Since publishing this article new information has come to light. I’d encourage you to read this article  also published on this site instead of this one as it contains more information and better information.
The Purpose Driven Life is a runaway bestseller. In truth, it is in a category all its own. It is closing in on 25 million copies sold and will eclipse this number soon enough. Incredibly enough, it is selling better now than when it first released. Where most titles sell quickly at first and then the sales slow, this book gained sales momentum for over a year following its release. There are those who are sufficiently naive to believe that this success owes to the value of the book. But truth be told, it is not nearly as good a book as the sales would indicate. Warren says little that has not been said before, and has been said better. I’m sure it has changed some lives and has brought encouragement to many people. But this doesn’t make a book sell 25 million copies and become the bestselling book of all-time in its genre.
So how does a book, especially a book written by a professed Christian and dealing with Christian topics become such a wild bestseller? Allow me to introduce you to Pyromarketing.
Pyromarketing is a term developed by Greg Stielstra who was part of Zondervan’s marketing team for The Purpose Driven Life, and was responsible for marketing various aspects of the book. It is a type of so-called “viral marketing” as it is based on passing information from one person to the next. This is in opposition to marketing that relies on mass media advertising such as television commercials. Think about it, and you’ll realize that in all likelihood you never saw a television commercial for The Purpose Driven Life. In fact, it is entirely possible that you never saw any media marketing for it whatsoever. The book did not receive any significant coverage in the press until very recently, long after it had established itself as a major success.
Greg Stielstra is the head of the marketing team working within Zondervan, which published the book. He is obviously very good at what he does. He’s quoted  as saying that if he promoted a book about quilting “to one-tenth of one percent of left-handed quilters,” he could land the title on the non-fiction bestseller list and prime it for even bigger success. I assume this quote is true because he posted a comment on that blog and did not deny it.
Here are some excerpts from his biography:
“I’ve been fortunate to have worked with the biggest names in publishing Philip Yancey, Lee Strobel, Jim Cymbala, Drs. Henry Cloud & John Townsend, Joni Eareckson Tada, Billy Graham, Dan Qualye, Oliver North, Dave Dravecky, Rick Warren, Kurt Warner, Mike Singletary, Dr. C. Everett Koop, Rosa Parks, Dr. Ben Carson, and others. My work for these authors has won many accolades for marketing excellence, and my track record includes 88 best sellers, 20 #1 bestsellers, and eight books that have sold more than a million copies. Five of these books made The New York Times bestsellers list, including a title that reached #1 and remained on the list for over two years.”
Stielstra, then, is a man who works within a Christian industry, marketing Christian books to Christians. I found the following endorsement interesting:
“When I first heard Greg Stielstra describe the PyroMarketing model, I knew instinctively that he had found a powerful metaphor that could help marketing leaders in any business transform their results. Greg’s secrets have worked in one of the most crowded markets - book publishing - and they can work for you. PyroMarketing will help your marketers focus on consumer understanding and insight, not the size of their budget. Properly applied, you’ll get the best marketing - the kind that builds margins!” (Denis Beausejour, former global vice-president of marketing, The Procter & Gamble Company)
Denis Beausejour, who worked for Proctor & Gamble cuts to the heart of the matter. This type of marketing builds profit margins. It is an interesting observation to make about a program developed to market Christian materials. Whether this approach can thrive outside of the church is, as yet, unknown.
Marketing As Fire
The key to successful Pyromarketing is to understand marketing as fire. Founded on the assumption (which is clearly and obviously true) that we are bombarded with advertising, Pyromarketing attempts a whole new approach. Interestingly, Stielstra compares the success of The Purpose Driven Life with another surprise hit, The Passion of the Christ. “The success of The Purpose-Driven Life or The Passion of the Christ, remains puzzling to many, but not to those who know their secret. What do these remarkable success stories have in common? They each used PyroMarketing.” The technique is well-described in a little song you may have sung while sitting beside a campfire:
It only takes a spark to get fire going
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing;
That’s how it is with God’s love,
Once you’ve experienced it,
You spread the love to everyone
You want to pass it on.
Pyromarketing is built around this metaphor of fire. Stielstra says, “Every fire needs fuel, oxygen, heat and the heat from the comustion reaction itself. Heat excites the fuel, breaking its molecular bonds at the ignition point freeing the fuel’s electrons to abandon the fuel and join with oxygen in the surrounding air. Ignition temperatures vary significantly from one fuel to the next. The reaction gives off additional heat which excites neighboring fuel and causes the fire to spread.”
Just as fire depends on fuel, so does marketing. Just as ignition temperatures vary from one fuel to the next, so do the “ignition points” of consumers. And just as fire spreads, so excitement about products spreads. “In PyroMarketing consumers are the fuel and their ignition points also differ widely. There is money stored in their wallets, but there is a very strong bond between consumers and their money.” This approach attempts to create “consumer evangelists” who will do the most important and effective marketing on a product’s behalf. The four steps of this marketing approach mimic the steps of building a fire:
This four-part approach, which is cyclical in nature, reveals the secret behind the success of The Purpose Driven Life. It all comes down to a particularly brilliant marketing solution. It is brilliant, because while Stielstra does not say so, there are clearly three factors that he takes advantage of within the church:
Pyromarketing, which was so successful with Warren’s book, was clearly at the heart of the success of The Passion of the Christ, where once more a movie was pushed onto the church by a secular organization which managed to convince well-meaning Christians that this movie was much more than the reality. And having done that, it turned these people into product evangelists, so that they did the marketing on behalf of the corporation. Mel Gibson earned hundreds of millions of dollars, as did the theatres and countless other companies. And they owe it all to the church which has received little or no benefit from it. The church did the marketing, while the corporation benefitted.
The fact is, this approach takes advantages of Christians, foisting on them products, books and services that we do not need! Yet the marketing gurus convince us that we do, and they are only too happy to reap the bountiful rewards. We can expect to see far more of this approach in the future. The naive, under-educated, pragmatic Christian world is only too happy to continually attain to the next big thing. Publishers like Zondervan are only too-willing to tell us what it is.
Business Week Article  which first alerted me to Pyromarketing.
Stielstra has written a book detailing Pyromarketing (entitled, not suprisingly, Pyromarketing). This book is published by HarperBusiness and is due for release on June 15 of this year. Interestingly, HarperBusiness is also the home of Peter Drucker who shaped much of Warren’s thinking about church planting and growth. I am sure this book will be a fascinating look into the heart of the marketing approach that made The Purpose Driven Life such a great success.
PowerPoint Presentation  and Associated Text  from which I drew the majority of this information. What struck me more than anything else was the completely secular nature of this marketing. Purpose Driven Life was nothing but a product, and millions of Christians were nothing but consumers who didn’t know what they needed until Zondervan told them.
Since publishing this article new information has come to light. I’d encourage you to read this article  also published on this site.