Like it, love it, hate it, or love-to-hate it, Fifty Shades of Grey is coming to a theater near you. I personally can think of few things more irritating than a baby-faced 26-year-old bossing me around in the bedroom, but billionaires are hot, and 21-year-old college girls can be clueless, so I get it. I tried to read the book, but I was deterred by the prospect of one of my children finding it lying about. Then I tried it listen to it and it was worse that I imagined – more irritating, more gratings, and dare I say it, more stupid. And frankly, I am a grown woman. Despite the fact that my spirit animal is a cougar, I have so much work to do and in my precious spare time, drooling over an imaginary man-child is not on my list of things to do. However, listening to the Beyoncé song, is on my list.

The reviews are mediocre and the buzz is fairly negative, but it is just so buzz-worthy. My favorite quote evokes my favorite female British author:

“If Jane Austen (another bestselling female British author) came back to life and read this book, she would kill herself.”

This from Dave Barry of Time. So the writing is poor and the plot lacking, but as everyone in marketing knows, sex sells. And sexy sex sells even more!

But what really gets me going is the marketing of this brand. Like  of American Express Open Forum, I only see branding lessons coming to life, not ridiculous characters and the demise of humanity as we know it. There have been 100 million books sold worldwide and it is one of the top selling books of all time – along with such illustrious titles as A Tale of Two Cities and The Lord of the Rings. (Sigh, again, with the demise of humanity as we know it.) Despite the fact that Christian Grey is probably every father’s worst nightmare and Ana is a poor excuse of a woman, this infographic by NeoMam Studios is so hilarious, it makes it all worth it!

But what can we learn from the frenzy?

When you commit to marketing a brand, you can sell anything.

  1. Original is not the same as New. The series started as a Twilight fan fiction e-book. The author did not really write anything new or interesting (really, the writing is the least of my worries at this point) but she did something magical and made it new. As if the world had never been bamboozled by charismatic bastards before. Takeaway: Tell a new story.
  2. Done is better than perfect. That’s my favorite quote from Sheryl Sandberg (probably not what she meant when she asked young women to lean in) and it applies to business. Sometimes you have to ship. You can wait for literary perfection or you can make $15 million dollars. Author E. L. James made the smart choice. Takeaway: Make progress, even in small steps.
  3. Start small and test your market. E. L. James work the book as a free e-book. Once it took off, she expanded the product. Proof of concept is an important step. Once the initial product is launched, build on that success. Takeaway: Connect with customers early to ensure you’re meeting their needs.
  4. Build your tribe. The author found that the book was a common topic in online forums and book clubs. Understanding her audience and building that community helped to launch the brand. Social media played a role and she embraced that. Takeaway: You only need a few supports to spur you to move to the next level.

In real life, I would want to arrange an intervention for the young Ana and pitch myself as an image consultant to the horrifying Christian. But as this is fiction, I can let these two dazzle (or disturb) audiences on Valentine’s Day while I sit back and congratulate the female author who ‘has exceeded the sales feats of previous reader-discovered authors by such a staggering magnitude that she is in a category of her own.” E. L. James shows entrepreneurs how to bring something new, raw, organic and engaging to the marketplace.

I would love (or love-hate) to hear your thoughts. ~ Jules

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