Q&A: Peter McCarthy on Use of Data, Consumer Insights and Efficiency in Digital Marketing

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Two weeks ago Mike Shatzkin and Peter McCarthy announced the launch of a new digital marketing agency, Logical Marketing, specially designed to serve the needs of publishers and authors.

McCarthy, who contributed both to a DBW webcast earlier this year on social media marketing and to the handy FAQ guide that resulted from it, took some time to answer a few questions about the new venture and some of the challenges authors and publishers face in the changing digital paradigm.

Related: Book Marketing and Social Media FAQ Booklet

DBW: First and foremost, congratulations on getting the new venture off the ground! How’s everything going so far?

PM: Thanks so much. We’re truly excited and, honestly, things are going extremely well. I can’t speak for Mike or the team but the response is certainly exceeding my expectations. I knew we had hit on a niche. In fact, doing something similar had occurred to me quite a few years ago, but this is very different—more focused and timely and collaborative, both internally to the agency and with the clients. So we have lots of very interesting and I think useful work ahead of us.

DBW: You’ve pointed out that digital marketing can involve a lot of wasted time and effort in many of the ways it’s often conducted. It sounds like one of the things you’re setting out to do is essentially to optimize digital marketing practice, both holistically and a la carte. What are some of the ways you’re doing that?

PM: Absolutely. Inefficiency is hardly tolerated in any back office functions but it is entirely accepted in front office ones—never made sense to me as a web guy with data to hand. I thought two things: 1) this needs to change, and 2) it will. That was in 1998. Not prescient—just young…and naïve! Oh well.

In all seriousness, though, the thing I’ve come to learn over subsequent years is that disruptive innovation is not always the result of one big move. The holistic is done one piece by one piece. The idea might be fairly big, but the steps are small, more often than not. Lots of people can take the smaller steps together and help create the “big” innovation. One massive stepper rarely innovates alone, even a Steve Jobs. Thing is, the next thing you know, it really is disruptive and big—disruptive, but it didn’t start out that way. Heck, Twitter was an RSS feed and, I suppose, a vision. That’s it!

In our beta phase we spent a lot of time distilling down a process to, for a lack of better terminology, the “products” and “services,” which were needed by the clients to whom we spoke. Things such as nuanced metadata optimization for both the Google and Amazon universes, author or vertical site SEO, “360-degree major author reviews,” proposal analysis…those types of things. So, we are starting there. But we’ve put in place, and every day keep adding, the ability to offer more comprehensive—holistic, yes—services. Our intent is to be an agency—full on.

DBW: Data is a major buzzword in publishing today. What kinds of data are most meaningful to the marketing process, and what are some of the ways data can and should be used to improve it?

PM: Consumer data as observed in the wild trumps all. And then once you see how people actually think, behave, believe, purchase, search, recreate, parent, etc., then—and I would offer only then—can you market to them in a non-disruptive, interruptive manner, in a manner they will find useful and valuable. Marketing is a service to others if done correctly. It isn’t about gaming systems or shooting fish in a barrel. It’s about getting it right. It’s about helping people solve problems or enrich their lives.

DBW: Looking at the other side, what are some misuses of data you’ve seen lately, or just common misconceptions in the industry about the role of data in marketing?

PM: The over-reliance on macro-data and/or survey data. “Pinterest is all women”—except for the pal of mine who is very male, a potter, and drives a good deal of his Etsy commerce from photos on Pinterest. Macro data is okay. It is a fact that Pinterest skews female. Fair enough. Does it work for him? Instagram has more Hispanic and African-American users as a percentage of total than, say, Facebook. But that may or may not be true for this author or that series. So it’s about trying things—educated hypotheses—based on an informed sense of that macro data and then relentlessly monitoring and adjusting.

Then survey data. Please don’t get me going! Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable, and think of the stakes! If someone were to ask me how many books I’ve read this year—and reading is important to me, I pay attention—my honest answer would be something along the lines of “20 to 30…and I didn’t finish them all. And do you want me to count books I read to my daughter at bedtime? If so, it’s 200.” Surveys are directionally useful at best. Specific questions matter: “Do you like author x in a suit or casually dressed?” Good survey question. Better if you put the picture in front of the consumer. P&G actually has closed social networks where they just listen to consumers actually talk about stuff—that’s consumer research: in the wild but sort of like a zoo. Sheesh…awful analogy.

DBW: In your opinion, what are publishers most often doing wrong in their marketing efforts, and what are they doing right?

PM: The biggest issue is that publishers can’t or won’t use data in sophisticated, focused ways. They do not A/B enough; they do not measure in a nuanced manner; they do not optimize ads; they do not use one piece of data to inform another action—online research into interest to apply to lay down of physical books—etc.

It isn’t that they’re lazy or even in many cases that they don’t know how. They have too many other very valuable things to do. And that is what they are doing right! Other things: important things like providing face time to authors, strategizing with them, with accounts, tracking sales and paying authors, pricing, shipping books and files, publicizing authors and so on. These are critical roles. Critical. Publishing does not exist without them being done. And expertly. The thing is, this is every bit as true of digital marketing today—especially today. And it is hard. And growing harder. This is why agencies exist!

DBW: Where should marketers be looking to apply consumer insights more effectively?

PM: Sales, marketing, PR, IT. In that order. Then editorial if and when there is a compelling reason to do so.

DBW: Paid advertising is still in something of an experimental phase in the book world. Where does it belong, where doesn’t it belong, and how do you know the difference?

PM: It should be big, and it should be primarily online, and it should be managed proactively. One can stretch dollars. A $10,000 offline campaign is a $15,000 online campaign. And it is trackable so that one can learn. A human learning is scale. Scaled marketing is good. A little print here and there is key but, please, the world is on the web—70% of the US. And those who aren’t, well, based on the Pew study, aren’t likely readers anyway.

Also, advertising online can be targeted—narrow-casted with different messages hitting different constituents: local newspaper sites, Facebook fans of a comp artist, etc. Different messages to different people. Key. We don’t need to sit in a room and cook up the ultimate message. We can see which ones work.

DBW: If you could give all of your clients—agents, authors, publishers, anyone in between—a single piece of advice to help them better understand their audiences, what would it be…other than call you?

PM: Sit still, forget the book and pretend you’re a reader who doesn’t know it exists. Then start to type as if you were looking for an answer or a feeling or an experience you’d expect to find somewhere—probably in a book. Now think of how to put that book in front of that person you just “were.”

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