by Erin Mitchell
I have no problem admitting that when I first heard about the ice bucket challenge, I was skeptical. I figured it wouldn’t take off. I thought people would make videos rather than donate.
I was wholly and completely wrong.
But my point here is not to preach at you nor to address the multitude of concerns—both real and contrived—people have about the ice bucket challenge. I’m here to talk about marketing, and the ice bucket challenge is an ideal teachable moment for anyone wanting to market anything, especially books.
ALS is like a less-known book or author. It might have sounded familiar to some people because of Lou Gehrig, but far more had no idea what it is. It’s not cancer or diabetes, of which everyone is aware; I have Type I diabetes, and nobody has ever said, “Diabetes? What’s that?” I mean, there’s misunderstanding out there about well-known diseases, but for many, “awareness” is not a reasonable goal. That would be like Michael Connelly or Stephen King undertaking a brand-building campaign.
When anything “goes viral” (I hate that phrase), there’s talk about the “marketing genius” (and that one) behind it. The reality, though, is that no marketing person, genius or otherwise, can know with certainty when a campaign is going to work. I’ve seen brilliant ones fall flat more times than I can remember. But that doesn’t stop us trying.
The ice bucket challenge has certainly raised awareness—it’s gotten people talking about ALS and learning about it. But has it incited action beyond thousands of videos of people getting soaked with ice water? It has indeed. More than $53 million as I type this.
So what’s the lesson? First, that awareness and action are separate, and each has value. If, for example, you’re measuring your marketing activities only by book sales, you’re missing out. Likewise, if you’re not tracking marketing’s impact on sales, you’re doing it wrong. I think part of the reason the ice bucket challenge has worked so well is that it gave people a choice from the outset: donate $100 or dump ice water on yourself. It wasn’t set up to require one or the other for participation.
Compare this to pre-order promotional campaigns, most of which deliver minimal (if any) ROI. Those campaigns usually require readers to take one fairly complicated path: preorder the book, submit your proof of purchase, and wait to hear whether you’ve won. I’m much more a fan of recognizing that for the vast majority of consumers, books are an immediate-gratification purchase, and brand building in advance of a book launch is going to have a stronger impact on sales than a complicated preorder campaign.
There’s one more marketing lesson from the ice bucket challenge, too. Simply put, it’s that you need to be nimble in your marketing. If something isn’t working, stop doing it. In this case, if you’re still devoting time and energy to delineating all the reasons you think the ice bucket challenge is dumb and/or silly and/or stupid (It wastes water! It’s just people taking selfie videos! I just love being snarky!), you’re long past the point where you were doing yourself—or your brand—any favors. I’m not suggesting you participate, but don’t hold on to broadcasting your position to the point it drives readers—your customers—away.
Finally, if you haven't already, I suggest you read Ben LeRoy's post on this topic.
For the record, there is not now nor will there be a video of me involving ice water. I hate cold water. So I donated instead. If you would like to do so, you can at http://www.alsa.org/donate.