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Creating 100,000 Members
for a Cause

By Ben McConnell

 The way Suzanne Beecher figures it, she has a mission. An avid reader, Beecher felt strongly enough about books and reading them that she wanted to impart their importance upon her friends and colleagues.

Suz-white-jpg-7kb-flippedHer mission led her to launch DearReader.com, a Web site that emails a five-minute excerpt from a featured book each day for a week to a network of 100,000 readers, which is growing at about 2,000 new readers per month. The emailed content is consecutive so that by the end of the week, readers have sampled - but not finished - a new book. On Monday, excerpts from a new book arrive and start the process anew. The site’s growth during its three-year lifespan is largely due to word of mouth and a prominent group of evangelists.

"The book club is a kind of community, and it’s evangelistic because the members tell other people about it and what they love," Beecher says from her office in Sarasota, Fla. Talk about fulfilling her mission: To date, DearReader’s seven different book clubs have featured bite-size chunks of more than 1,600 books.

Like a cross between Book-of-the-Month Club and a unique daily calendar reminder, DearReader is quickly evolving in to an email marketing vehicle for delivering relevant and anticipated information, and it’s personalized to the type of genre readers find valuable. Beecher’s customers include librarians who receive early copies of books for review, and businesses that want to feature interesting and unique information in their newsletters.

Beecher’s customers are free to sell advertising around the content, or add their own content like features about customers - whatever makes the content more relevant to the customer’s book club audience.

And it seems to sell books, too. "We’ve received an incredibly positive response from our customers," Books-a-Million.com President Terry Finely told Wired magazine earlier this year. "It’s a service they can’t get anywhere else, and it sells a lot of books."

Beecher originally targeted DearReader to stay-at-home moms. Instead of spending their productive hours reading children’s books or pickling in front of daytime TV, Beecher wanted moms to get into the habit of reading. The initial response wasn’t exactly what she hoped for. "We cook, we clean and now you want us to do this?" Beecher recalls the general sentiment from her target audience with an infectious laugh. "You’re nuts! We don’t even have time to shave our legs."

Beecher persevered. Soon, her readers were hooked and Beecher found that her mission was changing behavior, too. "You can bump reading up on the ladder of importance," she says. "We get a lot of people thanking us for getting them back in the habit of reading." In fact, customer feedback is prevalent - over 200 hundred emails per day, Beecher says. Email usually falls into two buckets: people who respond to her funny, quirky and very personal "Dear Reader" columns and those who complain or offer suggestions, which she loves.

"My favorite book is (Janelle Barlow’s) 'A Complaint is a Gift,'" she says.

Beecher has successfully turned a cause into a business, something she is quick to point out. "Don’t get me wrong - I love books and I love what I do but we are a for-profit company," she says.

For successfully growing her cause into a business with tens of thousands of evangelists, we name Suzanne Beecher of DearReader our Evangelist of the Month. Let’s take a look at the key elements of how Beecher has grown DearReader, and how she embraces customer evangelism principles.

1. Customer Plus-Delta
It’s tough to escape Suzanne Beecher on the company’s website. In one of the more unique uses of a splash page (since so few useful examples of splash pages exist), Beecher’s smiling face is there, welcoming visitors. She constantly solicits feedback from readers, whether it’s on the site or in one of her weekly "Dear Reader" notes or saying on the Contact Us page that "I'm religious about answering my email, so send something my way." They do: about 200 or so daily messages.

2. Napsterized Knowledge and Bite-Size Chunks
Chapter-a-Day elegantly combines these two customer evangelism tenets. Beecher is helping authors and publishers feed their work into a massively efficient and focused distribution system. At the same time, she is helping whet the appetites of readers who find themselves so engrossed in a book that the only option after the trial period is to purchase the book.

3. Build the Buzz
Although Chapter-a-Day does not formally measure how people discovered the site and its network, it does use email to discover how readers first stumbled upon its existence. Beecher says it’s almost all due to word of mouth.

4. Create Community
Beecher’s emails consistently end with the statement, "Thanks for reading with me. It’s so good to read with friends." As she later explains, "People want relationships with a company." Her focus on community-building efforts help buffer the solemnity of reading by turning it into an experience in which they can later share ideas and thoughts in person or online.

5. Create a cause
Beecher’s impetus for launching DearReader was based on a cause. To hear the ebullient Beecher describe her vocation and the growing popularity of her approach, her goal may not be all that far off: "Down the road, I see book clubs being a part of everyone’s daily life."

Coordinates: www.DearReader.com

(Want to learn how companies like DearReader succeed by building legions of passionate advocates? Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal Customers Become a Volunteer Sales Force outlines the six tenets of customer evangelism and how the marketing programs of eight companies successfully lead to strong word of mouth sales.)


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