Free Prize: the power of soft innovation

(excerpt from Your A Game by Damon Suede & Heidi Cullinan)

Emotion drives all purchases, even essentials. Nobody buys an expensive watch only to tell time. Nobody buys a ball gown to stay warm. And as Seth Godin, Bernadette Jiwa, and countless other marketers have pointed out: nobody eats a fortune cookie for the cookie.

Godin encourages businesses to offer customers a free prize, a distinguishing feature about a project that people remember and remark upon. Here’s the key: a free prize delivers an emotional punch; it doesn’t satisfy needs, it addresses what people want.

The free prize is the element that transcends the utility of the original idea and adds a special unique element, worth paying extra for, worth commenting on. — Seth Godin, Free Prize Inside

In genre fiction, your free prize might be distinctive humor, cinematic spectacle, celebrity tie-ins, or inventive intimacy. You might spawn sprawling sagas built for binge reading or mind-boggling genre hybrids. When you’re looking for ways to innovate, fixing a persistent problem in your genre or trope can work just as well as a racy sex scene or shocking twist.

Price slashing and book-bundling usually starts out as a free prize, but as Godin points out, “Lowering your prices without doing anything else is a game for desperate people lacking in imagination.”[i] The price can only go in one direction, and anyone can decide to race you to the bottom. A free prize must dazzle for people to notice and spread the word.

A free prize doesn’t mean a gimmick, which Godin defines as “a feature that the consumer might be attracted to but doesn’t really want…a distraction, something that takes away from the item itself.”[ii] A free prize is the thing they want: not the cookie, but the fortune. What’s your free prize?

We want that which is both important and that which is scarce, which explains why the essence of every good brand strategy is importance plus uniqueness—or, stated another way, motivation plus differentiation. — Douglas Van Praet, Unconscious Branding

Make something extraordinary happen on the page, in the genre, without violating the customer expectations. Push the edges without rupturing them, and crazy success can be yours. Remember: a soft innovation has to stand out to matter. Your free prize will only work if it matters to the reader. Knock their socks off, or don’t bother.

No whining or waiting. No A-gamer feels comfortable coasting on “fine,” because they know that nothing is static. If their career isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse.

Here’s the one niggle: innovations aren’t innovative forever. To stay afloat, with every project you have to keep finding new ways to solve genre problems and delight your readers.

Of course, that isn’t a problem; that’s art.

  • [i] Seth Godin, Free Prize Inside, p. 143.
  • [ii] Seth Godin, Free Prize Inside, p. 32.

© 2016 Damon Suede & Heidi Cullinan, All Rights Reserved

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