How Publishers Need to Rethink Marketing

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How Publishers Need to Rethink MarketingThere have been two enduring realities about the marketing publishers have always done for their books.

Marketing copy, starting with the descriptions of books publishers created for all purposes, was done by somebody with real knowledge of what was inside the book. The conviction has always been that intimate knowledge of what is in a book is the most important knowledge required to know how to sell it.

And marketing efforts, starting with the copy, were preponderantly B2B—business to business. Publishers primarily wrote copy to persuade intermediaries—typically booksellers and reviewers—to invest money or time in the book. Only the smallest part of a publisher’s marketing budget and effort, and none at all for most of the books any publisher issued—was dedicated to appealing to the ultimate reader or purchaser.

Both of those ideas are now anachronisms, artifacts of a time when the primary ways a consumer would find out about a book were by seeing it in a bookstore or reading or hearing about it from relatively few review media. Now that half or more of the books, including ebooks, are not bought in stores, and even the most important review media reach people by links emailed to them by their friends or posted on Facebook, the old ways make no sense.

The new reality is that marketing copy needs to be created by somebody who has done research into the book’s perceived audiences.

And all copy, even if its original intent was for use in a publisher’s catalog, can end up being used on a retailer’s website or be returned in a search. Everything written or said must work for consumers, not just intermediaries.

The audience research is a real stumbling block for most publishers. It requires defining the audiences or the “comps” (which could be other books, but don’t have to be) from which you discern the audiences. Research can tell you where they are online (Pinterest? Facebook?) and what words they use when they talk about or search for things that are related to the book. Then publishers can figure out what words to use and for what search terms to optimize. This research process requires understanding how to use some tools—some that are dedicated to helping you with particular venues, like Twitter or Facebook, and others, like Moz and Similar Web, that help more generally. For backlist books being optimized, Library Thing is helpful. So is analyzing the traffic to an author’s website or the names on an author’s mailing list. Attention needs to be paid to the book’s and author’s different presences: on Google, Amazon and the social networks.

What the research informs are the topics, the venues and the nomenclature for the marketing.

In addition to changing the way marketing copy is created and books are “positioned,” the new environment changes the way publishers need to think about marketing campaigns. Feedback online is pretty much instantaneous. Your tweets are either retweeted or not. Your Facebook ads generate clicks or they don’t. And the clicks you generate sending potential buyers to retailers either convert or they don’t. That can all be known pretty fast and for relatively little expenditure in “paid media.” The good news is that it is easy to test—to try two different ads on Facebook, for example, and see which one works better. (This is called A/B testing and it is another skill that was unheard of at publishers five years ago and is essential now.)

But the bad news is that testing and monitoring and turning ads on and off is time-consuming and labor-intensive. There are ad agencies with digital tools to do it more efficiently, but publishing ad campaigns are usually too small to interest them. So this is another set of skills that publishers need to try to develop and own in-house.

Publishers are in a new and entirely different marketing world, thanks to digital. Everything changes, but the first and most important change is that granular understanding of a book’s audience—a book’s many audiences—is now possible. It really wasn’t just a few years ago. This is a great opportunity for publishers, if they take advantage of it by learning the techniques for finding audiences online and listening to what they have to say.

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One thought on “How Publishers Need to Rethink Marketing

  1. Chris Syme

    Valuable info Mike–I think you hit the nail squarely on the head. Good lesson for all of us–audience research should inform marketing content. I also like the way you brought real-time speed and A/B testing into the equation.



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