Audience Research Needn’t Be Costly or Time Consuming

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

Peter McCarthy Digital Book World Marketing Myths digital strategy readers ebooksThe line between “conventional wisdom” and “misconception” is often thin, blurry and easy to stumble over. As the book marketing world sharpens its digital chops, misconceptions tend to result from insufficient experience with, and incomplete understanding of, a particular tactic. In my experience, it’s that holistic sort of nuance that makes all the difference.

This post is the first in a monthly series dedicated to replacing common book marketing myths with practical, field-tested strategies. But before I go any further, a disclaimer: I’m surely prone to my own misconceptions myself, many of which I doubt I can even identify that way. I’d like this column to start productive conversations among book marketers in the hope of learning from each other.

Marketing Myth #1: Audience Research Is Time Consuming and Expensive

book marketing strategies readers Peter McCarthyUnderstanding one’s audience is a cornerstone of marketing. This has always been true, but it’s particularly so in 2015’s digital, data-enhanced environment, where audience research can be at once much easier and much more overwhelming.

It doesn’t have to be so overwhelming. But to a time-pressed marketer (or merchandiser or data scientist or salesperson or publicist or author), time-consuming projects are typically understood to be expensive, too—whether in person-hours, opportunity cost or actual spend on tools or surveys.

And it’s true that to do, say, Proctor & Gamble–level audience segmentation and personae development would be a massive undertaking. But for publishers, the number of unique products, their often slim margins, and the lean budgets and staff focused on each title all but rule out such truly massive undertakings.

That should be seen as good news.

What Are We Looking for?

Marketers are looking for the most of the most-right potential readers for a given book, author, series or brand— the exact people to whom what we have will likely appeal. That requires us to know who they are. I’ve written about this before, but here is a condensed version:

  • Demographics: where potential customers live, their marital status, gender, whether they have 1.5 dogs, 0.75 children, their income bracket and so on.
  • Psychographics: how customers feel about certain things: What do they like, love, dislike? In what do they fervently believe?
  • Behaviors: what they do, how they talk, whom they hang out with—all factors that often relate to who they are and in what they believe.

Knowing these things and more within each area will help us understand the ‘who,’ ‘what,’ ‘when,’ ‘where’ and ‘how’ of customers’ likely interactions (or lack thereof) with what we’re aiming to offer them. With this, we can market more effectively.

Tools for Observing Potential Readers ‘in the Wild’

By and large, surveys are somewhat time-consuming and prone to eyewitness testimony bias (How many books did you read last month? Oh, really?) and can be pricey relative to observing people just doing what they do. That said, there can be a time and place for surveys, though much of what we’ll see are, in effect, answers to questions we might ask “in the wild.”

So let’s look at a few free, easy-to-use but potent tools, using a few popular titles and authors as case studies (I’m not working professionally on either of the examples that follow). This is a straightforward way to make research doable—to get started gathering enough information to take informed action. It’s critical to note, though, that it’s all about how you use these tools. A great set of tools does not a good carpenter make.

Lots of tools do wonders in enabling marketers to go deeper and deeper into research. David Portney of the digital agency Portent recently compiled a great list of what he calls “SEO tools,” for instance, but take a look (after you read this post, naturally) and you’ll see that many are audience-understanding tools.

The key is in using the core tools quickly to keep from having to guess what might work and to what degree. The difference between guessing and testing a hypothesis is obvious. This type of research is not sequential, and this isn’t an ordered list. Rather, it’s all about triangulating between one tool and another to answer your specific questions and formulate an approach. And that should all take less than an hour.

LibraryThing, GoodReads, Amazon

LibraryThing’s book tags tell us a lot about what readers (if not necessarily buyers) think the book is like—that is, how they describe it. Take the best-selling thriller The Girl on the Train for example:

Peter McCarthy book marketing Girl on the Train Paula HawkinsWe can see some interesting semantics:

psychological thriller
alcoholism
suspense thriller
unreliable narrator
crime
murder
adultery
mystery

Combing Goodreads and Amazon reviews can also provide telling phrases readers use to describe the same book, both positively and critically: “Best Hitchcock style mystery of voyeuristic observation since Rear Window” is ranked as the most useful review. Hmmm…

But not every book is already out. What about front-list titles? For many of them, we’ve often got an author who has a previous title or two, and the same approach works quite well. Here’s Harper Lee on LibraryThing:

Peter McCarthy book marketing Harper Lee

Many expected terms, but some jump out and the specifics are interesting:

American South
justice
law
lawyers
racism
race relations
southern literature

Let’s see if that helps with some psychographic understanding. What other titles do readers tag similarly? In this case, I’ll go granular using the “tagmash” feature, which allows me to put together combinations of these tags and see what other books or authors look like “mine.” This feature tends to get away from the core “obvious” ones—in Lee’s case, major American literary luminaries. Which is good because a deeper understanding is precisely what we’re after, and we can get it just as quickly.

Here is the tagmash for “southern literature,” “justice,” “law” and racism. Look: John Grisham.

With minimal effort we’ve just pinned down some comparable authors as identified by real people in a non-transactional environment. It isn’t “what you bought,” it’s “what you read.” And, when we start on audience behaviors and psychographics, we can discern why.

Social Mention, Topsy, Wordle

Let’s make like the NSA and do a little social media snooping to get a better sense of how people talk. I like the tool Social Mention, which lets us see:

  • activity
  • sentiment
  • top users, hashtags and top keywords used, which we can later even download

That’s plenty to help us get a sense of the conversation. Here again is The Girl on the Train:

Peter McCarthy book marketing Girl on the Train Paula Hawkins Social Mention
Topsy is another nice one in this space. I like how it quantifies the chatter.

Peter McCarthy Girl on the Train Paula Hawkins Topsy Once again, psychographics and behaviors.

Soovle

Now that we have a sense of how people talk, observing search patterns gets us another step closer to understanding the language of behavior—which of these words and phrases do readers use when looking for our book or author? And, which others are they looking for at the same time?

I’ve written recently about what auto-prompting can tell us on this score. It shows us what search engines will suggest as someone begins to type a query. The prompts are based on a ton of data and the engine’s algorithmic impetus to suggest correctly.

A tool called Soovle is quite a time-saver here, as it shows auto-prompting across multiple engines at once. Here’s “Harper Lee” in Barnes & Noble, Google and Amazon all in one spot:

Peter McCarthy Harper Lee digital book marketing SoovleYou can broaden the picture further if you’d like, to see “Harper Lee” across even more engines.

Researching behavior doesn’t just mean searching for authors’ names or popular titles, though. You can also look up non-core terms like “civil rights books.” The goal is to discern how people talk, the types of things they might read and how they look for them.

Google Trends

Google Trends is perhaps one of the most useful tools out there. Looking at Google Trends for “Harper Lee,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Go Set a Watchman” side-by-side we can see that, for now, people are looking for her and her classic work:

Peter McCarthy digital book marketing Harper Lee

On the same page, scrolling down, we can see where that search volume is coming from, based on where it is over-indexing relative to the normal amount of search from a given region—in other words, demographics.

Peter McCarthy Harper Lee Go Set a WatchmanIt’s interesting that all strong search volume for Lee’s forthcoming title is coming solely from New York and California.

It’s also notable that in Rising Searches, we can see “harper lee sequel.”

That’s evidently one way people are looking for Go Set a Watchman.

SimilarWeb

Let’s say we want to ride the The Girl on the Train’s coattails or introduce a book we feel would interest that same audience.

SimilarWeb is handy for that. It has a for-pay version chock full of audience data, but the free Chrome extension works nicely, too.

Peter McCarthy digital book marketing Paula Hawkins SimilarWebHere’s a quick look at PaulaHawkins.com as SimilarWeb helps us see it. I chose the Sourcestab to see whether I could get a sense of where her visitors come from.

Search and Social are the biggest bars. Search is high—it always is, unless there’s something wrong (a subject for another post).

The social percentage here is massive, though. We knew that from our social media listening and already have a sense of what that chatter consists of in terms of keywords, hashtags and influencers—all useful behavioral insights.

BuzzSumo

This is a great tool for identifying where people are congregating and expressing interest in a given topic. Here’s a look at “go set a watchman.” The usual suspects—the New York Times, the Atlantic, etc.—are in the top slots. But a site called HelloGiggles ranked in the top five in terms of shares (word of mouth) for an article on the new book. And it got nearly 17,000 shares on Facebook.

Peter McCarthy Go Set a Watchman Harper Lee digital book marketingThis surprised me, but I think it has much to do with the site’s particular demographics, psychographics and behaviors. HelloGiggles users describe themselves this way:

HelloGiggles is a positive online community for women (although men are always welcome!) covering DIY and crafting projects, beauty, friendship, sex & relationships, pop culture, pets, television & movies, nostalgia, fandom, tips on savvy and stylish living meant to inspire a smile. Founded by Zooey Deschanel, Molly McAleer and Sophia Rossi. Reader contributions are welcome and published daily.

I’m a male marketer and very glad I’m welcome, because I would market here!

FollowerWonk

FollowerWonk is a personal favorite of mine. It lets us analyze a Twitter account from multiple perspectives. Let’s keep an eye on Paula Hawkins.

Here are where her followers are. I’ve gone global but you can drill down to answer specific questions:
Peter McCarthy Digital book marketing Harper Lee FollowerWonk
In this case, it’s not that surprising. But when the demographics tilt in interesting directions, it can be very instructive and useful.

Facebook Ad Interface

Spinning ad interfaces around and using them as research tools is a widely employed research tactic, and for good reason. I particularly like the Facebook ad interface because it covers all our bases for “knowing someone.” It also represents a good cross-section of the world due to Facebook’s large user base. Everyone? No. Directionally many of them? Yup. Use it and round up.

Peter McCarthy digital book marketing Harper Lee Facebook
Right away we can see how many fans Harper Lee has in the U.S.: 2.6 million. That’s interesting but not that useful, save for sizing and a broad target.

We can drill in from there and see things like:

  • How about in Alabama? 100,000
  • How many work in education or in libraries? 290,000
  • How many use iPads and buy online? Facebook ad interface gives a good directional answer there: 970,000

All audience attributes can be identified within this interface. There’s no need to actually run ads.

Google Adwords

AdWords is wonderful for sizing an audience. Here’s a look at twelve months of search volume for “Harper Lee” (and very closely related terms), “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Go Set a Watchman”:Peter McCarthy Digital book marketing Harper Lee Google Adwords
The big spike is around the new title. Yet consistent interest is massive. Combine it all and that 1.5 million print run just might work out.

Putting It All Together

Research is always mapped back to goals and the hypotheses we form about how we might accomplish our marketing goals. As I indicated, we are nearly always trying to put the right book in front of the most of the most-right people we can.

After an hour of bouncing around just within these tools, you should be armed with a fairly detailed understanding of the major gaps in your intended audience and the levers you can pull in order to engage with it meaningfully. From there, you’ve got the beginnings of a creative marketing strategy to connect a book with an audience.

The insights we can learn using just these tools can inform metadata creation, ad targeting, placement and copy, PR efforts, sales strategies, earned social media efforts and much more.

It’s simply so much faster and cheaper than many book marketers realize to do the research and weed out bad hypotheses first, rather than guessing and not being right.

Stay tuned until next month when I’ll take a look at another common marketing myth, and let me know in the comments section below how you fare in your own efforts with some of the tools I’ve covered above.

3 thoughts on “Audience Research Needn’t Be Costly or Time Consuming

  1. Sharon

    Thank you for providing a list of free, easy-to-use but potent tools, Peter. I challenge you to tell me, a marketing novice , how these tools could help me to sell more books. My books are listed on Amazon and here is the link: https://www.amazon.com/author/s.a.smith. I did check out each tool but didn’t really know what to do with the info.

    Reply
    1. Peter McCarthyPeter McCarthy Post author

      Hi Sharon,

      So glad you found it useful. Applying some of the tips above specifically would be something like this. Note: non-exhaustive and quick but hopefully enough to give you a sense.

      – Google Trends for Recreational Vehicle: http://bit.ly/1OZ2eGo
      I did it once for “recreational vehicle,” and saw camper, campers, I see some “camper” and “campers” verbiage there. I compared them. You’ll the sizing — I’d suggest getting some of these terms into your descriptive copy on Amazon. Same with the states that you’ve traveled through, especially those where the topic is of interest.

      – Looking at LibraryThing under the Tag “RV”
      I saw a title that, while not a direct comp to your titles, is very closely adjacent. There I saw other terms such as “travel” (clearly) but also “fulltimer” and “full-timer.” I notice you have the latter term in one title’s descriptive copy but it’s a good one, especially when used in conjunction with what we see in search. Perhaps use in both and higher up. First sentence wants to tell potential readers (and searches who want to find what you have) exactly what your book is in the language that will resonate. Then exposition.

      – Topsy: http://bit.ly/1Ig4wBj
      Shows me a lot of adjacent hashtags you might want to use to broaden your reach. #rvers #rving #hiking #camping and many more that are specific to the content of your book, not about books.

      – SImilarWeb
      I looked at the top RVing site to see how they get their traffic (so to speak). They get it from Facebook. You have a presence there. I’d use the ad interface to find which properties (pages) and topics are popular. Then like many of them so that you can mention them with an @ sign in your updates and use hashtags to tip to topics of interest.

      And everything drives (so to speak) to your Amazon pages, which now have enhanced descriptive copy. And, use those off-page keywords, too. Same methodology.

      Reach more people who have a good chance of liking what you’ve got.

      Helpful?

      Reply
  2. Peter McCarthy

    Hi Sharon,

    So glad you found it useful. Applying some of the tips above specifically would be something like this. Note: non-exhaustive and quick but hopefully enough to give you a sense.

    – Google Trends for Recreational Vehicle: http://bit.ly/1OZ2eGo
    I did it once for \recreational vehicle,\ and saw camper, campers, I see some \camper\ and \campers\ verbiage there. I compared them. You’ll the sizing — I’d suggest getting some of these terms into your descriptive copy on Amazon. Same with the states that you’ve traveled through, especially those where the topic is of interest.

    – Looking at LibraryThing under the Tag \RV\
    I saw a title that, while not a direct comp to your titles, is very closely adjacent. There I saw other terms such as \travel\ (clearly) but also \fulltimer\ and \full-timer.\ I notice you have the latter term in one title’s descriptive copy but it’s a good one, especially when used in conjunction with what we see in search. Perhaps use in both and higher up. First sentence wants to tell potential readers (and searches who want to find what you have) exactly what your book is in the language that will resonate. Then exposition.

    – Topsy: http://bit.ly/1Ig4wBj
    Shows me a lot of adjacent hashtags you might want to use to broaden your reach. #rvers #rving #hiking #camping and many more that are specific to the content of your book, not about books.

    – SImilarWeb
    I looked at the top RVing site to see how they get their traffic (so to speak). They get it from Facebook. You have a presence there. I’d use the ad interface to find which properties (pages) and topics are popular. Then like many of them so that you can mention them with an @ sign in your updates and use hashtags to tip to topics of interest.

    And everything drives (so to speak) to your Amazon pages, which now have enhanced descriptive copy. And, use those off-page keywords, too. Same methodology.

    Reach more people who have a good chance of liking what you’ve got.

    Helpful?

    Reply

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