Thursday, November 6, 2008

Serendipitous Marketing & Cooking With the Trader: Trader Joe's Hits A Marketing Home Run Without Doing A Thing

Trader Joe Cooking
Special to Fresh & Easy Buzz from Cool News of the Day

A self-published cookbook featuring ingredients from Trader Joe's may be the surprise hit of the coming holiday season, reports Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg in the Wall Street Journal (11/3/08).

The book, "Cooking with All Things Trader Joe's" is not authorized by the retailer, but so far it has not done anything to stop it. The idea is that of two former M.I.T. classmates, Wona Miniati and Deana Gunn, who first published the book a year ago, and have since sold some 20,000 copies -- highly unusual for a self-published book.

The breakthrough came when a story about the book appeared in the Sacramento Bee, causing Borders Books to begin stocking it in "nearly all of its 522 superstores." Readers began asking for the book at the Borders store in Sacramento, sales took off, and Borders took note. Obviously, this isn't the way things normally work with cookbooks, sales of which "are primarily driven by chefs featured on the Food Network." Not only that, but cookbook sales in general are declining, down to 2,673 in 2007, versus 3,062 in 2006.

However, Wona and Deana clearly are onto something. As Wona explains: "I used to cook from scratch but as my career took off and I had kids, the time I had for cooking was squeezed out." At first Wona's garage was their distribution center, but the co-authors just shipped another 15,000 copies to retailers. The only real glitch is that Trader Joe's sometimes discontinues items featured in the cookbook, although Wona says that doesn't happen very often. In such cases, she and Deana post substitutions on their website, The co-authors say they've laid in a fresh supply of 50,000 copies for the holidays.

Cooking With TJ's & Serendipitous Marketing: A Fresh & Easy Buzz Analysis

We call this form of marketing serendipitous marketing, meaning essentially it's when by fortunate accident a third party(s) does a part of a company or retailers marketing and promotion for them, resulting in positive messages and outcomes.

It can also be called third-party marketing. But we like serendipitous marketing (which as far as we know we are the first to coin as a term) better because in cases like this with the Trader Joe's cookbook, the retailer had absolutely nothing to do with the book, accept that it created and operates such a popular specialty grocery chain that individuals like the authors of the book are motivated to write a cookbook featuring ingredients bought at the stores.

Third party marketing is less complete, or interesting. A company can be involved in third party marketing, which we also call stealth marketing, in that it can get a third party to do the marketing for it. Public relations using the media to write articles for a company is a form of third party marketing, for example.

Serendipitous marketing is far more powerful than third party marketing, or stealth marketing, or public relations though, because the farther a business is removed from the third party (as in not involved at all) doing the promoting, the stronger of a "third party" endorsement the particular business or retailer obtains from the consuming public.

For example, if Trader Joe's published or had published the cookbook itself, we likely might not even write about it. And if we did, we would devote maybe two or three paragraphs to it. But, as you can see, we are devoting far more ink (well, virtual ink) to the story than a mere few paragraphs. That's serendipitous marketing for you.

Serendipitous marketing also can lead to lots of "word of mouth" marketing, which is generally the best kind. There's hardly anything better than having people out there talking positively (which is the key) about your product or service, or retail stores.

For example, every person who receives a positive mention from a friend, family member, co-worker and the like about a particular grocery store, tells another (many others usually), who then tells another...and on and on. It's viral. Internet message boards, forums and Blogs can work in much the same way, although the messages aren't as powerful because they generally come from strangers. That's mattering less and less though as the Internet becomes more and more personal to us, which it is doing.

The reason serendipitous marketing leads to the best form of "word of mouth" is because it's serendipitous, meaning it's fortunately unplanned or controlled (by the company that gets the benefits from it like Trader Joe's with the cookbook) and comes from the grass roots -- from the bottom up rather than the top down. Such marketing messages, even the unintended, are the most powerful and believable.

Negative "word of mouth" marketing (negative word of mouth and viral messages) are as powerfully negative for a business as they can be powerfully successful.

In our title at the top we say: "Trader Joe's Hits A Marketing Home Run Without Doing A Thing." This is a bit of a play on words since hitting is certainly doing something.

Trader Joe's has done something, even though it has nothing to do with creating and marketing the cookbook. What the grocer has done is to create such a popular specialty grocery chain, along with such popular store brand products, that the batters/book authors (the home run analogy) are willing to hit the ball out of the park (writing such a book) because it's in their self interest to do so, along with the fact they love Trader Joe's. As a result, they provide strong third party marketing to the grocer in the process.

One caution for marketers: trying to combine serendipitous and stealth marketing -- such as getting a third party to market or promote your retail chain or business but trying to keep it a secret -- is a prescription for failure. It will eventually be discovered and any positive credibility, and increased sales, gained from it will evaporate, causing far more harm than any positive good that might have come out of the campaign before it was discovered. It also can seriously harm a company or retailer's reputation for a long period of time, which is a very bad thing.

And...serendipitous also means lucky or fortunate, which is something to hope for in all types of marketing activities.

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