D2C Isn’t Just About Selling, Says Hachette, Perseus & Rodale. It’s About Great Content.
One of the most experimental and exciting areas of book publishing right now, especially in the trade market, is direct-to-consumer marketing. It's a topic that has been discussed extensively here on Book Business, but it's worth a deeper dive as all of the Big Five and many mid-size and small publishers have launched experiments in this field. Book Business had the opportunity to hear three forward-thinking leaders from Perseus Books Group, Hachette, and Rodale Books on the topic at our Book Business Live event in March. They offered a variety of strategies to driving greater sales, but the big lesson was that D2C marketing is really about content marketing and relationship building.
Rick Joyce, chief marketing officer at Perseus Books Group, quickly got to the heart of the D2C marketing puzzle, contending that book publishers should not approach the strategy as salespeople. "Creating a direct relationship with consumers can be about selling your books, but it should mostly focus on a content area that people are passionate about." Publishing professionals don't have to learn a whole new skillset to sell books, Joyce added. They can leverage what they already do well, crafting great content, and utilize that to hook readers, form a relationship, and then sell more books.
"You have to think about your job as trying to put books in the path of people," said Joyce. "Not just books, either, but ideas, content, authors. If it's Mother's Day, readers need something for Mom. That's the perfect context to offer a great book to readers."
Hachette's SVP and director of marketing strategy Heather Fain views D2C marketing as a conversation. "For a long, long time the direct-to-consumer communication was: we tell you about a book, and you go buy it. Now we're really trying to use online marketing and social media marketing to have a genuine conversation and listen to what the readers says back." Fain emphasized that to do this, book publishers need dedicated staff to "tend the garden," and nurture these relationships.
It also requires significant data analytics to understand what content readers are engaging with most. "We use a lot of social media analysis," said Fain, "as well as Google Analytics. We're also tracking sales data throughout the life of our campaigns to see what specific actions drove sales spikes."
Mary Ann Naples, publisher at Rodale Books views content marketing and gathering consumer data as a cyclical process. To gain the data needed to create better and more targeted content, Naples and her team create a number of pieces that connect to a certain title. "We actually create content packages for each of our books," said Naples. "Those go on our sites and on other sites as well. Then we'll track links to books purchased at retailers so we can actually see if our content had an impact." As data on engagement, or lack thereof, comes in, Naples and her team can tweak its content marketing message as they see fit.
Naples emphasized that page views alone do not tell the complete story when measuring reader engagement. Book publishers should also look at time spent on the page, number of returning visitors, social shares, comments, etc. "Yes, it's important to have a big audience, but if you don't have engagement, it doesn't mean much. Engagement is what works for sales."
Although this D2C bookselling discussion ran the gamut, from metadata to social listening, all three panelists contended that none of these strategies were possible without valuable content. "When we're thinking about our sites, or anything that we're doing, we're thinking about benefits to the reader," said Naples. "We're really thinking, 'How do we solve the reader's problems?' And then by way of that, also telling them about our books."