James Patterson ~ A Case Study in Listening to Fans

james Patterson Case StudyBy Ruth Zamoyta
March 2012

How do you achieve even more sales growth for a mystery writer who has already broken world records? That’s what my team set out to do for James Patterson, and considering Jim’s 3.1 million Facebook fans and 50,000+ online community members, we were going to do that through word-of-mouth marketing.

After reading through scores of comments on the James Patterson forum, we came to a pretty good understanding of the James Patterson reader. She wants to escape from her ordinary world—stressful or dull—and let her imagination live for a while in an alternate world full of suspense, longing, and crime. A book—digital or tangible—is her special and personal escape. When she opens a book, it’s like she’s looking into someone’s face, taking someone’s hand, and walking into a new world together. She can carry around the characters, the story, and the passion all day in her head and in her heart. She can go as fast or as slow as she wants, and no one else is allowed into that story with her—not her husband, not her boss, not her kids. It’s a world she doesn’t want to end—but when it does, James Patterson makes sure there’s another new world waiting for her, for her to dive into and escape. This was the critical insight to our target audience, and this was the message.

James Patterson is the ultimate story-master. He believes in the power of the story, and he knows better than anyone how to put one together. He knows the unique value of a book. Videos or live performances tell you what to see and hear, they set the pace, and they are over after an hour or two.  But your imagination can live in a book for days. You can take it on the train, to the park, to the laundromat. You can read it in your pajamas or in the bathtub. James Patterson knows this about books and that’s why he is a literacy advocate, that’s why he collaborates with other authors, that’s why he did what some of us only dream to do: quit his job and to write novels.

The value proposition: For people who love books that entertain, not exhaust you, James Patterson delivers an endless supply of compelling page-turners, providing a moment of escape from life’s routines.

We created a brand lens through which all messaging would pass—four words that describe the brand’s unique benefits:

  • easy
  • entertaining
  • escape
  • endless supply

The challenge was going to be the transmittal of the message. To date, James Patterson’s communications had looked a lot like the Lasswell Transmission model of messaging—a linear model where the communicator delivers the message to consumer who then takes action. But this model has been gradually losing effectiveness since the French Revolution. Now, in the age of the Internet where all communication is a conversation, the Lasswell model is virtually obsolete. All modes of reasoning, experiencing, and behaving have transformed from linear to hyper. Now messages move in all directions, in all dimensions, virally and exponentially.

What we saw, however, in James Patterson’s involvement in social media, was that messages were being transmitted, but no connection was being made because he was using a one-way model. If Jim could achieve a connection with his die-hard fans, he would open up a conduit for social graphing—targeting new readers who are the friends of fans.

We recommended setting the scene through a digital makeover that would include interface redesign, content marketing, and community management. We also recommended a comprehensive consumer and influencer PR campaign that would strengthen the relationship between JP and the public and invite dialogue. We recommended presenting him as a family man, an advocate of literacy.

With the scene set, we were ready to introduce the main character, James Patterson, engaging in two-way conversations in social media and in his thriving online forums. We recommended bringing out the human in Jim, giving him his own story. In the words of media, marketing, culture, and technology blogger Noah Brier: “when it comes to social media, brands need to act less like brands and more like people.” The great news was that the James Patterson brand IS a person. So we asked Jim to listen to and talk with fans—build relationships that resonate.

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