You don’t have to click on too many publishing related links on Twitter these days to realise that we’ve decided that this season MARKETING is the new black.
Brilliant. New black, same as the old black.
Everyone’s got a theory. Everyone’s got a method. If it’s not vertical, it’s horizontal or inevitably as we heard this week, it’s adjacent. Marketing in 3 dimensions - 4 if you count the commentators who go back in time to proclaim that if we dullards in the marketing department had read the data correctly we’d have known that of course 50 Shades was going to be a massive success and it was obvious that JK was going to write a crime novel pseudonymously – hindsight marketing, my absolute favourite.
I’m as guilty as anyone, perhaps guiltier than most. Regular readers of FutureBook will have seen a bunch of posts from me this year pontificating about Social Media Optimisation or Vertical Marketing or Big Data – I even changed the spare wheel on #DarkSocial and breathed life back into that bandwagon just as it was about to limp onto the hard shoulder.
I must be doing pretty well out of all this right? Knock out a blog, pick up a few speaking engagements, write a book, increase my day rate – all true – guilty as charged – by rights I should be consulting my ass off at top dollar today instead of posting a rant on FutureBook.
So what’s my problem? Life’s sweet right?
I’ll tell you. Since I began to spend more time in Europe, publishers have been inviting me to cast my eye over their marketing strategies and I have to tell you, it’s NOT been the most fun I’ve ever had with my clothes on.
Oh how they love it when I talk all sexy with them about visibility and #DarkSocial and the ROI on SEO and their audience datasets moving like flocks of birds through the internet. Frankly they can’t get enough of it – I don’t blame them, it’s a compelling schtick – the sort of stuff that gets your average publishing CEO salivating and gets everyone a bonus at the end of the year.
The problem is - and I think it really is a problem – THE BASICS ARE BEING MISSED.
In the rush to incorporate the latest marketing trend, the latest buzzword, the latest customer engagement metric being pimped by the coolest consultant du jour (yes, I do mean snake-oil salesmen like me) nobody wants to do the sloggy boring stuff. I don’t blame them the sloggy boring stuff is sloggy and boring, sadly though it’s the sloggy boring stuff that makes successful marketing machines work. Everything else is just tinsel on the top.
Of course it’s not all gloom and doom, there are a whole bunch of publishers who have it sussed and good luck to them – they’re the ones who consistently and very publicly hit the ball out of the park. For example my heart positively sang earlier in the year at The Bookseller’s marketing conference when I watched a presentation by Alice Shortland (@Alice_Shortland) from Bloomsbury talking about how they went about marketing the Polpo book. Listening to her talk us through the campaign made me want to be a Marketing Director again just so I could offer her a job and double her salary – I hope someone else in the audience did just that, she deserved it.
Stories like that though are all too often the exception, a lot of what I see is people moving counters around the board trying to look busy and on-trend while the books they’re unrelentedly pushing out into the world are either selling or not selling pretty much left to their own devices. So much wasted time, so much wasted energy, so much wasted money.
We read these blogs, we go to the conferences, we listen to people like me passing out pearls of wisdom about visibility, algorithms or whatever the latest pretty flower is. We sit in our marketing meetings using our analytics graphs like a shield and talk about social engagement and adjacent marketing campaigns like the digital natives we are.
You know what we often don’t do? We don’t put the bloody graft in at the sharp end.
If you’ve heard me talk at a conference recently you’ll have heard me recount the conversation I had a few months back with a marketing director at a fairly large publisher where I recommended that the most useful thing he could do was to spend some of his substantial marketing budget getting his metadata into shape.
MD: You’re telling us we should do this for EVERY title.
ME: Yes, EVERY title.
MD: I’m not sure, that sounds like a lot of hard work.
ME: It IS a lot of hard work, that’s why they call it work.
MD: And you’re sure there’s no other way?
ME: Life sucks, get a helmet.
I didn’t get the gig.
So here’s the thing. Marketing is hard. It’s hard and often very, very boring.
Good marketers should spend more than their fair share of time hunched over spreadsheets or entering data. Good marketers should be boring the ass off their colleagues in meetings as they harp on and on about their analytics accounts. Good marketers should be sick to their back teeth fiddling with the metadata in the CMS and keeping their portion of the marketing WIP updated. Good marketers should be able to provide anyone who asks with a current marketing plan for every title on their list, complete with objectives, timelines and results so far. Good marketing is 70% slog and admin – getting the basics right before you even think about pimping your ride.
And that’s what it comes down to I guess – increasingly people have been hiring me to sprinkle some stardust, to pimp their ride and then they look like disappointed puppies when I tell them that before they start out harnessing the power of #DarkSocial they’d be better off updating their newsletter software or sorting out their marketing database (or in some cases, building a bloody marketing database). Don’t get me wrong, I love talking high concept as much as the next guru but frankly the old penny pinching marketing director inside me is finding the whole pantomime increasingly difficult to stomach.
Seriously, what the hell do you think you’re doing getting a consultant in to give your marketing department’s Porsche an extra coat of wax when you’ve taken the wheels off and the engine is in bits on your kitchen table?
Here’s what I increasingly want to say when I’m called in to pitch these days.
"Balls to your Pinterest page – get your metadata sorted you muppet."
"Take your FaceBook ‘likes’ and stuff them where the sun don’t shine sunshine – learn how to write a blurb"
"Don’t show me your pretty Tumblr – show me the size of your newsletter distribution list."
"I don’t give a monkeys how many retweets you got last month - show me a marketing plan and a comprehensively completed author questionnaire for EVERY title on your list."
"A marketing database you dufus, it's where you store details of your....oh never mind.." *shoots self*
Perhaps I’m just being a grumpy sod today, it wouldn’t be the first time - but here’s my promise to you all anyway - from now on it’s strictly nuts and bolts from me. No more fancy concept stuff till we’ve got back to basics and sorted out all the boring sloggy stuff. I know it’s a wild idea but how about we put the wheels back on our marketing machines before we get all fancy-pants and conceptual with our shit? I will if you will. Who's in?
Before he wrote this post and probably ended his career Chris McVeigh was a publishing consultant and business analyst advising media and technology companies on opportunities in the publishing sector. He is the founder of www.FourFiftyOne.co.uk and the author of the No.1 Bestselling book #SevenThings Publishers Should Know. You can find him on Twitter @4fifty1 or @FourFiftyOne if you prefer the less sweary version.