A Social Media Marketing Case Study: Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields

image of Jonathan Field's Uncertainty

I started blogging in 2007 because I’d just signed my first book deal with Random House and I realized that social media was about to become a huge tool in any author’s marketing arsenal.

What I didn’t realize was how huge.

It’s become the core of my marketing outreach not just for books, but for everything I do.

But with the launch of my new book, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel for Brilliance, I decided to take things to an entirely different level, test a bunch of new strategies, and bring video strongly into the picture.

I knew some things would hit big and others would bomb. The results, though, surprised even me.

Here’s how it’s unfolded …

A brief outline of the entire approach

My Major Goals for the Launch:

  • Generate thousands of pre-orders
  • Build substantial buzz that ramped to fever-pitch on launch

My Major Goals for the Book – Long Term:

  • Get ideas and strategies into the hands of creators to help them do great work, without suffering
  • Arm entrepreneurs and corporate teams with tools that fuel higher-levels of creativity and innovation

My Approach:

  • Create a highly-differentiated design & user experience
  • Create a time-release anticipation & buzz-building launch sequence
  • Leverage video to turn a text product into a multi-sensory experience
  • Give a ton of high-value content, experiences, and tools along the way
  • Create irresistible pre-order “experience” offers
  • Blend response-principles with social outreach
  • Integrate social media, video and applications

The big picture strategy

I’m a bit of a freak about visual feel.

I was heavily involved in the cover design process of the book and I wanted to ensure that everything we created online for the launch also created a visual experience that said, “wow, this is different.”

But, I also knew I wanted to be able to start to let people know something was coming, while we worked on the bigger launch pages. So, I started by adding a very simple “book page” on my blog that had the book cover, a few paragraphs, and links to booksellers to pre-order.

Behind the scenes, though, we were in heavy design and marketing mode.

The big challenge was to create something that was visually stunning, but also was really smart and effective from a response-driven marketing point of view. I’d seen a lot of book mini-sites and, while some were very polished, they were also really ineffective at driving visitors to a particular call-to-action.

And I began to realize that to really pull of what I wanted to do, we’d need to create not only a series of very cool pieces of mixed-media “engagement” content to release, but a website that progressed through a number of different phases that would allow the structure and design to support the key calls to action and media at each point of the pre-launch campaign.

So, here’s what we did …

The tactics and the sequence of events

Phase 1: The Opening Shot and Conditioning the Market

This happened almost two months before the book came out.

Traditional book marketing wisdom says this is way too early. But the main point here was to get onto peoples’ radars and start to build an emotion around the “brand” of the book.

We were also looking to start building a segmented list of people who’d be interested in pre-ordering the book, which would allow us to reach back out to them a number of times over the course of the launch.

I also didn’t want to put up a full mini-site with navigation at this point. It was too early to be giving so much information and asking for any substantial action. This was all about building energy, emotion, anticipation, and a list.

I wanted to set the tone for what was to come and use storytelling and video to make that happen. So we hired Michelle Vargas and her video production team to create a very simple, yet really powerful book trailer where I actually never even mentioned the book or asked anyone to buy it. In fact, the only call-to-action in the video came in the form of a bigger question about life at the end. You’ll have to watch the trailer to see the question.

Here is the video:


Click here to watch it on YouTube

We then embedded the book trailer on a very simple landing page and made the video ginormous on the page. Next, we added a few calls-to-action aimed not at selling, but at evangelizing and commenting.

  • Sign up for info about pre-order bundles
  • Share the page on social media
  • Leave a comment

At first, we were going to use the typical WordPress comment section, but changed it to Facebook comments to capitalize on the viral potential within the Facebook platform.

I had Charlie Pabst, from Charfish Designs do the building all the way through every phase of this launch and he also did the design for the first few phases, until we launched the full mini-site.

Here’s a screenshot of the first landing page (it’s not public anymore).

As soon as we published it, I shared it on my blog, twitter, Facebook and Google+ and did a small amount of DMing to simply tell a few friends “this exists.”

I didn’t overtly ask anyone to spread it around, but rather leaned on the gut feeling that we’d created something that would really resonate. Sure, I hoped people would consider it worthy of sharing. Whether they were compelled to share it or not would come down to how good the video was and how clean the page was.

A few minutes later, I had my answer.

It took off. The site started getting shared very quickly, Facebook comments poured in creating powerful social proof, the social buttons underneath the video were racking up serious counts, and the pre-order notice list started to build.

My email was flooded with stories from people all day, sharing their own stories. I literally sat in front of my screen for an entire day on the verge of tears. It was amazing to be sitting in the eye of a tornado of such deep emotion and connection like that.

We then pulled back and let that energy feed on itself for about a week, then it was time for phase 2.

Phase 2: Rolling out The First “Experience”

In this phase, I wanted to inspire people to not only pre-order, but pre-order more than 1 book for a number of reasons.

One, because I wanted to move books. But, also, for a more old-fashioned, human reason. I love when someone hand-selects a book and gives it to me. There’s something really powerful about that. It’s much more meaningful. So, I wanted to encourage people to buy multiple copies and give the book to friends. To create that connection.

But as a marketer, I also knew that the more options I introduced at once, the more likely potential buyers would be to suffer the paradox of choice and buy nothing.

So I started with a single offer, the one I thought would be the most desirable (and likely to be purchased). This was a 3-book bundle “experience.” I knew I’d create other offers, but I held them back to avoid muddying the decision-making process and hurting conversion.

We kept the same design, but stripped the Facebook comments and list-building form and added in long-format copy for the 3-book offer. We also kept the video in mega-size on top because, by then, we knew it was really moving a lot of people and driving a lot of sharing of the site.

It was also important to me to create an offer that was truly extraordinary, not just another dopey “pre-order and you’ll get a bazillion PDFs worth $2 gazillion dollars that everyone knows are available without cost all over the web.”

Not my style. I wanted to create a genuine experience that both expanded on the book and also allowed me to create a real value proposition that was somewhere between 50 and 100 times the cost of the book.

So, I did some things that have never been done before and decided not to just keep it digital, but create something powerful and tangible.

I spent months working with badass Austin, Tx illustrator, Marty Whitmore and Megan Morris from IdeaSchema to create two insanely cool concept illustrations around two key ideas from the book. These were then turned into 16″ x 20″ limited-edition, signed, numbered giclee fine-art prints — real works of art with real value.

Here are mini-images of the two illustrations:

Then I added in a 6-week live teleseminar-based training with me and convinced many of the high-level people I interviewed for the book to allow me to edit the interviews into a super-cool Creative Masters Interview series.

The value of this bundle went into the thousands of dollars, and it was a real value. People realized that. Once we had this all ready to post, we went live, I again posted it around social and the pre-orders began to flow.

Time for the big shift.

Phase 3: Mini-site, Multiple Offers and Buzz-Central

We gave that first offer some time in the market. Then, behind the scenes, I’d been working with the amazing Reese Spykerman to design the fuller mini-site. But even then, I didn’t want the entire site to go up all at once.

Too much to think about.

And as long I was creating multi-book experiences with additional elements that allowed me to create irresistible offers, I didn’t need a whole lot of extra information about the book itself up. People were buying the larger experience and the larger value proposition. At this point, the book pretty much rode along as the sprinkles, not the cupcake.

I knew that would need to change over time, but not yet.

We launched the new design, but only in the form of a landing page with multiple pre-order offers and, again, people started buying. Though, as I suspected, the 3-book experience was very much the sweet spot.

I then introduced a number of videos, all designed to keep drawing people back to the site to experience the video content. And I spread them around, too, both on the book site and on my main blog. I hosted all the video on Youtube in order to create the greatest opportunity for sharing, too.

One video was a really goofy, tongue-in-cheek offer to shave a company’s logo in my hair and dye it to match if they brought 10,000 books (Marc Benioff from Salesforce.com, call me, dude!). That got a lot of giggles and the production value and animation was actually super professional.


Click here to watch it on YouTube

The next was a slideshow video based on a poem I wrote called Have a Little Faith. It had a powerful indirect message for the exact demographic that would benefit from the book. I went subtle again with the call-to-action here. You can see it at the very end.

There’s nothing about buying the book in the video. It’s more about creating an emotion that anchors to the book in a very under the radar way, while also creating a standalone experience that had value, regardless of whether the viewer ever bought the book.


Click here to watch it on YouTube

Some went on my main blog at JonathanFields.com. But if it wasn’t on the book site, there was always a clear call-to-action in the post text and leading the Youtube description field to learn more about the book by clicking over to TheUncertaintyBook.com.

At the same time, with each passing week, the buzz around the book, the offers, the videos and the ideas from the book were gaining steam.

Uncertainty and its “multi-sensory brand extensions” were pretty much everywhere. Pre-orders were rolling in.

About two weeks before launch date, I staged in the full mini-site with a ton killer reviews, sample pages, the whole yadda yadda. You can see the current full site design here.

Oh, and, I should probably also tell you, I was running a bunch of this while spending 3-weeks driving up the California coast with my family. That was an interesting adventure!

Phase 4: Launch Window

This is where we are right now.

During this entire process, I’ve also been doing a massive amount of outreach to my community, my relationships and friends to inspire them to help in the final launch phase. A lot of people offered to help get the word out, both because they believed in the book, and in me.

That, by the way, is an incredibly humbling thing.

I wanted to make that process as easy as possible, so I offered to write a lot of guest posts (like this one) and do a ton of interviews.

This was a huge amount of work, but many of these folks were friends who were doing something really nice for me, so to the extent that my personal bandwidth could handle it, I was happy to do it.

Starting about 10 days before the launch date, I began to post more actively about the book and ask my tribes to do the same. Every day, the buzz continued to build.

This week, I then launched a story-sharing contest which has seen the creation of dozens of insanely inspiring personal stories, both in the comments on my blog and on websites all over social media.

On Tuesday, I released a special online application called the Creative Mindset Audit tool, which is a mindset assessment app I had built for the launch. I mentioned this tool across social media and hundreds of people started completing the assessment and sharing both the tool and their scores.

And, today, to celebrate the actual launch day for book, I’m holding a live-streaming book launch party at TheUncertaintyBook.com.

I’ll be live-streaming there from 1-4pm EDT (New York) time, having a ton of fun, answering questions, having special guests stop by and giving away a bunch of super cool prizes that include a Kindle FIRE, Kindle, iTunes and BN Gift Cards and more. But you’ve gotta be there to win. Feel free to swing by and say hello, btw!

Wrapping it all up

While this may seem like a lot, what I’ve shared here is actually only a fraction of what went on behind the scenes. And, since this is already a monster post, I’ve left a bunch of things out.

I have an amazing team and, in the end, what we’re really all trying to do is not just move a ton of books (we pre-sold thousands, btw), but change a lot of lives.

The book’s website is still getting shared across social media like crazy with nearly 3,000 Facebook shares, 1,110 tweets, and, to my surprise, it’s been emailed more than 600 times. That’s all due, in large part, to the power of the book trailer video and the strong emphasis on sharing on every page. But, it’s also about the message.

I worked so hard to bring this book to market, because I know in my heart it’s going to help people. Especially artists and entrepreneurs who struggle with the need to make choices and take action in the face of uncertainty. The big message is that you have to go to that place, but properly armed, you don’t have to experience it as anxiety, pain or suffering.

And, that’s a message I hope people can get behind and experience.

Truth is, this is all fun, cool stuff, but the single most important thing you can do as a marketer, an entrepreneur or a creator is … build something remarkable.

Do that, everything else falls into place.

About the Author: Jonathan Fields is the author of Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel for Brilliance, he blogs at JonathanFields.com and runs the acclaimed Tribal Author Camp online book marketing training.

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  1. It’s so great to see your approach to this all beautifully laid out, Jonathan. A lot to learn for everyone. Amazing what an author can do who isn’t afraid of marketing and who understands both people and the web .

  2. Thanks for this. Please let us know the final results!

  3. Smart, but completely out of the financial reach of most new business owners.

    • Some of the elements, like top-quality video or expensive prizes are, but many aren’t. Look for the items you can execute based on the resources you have today.

      And take a look at how he approaches the problem — with short-term and long-term goals, with thoughts on how he can use what he has, and by using a strong message to resonate with his audience. Any of us can do that.

    • For example, think about how you can use email messages, blog posts, live calls (you can do these on free services) and PDF special reports in place of the video. Think about how to use landing pages in place of the separate site. If you don’t have 50 friends who have successful blogs, turn to the 3 successful bloggers you do know. Instead of the creative mindset audit tool, do a Q&A call.

      Look at the framework, and don’t get bogged down if an individual tactic won’t work for you.

      • You’re absolutely right.

        The mentality, work ethic, and broader vision can be simplified to work for any sized product launch.

        I related to a lot of the writing in this because I literally just released my report on how I sold my own start up business/website/product for $50,000.

        If you’re interested in a free read it’s here: http://t.co/uBdd0yFo

      • Sonia’s very right.

        I’m not a big organization and money was very much a limiting factor. So I did a ton of work by getting creative and trading time for money, then saving my money for the few things I knew I couldn’t really do at the level I wanted.

        The video is the perfect example. The trailer and the 10,000 book video that Michelle did was where I spent serious money, but most of the other stuff was very affordable.

    • I also wanted to inquire about how much all this work and promotion cost, ballpark. It looks like it would on the order of tens of thousands of dollars.

  4. Great summary of your efforts. Congratulations on the launch.

    For some reason, this post touched me. Perhaps it was just the music in the videos, but I was moved. Weird.

  5. Jonathan, I think your launch campaign was rounded, stylish, clever and persuasive. (I went for your 3-book bundle.) But the thing that impressed me the most is that you weren’t obnoxious. I saw all of your promo materials in progress, and none of them were ever too glitzy, smarmy, insincere or oppressive. And they all expressed your personality.

    Well done.

    • I agree. This was a massive launch (this post really lays out how massive!) but it never felt like too much. Really well done, and great for Jonathan’s audience. (Both for his existing audience and to reach new people who will dig what he has to offer.)

    • Tom – There were a lot of things that were much more edgy that I actually know would have likely generated more buzz and sold more books, but they just didn’t feel right to me. In fact, the 10,000 book video was really on the edge for me, but what made me okay with it was that it was so clearly just a goof, I wasn’t taking myself too seriously.

      But, yes, it was really important to keep it all aligned with who I am

  6. Absolutely perfect timing for this in-depth case study, Jonathan. My book, Brainfluence, is due out in late November!

    Definitely a post to read and re-read, thanks!

    Roger

  7. This was a hell-of-a-launch and I wish heavenly results to pour through. The most inspiring thing about your process is it’s a very other-centered strategy, focused on providing your future readers the best experience out of the launch process itself.

    Congrats and kudos to your launch!

  8. Jonathan, with so many superstars (including my friends Megan and Marty) involved – the magic was bound to be unleashed. Your effort in building your platform has also played a part. Thanks for sharing these insights. This post is for keeps with handy tips for upcoming authors. Looks like your short term goals are already achieved. I wish that your book creates a lasting impact.

  9. For all the work you’ve put into your project you still manage to knock out a guest post like that!? I guess it’s part of the project, but still… you are a hard worker and deserve all the success you can get. Kosha.

  10. Attending Jonathan’s live event now, it’s lots of fun. :) Lots of energy from the folks who are showing up — Derek Halpern, Lewis Howes, etc.

  11. Loved seeing how this book launch unfolded and there’s one part that really jumped out at me — the illustrations.

    I loved these ones here and I’m looking forward in the future to having a great illustrator work with us on more of our stuff.

    Illustrations like this that are connected to awesome content can drive the content home even deeper than if simply read. It seems to me that for the core 5-7 concepts you’d want people to take away from your teachings, you’d want an illustration like the ones here where people can instantly recall what you wanted to impress upon them.

    I recently heard Dan Kennedy talking about how even with the proliferation of people going online, nothing will ever dominate the experience you create for someone when you have them actually opening up a wrapped box (gift) because this act is tied to so many good memories from birthdays and other celebrations. There’s something very special about connecting people to their childhood that is very, very powerful when it comes to making an emotional impact on them.

    Thanks for reminding me with your pictures how important this is!

  12. Great job, Jonathan. Just the simple fact that I’ve looked back at the book’s cover three times tells me something. You continue to motivate. Thank you.

  13. Nice post Johnathan!
    Keep up the mission,
    AJ

  14. The way you put it, it seems that you did all these by yourself. Or did you?

    So how many people were involved in all these and how much did it cost you before you had a single sale?

    • Jonathan mentions lots of folks in the post, and also goes into some more detail in comments above.

    • No doubt, there was a team involved, each person had a specific role. But, each person was also off doing other projects. Though, I have to tell you, Charlie Pabst has been amazing to work with and I’ve taken consumed a lot of his waking hours over the last month, especially since I’m very much a 24-7 idea-terrorist with stuff like this, lol.

      • Congratulations on the whole shebang, Jonathan. You clearly did a ton of very specific, strategic work prepping and executing this, and you’re a mensch to share it. I hope you have ten times the success you dreamed of with it (and I know you dream big).

        I know it is petty of me to fixate on this in the midst of heavy-duty brilliance directed towards Important Endeavors, but still, I must confess that I am TICKLED PINK by “idea-terrorist,” and I would like this to be your next book, please.

  15. Wow, THIS is an amazing, refreshing overview of what POWERFUL marketing looks like! Great, great job, Jonathan … I have recently blogged about the internet marketing craze (shameless plug: http://mystrategicmarketer.com/internet-marketing/) and how it really bothers me as a marketer because it’s so exploitative and opportunistic.

    I so respect how you’ve approached your launch, including the intention and love you’re putting into being of service. It’s SO inspiring. I wish you crazy, mad success!!!

  16. As they say, the proof is in the pudding and i’d like to know how your efforts went. I saw all this unfold as you launched it (I’ve been following your for awhile).

    But the question is did it work. How many pre-order sales did this generate? You have a large social media following, especially among very heavy weight people and this was a beautiful campaign, but did it work? Did you move the books? How many books was your goal and did you reach it?

    • And, that’s where it gets really tricky and a bit frustrating.

      As a response-oriented marketer, metrics matter. But when you operate the wacky hybrid of social media, online marketing and traditional publishing, a bunch of data becomes untrackable or takes months to get.

      For example, the vast majority of orders run through a variety of online booksellers’ carts. I can’t place tracking code on amazon, bn, booksamillion, 800ceoread and all the other potential online booksellers, so I can’t trace and measure conversion the way I normally would in a launch where I controlled the cart. Ack!

      Add to that the fact that a certain amount of the buzz I create will be driven to any number of thousands of brick and mortar stores, some of whom report to the big bookseller data company, Bookscan, and some who don’t. Then, certain booksellers operate on a returnable basis, others not. It’ll be months before I actually know the real numbers.

      Also, a campaign like this is the functional equivalent of kindling, lighter fluid and a match. It’s gets things going pretty fast and furious, but whether that turns into a roaring fire is more about whether the book, itself, resonates powerfully enough to generate substantial word of mouth as it expands out beyond the initial “ring of fire.” That can take, days, weeks or, in certain cases, even months or years to happen.

      But what I can tell you is this — we moved thousands of books in the pre-sale phase alone.

      That’s a lot more than the average book will sell in a lifetime. So, did it work. Yes. How well? Time will tell.

      And, like I mentioned, at least for me, I have a bigger, longer-term, admittedly hard-to-measure, but really important metric…impact.

      Making money’s not the big prize for me, illuminating and inspiring change is.

      • I’m just curious, Jonathan, is aiming for bestseller status for your book one of your goals?

        • Sure, but probably not for the reason you might think…

          Hitting a major print list can lead big brick and mortar booksellers to stock up on inventory, stock more locations, discount the book and turn it out on a front table. That then becomes a bit of an endless sales loop that moves a lot more books, which keeps you on the list longer, which moves more books, you get the idea.

          So, for that reason and, sure, a bit of ego, it’d be nice. Really nice. But, again, there’s something much bigger driving me as a writer these days. Impact.

          Also, hitting the list will become much less of a consideration with the shift to digital. It’s really hard to know, but it looks like maybe 30%-40% of my sales are going digital right now. By the time my next book is out, say in another 18-24 months, I wouldn’t be surprised if sales were 70-80% digital. At that point, the brick and mortar distribution becomes much less of a factor.

          It’s amazing how quickly publishing is changing. That’s one of the things I love about what I do these days. You have an opportunity to play a role in a profound evolution in a paradigm that’s been largely unchanged since before any of us were born. And if you understand what happening and see how to leverage it, there’s huge opportunity on so many levels.

          • I appreciate the response. Making a lasting impact by leaving that trail of words and images for readers now and in the future is the very reason that I’ve focused on writing and now pursuing it as a career.

            Thanks for answering the question bro and best of luck in everything!

  17. wow thanks for sharing all this information…
    and i really think you did an amazing job, because it’s seems like that everybody (in the IM industry) is talking or writing about your book.
    a lot to learn from…

  18. Thanks for the summary of your efforts. It is an really interesting journey. Congratulations on the launch.

  19. I think this is one of the best-run book launches I’ve seen recently. One of the reasons was the consistency of the message and the way it keep reinforcing Jonathan’s own values and the way he communicates. It was a pleasure to participate in a small way on my blog. Great book, should do very well.

  20. Thank you for sharing so many of your secrets. You more than inspired me for my book launch next year.

    Your caring and passion came through when I heard you speak at WDS and it comes through your promotions for your book. Plus it looks like you’re having fun.

    I wish you continue success.

  21. This post and marketing plan is brilliant and couldn’t come at a better time since I have a physical book to promote for work.

    Thanks Jonathan! Good luck!

  22. Cameron Carter :

    Really like your post on the importance of a social media strategy! Facebook Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, recently stressed the importance of involving social media in every aspect of a marketing strategy. She calls it “Social by Design” and I’ve written on the concept here http://venpop.com/2011/facebook-exec-says-marketing-plans-should-be-social-by-design/