Exploding Star

One final Christmas feel-good story. Which is also the anatomy of a successful product launch.

Hey gang, quick housekeeping note: this will be the last email sent to this list from my special Rube Goldberg publishing machine: Google Keep/Docs + WordPress + Mailchimp. After a year or two of over-thinking it, I’m moving this operation to Substack. They’ve just recently introduced technical features that finally weighted the scales in their favor. And I’ll make a few other reboot-ish type changes; I’ll update you when.

*    *    *

Speaking of new beginnings, a question: what is the latest date, for you, on which it is acceptable to say Happy New Year? Or Merry Christmas? For some it’s 3 days; for me, it’s any day (:

So today is a good day for a feel-good Christmas story. I’ll use it to try to explain classic branding and marketing buzzwords.

The story was originally reported by a local TV news station in Idaho and it goes like this: just a few days after Christmas, an Idaho 6-year named Dillon wrote an 81-page graphic novel. He wrote nonstop day and night. And now? Now it’s in his local library and everyone wants to get their hands on it!

The book’s plot hinges on an exploding star (as in Christmas tree star). This is a time-travel-inducing star too, which apparently sets up some great plot twists, as far as I can glean from the local-TV-news reporting.

I imagine young Dillon asking: “What if the star on our Christmas tree exploded?”

Excellent question and by all accounts, this is an excellent book – people are reserving the right to check it out from the library for two years in advance

*    *    *

Why? It’s not just because of the book’s story, it’s the story of the book – and the story of its creator.

Now, consider the following story points:

(And this is where I jargonize and refer to the book as a product, its author as its creator, etc)

  • Naming. The Adventures of Dillon Helbig’s Crismis. The product has a unique and charmingly long and phonetically-spelled name.
  • Voice. In the tradition of naive/outsider art, the author seems to have written the book in an authentic voice: his word choices, his cadence, his point of view, his world. Maybe it’s not objectively better than if a book editor, illustrator, or marketer had polished it. But it feels better.
  • Scarcity. There is only one copy of it. And even if you visited the library that houses it, you couldn’t see it – it’s now checked out for at least two years.
  • Creator story. The creator of the product is 6 years old, whereas the creators of similar products (children’s books and/or graphic novels) tend to be at least 26, if not 76 years old. That’s interesting.
  • More creator story. It’s not the creator’s first book product. He’d written others but felt that this was his best work. With a fervor matched only by Derek Sivers for his latest book, Dillon really wanted other people to read it.
  • Marketing strategy. The creator of the product knew the book could get better distribution in the library than in his home. But he also knew he wasn’t allowed to simply put it in on a library shelf. So like a good guerilla marketer, he dressed it up as a library book, by putting stickers on its spine (brilliant!), then snuck it in and quickly put it on a shelf.
  • Hard work. Finally and most importantly, he put the work into the creative process itself. He wrote 81 pages. He wrote non-stop for three days straight, filling out a bound journal he’d received as a Christmas gift. He put the work in – people want that.

Of course, there was also an element of luck here; as it says in Ecclesiastes, “time and chance happeneth to them all.”

But there’s something else we can learn from this story.

The key person in this story was the librarian, who likely already knew Dillon and his family. Dillon’s mom called the library to learn what had become of the book, which Dillon had discovered missing from the shelf, two days after leaving it there. And only then did she learn that the librarian had made the book an official part of the library’s collection – someone had already checked it out.

This is the point where product demand took off – once the librarian made that decision. And this leaves us with one last piece of applicable jargon: Partnership (or Affinity) Marketing

What potential affinity partner can you cultivate a relationship with? Who curates the world that your creation needs to be a part of? How do you design your product to appeal not just to the end consumer but to the curator who puts it in front of them?

My best