Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Broad vs Niche: When Marketing Leads The Reader Astray

There's been a theme on Twitter this week about book reviewers who get mad because a book of a certain genre failed to meet their expectation...an expectation that is the antithesis of the genre. E.g. "LOTR had some good characters, but it was just so unrealistic I had to give it a one star."  "50 Shades of Grey had a hot chick in it, but there was too much sex. One star."  "This could've been a great fantasy if the characters weren't so young. Harry Potter: Sorcerer's Stone gets one star."

Are the reviewers daft or 
did the marketing of the book target the wrong audience?

This week on the blog, we're talking about the latter. Why, oh why, a business would waste money tricking someone into buying their product? Are they trying to get bad reviews? Short answers are Hope and Nope. While I could write a thesis on this topic, I'll do my best to keep to the top-line point. Before that, let's clarify terms:

  • Marketing is the encompassing umbrella for the promotion, sales, and distribution of products/services from producer to consumer. 
  • Advertising is about piquing interest. This is where the adage, "Introduce the Problem, then Solve the Problem" comes into play.  Example: Wrinkles make you less attractive. Use this serum to fade the appearance of wrinkles and become desirable.
  • Sales is about converting interest into purchases. Example: Customer walks into a store (demonstrating interest). Sales person's job is to remove customer resistance to purchasing (identify what interest brought the customer into the store, present [limited] options to satisfy the interest, offer a discount) and complete transaction. 
Marketing = Plan; Adverts = Awareness; Sales = $$$

In book marketing, there are four primary opportunities to gain/lose buyers. Depending on who owns the marketing of the book is how much say an author has in the process. Indie authors can own every step or pay someone else to do it. Traditionally published authors own little to no part of the process.
  1. Cover: Front Art and Back Blurb
    • See Jeffe's post from Sunday about a cover art trad-published experience in which the marketing plan seemed to be a broad romance campaign rather than the niche sub-genre-specific campaign. The generic image suggests the publisher is after eyeballs more than sales. I'll get into broad vs niche in the next section.  
    • Indie authors have huge control over their covers, which is often lauded but can backfire worse than a generic publisher-directed cover. 
    • Back blurbs are usually written by the author to briefly summarize the book (think under 200 words) and use "grab words" to entice a reader to buy the book. Sometimes marketing folks at publishing houses rewrite the blurbs.
  2. Advertising: Creative and Placement
    • What ads look like, what they say, where they appear, how often they appear
    • Every ad-placement has rules and they often differ.
      • E.g. Sex Sells...but No Nipples (even men's nipples). Don't use the words "sale, free, % off, or discount." Images must contain 92% art and no more than 8% text. Products targeting a mature audience will only appear after 9:00PM Eastern. Creative must be static, no animations. 
    • There are lots of ways for ads to go wrong, from cringe-worthy creative to tech glitches to underfunded budgets. There's an entire industry around advertising for good reason. Getting it right is a real struggle for amateurs.
  3. Point of Sale: Convenience and Competitiveness
    • Where the product is available, in what formats, for what regions, at what price, in what time for receipt, gift options, coupons, type of payment accepted, perceived security of payment process, returns policy, troubleshooting/customer support, resale value, etc.
    • Most authors go through vendors like Amazon or Apple to shoulder the bulk of the POS, while publishers have printing and distribution networks layered in between. 
    • Yes, yes I know the other meaning of POS, and sometimes it suits this part too; especially when products are damaged, the wrong file is received, payment is rejected, etc. However, more hybrid and Indie authors are taking the risk and moving to direct-from-author POS usually via their websites in an effort to divorce themselves from complete dependency on 3rd party retailers.
  4. After Sale: Review and Retention
    • The bulk of this falls on the author, and/yet requires consumer consent prior to contact. Yes, a chicken-egg situation. A vendor may automatically send a follow-up nudge to review, wherein the act of the purchase default opts-in the consumer to additional contact by the vendor, but that opt-in does not give the author permission to contact the buyer (unless the author is the vendor).
    • Reviews are advertising. It's the closest thing to viral marketing short of in-person recommendations from trusted sources. We've blogged on the importance of reviews earlier this year. 
    • Retention through Newsletters and New Release Notifications; be they author-generated, publisher-generated, or vendor-generated the point is to get access to and permission from customers to directly market to them. It's a much lower cost with an exceptionally higher Return on Investment (ROI) than any other form of marketing. These are customers who are asking to buy your product(s). You want to know them, keep them, and sell to them for as long as you can. 
Now, about that Broad vs Niche Marketing Strategy. Using Jeffe's example (not to pick on Jeffe; she simply happened to post a great example of an initially baffling publisher decision) why would her publisher opt to target the larger romance demographic where they'd get more eyeballs but fewer sales-per-dollar? Why not target the erotica readers where people are more likely to buy what they see? Why not target the sub-sub-sub romance demographic of erotica retellings customers? Don't they have that info? Wouldn't those sales be almost guaranteed?  Wouldn't the reviews be more positive? 

Top 3 Reasons to Market to Broad Genre:
Note: I use "publishers" here to mean anyone who has control of the marketing strategy from traditional publishing houses, and small presses, to indie authors. 
  1. The Marketing Strategy is about elevating Publisher Brand Power not selling an individual book. 
    • Seems counterintuitive, why sell a concept not a specific product? It's a longer-term strategy that's focused on the publisher's business. Their customer, in this case, isn't the individual reader, it's the middlemen, the vendors and retailers. It's about negotiating more favorable distribution deals through economies of scale. "Look at all the products we offer in this market." 5,000 romance novels is more impressive than 12 erotica retellings. Vendors counter with "look at how well we move 5,000 romance novels" because the data is more impressive than how well they moved 12 erotica retellings.
    • On a smaller scale, this is akin to how hybrid authors position themselves to agents/houses. "My author brand moved 100k books in a year" is more compelling than "Grooming Brindled Pomchicis was a B&N bestseller in the category of Caring for Vanity Teacup Breeds for the first week of August 2008."
  2. The Marketing Strategy is about Building Out Direct-to-Consumer Sales Lists.
    • In this case, the publisher's goal is to build a list of reader-customers who like This General Type of Story so they can sell books by semi-specific genre rather than author.  It's not a bad thing at all, particularly if you're a no-name debut author who's given up 70% of their profit in hopes being discovered by avid readers. Midlist authors also benefit from niche-to-broad expansions.
    • "If you like vampire stories, you'll also like shifter stories, and if you like shifter stories, you'll like alien-shifter stories, and if you like alien-shifters then you'll like science-fiction stories." This is how publishers move buyers from Jeffe Kennedy books to John Scalzi books (and vice versa).
    • To continue to earn profits, the publisher needs to lead the customer via interest to additional sales opportunities. It's like going to Target for a t-shirt, and the pants are right beside them because if you're interested in a new shirt why not buy the cute high-rise pants that won't show plumber's crack? And the undies are by the pants because those new pants might show panty lines so best pick up a pair of thongs, and the underwear section backs to the feminine hygiene section because...well, you get it.
  3. The Marketing Strategy is about moving backlists (aka existing inventory).
    • Publishers have rights to books for years and years and years. Ebooks allow them to keep selling those books without the overhead of printing and warehouse. Slap a new cover on it, something proven to appeal to a broader audience (aka naked man-chest in the romance genre), and boom new sales. Similar theory applies to taking an ebook-only offering and putting it in print for a limited run, possibly as an exclusive with a brick and mortar retailer. Suddenly, there's a print-only audience ready to be assailed with advertising. Discounts and product bundling entice readers from other loosely-related genres to dabble at low-risk to the publisher and the reader.

Broad Marketing strategies often work. We've all heard the "I didn't expect to like this, but I ended up loving it." As authors, we LOVE getting those reviews. Yet for those successes, there are also the misfires of "Ugh, The Notebook was advertised as a resale guide for Moleskine collectors. It never once mentions Moleskine!" 

If you're an author who has control over your marketing strategy, sometimes being a little less niche is a good thing. Trying to reach new audiences is part of the gig, but it's betraying the reader's trust if you advertise your elves vs orcs epic fantasy as a metaphysical healing guide.