The Hero Within

In a writer’s world we are the masters of the pen (actually a computer keyboard, but that didn’t sound as cool). We create complicated characters through various techniques and tell them what to do.

But then they take on a life of their own and begin to tell us what the story is about. This can be quite fascinating, like sitting at a movie, watching the story unfold. Other times it’s frustrating because these life-like characters make bad choices or behave poorly (there’s always at least one), resisting our intended purposes for them.

When I think of writing in these terms, my thoughts drift to our Creator, and I wonder if God sees us in similar fashion. Aren’t we like His characters, created with His purpose in mind? Yet we have free will and the ability to choose poorly, or wisely.

God gives us that room, though I know we must frustrate him terribly at times. The Israelites certainly did. (Aren’t we still Israelites at times?) But part of the joy I experience in writing a powerful scene with my characters is seeing them grow and embrace God’s love and truth. There’s a sense of victory there even though these characters exist only in my head.

I remember as a kid imagining these scenes where the heroine (usually me, of course!) persevered and made this huge impact or discovery. I walked into the sunset as a new inspiration to my fellow underdogs (the theme of many teen movies).

The funny part of all this is, the longer I write and study the books and movies that are popular, the more I find a universal theme there—of a nobody discovering they have some kind of special gift that helps them save the day. A gift that comes from somewhere outside them and suddenly this feels-like-a-nobody character blooms into someone unique.

Now the amazing part. It’s a story theme that’s existed for thousands of years. The one I like best? The one in the Bible.

Jesus was just an ordinary carpenter. He didn’t look like much to those who resented and envied Him. He didn’t appear a whole lot different from the men He walked with. He started out as a nobody in the eyes of those around Him. But to know Him was to know He walked in greatness and humility.

He walked this earth like a man, yet within He holds a power to “save the day.” And every person who knows Him.

His is the story of the ultimate Messiah, the one true Savior of the world. He was and is the true Hero of the story—of the world and of our lives.

And the absolutely mind-blowing final part? He lives in us, changing us from nondescript nobodies to uniquely gifted individuals created to fit into a true story.

His story.

To Market We Go. . .But Why?

I admit, I’m a bit of a marketing geek. I find trends and patterns fascinating. Behind every great or dastardly marketing campaign lies a motivation—a why. And I want to know it, understand it, and pick it apart.

Why did it work? Why didn’t it work?

Some campaigns are obvious from the get go. Take Netflix’s recent adventure of separating streaming video from disc. We witnessed their invention (or misguided intention) of Qwikster. The name didn’t work, nor did there seem to be any reasonable point for separation. Their “why” just didn’t make sense. Thankfully they abandoned the idea before they got neck deep. In fact, I give them kudos for having the courage to admit to their customers that it would have made things more difficult.

Here’s an example of my latest fascination. Honestly, I stood in the mall laughing at this one.

I freely confess that I’m an Apple geek as well. Microsoft’s obvious attempt to copy Apple could be taken as a compliment, but I could only wonder, is it effective? How effective does our marketing become when we’re simply copying what the other guy is doing?

Yes, we’re talking about similar products and thus overlapping markets. Not identical markets though. And then I’m curious as to how the everyday consumer perceives such a clear attempt to piggyback on another company’s successful model?

Of course, there’s the other side of the argument. Why reinvent the wheel? It worked for them, why not do the same? That’s fine to a point—to use a successful model as a launching point. But don’t we still have to come back to the beginning? Back to the “why?”

I find this especially amusing because of this:

The Apple store is directly opposite this soon-to-be Microsoft store and has been there for years. Their Genius Bar and staff have been serving people for many a season with their gadgets in hand and uniformed colored shirts and badges. (Uh hem. . .)

It’s all about service and Apple makes an art of it. Never been in one? Take a field trip one day and check it out. We can learn a lot from Apple’s successful model of creative marketing. To them, it’s not just about the product. It’s about the costumer and how they’ll use it, right down to the feel and experience. It’s all about the “why.”

I wonder if Microsoft thought through their campaign beyond the “well it works for them” to their customers and who they’re trying to connect to. Or are their customers just potential collateral gain or damage in the race to be number one?

So this brings me to my point (yes, I do have one other than finding this Microsoft imitation so very amusing). Do we think about why we are marketing our books or do we just do what everyone else is doing?

And finally, does it work? Now there’s the real question. What do you think?

What is “Take Away” Value?

In my post last month I referred to our need to have “take away” value. Sometimes that’s pretty obvious, but other times it’s as subtle as how you’re presenting your product or services. I find at times it’s a fine line that we can easily cross into the “me” zone.

I have a feeling, though, that you’ve seen and know what that looks like. How about Twitter? I get a fair amount of requests but have little time to follow people who are just throwing stuff out there for the sake of being visible. Plus, I want to follow people that I can relate to and connect with. I’m most likely not going to follow a furniture company located in a different state.

Except, this time I did. Why?

Take a look at the Twitter page for Mealey’s Furniture, (@FollowMealeys) located in Warminster, PA. They do a lot of things right.

  1. They don’t over-tweet. Mealey’s tweets about 2 to 3 times a day. When I see a Twitter page loaded with hourly tweets of stuff just thrown out there, I’m not going to pay attention. The delete button is my friend.
  2. Their tweets are helpful. They have take away value. Not only do they have it, they personalize it. They’re not just putting tweets out there about a sale, they’re giving you decorating ideas and hints for better living. They also support causes. Basically, they don’t want to just sell you a piece of furniture. They want to add quality to your life. Again, motivation is key.
  3. They’re not just about the product. Mealey’s presence is clearly not about them. They are about the customer and serving those needs. They’re focused on their audience and serving them, not on themselves.

This is brilliant marketing. Would I buy furniture from Mealey’s? If they had a store in San Jose, CA, you bet they’d be the first place I’d think of next time I needed something.

The key here is they make a lasting and positive impression. You walk away from this page with the understanding that to them, it’s not just about the sale. They want to do more for their customers. They want to connect with them.

Today’s market takes more than just what we have to offer, which in nonfiction is a lot. We have a clear message, an idea, or something to share. But there’s already so much out there. We have to be clear about the “why.” Think about why we write what we write and how we can translate that into connecting with our readers, which in turn translates into word of mouth marketing—the best kind. Just as I’m talking about Mealey’s furniture because they offered me take away value, we want our readers to talk about our books, our message, and what we stand for.

But even that comes back to our motivation. Are we doing it to just sell books? Or are we, like Mealey’s, genuinely trying to give quality to our readers? That’s our origination point in writing these books to help others. Let’s not leave that motivation in the pages of our books. Let’s figure out ways we can we bring that over into our marketing too.