Marketing Interview: The Move Toward Fluid Content
The Web is an ever-changing animal. Keeping that in mind, the most successful online marketing executives must think in the future tense: coming up with inventive, original ideas to help publishers stay ahead of the game. Jeff Yamaguchi, associate director of online marketing for Random House Inc. division The Doubleday Publishing Group, is one such innovator, and he fills us in on a little secret—that the future tense is not enough.
In June, Yamaguchi launched Doubleday’s newly revamped Web site, which uses a WordPress platform to simulate the look and usability of a blog while maintaining Doubleday’s integrity and standards as a publishing house. According to Yamaguchi, the site’s user-friendly familiarity, combined with its inventive content, is what takes Doubleday.com to the next level.
Yamaguchi says that years of experience in the dot-com world, plus his own personal projects (like 52projects.com, his do-it-yourself craft Web site), have armed him with the marketing knowledge necessary to leverage the Internet of today—and tomorrow.
How did you get your start in the industry?
Jeff Yamaguchi: When I first came to New York 10 years ago, my first job was in book publishing, in marketing at New Press. … A lot of companies still didn’t have e-mail accounts, and I remember using an AOL account for e-mail. And I had just come from San Francisco, where the whole dot-com thing was just starting to happen. … From there I went to iUniverse, a print-on-demand publisher, and after that, I left book publishing and went to [magazine publisher] Ziff Davis. That’s where I think I really learned the most about how the Internet works in terms of reaching out to audiences and building traffic.
… I got back into book publishing at HarperCollins doing online marketing … . I learned a lot there. I was there for two years, and then I came over to Random House. What brought me here was [a] great opportunity and good timing.
Were you hired to revamp Doubleday’s Web site?
Yamaguchi: Doubleday Broadway recently changed its name to the Doubleday Publishing Group. The site needed to be revamped anyway, so with the name change and the new logo, it just made sense to have it all go online. …
Where did the concept of using a WordPress platform come from?
Yamaguchi: About a year ago, [Senior Designer] Michael Colico actually started up a blog for the group, and people loved it, but it was never a formal thing. When I came here, he showed me what he had done using the WordPress platform … . He was laying the groundwork for the direction I thought we should go. … There was a lot of work to be done [to make] it look less [like] a blog, but it’s more than that—it’s a content management system that can be used in many different ways. It’s not like Blogger or Typepad—there’s much more flexibility.
What’s the greatest advantage to using WordPress?
Yamaguchi: The Web is constantly evolving. … There are many people working on improvements and pushing it. If you’re using WordPress, you really benefit from that. In subtle ways, you might not even realize how the Web is changing. Just by the nature of using an open-source system like this that has an organized way of putting upgrades out there, you’re going to benefit from that, and it costs no money. (Time and intelligence from your internal group costs money, of course … .)
Do you sell advertisements on the Doubleday Web site?
Yamaguchi: We have no illusions that this site is a major destination site. It’s not like a Gawker.com or a MediaBistro.com. It’s a source for information about Doubleday Publishing Group authors and things that are going on. There’s no advertising for sale. … When you take a survey of the land, most publisher Web sites have the feel of a catalog. In other words, they’re templated modules. They’re updated maybe monthly, which is crazy in the online world, but is very common [in book publishing]. … And right there, that’s a signal to your reader to not come back. … People on the Web are used to coming to a site every hour and seeing something different. When people come to the [Doubleday] site initially, they’ll think, “I recognize this, it sort of looks like a blog.” And that’s the point—it’s familiar territory. You have to adapt how you’re presenting your information. People don’t want to look at catalog copy. They want fluid content. They want to be able to organize a page based on subject or author. They want to leave a comment. They want to react to something, and they should be able to do that. … We’re really embracing that. Our goal is to put up original content three days a week. The hope is [that] it’s five days, that every day there’s something new.
Is this the way publishing Web sites will look in the future?
Yamaguchi: Yes. The one-paragraph description of your book—author photo, author bio—isn’t going to take you very far. Publishers and authors are doing a lot of interesting stuff—cool videos, podcasts—so you need a place to put it all. And you need a place to anchor it … somewhere on your own site in a way that makes sense.
… Go where the traffic is. [If we create a video,] we place that video on the video-sharing sites [like YouTube and Vimeo]. If we take pictures at an author event, we’re putting those up on Flickr. If you have a podcast, people should be able to subscribe to it, and that podcast should live in many different places. … Go where the people already are.
What has been your biggest challenge so far at Doubleday?
Yamaguchi: … With the site, we’re all in the honeymoon phase. It’s getting great feedback, but we’re seeing places to make improvements and push it even further. Also, there’s a whole style guide that has to be created—[with the site’s] looser, flexible environment, that creates inconsistencies in how you’re presenting your content. We don’t want to do that. We want to be consistent. But with the ease of updating, what you see is what you get. It’s a simple approach, and I really am impressed with how the challenges are not overwhelming.
Do you have any advice for marketing professionals looking to move forward with their careers?
Yamaguchi: Especially in the online space, there are a lot of unknowns. One of the things I’ve always found interesting is [that] there are a lot of bad ideas. A lot of things don’t pass the “would I do it myself?” test. You’ll see people come up with an idea, spend a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of resources, doing something they themselves would never do. My advice is, don’t get angry, don’t think that you know better than anyone else. But at the same time, if you feel like you’ve got a better path, keep fighting for it.
Have your personal Web projects like 52projects.com been helpful in providing a practical application for the “would I do it myself?” test?
Yamaguchi: They have been immensely helpful. My side projects often [involve] … talking with other people, writing about other people and the cool stuff they’re doing. [I’ve learned] how important tags and categories [that organize content] are. To use that stuff goes a long way in understanding how momentum can pick up and build when something’s really hitting.
Would you recommend that people in your field use their own personal projects to their advantage in the industry?
Yamaguchi: Absolutely. You may have a Facebook page, you may have a MySpace page, but that is not enough. You should have your own site, a WordPress account … built around a personal interest. You’ll start to see how people come to your site, where traffic comes from, how to get people there, what people respond to. Lead by example: It goes a long way.
Carolyn Huckabay is arts editor and copy chief at the Philadelphia City Paper. She also was a copy editor and book critic for The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va.