Once upon a time, members of neighborhoods sold Avon or Tupperware. Generally, what would happen is that someone would become a “Tupperware Lady”. They would encourage a friend to have a “party”. At this party, a sales pitch would be made, extolling the virtues of the product, perhaps offering free samples, and definitely there would be food. Probably not booze, though it’s not a bad idea when you’re trying to get someone to part with funds.

One key aspect of the Tupperware Lady was that she lived in your neighborhood. You could, as you drove by, see lots of shiny, colored plastic in her garage. Some it might be yours, being readied for delivery. You would see your Tupperware Lady at the grocery store. You’d have conversations, sometimes about the product, sometimes about the weather, sometimes about the Dodgers.

And because she knew you, your Tupperware Lady would fret if there were delays or problems. She wasn’t just a salesperson, she was part of the community. Her success depended upon her ability to provide quality, value, service, and, yes, make casual conversation at the grocery store about things that had nothing to do with her job. She also depended on you to be so pleased with what you’ve received (that lovely hostess gift, for example) that you would be willing to introduce her to your friends — so that they could have parties and learn to love Tupperware.

So this is the thing about all those niches we’ve been talking about: they are a whole bunch of Tupperware parties waiting to be had. Rather than just giving books (though we still believe this is a fine gesture!), blogger outreach programs should must include community immersion. We have long pointed out the folly of the drive-by author: “Hi, I’m so happy to be part of your community. I plan to participate all the time. I have a new book coming out tomorrow. Please buy it.”

Drive-by authors are never heard from again. Unless they should be lucky enough to release another book. Funny thing is that these authors are so clueless that they don’t realize how sad and pathetic their efforts are. The community as a whole considers them no more than a truck rolling by with a blaring loudspeaker. The message is irritating but easily ignored. Life goes on.

It is the authors who join communities and remain engaged who find their efforts rewarded. Mostly because they’re not selling their books. In fact, mentioning new releases is often a casual afterthought. It doesn’t need to be part of the everyday conversation. Just as you know when members of your community have a new baby (hmm, are there old babies to be had?), you know when members of your community release new books.

There are ways to impart this information while being subtle and true to the mores of the community.

Blogger outreach should also extend beyond the LitBlog community. LitBlogs are very nice and as you pass from nexus to nexus on the web that forms the community, you find that you’re reaching a larger and increasingly diverse audience. BS readers overlap with readers of other LitBlogs, but we also have a core community all to ourself (selfish, yes). Traversing the little strands between blogs helps in building trust among familiar faces while reaching new readers.

You must also reach out to other niches. There are many of them out there. Just as knitters don’t turn to the Washington Post for information on new patterns, members of various communities have their own trusted resources for information. If you’re trying to sell something that meets the needs of a community, you need to sell to that community. Cross-niche success will come if it makes sense — or if you have a product that’s so awesome that it gets the knitters buzzing to the point that they tell the quilters who tell the crocheters who can’t wait to share with the needlepoint group. You see how this goes?

You accomplish your goals in a few ways. First, you comment about posts. This seems so simple, doesn’t it? Au contraire, au contraire. You, dear marketer, must remember to comment on topic and, unless your product is so absolutely on point, without mentioning what you’re selling. Not a word. You have just entered someone else’s house, semi-invited. Be a good guest. You can debate and discuss, but only to the topic at hand. This is where the Tupperware thing gets a little messy: you don’t get to pitch a book until you’re invited, either directly or by asking the blog owner if they’d be willing to allow you to take the floor.

These guest posts are lovely ways to talk to a community. You still need to understand that community: what is the tone, how do they approach the topic, how can you make your goals mesh with theirs. Because you’re new, it might take a while before other community members feel comfortable approaching you. This is where being a regular commenter really does come in handy — others feel like they know you. They also feel more inclined to listen to your sales pitch because you are trusted. Finally, you are not just taking from this group. You’re giving back.

Also, generally speaking, it’s a really good idea if you have a robust, interesting, not-necessarily-sales-oriented publishing blog to link back to…if the blogosphere is like a neighborhood, your blog is like a house or condo or however you want to consider it. We can pretty much guarantee that your corporate website is not friendly nor usable enough to serve as an appropriate extension of the community you’re trying to build. Quite the opposite.

We know, we know, marketing books online is so easy! Go forth and execute.

File Under: Marketing For Introverts

4 responses so far ↓

  • Helen W. Mallon // Jun 7, 2007 at 3:59 am

    Stumbled across Booksquare at just the right time…thank you for good advice re: online communities!

  • Joe Wikert // Jun 8, 2007 at 9:00 am

    You make a number of excellent points, but I have to admit that I’ve been pleased to see some very old-school publishers starting to reach out to the blogosphere. They’re at least acknowledging the importance of blogging, which is step one; it’s also a *huge* step because so many of these folks are set in their ways and don’t buy into anything that smells or feels like technology.

    You’re absolutely right about the need for these marketing/PR folks to take the next step and learn to be good, regular community contributors and builders. That too is likely to take some time, unfortunately.

    That said, your post got me thinking more about the community of publishing in general. Your blog is great and there are quite a few others out there that I regularly read as well…but, I feel like we’re all out there building our own little silos and finding each other through chance. Something important is missing and it’s preventing us from creating a rich, dynamic community environment.

    I’m talking about some sort of meta-blog or aggregator that focuses on vertical segments. Publishing is a great example. Why isn’t there a site that talks about all the great publishing blogs out there today, keeps an eye out for new and interesting ones tomorrow and serves as a central repository for all our RSS feeds? I hate to use the word “portal” because it feels too 1990’s-ish, but I guess that’s what I’m talking about. I feel there’s an enormous hole waiting to be filled by some enterprising person who wants to pull all these little silos together to create a bunch of very impressive and engaging destination sites.

    I hope you don’t consider that too far off topic, especially since it’s all about building the community.

  • Kassia Krozser // Jun 8, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Joe — there is one place that I know is doing quite a bit of what you’re talking about: MetaxuCafe. Bud Parr, who created the site, has done quite of bit of interesting work on various sites and literary-related projects. While I don’t spend nearly enough time there, it’s always a good time when I do.

    But that’s not to say that Bud Parr has cornered the market (I’m sure he’d agree there, especially since his site is more reader/writer oriented than publisher/writer) and I think it’s important that the different silos are brought together in a different ways. That hole will be filled, if not by me or you or someone we know, then someone else who sees the same needs that we do.

    On the flip side, I sometimes hear about someone who is starting a “MySpace for books”. Part of me thinks that’s great — there isn’t a true social network for book people — and part of me cringes because it seems that the people who want to create this space don’t really understand the concept of social networks. MySpace does what MySpace does, but for all the people who find it useful and part of their daily routine, there are just as many who find it to be a mess and unworkable (count me in the latter). I would feel much more positive if someone said they were going to build on the ideas that make MySpace great — and there are many — but make it something just a little newer, a little fresher.

    By the way, I do believe that niche social networks are about to rise and show their strength.

  • Times emit » Blog Archive » A few Quick Things // Jun 20, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    […] BookSquare tells publishers that their “blog outreach” programmes are the tupperware parties of the noughties, but are also hobbled by the fact that their corporate sites are so, well, lame: “Your corporate website is not friendly nor usable enough to serve the community you’re trying to build…Also, generally speaking, it’s a really good idea if you have a robust, interesting, not-necessarily-sales-oriented publishing blog to link back to…if the blogosphere is like a neighborhood, your blog is like a house or condo or however you want to consider it. We can pretty much guarantee that your corporate website is not friendly nor usable enough to serve as an appropriate extension of the community you’re trying to build. Quite the opposite.” […]