How to Turn a Category POV into a WSJ Bestseller

Reading Time: 6 minutes

What’s worse than a weak point-of-view (POV) for your category? A great POV that no one hears about.

For category design to work, your category POV has to be out in the world, evangelizing a position on behalf of your brand. It needs to elicit a response from customers – not collect dust in some forgotten Dropbox folder.

That’s why I felt so encouraged when BombBomb’s CMO, Steve Pacinelli, suggested we turn our POV for our human-centered communication category into a book. I was thrilled when Ethan Beute, our Chief Evangelist, agreed to co-author it with him.

But we did more than just release a book.

Within a week of launch, Human-Centered Communication: A Business Case Against Digital Pollution ranked #2 on the Wall Street Journal’s list of bestselling business hardcover books.

In a moment, I’ll explain how we did it.

But first, here’s a quick refresher on what a category POV is and why it matters.

WSJ bestseller list Oct 16 2021
Human-Centered Communication: A Business Case Against Digital Pollution hit the WSJ list because we focused on adding value to readers.

A Category POV is The Motor That Drives Category Design

Electric truck startup Rivian believes we should “build the kind of future our kids and our kids’ kids deserve.” They opine that “extraordinary steps must be taken to… preserve our natural ecosystems.” When they make these statements, they are expressing a point-of-view.

The idea that trucks shouldn’t cause harm to the great outdoors is new. It’s a departure from other off-road brands like Jeep, Land Rover, and Toyota. And it defines what Rivian’s new category of “adventure vehicles” stands for.

And that’s what a category POV is supposed to do.

Just like a good politician, a category POV should force the listener to agree or disagree with their view of the world. A strong POV clarifies a unique problem and offers a new solution that customers can rally behind.

None of that matters, though, if your customers don’t know about your POV in the first place. And a book can be a great way to make that happen.

P.S. For a deep dive into Rivian’s POV, check out this conversation between Christopher Lochhead and Al Ramadan.

Why Use a Book To Evangelize Your POV?

Not every category designer needs to write a book, however.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can put a lot of work into something that doesn’t land. Here are some reasons you might want to consider it for one of your category lightning strikes, though:

  • Unpacks new ideas. New categories often represent ideas that demand explanation and exploration. Books are a captive medium, so they are well suited for going deep on a topic.
  • Credibility and adoption. If you can write a few hundred pages on a new topic, you position yourself as an expert. If you can make that content interesting, then readers can help you spread those ideas to others.
  • Tangibility. Having a physical object that you can hold in your hand and see on your bookshelf can help your category seem “real” in ways that other mediums cannot.
  • Marketing tactics. If your book provides real value, it can be a great tool for developing relationships with prospects and customers. Send them a copy, along with a note about why you thought it would be valuable for them.
  • Legitimacy. Even if your book doesn’t become a bestseller, you can prove legitimacy for your POV through the reviews that others leave.

For more on why books can be a great medium for evangelizing your POV, check out this post from Category Design Advisors, called Category Creation: How a New Book Defines “Health Assurance”.

But writing a book doesn’t mean people will buy it. Here are the three rules we followed to drive sales.

Rule #1: Don’t Ever, Ever, Ever Pitch Your Product

There’s one thing you have to know if you are going to write a book as a category designer.

The book can’t be about your product.

And it can’t be about your company.

It has to be about something bigger than that. In Human-Centered Communication, we barely mention our software. The book is about a fundamental issue that causes our customers pain, and an approach that can help them solve it.

Is there a connection back to our business? Of course. Some of that is necessary to add context to the ideas. But readers can smell a product pitch a mile away. If you try to get away with this, the book will land flat and you’ll lose any chance of driving sales through word-of-mouth.

Rule #2: Get Your Team to Help You

BombBomb launched its first book, Rehumanize Your Business, 2019. At that time, mass emails were pretty successful in driving sales.

But Ethan, who led most of our promotional efforts, was quick to teach our team that in 2021, that tactic didn’t look as promising. Instead of trying to compensate by sending more emails, we focused on helping our team promote the book within their networks.

This process started months before launch.

We held book clubs, company all-hands, and other events that drove discussion and debate. The idea was to help our team internalize the ideas in the book. When it came time for launch, we didn’t want our team to share the book out of obligation. We wanted them to promote it because they believed in the ideas and wanted others to hear them.

Human-Centered Communication book cover
Good cover art doesn’t hurt either.

When the launch itself came, we made it easy for our team to promote the book on social media, email, and through word of mouth. We provided email signatures, social media banners, templates, talking points, and more. We encouraged the team regularly and celebrated every sale, large or small.

Attributing book sales on Amazon is nearly impossible. But because we kept hearing stories about people who bought the book after hearing about it from our team, we knew this tactic was making a difference.

For more on this, check out this talk from Ethan on episode 166 of The Customer Experience Podcast, titled A More Personal Way to Launch a Book. Ethan spearheaded much of this work, and he tells this part of the story much better than I can!

Rule #3: Driving Sales Involves More than Promotion

While we did a few things to promote book sales directly, we also took other measures that would our audience more likely to buy once the book became available. Here are the efforts that had the most impact:

Create valuable experiences

We could have used our owned channels to aggressively push “buy” messages. But we didn’t think our audience would appreciate that. Instead, we created valuable experiences that centered around the contents of the book. We held an AMA with the authors, featured the book’s 11 contributors on special podcast episodes, and hosted webinars on the topic. Our goal was to provide value to our audience first, and simply invite them to purchase the book if they wanted to go deeper.

Offer bonuses for purchasing multiple copies

Bestseller lists are ranked based on the volume of books sold, not the number of individual buyers. Getting people to purchase multiple copies is key. That’s why Ethan and Steve were so intentional about creating enticing offers for bulk purchases. Whether you bought 10 copies or 500, you got a bonus. We offered additional content, t-shirts, invites to exclusive discussion groups, and even full-day consulting sessions with the authors.

Build credibility (and reach) by including contributors

Steve, our CMO, was a big champion of this idea, and I’m glad that he pushed it. He and Ethan recruited eleven contributors to participate in the creation of the book. Since these contributors were heavy-hitters like Matthew Sweezey and Dan Tyre, their inclusion added credibility to our POV. Furthermore, their promotion of the book itself gave us an early boost in sales.

Run targeted paid campaigns

We did allocate a portion of our budget to paid campaigns. Our goal was to provide additional exposure to audiences who were hearing about the book on other channels. To do that, we targeted a very specific audience (BombBomb customers in real estate) and used highly-relevant creative (a quote from RE/MAX CEO Adam Contos, one of the book’s contributors).

Remember that Luck Plays a Role

Don’t beat yourself up if you do everything right and still don’t hit any of the bestseller lists. It’s not entirely in your control. Inclusion on the list is based only on sales relative to other titles within a certain time window. If a few well-known authors launch their titles the same week as yours, that’s going to make things tougher.

And that’s why you shouldn’t base a decision to launch a book too heavily on an expectation of becoming a bestseller. Write a book because you want to change the way your customers think!

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About the Author

John Rougeux

John Rougeux is a Partner at Category Design Advisors. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Get the newsletter that will help you become a better category designer.

About the Author


John Rougeux is VP Marketing Strategy at BombBomb. Connect with John on LinkedIn.

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