Advertise to a market, or share with a community

My best friend's kid sister did the unthinkable last summer. She opened a bookstore.

Perhaps Rebekah didn't get the memo about paper, or she's never heard of the Kindle and it's creator,

She lives on the outskirts of St. Louis, but she didn't seek out a location in the city. She didn't go to the edge of town, or even a suburb. No, 40 minutes away she parked her bookstore in downtown Edwardsville, Illinois, pop. 24,000. If you saw the movie "The Lucky Ones" with Tim Robbins and Rachel McAdams, you saw downtown Edwardsville dressed up as Denver.

In selecting her location, she didn't hire out her market research or conduct traffic studies. She used a phone book. Turns out, one advertising medium in decline is a increasingly important gauge of supply and demand. The phone book told her two important things: The number of used bookstores in Edwardsville (zero), and the number of residents in the town. Not the population, the actual phone numbers.

Rebekah called 250 residents and asked them questions about how much they read, where they get their books, and whether they would support a locally owned used book store. She got ahold of almost 40% of her random targets.

Then she called nearly a hundred other used book stores across the country. To her delight, this community is very supportive of each other.

Her dad had shared with me that she was desperate for advice, but only seemed to be getting it from the peanut gallery. She was eager to get more customers. To accomplish this goal, she was considering her advertising options.

When I was in the health club industry, people would come in and say they wanted to lose weight when they actually mean they want to lose fat and/or build muscle. I explained to Rebekah that sometimes business owners say they want more customers when they actually want more profit.

Conventional advertising, when not properly targeted, is often a losing proposition. There's a saying in the fund-raising business that goes something like, "Ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim..." This applies to your marketing too.

Here's a run-down of the ideas I shared with Rebekah in order to cater to her community of residents and customers:


  • Start an online community where your customers and future customers can interact, share books, and give book reports and recommendations. Folks who are avid readers frequently also like to write.
  • Get networked into the schools. Find sponsors who are willing to buy books for the entire third grade class of each elementary school. They get the publicity and goodwill, and you get to be Santa Claus.
  • Be an early adopter of social media in your community. A frequently updated Facebook Fan Page can add more buzz to your business. Social media makes you easier to sneeze. "Sneezing" is the idea that your customers talk about you because you are remarkable, not because you reward them for it.
  • Your best source of profit comes from your most loyal customers. You have prospects, former customers, customers and loyal customers. It costs more to turn prospects into customers than it does to increase sales from loyal customers.
  • Work out a deal with the coffee shop next door to sell $10 coffee cards for $8 when a customer buys 3 or more books. The "deal" part comes when you're actually buying the coffee cards for $7-8 each. This is a common practice among national brands which lends itself to great cross-promotion. And of course, you're happy to sell them for $10 to anyone who walks in the door.
  • Ask customers to donate an extra couple of bucks to support the children's reading club which otherwise doesn't cover its costs.
  • Organize the historic businesses in the downtown area in order to conduct customer surveys, promotions and customer service training. The "idea" isn't the organization; no one seeks out more levels of bureaucracy or cost. The "idea" is customer service training. Case study: Domino's Pizza responds to focus group thrashing by changing their recipe and their advertising.

There are many other ideas where this came from, but she isn't even a year into her business yet. The key for Rebekah, and millions of business owners like her, is to think differently about your customers' needs, be remarkable, and be easy to sneeze.