Shock-and-Awe Marketing

What does it take to power a first-time author's book into sales of a million copies in 90 days? Publisher Rolf Zettersten at Warner Faith doesn't want the competition to know. "A lot of publishers are already talking about how they're going to imitate our success," Zettersten says. But he will talk in broad brush strokes about how his current bestseller, Joel Osteen's Your Best Life Now achieved that status, nipping at the heels of the Purpose-Driven Life juggernaut. "It's really a shock-and-awe approach to promotion that involves every element of media in our arsenal—every weapon."

Appetite for an Osteen title built for years before the book's October 2004 release. Like Rick Warren, Osteen is pastor of a huge congregation, the 30,000-member Lakewood Church in Houston. His weekly television broadcast airs worldwide. Publicity and promotion for the book, subtitled 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential, began six months before publication.

"That's where I don't want to get too specific," says Zettersten, "because that's a blueprint we would like to use again for the right book. It was a very focused and sustained effort to explore every avenue." That included "all the basics": consumer advertising, advertising to trade journals and using print, television, e-mail and direct mail promotions. Zettersten declined to be specific about the initial marketing budget, but said that if the general rule is about a dollar a book, "Let me just say that Joel would not be disappointed."

At 28 weeks, the book had sold almost 2.5 million copies, with Warner Faith about to spend another million dollars to promote it. The audio version had sold about 200,000 units. Warner Faith now is targeting consumer categories, such as business people. Zettersten says Your Best Life Now is "inclusive, not exclusive, as many religious books are. So you don't have to be a Christian to appreciate the content or the advice that is given."

Pyrotechincs for PDL

Despite Osteen's fast start, marketing executives at Zondervan doubt it's possible to copy the triumph of Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? The book has sold more than 22 million copies since its 2002 release.

Rick and Kay Warren's ministry at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., since 1980, draws an average weekly attendance of 20,000. In the early 1990s, the ministry expanded to include Rick Warren's, a clergy-mentoring Web site.

The book kicked off with a 40 Days of Purpose Campaign—run by Warren and his organization—with more than 1,500 congregations nationwide and in nine countries simultaneously reading the book, designed in 40 short chapters to be read one a day. Half a million copies of The Purpose-Driven Life were sold, at a special rate of $7 a copy, to participants of this initial campaign. Another 20,000 or so churches have participated in subsequent twice-a-year campaigns, making continuous promotion a key factor in PDL's longevity on the bestseller lists.

As part of Zondervan's promotional campaign, a one-hour radio program and 40 90-second spots were distributed to more than 350 radio stations, mostly Christian, for airing concurrent with the local church campaigns. Now, 521 stations nationwide run a daily radio program based on the audio version of the book; the program is free to stations, which can sell sponsorships.

Greg Stielstra, senior marketing director at Zondervan, says the PDLexperience has many lessons to teach marketers. Based on his role with it and other hit books, he has written PyroMarketing: The Four-Step Strategy to Ignite Customer Evangelists and Keep Them for Life (HarperBusiness, July). His thesis? The best way to think of marketing—not only of books but virtually all products—is as fire. And consumers are the fuel.

Consumers for Warren When an independent research firm hired by Zondervan surveyed people who bought The Purpose-Driven Life, out of 30,000 responses...
83% said they had actively recommended the book.
46.5% bought additional copies to give away.
Within that subgroup, 73% bought 1—3 copies, 17% bought 4—6 copies, and 7.1% bought 10 copies or more.