What book marketers can learn from B2B

The job of a book marketer is a tough one. You’ve likely got more titles than time, tight budgets and big expectations, and lot of different stakeholders, each with their own view on your priorities.

On top of all that books themselves are a strange thing to market and sell. Marketers are promoting new books from often unknown names, competing with other new title and backlist. It means the buyer isn’t just choosing between Queenie and Quichotte when browsing the shelves. They’re also given the choice of everything from Howard’s End to A Brief History of Time. It's as if your local cinema was showing every Oscar winner through history every night – and you’re trying to convince people to see Cats.

For my money, part of the complexity comes from the fact that books are ostensibly a consumer purchase – with a price point that’s akin to other consumer goods categories like beauty, and certain food items. But rarely does your average reader make a decision about what they’re going to devote their commute or beach time to on a whim.

Instead, they tend to be choosy buyers, thinking more than they would with perhaps any other purchase that comes in at under a tenner. For that reason, book marketing strikes more than a little resemblance to B2B marketing, where I work in the Creative team of an integrated agency called Octopus Group.

My time in book marketing, followed by a career in B2B, has shown me that there’s a few valuable lessons each can learn from the other. Here’s a few of them…

Go beyond awareness and brand

B2B buying journeys are generally pretty long and the price of a purchase is quite high. In tech, where I do most of my work, this is especially the case – when someone changes cloud provider it tends to be a big investment.

Now, while the price of the product sets my world of marketing apart from books, some of the lessons in how we communicate with buyers stand – using a sales funnel approach that takes people from awareness of a thing, to purchase consideration and the decision to buy. It’s a nurturing process.

In general, a lot of book marketing is based on that awareness stage. For example, almost all PR is awareness and brand building. Outdoor advertising, print, events, publicity stunts and organic social media likewise.

The book industry is great at awareness. But while awareness is absolutely vital to marketing, it doesn’t really sell stuff on its own. That happens later on, which is why, for my money, consideration is the most important phase of the book buying journey. It’s where your buyer switches from knowing about a book that’s coming out, to deciding whether that’s the thing they’re going to invest in.

Create consideration campaigns

Consideration is all about informing and propelling a purchase, building on the awareness up front to create a case for it further down the sales funnel. It’s important because it acknowledges that when people are buying books, they’re going in for more than this product or that – they’re signing up for an entirely unique interaction and emotional connection with a story.

The massive advantage books have is that the decision stage (for us in B2B this is often things like case studies) is mostly taken care of. Reader reviews, bookseller recommendations, in-store displays and price promotions all take of it, and give the reader the final nudge to buy if they’re almost there.

So it makes sense to pile more effort into influencing purchase consideration (in some cases it might even work better than Amazon marketing spend). And there are a lot of great ways to do it.

Probably the most accessible of which is paid social to promote relevant content. Most publishers have some sort of content marketing arm now, whether it’s a fully-fledged magazine-style site like Penguin Random House, or a decent blog. And all have numerous social accounts, which often lean a bit too heavily on organic. Being tactical with budget spend, and strategic about what gets promoted and to who, is a great way to nurture a buying decision, particularly if it can be followed up with email. In B2B we do this all the time: targeting and retargeting blogs, e-books, infographics and more at people who we know are aware of a brand or product.

On a grander scale, book marketing around awarenss - such as big, bright ads in train stations and posters - would likely convert into more sales if it was partnered with some consideration activity in the same environment. That might be people on the ground giving out first chapters with a retailer price promo attached, cover wraps or ads in free publications given out at stations, or experiential fun stuff. Of course, it takes budget. And because it’s about purchase consideration, you have to balance that with the knowledge that you’re marketing to a smaller audience (many uninterested consumers will drop out at the awareness level). But it’s an audience that’s more likely to buy at the end of the process.

I recall a campaign I worked on for a book that was acquired for a lot of money and had marketing spend any author would envy. We had a big awareness push, with outdoor advertising and some interesting digital stuff. We also had a supermarket retail partnership that took care of the decision element. But with nothing in the middle to shape buying consideration, it flopped. In B2B, we think of this as ‘filling the funnel’ – using content to inform and shape buying decisions. It’s vital in books, too.

Recognise it’s not linear

Despite the kind of strategic way I’m talking about marketing, one of the main things we know in B2B is that buying journeys are far from linear. No matter how much planning work you do, the buyer might take a really convoluted path to purchase. We often measure this through scoring and analysis, which helps us tell our clients who their likely buyers are, after they’ve moved down the sales funnel.

In books, that kind of metric-based approach might not always work. But there are technologies and tools that can help by providing useful insight on content performance, highlighting gains to be made.

Whatever’s the case, I always think that different marketers in different disciplines and industries can learn from each other, sharing creative tips and tactics to improve what they do. Diversity of thinking has been proven to be a key driver of innovation. So if you're looking for some fresh inspiration, try reaching out to someone who does differently to you.