Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Girl With The Lemonade Stand - Hey Novelists, Check It Out

I was driving to a book signing and went by a lemonade stand on the street just down from where I live. A girl had a table set up under an umbrella. On the table were glasses and pitchers of lemonade and an eye-catching sign.

Three things about it struck me.

First, the girl was giving a big smile to all who walked or drove by, engaging them with charm before she even had to say a word.

Second, although I had no idea if her lemonade was any good, I was absolutely certain she'd sell it. Her smile, her catchy sign, and her determination to put her product before the market would get a percentage of all who went by to stop and give it a try. Even if the percentage was small, the traffic was significant. Just a portion of one percent of a big crowd adds up.

The third thing that made an impression on me was that nearly every novelist could learn a great deal from this girl. In fact, the lesson might be profound enough to make a success out of a novelist who is otherwise destined to fail (assuming that novelist defines success as finding an audience).

What's the essence of the lesson?

Consider two kinds of lemonade producers.

The first would-be lemonade magnate spends lots of time and money and energy studying a formula for producing a good lemonade and learning marketing principles that might apply to selling lemonade. Then this lemonade entrepreneur does a targeted campaign aimed at the biggest buyers in the business to try and convince them how tons of people will be love this lemonade.

What happens? Despite such a serious effort, it's likely that no manufacturer producing lemonade will buy the creator's lemonade formula.

But let's say that one of the companies in the soft drinks business decides to give the product a try. They do an initial production on a small scale and test-market the product in some stores. The stores put the lemonade on a shelf with a thousand other products. Meanwhile, the lemonade creator develops a sales strategy that will possibly convince people that this new lemonade is worth trying. This lemonade creator also hires a publicist who puts out a comprehensive social media presentation.

If the lemonade entrepreneur is very lucky, some stores put in a free-standing display and hold tastings. But if they don't get a dramatic, positive response, they'll send the product back to the manufacturer for full credit, knowing they will never give shelf space to the lemonade inventor again. The reality of the big-business approach to lemonade production is that most new, great lemonades don't sell because there's simply too much competition.

The second kind of lemonade producer decides to produce her own lemonade, skips most of the marketing, and simply comes up with some attractive packaging, a professional brochure, and a fun pitch that is all about the story of the lemonade with none of the "sales" buzz. Then the second producer hits the road, stops wherever there are a lot of people, and sets up a lemonade stand. To state it in different words, the second lemonade maker ACTUALLY MEETS PEOPLE AND INTRODUCES THEM TO HER LEMONADE.

A small percentage of the crowd gives it a try. If the crowd is large, a good number of people will end up trying her lemonade. If her lemonade is good, they will spread the word. The girl with the lemonade stand doesn't have to shout like a carnival barker. She doesn't have to make cold calls. She doesn't have to convince agents and their colleagues that she has a sizable platform. She doesn't have to master internet marketing. She doesn't need to pay people who claim to sell sales results. All she needs to do is get her lemonade in front of ACTUAL PEOPLE.

Most people in the first category of lemonade creation get disillusioned fast and decide that the business is extremely difficult. They come to think that most successful lemonade makers have some kind of lucky connection to a buyer in the biggest chain stores and an uncle who is a writer for a major lemonade review journal.

Most people in the second category of lemonade producers realize that despite the pros and cons of twelve thousand ways to approach marketing, you can short-circuit the whole process by simply going to people and setting up your stand.

Of course, if your lemonade isn't very good, you're out of luck no matter which way you go. But if your lemonade is somewhere between very good and great, you can know that by getting in front of people, a portion of the passersby - whether a large number or a small number - will become your audience and be eager to drink your lemonade over and over for as long as you produce it.

Which group do you want to be in?

If you can't imagine ever creating your own version of a lemonade stand - some kind of concept that gets you and your product in front of actual people - then you should probably try to join the first group. And the truth is that some people in the first group may strike gold, find a huge audience, and get rich and famous.

Don't hold your breath.

If you can conjure up an approach that gets you and your product in front of real people, then - if, and only if, you have a very good product - you can build a following. The more you work it, the bigger your following will be. By taking a good product directly to people who consume that product, you go from almost no chance of success to a very good chance of success.

How bad do you want it?


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Kimberly! I'm still thinking about that girl with the lemonade stand. I bet she will be successful at anything she tries to do. Could be she's working on a novel... !!