If you haven't been following along, please catch up by checking out my blogs applying Laws 1 through 6 to Indie Authors or buy the fabulous book from Al Ries and Jack Trout at Amazon (click the cover at right). It'll take you maybe 5 minutes to read (it's only 1/4" thick paperback with large-font print).
Today I'm looking at the Law 7: the Law of the Ladder. I like this law in particular because it reminds me of the motivational business seminar I heard way, way back in 1994 or 1995 on the subject of "Balcony People vs. Basement People." This wasn't a new concept (or term) back then and has been ripped off and plagiarized so many times since, if you Google it, you'll never find the original. Just know that I heard this back then and it still rings true now. The Law of the Ladder (which Ries and Trout coined in the 80s) might even have been the original source for all I know!
Balcony versus Basement
The original idea I heard back in the 90s was this: in life, there are two kinds of people (compared to yourself at any given moment). Those who are more together or seem to be "luckier" than you--Balcony people--and those who are less able to handle stress or go with the flow, more likely to run into roadblocks, or just can't seem to catch a break--the Basement people. Reality is, we all fall into both categories at one time or another in our lives, but some of us choose to live more "in the Balcony" than the "Basement."
In motivational terms, the theory is that Balcony people will help you pick yourself up, they'll boost your confidence, give you a break (favor), or help you celebrate the smallest successes while Basement people will bring you down, constantly find fault with all of your ideas, find every reason why you can NOT instead of why you CAN. Basement people are toxic to creativity while Balcony people feed a Muse but the original source from which I heard this theory years ago stressed the importance to have both in your life. Why? Because you become the Balcony person to the Basement people in your life. In and of itself, that raises you even higher.
In marketing terms, Ries and Trout, talk about the rungs of the product ladders in any given product category. They're speaking vaguely about market share but not only sales numbers determine your place on the ladder, and while it's great to be first and hold onto the top rung, it's possible to succeed from lower rungs as well. Click through the jump-break to read more.
Who's Making These Ladders?
When Ries and Trout use the term, "product ladder," they refer to product rankings. For the bookselling world, rankings are pretty obvious, but guess what? Those rankings might not actually be the same as the real product ladders in a customer's mind. It's important to know whose ladder you're standing on. You don't make these ladders. Neither do Amazon or Smashwords or even the New York Times and their so-called "Best-seller list. (Though I'm sure they'd all like to think they make every product ladder in the book world!)
Nope, as always it's the customers who create the product ladders for the specific type of book they're thinking of and as with every other aspect of branding and marketing success, the ladder exists in their minds. It's not a list or a ranking on a web site. It's the method of ranking chosen by the mind of the prospect.
Review my earlier discussions on Laws 3 and 4 to refresh your memory on how to own the minds of your prospective customers (prospects). Why? Because neither you nor Amazon nor any other list-maker can make the ladders or decide who's on which rungs. The customer does that--and only the customer.
That's right. You cannot simply appear on the customer's product ladder or get there by simply buying the spot for mere money. It's not an SEO ranking or a best-seller list ranking. It's a customer's ladder--it exists in their mind. You must first enter their minds and then they will place you on a rung of their ladder.
If you can't recall it now, review Law 5: Focus for how to "explode overnight" into the prospect's mind. That should be your goal. Each customer has his or her own ladder--and they are not all created equal; each one will be different, unique and special to the snowflake that is that specific customer.
This is also why you really want to know who your target market is and focus (excuse the pun) on them exclusively. I guess the Law of Exclusivity could be said to apply to us Indie Authors after all (not really, the Law of Exclusivity is a different topic than focusing on your target audience and no one else).
Now here's the interesting thing, in general, product ladders vary in length. That is, some products in the marketplace tend to exist on ladders with more rungs than others. High-interest products (cola, beer, toothpaste, cereal) have have more rungs than low-interest products (lawn mowers, furniture, luggage).
Books have gone from low-interest to high-interest and back down to low-interest again -- over the 1200 years -- and with the advent of eBooks, the market is shifting again. Due to the Kindle and Nook type devices and smartphone or Tablet eReader apps, eBooks are becoming more easily-accessible and accordingly, more high-interest. The fact that eBooks are creating greater numbers of readers means more rungs spring into existence on more ladders. Yes, that means there's more market pie to slice up and share, including among Indie Authors.
There is a limit, however. Psychologists have repeatedly found that seven (7) seems to be the upper limit for the average human mind to recall at any one given time and three (3) is a common number for people to recall as a collective idea (these three items are a group). Concepts people need to remember tend to gravitate around the numbers three (3) and seven (7). In marketing terms, there might be a "top three leading brands" but there will probably be as many as seven rungs on the average prospect's ladder.
Finding Your Rung on the Ladder
Now that you know who owns the ladder (customer) and how large or small it is (not less than 3 or more than 7 rungs), how do you figure out where you stand? There's actually a rule of thumb that marketing people have been proving with sales numbers over the years. It might surprise you to know it's this simple to calculate--or this drastic a difference!
Quoting Ries and Trout: You tend to have twice the market share of the brand below you and half the market share of the brand above you.
I'm not 100% positive this rule would hold true in the bookselling world or for eBooks versus Dead Tree Books (DTBs) but if you try to apply the rule to analyze your position, look only at your market share for eBook or DTB sales, not both, and only in your specific genre, not the fiction market in general. If you don't specify your analysis to a narrow niche, your chosen category, your focus, then you're doctoring the numbers and they become meaningless. To look at market share, you need to know the entire market as well as what percentage your chosen category occupies. Publications such as Publishers' Weekly have such numbers. You just have to dig a little to find them.
This is good news for people who write in low-interest genres or who can manage to create a new genre. See Laws 1 and 2 for what I mean by that and you'll see how why being first is so much better than being #1.
For those who write in a high-interest genre or one that is exceedingly competitive (think of all the Stephanie Meyer wannabe's suddenly springing up and writing vampire and werewolf paranormal stories), there's still hope. Recall, if you're on Rung 4 of the popular ladder, there are still 3 people below you--and hundreds of thousands (or millions) clawing their way just to get onto the 7th rung of the ladder.
If you're on the ladder in the prospect's mind at all, you've achieved some measure of success. You must hold that position (or climb higher) so acknowledge your position, embrace it with pride. Never ever mudsling those above you or worse, those below you. Assuming you can write worth a whit to get onto the ladder in the first place, be a Balcony person, not a Basement troll, and the prospects will move you up a rung on their own. Just keep writing!
Tomorrow, I'll be back with another Twitter Tool for your Tuesday Tip, looking at TwitCleaner and similar tools for cleaning and managing your Tweeps (yes, I did this already but I'm revisiting the toolset with a new eye).