This is how we did it.
A few years ago, the marketplace was speaking loudly to us. We didn’t notice for awhile. After all, we were the experts. But, we eventually heard our customers saying,”you’re not helping us in the way we want to be helped.” Ouch.
After some reflection, we decided to close our existing program and just start listening. Literally, our representatives went to the field armed with a pencil, pad and business card. No brochures, no books, no checklists.
Humility Accelerates Acceptance
Our customers were thrilled by our new approach. They told us about their challenges and dreams and they even told us how they wanted to be served.
Before long, trends started to emerge. We identified three separate markets that we previously lumped into one. Twelve different “pain” subjects surfaced and organically divided by the three market segments and took on a natural order of prioritization.
We started to really understand our customer’s needs. Only then, did we appreciate how they consumed information and it was completely different than the way we had been offering. They wanted little practical books (12,000-15,000 words) that could be ingested in just one sitting and in both digital and printed formats.
We were almost ready to start over again. We now knew our audience. We knew the topics they were interested in. We knew how they wanted to receive the content. What we needed now was a new wine skin to hold the new wine.
Plan for Success
We explored traditional versus self-publishing options and decided on the latter. We developed an aggressive two-year editorial calendar to create a 12 book series based on the 12 topics our customers told us they were interested in. We decided on offering the books for free; eliminating any barriers to the widest distribution, acceptance and brand identity.
We sought out industry experts to write the books, from inside and outside our organization, based on subject matter. We kept our audience and other industry specialists engaged the entire time as they helped us refine the content. They became like adjunct faculty owning the process and the excitement and anticipation gained momentum.
At the same time, our customers also told us that would like bite-sized blog posts on the same issues and a safe online community to share ideas. We engaged a few different outsourced creative specialists to help us with the book packaging, design and editing, new website and look and feel.
Build Execution Into Your Strategy
Since we did not have a budget much beyond production costs, we had to build a contagion into execution. In other words, we had to rely on word of mouth and referrals online and off. The question became… How could we help the people we were helping to want to share these books with their friends and associates?
We decided that Amazon would be our primary digital provider because they are the biggest but more importantly, they are an influential search engine that other search engines rely upon. So, we knew if we could become successful on Amazon, Google and others would then become part of our spread the good news strategy.
We learned the Amazon Kindle system for self-publishing digital product (called KDP) and how to maximize the opportunity with being very intentional about categories and keywords. We also discover that some book categories and keywords were less used than others making it possible for us to take an immediate market leadership position.
In truth, we were building the plane in the air. We were inventing it as we went.
We decided to self-publish the print versions and control the distribution to as many decision maker and influencers as possible. That way, our first readers could tell their friends and followers that free Kindle versions of the books were available on Amazon. We also added supplemental helpful resources to our books for free download on our new website along with a free membership to our online community and blog.
Using Leverage to Do More With Less
Amazon’s Top 100 Paid ranking is primarily based on the number of Kindle books purchased and Amazon’s Top 100 Free rankings are simply based upon downloads, that is, free downloads. Getting Amazon to distribute your books for free is tricky but it can be done if other reputable sites also offer your books for free. In our case, 350 other sites.
The Amazon ranking algorithms are secret but the more books that were downloaded the higher that title went up in the rankings and the more titles that were added, the more previously released books seemed to be downloaded.
In short, it worked. Ultimately, all six books were in the Top 10 of the Top Free 100 List in three list categories at same time. The seventh book is being readied for release now. I now believe that the original 12 books in the series, once published, can hold the Top 10 rankings in the same three categories locking out any challengers.
Success in an Unlikely Industry
The industry, organization and specialty studied here are anything but cutting edge proving that innovation can trump incumbency and resourcefulness can be more advantageous than resources under the right direction. In this case, here are some specifics:
Industry: Religious Institutions
Organization: Joni and Friends
Specialty: Disability Ministry
Program: Irresistible Church
Market Segments: Church Leaders, Volunteers and Families and Caregivers
Content Manager: Mike Dobes
Professor and Director of Church Relations at the Christian Institute on Disability Jeff McNair said, “…the Irresistible Church series could be considered among the most significant contributions to the furthering of disability ministry in the past 10 years. I say this because of the people I hear from telling me about how helpful the materials have been.”
Joni and Friends is an amazing ministry demonstrating the love of Jesus to people affected by disability worldwide. The Irresistible Church has become the point of entry for domestic churches wanting to serve people affected by disabilities. Disability ministry can help a church become irresistible to people affected by disability and hopefully to others in their communities they serve.
Glory to God!