The Rise of Audience Development in the Book Industry: An Interview with PRH UK’s Claire Wilshaw
“Audience” is a phrase being used much more frequently in trade publishing circles today. Where once marketing teams had to guess what type of person a book would appeal to, now book audiences are much more knowable. Thanks to the internet, social media, newsletters, and ecommerce publishers have more opportunity than ever to form direct relationships with their readers and measure the impact of those interactions. That has led to the rise of a new type of function in trade publishing: audience development.
Claire Wilshaw, formerly the brand director for Penguin Random House UK’s VINTAGE imprint, was named audience development director at PRH UK in November 2015. The role was created to assist in the launch of www.penguin.co.uk. The rebrand, which went live in January, has made the site a hub for readers to learn more about authors through exclusive interviews and blogs and discover new stories on the Penguin Podcast. In Wilshaw’s words, the site puts “the audience at the heart of our content.”
Wilshaw leads content strategy for the site. Using site analytics and insights culled from newsletters and social media, Wilshaw is painting a detailed picture of PRH UK readers and segmenting that massive audience into specific groups in order to connect the right readers with the right book.
Here Wilshaw shares how she is driving PRH UK’s audience toward new book purchases and how she envisions the future of digital marketing.
What are your goals as the new audience development director?
As audience development director, my role is to build direct relationships with readers through digital marketing and partnerships, using the Penguin brand on behalf of Penguin Random House UK. This means ensuring that the interactions and direct conversations we have with our audiences using the Penguin brand are always relevant and engaging -- whether on social media, Penguin.co.uk, or in offline brand campaigns. I want all our future conversations to be shaped by the insights we are discovering every day.
Why do you think audience development is increasingly an area of focus for trade book publishers?
It is inconceivable to me that it wouldn’t be. Technology encourages and enables a greater level of communication between consumers and the brands they love. The opportunities to develop and enrich that conversation are too tempting to resist! Penguin has remarkable brand equity, but to remain relevant in the modern world we must listen to what our audiences want and deliver what they don’t even know they want yet.
What insights are you trying to gain about the Penguin Random House UK audience?
At Penguin Random House UK we publish a wonderfully diverse list of titles and authors and our readership is similarly broad. In the simplest terms we are interested in providing the right type of content to the most interested readership at the right time and ensuring that we stay relevant and entertaining in our readers’ day-to-day lives. For example, a few weeks ago we spent the day with James Rebanks, author of The Shepherd’s Life, at lambing time, using Periscope to share this very special spring moment with our 1.27 million twitter followers.
Analytics and consumer insight inform all of our activity. Alongside measuring the reach and effectiveness of our communications we are also interested in tracking brand sentiment.
How does Penguin Random House UK track and segment its large and diverse audience?
We are fortunate to have an expert Consumer Insight team embedded within the UK business that has developed bespoke audience segments to help us target our activities and initiatives to the right people. Our audience segments were created from extensive studies of different types of readers, and they group people together based on their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations, for example how technologically savvy they are or which other brands they admire and follow. This knowledge is constantly enhanced by our daily conversations with readers on our social channels and website, and analysis of our communications.
How important is original content about Penguin Random House UK’s books and authors in that effort?
Original content is the lifeblood of our website. It ensures our readers have a reason to continue to visit. Our content strategy consists of commissioning exclusive pieces from our authors to help them form closer bonds with their readers and creating a series of editorial voices adept at writing content for each audience. This external content is supported by original content created by a team of passionate in-house readers specifically picked with the audience segments in mind.
What type of content are you finding readers engage with most? How are you translating that engagement into book sales?
Three months on from launch we are finding that recommendation pieces are consistently popular, especially a series we run called '5 books that inspired our authors’ which writers including James Patterson and Salman Rushdie have contributed to. Other content types which have captured audience imaginations are exclusive extracts in advance of publication and features around eagerly anticipated new novels.
When promoting this kind of content we are at the same time consistently driving visitors to our book title pages where they can find out more about the book and author, discover next in series, or purchase a title from one of our retailer partners.
How are you implementing the audience development strategy across various digital platforms, such as websites, social media, and newsletters?
Our social media team works hand in hand with our website team and each are experts in their channel, whether that’s Penguin Platform -- our online place for 16-19 year old readers -- or The Happy Foodie, our dedicated community for cookery fans. Through talking daily to their target audiences my team is adept at knowing the type of content that appeals and how to frame that content to ensure the widest possible readership. This work is also supported by our newsletter strategy, which includes a monthly mailing of reading recommendations tailored for specific audiences. We set monthly targets and record engagements on a regular basis, using this information to shape future campaigns and conversations. Our newsletters currently reach an audience of 250,000 readers so we know we are reaching wide audiences of passionate readers for our authors.
How do you see Penguin Random House UK’s direct-to-consumer marketing efforts evolving in the future?
Customer experience management (CEM) is a particular focus for Penguin Random House UK in 2016. Our website has been developed to serve our authors first and foremost and to help them get closer to their readers. This author first mentality will marry well with our increasing level of sophistication at providing CEM related content, enabling an ever more meaningful dialogue with our audience.
What are you most excited to work on in 2016 and beyond?
I have a wonderful job! I’m most excited in seeing how recognition of the Penguin brand can be used to increase awareness (and sales!) of our author’s books. We aim to do that by bringing a little color to our audiences lives with consistently engaging content around that most wonderful of things, the book.
Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.