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The Socratic Method of Book Marketing

by Nate Hoffelder

One common method for discussion or problem solving is called the Socratic Method. This is when you ask questions about the topic at hand, and use the answers to better understand what you really want to do. It is used in many industries, but have you ever thought about applying it to your marketing efforts?

I use the Socratic method all the time, actually. I didn’t set out to adopt this style of marketing, but as I developed my marketing skills I found myself asking questions as a way of analyzing whether I should do something, how to do it, and so on. At one point I started sharing my questions on Twitter and with clients. So many people found them useful that I decided to assemble my questions into a list. (Rather, I created a list of the questions I can remember; asking questions is so central to how I work that I do not know just how many are in the back of my mind.)

Let’s start with the questions you should ask before you start marketing. (They are also good for figuring out why a marketing effort isn’t working.)

1.What are you selling?

2. Who is your intended audience?

3. Who would find this useful?

4. Where do they hang out?

5. How can you put yourself in front of them?

The first question is intended to elicit both specific answers as well as fuzzy answers. What I mean is that you should answer the first question both in terms of what you are paid for and in terms of how your audience values it. The fuzzy answers will influence how you sell your services, while the specific answer is what you are paid for.

In my case, I build websites and provide tech support, but what I sell is peace of mind. I solve people’s problems. To give you a second example, one could say that genre authors write books, but they sell entertainment. (Or at least that’s how I see it.)

The second and third questions are almost the same. In fact, one is a version of the other, but I am including them both because they will elicit different answers. They will help you understand who you think your audience is, and also make you reconsider whether there’s an audience you overlooked.

Question number four helps you decide which platforms you should invest your time and money in. If your audience is not on Platform X then you are wasting your time and money.

The fifth question is deceptively simple but can actually have complex and one of a kind answers. Some would answer this in terms of a marketing message or an advert, but I would also answer it in terms of what you can contribute to a community, actions you might take, etc.

One of the better ways to market yourself or your product/service is to help your desired audience in some way. Authors doing storytime at a library or giving the first book in a series away are two examples of this, but there are an infinite number of possibilities. You just have to find them.

My second set of questions grew out of a need to understand why I was spending a lot of time marketing but wasn’t getting much new business. (This was in early 2019.)

6. What is your marketing message?

7. Did you craft your message to sell yourself on the pitch, or to win over your audience?

8. Are you selling something your audience wants?

9. How does your audience benefit from what you do? (Do they see it that way?)

10. Are you putting the message in front of the right audience?

11. Are you putting it in front of a large enough audience?

Question six is obvious, but still worthwhile. I have found that simply repeating your marketing message, and then describing it using different words, can help you find flaws you had previously overlooked.

The seventh question is one which I would like to say is a classic beginner’s mistake, except for the fact that I still sometimes make this mistake with the first draft of a marketing message. That first draft is often a description of my message and not itself an effective message. This is why I workshop my messages, and change the messages based on how the audience responds.

Question eight is another obvious one, but it is absolutely worth your time. I would like to point to the many failed tech companies which launched products no one wanted, but the simple truth is it is really easy to get so excited over your new product/service that you forget to ask your audience whether they want it.

The ninth question is not strictly relevant to all industries and professions, but it’s an important question to me. This question is intended to get at how your audience benefits from your product/service so that you can use that info to tweak your marketing message.

Tell me, do you know the feature/attribute/benefit trio? (if not, you should look it up)

One way to sell a product/service is to say what it is (feature), how it works (attribute), and how your audience benefits from it. I mention this now because it is really easy to forget to tell your audience the benefits of your product/service even though that is what the audience cares about the most.

Question ten was inspired by the many companies on Twitter who spend their ad dollars to get my attention even though I am not their audience and never will be their audience. Do not be those companies.

The eleventh question is what we are left with once you’ve eliminated or fixed issues like bad messaging, wrong audience, etc. It’s intended to make you ask yourself whether you are doing enough marketing; can you do it more?

Can you find a bigger audience and put yourself in front of it?

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Nate Hoffelder has been helping people fix broken tech since 2010. He builds and repairs WordPress sites, and acts as a virtual IT department for authors. He also blogs about the Kindle and indie publishing. His site, The Digital Reader, has been mentioned on news sites such as the New York Times and Forbes.

Nate belongs to a number of writing groups, and is the president of the Riverside Writers Club. When he’s not volunteering, he spends his time working on projects such as The Speaker Bureau, Book Fair Website, and Author Website in a Box.