Promotional activities market to the Three Cs: creators, channels, consumers
Somebody in the office just asked for some help thinking through the distinction between marketing and sales. Our conditioned response on that distinction is that sales efforts are about managing the channel partners and marketing is what encourages end users to buy. But, of course, we rapidly recognized that formulation was never a clean one and is even less so in the digital age.
The conversation recalled for me what might be the best generic advice I ever gave during a consulting assignment that was not incorporated by the client (which no longer exists; a company that has since been sold and merged into another) nor, as far as I know, by anybody else in the business. I rarely, if ever, say this: but here’s a suggestion for a practice that every book publisher ought to implement and none has.
The assignment at the time — probably around 2006 or 2007 — was to examine the marketing activities of this publisher and shed light on how they should be rethought in the emerging digital age. To do that, we did our best to measure the impact of the marketing spending that was taking place. And, to do that, we looked at sales at retail as best we could discern them — through BookScan and through POS reports from retailers — for the weeks prior and the weeks following advertising and promotional activities to look for discernible “lift”.
It was a sobering exercise. What was really shocking was the lack of sustained benefit from the coop marketing activities with retailers. We often found there was some lift during a promotion, but hardly ever was there any sales benefit sustained after a promotion.
One thing that arose in that discussion was that a very big wad of spending was for ads in the NY Times Book Review. They hardly moved the consumer needle at all. When we probed internally, we found that the marketers knew that would be the case, but those ads weren’t placed primarily to sell books. They were placed to sell authors on publishing with the house. So I gave them the advice that everybody should follow and nobody does.
“Call it what it is,” I said. If the spending isn’t meant to drive sales, but rather to recruit authors, call it “editorial”, not “marketing”. Don’t make the marketing people responsible for having it deliver sales results; make the editorial team responsible for having it deliver better authors or better author deals.
The advice to “call it what it is” is sound, but actually spotlights how the distinction between “marketing” and “sales” is getting harder to define these days. In fact, “editorial” is part of the same mix now too. One of the generic challenges of our time is how to integrate a publisher’s (largely digital) marketing efforts with an author’s (almost entirely digital) marketing efforts and online presence.
Here is perhaps a clearer way to think about it. We have “promotional activity” that ranges from base functions like metadata provision; through old-style stuff we still do like book-by-book pre-pub promo copy (might not call it “catalog copy” anymore), press releases, advance reading copies in various forms, and author tours; on to relatively new activities like buying keywords and banner ads, blog tours, “content marketing”, and growing and using customer lists.
The categories of target are the Three Cs: creators, channels, and consumers. All need to be satisfied with the promotional activities, which are the marketing efforts. The first group — the creators — should be interested in and pleased by what they see being done to influence the channels and consumers. In fact, that’s why the NY Times ads were important to them. They believed those ads helped them sell books. (Of course, Times ads also impress the authors’ friends and relatives.) And although the evidence in the consulting assignment we did was that they did little to move the consumers, it is possible, even likely, that those ads (if used correctly) did influence the channels.
There’s another way publishers need to change their thinking around marketing, and that also will require some “adjustment” of author expectations. In the pre-digital age, the primary purpose of marketing for most titles was to help the sales force get the requisite number of copies in place at retail for a Big Bang on publication date. That meant that the largest and most persuasive possible plan needed to be thoroughly articulated before reps hit the stores, and that would be some months before the books would be available.
That approach may still make the most sense to be persuasive to the creators and the channels, but it is not the right way to approach consumer marketing anymore. As Peter McCarthy, the champion digital marketer who is helping us organize our PLC/DBW Marketing Conference has explained to me, it can be a tough selling job to convince an agent that a sustained digital effort, course-corrected as it goes, will be as valuable in driving sales as a big ad in a recognized vehicle that costs several times as much would be. Is the publisher doing the right thing or just trying to save money? You can excuse an author or agent for considering that possibility.
And this raises another way publishing practice is going to have to change in the digital age. If marketing efforts become less about an initial burst of activity to get big inventory placements and “orbital velocity” right after publication date and more about systematically building on what is proven to work as the book lives in the marketplace, then budgeting is going to have to change even more dramatically than the suggestion I made to the client would require.
What is the right amount to spend on a book becomes clear only as you do the spending, read the results, and respond to them. Some things will work so well that they are essentially self-liquidating; they become marketing investments that rapidly pay for themselves. In those circumstances, whatever the budget says, you’d be unwise to terminate them as long as that remained the case. Similarly, you may discover things in marketing Title A, new this year, that tells you something that might work effectively for Titles J, T, and X, which were published in the near or distant past. J, T, and X don’t have marketing budgets in most of today’s publishing environments.
And digital marketing efforts often make the most sense when they support a range of titles. After all, since a big part of the cost is finding the “right” audience and how to reach them, once you’ve done that, you’d want to benefit across the range of an author’s output or across several topical titles that have the same audience. That’s not the way publishers have historically budgeted their marketing dollars.
In McCarthy’s view, marketing breaks into three big buckets: B2B, B2C known, and B2C unknown. In the paradigm of my Three Cs, creators and channels are B2B and the consumers are the known (a publisher’s own database of consumers, for example) and unknown (buying a Facebook ad). But, however you frame it, old thinking must yield to new; old distinctions between marketing and sales will be increasingly irrelevant; and budgeting for marketing needs to be completely rethought.
The modern marketing challenge returns us to what we consider the core themes of “scale” and “vertical” and reminds us, again, that marketing one title at a time according to the old-fashioned playbook is not a winning strategy in the future.