Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Elizabeth Taylor and Amanda Hocking

Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…


Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 



Winner:  Elizabeth Taylor  

Loser:  Amanda Hocking (The Self-Publishing Star)




Folks, Elizabeth Taylor hadn’t made a successful movie in decades at the time of her death, but she still died a movie star.  Talk about a brand!

This is hard to believe in the age of Tweet-or-disappear celebrity.  But Taylor had the kind of celebrity that is hard to find these days.


Taylor’s celebrity was aspirational celebrity.  Many people looked up to her –not because they thought they could ever be like her and certainly not because they wanted her to be like them. 


They wanted Taylor to be different and living a life more glamorous and remote than the one they were living. 


Because of this, Elizabeth Taylor was also a leader and able to throw her support behind causes –like AIDs— in a way that most celebrities today can only envy.  Her brand had genuine power.  She was also unafraid of challenging her fans and setting an example for them.




Bottom line, today’s movie stars have become their fans.  They don’t seek to stand apart or be leaders.


For this reason most of them are pretty forgettable. 


Instead, what we get are feeble, superficial celebrity branding techniques –little more than short-term band-aids and definitely not strategies.  Things like Lindsay Lohan recently deciding to go only by her first name so as to distance herself from her father and her past. 


My guess is that at some point people are going to become tired of stars trying so hard to be on their level…  The celebrity who knows how to harness that shift away from the common touch by becoming a leader –well that’s really going to be someone to remember. 



If you haven’t heard of the author Amanda Hocking, you’re probably not her Target Market. 

Nevertheless, the most successful self-published author in the world is worth talking about because she offers an excellent example of a brand misunderstanding its strength.

I’ve written about the huge changes sweeping publishing in recent years.  One of the biggest is the changing role of the commercial publisher.

In the past, the commercial publisher was the only sure way for an author to distribute his or her books to a mass audience.  But the rise of the Internet and cheap, print-on-demand technologies have changed all that.  Now, an author with a powerful online presence and a strong following can produce work both in e-book form and in print and sell it directly to the consumer.

For Amanda Hocking this has meant publishing nine books over the last year and selling millions of copies at a few dollars a copy (far below the cover price of any commercially published book).  The lower price point doesn’t matter, though, because she takes 70% of each sale as opposed to a much, much smaller percentage if she were doing this commercially.

So why did this writer decide to go the traditional route last week?  She says it’s because she wants to concentrate on being a “writer.” 

Folks, this is a case of a brand badly misjudging its strength.  Hocking has become so successful because of two things: 1) an incredibly low price point and 2) she is an excellent self-promoter who knows how to use social media and the Internet expertly to tap into the current rage for vampire fiction (the general opinion is that she is a pretty poor writer).

By shifting to the traditional publishing framework, she will be torpedoing both of those brand strengths. 

First, price point.  The retail price for commercial books is $25 hardcover and maybe half that for e-books –definitely not $1 to $3 which is what she’s been charging.  This is going to have an effect on the Hocking phenomenon.  People who won’t think twice about plunking down a buck to get the latest installment in her series will think much differently if the cost is thirteen or twenty-five times that.

This is analogous to the TV phenomena.  When people see actors at home on TV there are less likely to pay to see them at the movies.  Simply put, readers not used to paying regular prices for her books will not.  Period.  End of story.

Second, her gift is running her own brand.  This gift is going to be eclipsed by the slow, corporate shuffle of commercial publishing which is still antiquated and unresponsive to the needs of today’s marketplace.  Proof of this is obvious in some of the details of Hocking’s deal.  On her own, Hocking was able to get nine books to her customers in the space of one year.  Under the new arrangement, her first book won’t be published until 2012.  Talk about lag time.

Bottom line, Hocking should reconsider the arrangement.  It might seem like the logical next step for a writer is to get the support of a major publisher, but in her case it goes against everything that has gotten her to this point.  She needs to remember the axiom: to thy own brand be true.

Let’s face it, Hocking’s decision also violates the golden rule of marketing: first do no harm.  When things are working as well as they have for her brand, the last thing you want to do is change things radically.

And, remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind. 

When your brand is working be very reluctant to make any changes..

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