According to the research firm Forrester, U.S. companies will spend more than $100 billion this year on marketing technology—and this number will keep growing. The spending ranges from relatively simple methods such as email automation to complex systems such as customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing automation. While Forrester doesn’t break down its marketing technology spending data by industry, the business imperative for publishers is obvious: book buyers are online, even when the final purchases are not.
The question for book publishers, though, is not whether to spend but how to spend, and especially how to balance the ongoing need to market individual titles vs. building a comprehensive back end of data and technology. On top of this are the perennial questions of how to make new technology work successfully for customers.
Book publishers have been spending more to reach consumers online, especially through email campaigns, digital advertising, and social media. The appeal is obvious: unlike many kinds of technology, where the investment can be hard to measure and prohibitively expensive, these techniques are the opposite: a publisher can spend $50 on Facebook ads and track the engagement; it can use a MailChimp account and measure the response.
For one veteran marketing executive, these efforts are about building interaction, creating a higher response rate, and should “lead to actual sales,” he says, adding, “I don’t think we’re doing that enough in publishing.” He stresses that publishers need to take care in B2C marketing to not take sales away from bookstores. Still, making direct connections to consumers should drive more sales overall, helping the bookstores as well.
Sanj Kharbanda, sales and marketing director at Beacon Press, says, “Marketing has to be long-term and strategic and include investments in things like email acquisition, CRM, and social platforms, but it also needs to be at the title level—digital advertising, social advertising, retailer advertising, and more.” This puts marketers in the difficult position of managing resources that are sometimes scarce.
Michael Cairns, CEO at strategy firm Information Media Partners, points to another aspect. “The thing I see the most is a lack of consistency in approach: marketing may be using one tool such as MailChimp; sales may be using another, like Sugar; and even editorial may be using its own tools to reach out directly to consumers for newsletters and other supplementary content. So I think I would invest in trying to implement uniform tools and solutions with perhaps something like Hubspot as a core application.”
The technology is only part of it, of course. Successful technology implementation comes from dealing well with people, processes, and technology—in that order. When it comes to marketing technology, the people element includes developing an in-depth understanding of one’s audiences.
Lanell White joined the University of Michigan Press last year as director of sales and marketing and has brought this audience analysis lens with her as she’s supported the launch of the press’s flagship Ebook Collection. “Since I’ve started, I’ve been focused on defining our audiences, personas, market problems, and messaging, and aligning tools such as HubSpot, Mailchimp, and Asana to do the heavy lifting,” she explains.
White only has to look at the marketing material she receives to see how much the landscape of this technology is evolving. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t get email marketing from a brand that has been personalized based on my preferences, behaviors, and previous conversions,” she says. “I’m now a participant in shaping their product road map by virtue of interacting with marketing automation.”
As White points out, persona is the key concept here. Visitors to a publisher’s website can be purchasing a book for themselves, as a gift, for work, or for fun. They can be authors visiting their book’s landing page or looking for a royalty statement, reviewers trying to get a copy of a new book, or overseas publishers looking to see if they can secure rights to a title. Each of these scenarios could mean a different flow on the website, a different set of data points for CRM, and possibly a different follow-up email. If a press publishes textbooks and academic books, the personas and the choices that arise out of them become more complex—a visitor could be the professor looking for an exam copy, the faculty assistant ordering for a department, the student shopping for the latest edition at the best price.
Publishers too often measure their technology against Amazon and decide that they are coming up short. Indeed, Amazon solves some problems extremely well, but it also doesn’t face these myriad personas. Publishers do. Some manage them very well, while the rest need to look at the marketing technology that will help them reach their audiences—and sell books.
Bill Trippe is a Boston-based technology consultant and founding partner of Publishing Technology Partners.