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Cinco (5) book marketing lessons from the Cinco de Mayo holiday

Often confused with Mexican Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo is actually the celebration of the unlikely 1862 victory of a ragtag Mexican army over French soldiers who more than doubled them in number. This battle took place near the city of Puebla, at the Mexican forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. According to Time magazine, “The Puebla victory came to symbolize unity and pride for what seemed like a Mexican David defeating a French Goliath.”

MARKETING LESSON #1. Control your own narrative. Mexican Independence Day is September 16, an event wholly distinct from Cinco de Mayo. Yet confusion around the holiday persists. As the author and Marketer in Chief of your book, you get to define the message. Through your branding, marketing, and PR, it is your job to make sure people receive the message you intend them to.

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The battle was not only significant to Mexico, but also to the United States, its neighbor to the north. Occurring in the middle of the American Civil War, Mexico’s defeat of the French army denied Napoleon III the chance to resupply the Confederate rebels for another year, allowing the North to build a powerful army that eventually defeated the Confederacy. According to Political Evolution of the Mexican People, a book by historian Justo Sierra, if Mexico had not defeated the French in this important battle, France would likely have aided the South in the U.S. Civil War, and as a result, the destiny of the United States might have been very different.

MARKETING LESSON #2. Leverage your allies and connections. Without help from Mexico to defeat the French, the U.S. Civil War could have had a radically different ending. While you needn’t take the war aspect of the analogy any further, you do want to mimic this alliance by partnering with those who will best help you launch your book, spread the word, make sales, get you speaking opportunities, and bring in new readers.

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Subsequent to the Mexican victory over the French, Cinco de Mayo became a regional holiday limited primarily to the Mexican state of Puebla. The holiday has taken on a significance in the United States that far supersedes interest and involvement in Mexico, particularly in areas with large Hispanic populations.

MARKETING LESSON #3. Discover and develop the regional ties to your book. This is likely much easier with fiction set in a particular locale, but it’s possible, regardless of the genre of your book. Whether your book is about pairing food and wine, leadership in the 21st century, or growing a great container garden, each region of the country probably varies – to at least some degree – in the way they relate to your topic. Do your research and learn what makes each region different – and then tailor your marketing to those differences.

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A 2006 study by the Journal of American Culture found more than 150 official Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the U.S. According to UPI, “The holiday crossed over into the United States in the 1950s and 1960s but didn’t gain popularity until the 1980s, when marketers – especially beer companies – capitalized on the celebratory nature of the day and began to promote it.”

Festivities draw from traditional Mexican symbols, like the Virgin of Guadalupe, and highlight customs like music, fireworks, and regional dancing. Of course, no American Cinco de Mayo celebration would be complete without the comida y cerveza (food and beer)!

MARKETING LESSON #4. Look for specific food tie-ins to your book. Even if your book has nothing to do with food, its readers may have a general taste or preference for a particular cuisine. Look for ways to leverage this when you plan your events or marketing campaigns. Who knows – if you can find something unique to put in a proposal to a restaurant (or even better, a particular band), maybe you can get them to offer free samples or sponsor an event for you. This will help you throw a doozy of a party!

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But the party transcends U.S. borders, with celebrations ranging from Vancouver, which holds an annual Cinco de Mayo skydiving event, to the Cayman Islands, which celebrates with an annual Cinco de Mayo air guitar competition, to Malta, where revelers are encouraged to drink Mexican beer on May 5th.

MARKETING LESSON #5. Link your book to cultural traditions and trends. Similar to, but distinctly different from geographical region, cultures also will vary in the way they respond to your topic. The way you’d approach leadership in a community of new African immigrants would likely vary vastly from similar discussions in a well-established area of New York City’s Chinatown. Obviously, your core audience may be much more general, but keep these cultural differences in mind as you head out for book signings and speaking engagements. The more you can connect directly with your audience, the more likely you are to sell books to them.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Laura

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