What Costco Samples and Book Marketing Have in Common

I shop at Costco a lot and plan my trips to coincide with when I know they’ll offer samples.  The samples — and not just the eclairs — make my trips better because I use them to bribe my kids to stay in the cart.  Kids in the cart = good shopping trip.

Most of the people who offer samples are smiley, little blue-hairs, who say things like, “If you like sharp cheese, you’ll love this Vermont White Cheddar.”  I get sucked in (who doesn’t love good cheese?) and try the cheddar.  Sometimes I buy what I’ve sampled, sometimes I don’t.  The sample people don’t chase me down and act offended if I don’t choose the product they offered. 

Good book marketing is a lot like Costco samples.  The product, in this case a book, is positioned in a place that’s highly visible — web sites I frequent, blogs and tweeps I follow, etc.  Often books are compared to other books/tv shows/movies I already like and it lures me in to take a little bite.   Smart marketers give me a taste of their product with good cover copy or sample chapters, before I buy.  And if I don’t like the product, most authors/publishers just shrug it off and move on to the next customer. 

A couple of weeks ago, I had a bad sampling experience.  The entire Wallace Clan visited our local Costco.  We had two carts (one for kids, one for goods) and made our way through the store sampling as we went.  On the laundry detergent aisle, a lady was stumping a new organic laundry detergent.  I already had my regular detergent and fabric softener in my cart (for which I had coupons), and she stepped in front of my cart so I couldn’t get down the aisle. 

“You’re not really going to buy that are you?” She asked, waving to my detergent. 

“I was planning on it.”

“You want to buy this instead.  It’s organic and it’s good for sensitive skin.” 

I took the sample pack.  “Thanks.  I’ll try it out.”

“WAIT!!” she screeched, holding her arms wide and blocking traffic in either direction.  “You don’t need fabric softener if you use this.”

My big, burly husband growled under his breath and gave me the get-moving-before-one-of-these-kids-climb-out look. 

I offered the lady a smile.  “Like I said, I’ll try it, but I really like my fabric softener.  It smells good and makes my clothes soft.” 

“So what you’re saying, is that you want to spend the money on two products that can do the job of this one?”  She shook her bouffanted head.  “That’s just plain stupid.  Why do you want to throw your money away?”

Then she shoved a cup of liquid detergent under my nose.  “See!  This smells good too–“

Burly Husband was getting angrier by the second (maybe because our baby was throwing things out of the cart), and chose that moment to step in.  “My wife said no.  Now, could you please step out of the way so we can get by?”

Sample lady rolled her eyes.  “I can’t believe you’re going to just throw your money away.”

“It’s none of your business how we spend our money.”  Burly Husband rolled his cart closer to her, looking menacing.  “Please move so we can finish our shopping.”

With an annoyed huff she finally walked away, mumbling about foolish shoppers.

People: this Costco sample lady did not make me want her product.  She made me hate her product

Bad book marketing is a lot like this sample lady.  There’s an appropriate limit of tweets an author can devote to their book everyday.  I’m thinking it’s like…five (I’m making this up on the fly). Once an author exceeds their limit of promotion-related tweets, I’m probably going to unfollow them.  AND, if they’re irritating enough I’ll never, ever buy their book. 

If an author calls me (or any other reviewer) stupid because we didn’t like or purchase their book, then I’m going to dislike them — and by extension their book and anything else they’ve ever written 

Don’t be irritating with your book news and daily marketing.  Give your readers a taste and let them decide for themselves.  Don’t shove your book in my face and then complain when I don’t love it. 

Please don’t be the laundry detergent lady.  I want to like you.  Don’t give me reasons not to. 


  • prerna pickett

    I love this analogy, because I too, love those Costco samples and find myself gravitating towards a specific product because of them. And i get the kids+cart= grumpy children. Sorry about the rude costco lady, I can’t believe she said that to you! I’m glad your husband put her in her place.

  • Dana Lynn Smith, the Savvy Book Marketer

    LOL, I just spent the past half hour unloading my car and putting away stuff from my bi-weekly Costco run. The Costco samples weren’t very interesting today, but I love your analogy. Many authors make the mistake of posting way too many “buy my book” messages on their social networks. I had several people in the last week connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter and then immediately send me a direct message promoting their book. I recommend that authors focus on developing relationships and having conversations rather than promoting. The 80/20 rule is a good thing to remember – make 80% of your posts about connecting, sharing resources, helping others, commenting on other posts, etc. and 20% about yourself and your books.

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