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In this second of three posts all about book marketing, publicity and advertising, Denise Berthiaume and Tom Thompson of Verso Digital Advertising were kind enough to offer some really great advice to authors and publishing professionals alike on how to make the most of the many advertising and marketing options available — and yes, they even have advice for authors with no budget!

[Verso recently published an incredibly insightful survey of book-buying behavior which is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the book industry. Check it out here. And for more info about Verso, check out Charlotte Abbott’s interview with Tom and Denise from late last year.]

KM:What one piece of advice would you give to publicists/marketing staff who are trying to figure out online marketing?

DB: Know your book’s audience: everything you do flows from that—where you go, what you say, and how you say it. In terms of social media, this is obvious. But it’s also true of other, more traditional forms of marketing such as advertising, direct mail, and event marketing.

TT: Believe it or not, social media didn’t invent the idea of communities! It has only changed how many new ones tend to come together at the moment. While the mega-companies like Proctor and Gamble have had to reboot their entire marketing machine, book marketing has always been more about niche targeting than mass because we’ve never had the huge budgets that make major brand campaigns work.

DB: Looked at in this light, for example, the NYTBR is a highly important locus for the general book community: authors, agents, booksellers, publishers. While its ability to move massive sales has diminished, it has not disappeared – which is why we continue to find that ads there still work for the right book.

TT: It’s also important not to lose sight of scale in all the talk about community. To really have an impact, you need to reach a lot of people. This may seem obvious, but too often I see “marketing fibs” (e.g., $500 of Facebook ads, or a few Tweets) standing in for comprehensive marketing plans that will reach many hundreds of thousands of readers.

DB: In terms of social media, if you’re a publishing house that’s a full-fledged member of the relevant community, congratulations: you can now go to town with your Twitter account, Facebook fan page, blog, and comment fields far and wide. If you’re not the expert in your community—and let’s face it, most publishers aren’t at this point—then help your author develop his/her status in the community. If that author doesn’t have status, now’s the time to start building it.

KM: Self-publishing authors, and even traditionally published authors must be more involved than ever in the marketing efforts for their books. What one piece of advice would you give to authors who are trying to figure out online marketing?

TT: If you’re one of the vast majority of authors who don’t have a lot of money to spend, don’t worry about advertising, cut straight for social media. As an author you have an advantage over your publisher because you have the true passion, expertise in the field, and long-term brand commitment you need to make social media work. But if you try to do it all—Facebook, blogs, Twitter, etc.—you will quickly run out of gas. There are still only 24 hours in the day, and you also have new books to write, a day job to work, and chickens to tend.

So the big lesson here is: pick one or two things that you do well and (here’s the real secret) that you really enjoy. If you hate the idea of the blog commitment, try Twitter. If you find Twitter inane, get busy in the comment fields of relevant websites.  If that’s all too much, maybe just try starting locally with a group at your local bookstore, or library. Nathan Bransford wrote a great post on this: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/01/key-to-marketing-your-book-time-well.html

DB: And if your publisher is offering any ad support, make sure they’re fully aware of your efforts, and tie in the ad campaign to your own outreach by driving people to your blog, your fan page, or whatever it is you are doing.

TT: There are a few (very few) authors who have the resources to run an ad campaign of their own across media with all guns blazing. At the agency, we have seen a lot more business on this front in the last few years from authors  taking care of their brands themselves. We love working with authors. They always get the big picture.

KM: What are the major differences between print advertising and online advertising?

DB: What’s even more interesting to me than the differences are the similarities. The golden rule of advertising is to be where your market is. Of course everyone’s online now, but print’s not dead yet, a hell of a lot of people still watch TV, and radio, billboards and bus ads continue to have their place.

TT: Gary Vaynerchuck gets a lot of air time these days for being a new media king, but even he took out ads on billboards, taxi tops and newspapers for his most recent book. Why? Because that’s where people are looking. The smart thing he did was to make sure that the ads all tied in to his other efforts, including online. He looked at it as all one marketing push, with many means.

KM: In a nutshell, can you tell us what Verso does? Can you give us a few examples of campaigns you’ve put together and results?

TT: Verso Advertising is a full-service agency. That means we plan and buy media as well as handling creative for all kinds of advertising: online, print, broadcast, and outdoor. Some of the most fulfilling campaigns are those in which we can work in several media at once and have all the pieces working together to support the book.

DB: An example of this is a recent campaign for Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta. We started by teasing the new hardcover months before publication in ads for the author’s previous book. We amortized the budget for video production over broadcast, online and publicity channels by shooting and editing spots for a :15 TV spot, a behind-the-scenes video for the author’s site, a book trailer, as well as a promotional video that was easily customizable for use on morning shows, websites, and more. We also made sure that the print and outdoor ads we ran drove people to all the online efforts.  It was the ideal campaign in that each piece worked to amplify every other piece.

KM: Can you further define, and give some advice to publishers AND authors about “marketing fibs?”

DB: Too often a publisher will announce that they’re putting a major push behind an author, but the reality is empty. Maybe they tout a book’s “national advertising campaign” to the author, bookseller or the media, but the campaign is really $100 worth of ads on Facebook. Or maybe they declare “a major social media campaign,” when all they’re doing is sending out a few tweets from the publisher’s username. The problem for publishers is that these kinds of “fibs” devalue real work they do in other areas, and make it less likely that a legitimately strong social media campaign will be taken seriously. See under: All hat, no cattle.

KM: Do you think anything has been, or risks being, lost as discussions about, and around books migrate more and more to the online ecosystem? What do you see as the benefits of this shift to an online book community?

TT: The immediate losses are the book reviews that can reach enough people in one go to make a real difference in book sales. The other problem with the loss of these book reviews that I don’t hear spoken of much, is the reality that the old print book reviews paid enough to give many authors the supplemental income to make a writing life possible as a career.

DB: I see a lot of potential benefits to the online book community, but frankly I don’t think they’ve kicked in yet. At some point, soon I hope, there will be a real process for discovery of new titles that will involve citizen readers. Maybe this will come from a book community like Librarything or Goodreads (where some of the most influential members are not well-known authors but regular reviewers). Maybe a singular online resource will emerge, like the New York Times Book Review was in its heyday, that will be able to introduce readers to new authors and make careers with a single review. But I doubt it will be one answer. I think it’s more likely to be collaborative: a review aggregation tool or a field of communities.

TT: People keep waiting for the device that will be like an iPhone for books. But the revolutionary thing about the iPhone isn’t the device. It’s the wickedly broad and divergent community the device opened up through apps.

DB: As we move away from desktops and laptops toward mobile computing, we will see that the most successful campaigns will tie in the digital with the physical world, be it through QR codes, geo-location communities like Foursquare and Gowalla, or simply more sophisticated geo-targeting. That’s where everyone with a stake in the future of publishing needs to be looking right now. I think there’s good news there for readers, publishers, booksellers, and authors.

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When it comes to book advertising, what are the do’s and don’ts for authors and publishers? How useful are metrics like ad click-through rates? And how are publishers and authors reaching audiences in specific subject areas or “verticals” on the web?

Those are some of the questions we explore in the second half of our conversation about trends in book advertising with Verso Advertising President, Denise Berthiaume, and Group Director Tom Thompson, which picks up where we left off Monday’s interview.   

And tomorrow, Berthiaume and Thompson join us for a live chat, in our weekly #FollowReader conversation on Twitter (Friday, December 4, 2009, from 4-5pm ET). To follow to our discussion in real time and contribute your own comments, go to TweetChat and type in #followreader. 

Q&A with Denise Berthiaume and Tom Thompson

What are the biggest mistakes that publishers and authors make when trying to engage with online audiences?     

Denise: The biggest mistake I see is authors and companies spending a lot of money on very cool site design, but leaving no part of the budget (and that includes money, employee time and enthusiasm for the project!) for the marketing required to drive people to the site.     

Tom:  Because budgets are so tight, publishers often use the “silver bullet approach” – hoping a single marketing or promotion piece will make all the difference. Instead, we really need to think about all the factors, the whole ecosystem that leads to a book being discovered and purchased.     

What’s the smartest thing publishers and authors can do in their online ad strategy?     

Tom: Think of your online strategy hand-in-hand with, and really no different from, your “offline” strategy. Authors should use the web to drive foot traffic into physical stores and use their in-person appearances to build audience for their site/blog/etc. Authors need to think about their brand long term.     

Denise: Focus first on your audience wherever they are: on- and offline. Usually both, and usually at  the same time.   

In determining the effect of online ads, how useful are metrics like click-through rates, site traffic and Bookscan book sales – and how effectively can you map one variable to another? 

 Denise:  Obviously, our job is to sell books. So our primary goal with each campaign is to drive sales.  To that end we recently worked with Nielsen BookScan to study book sales during Verso Reader Channel ad campaigns and found a significant correlation – meaning a bump in sales – when campaigns served 1.5 million + ad impressions. We go into that in a bit more detail about that in a post on our blog.  

Tom Thompson

 Tom: Click Through Rate (CTR) tends to be the first and only number people want to know. But it’s misleading. With the FSG and Vanguard campaigns mentioned above, for example, neither performed astonishingly well in terms of CTR. But both spectacularly accomplished their goals.  

Denise: CTR is a big topic in advertising right now. Everyone’s looking for guidance on measuring performance, but no one knows what that measure should be. CTR has been declining and worrying people for a long time (if you Google it, the first thing that comes up is a blog from January 2001 about declining CTR).  

Tom:  The general CTR average is .08% — which matches up with what I’m seeing with our clients everywhere except the NYTimes.com, which is generally higher. That .08% figure comes from a DoubleClick report cited by ComScore

Denise:  There have been lots of CTR-boosting remedies proposed over the years, most prominently the Cost Per Engagement model of rich media. But in the end, click-throughs  of any variety have to be considered in the context of content, impression level, and campaign goal. What I mean by that is:   

  1. Content: Are you offering something of value that is targeted either by context or behavior to the audience that’s seeing the ad?
  2. Impression level: Are you serving enough impressions to make a difference?
  3. Campaign goal: What do you want out of the campaign? Awareness? Clicks? Newsletter sign-ups? Sales?

Tell us about the online network of 5,000 sites you have put together for book publisher ads. What subject categories have the most sites and are the most popular with advertisers?  

Denise Berthiaume

 Denise: The Verso Reader Channels were created after we saw the need for marketing plans that truly took advantage of the unique ways different interest-groups are now clustering online. Now that there are sites for every interest group – from cooking to pop culture, fitness to parenting – we can target hundreds of relevant sites at a time, thanks to our partnership with Burst Media. Burst is a  leading network that’s been around since the early days of the commercial web, has relationships with over 4,500 sites that provide over 110 million unique users a month, and reaches over 60% of the web population. Our partnership leverages Burst’s strengths in aggregating content into verticals along with our knowledge of publishing categories and creative expertise to give our clients extremely cost-efficient online media buys.  

Tom: The other advantage of the network model is that we don’t have to confront the minimum spends that we face with buying ads for a single site. The standard $10-25k minimum spends for ad buys on single sites that we’re seeing now are well down from the $30-50k minimums of 2007, but still too high for most campaigns.  There is no minimum with a Reader Channel buy – although you do face diminishing returns if you spend less than $5k. The standard cost per thousand impressions (CPM) for ads on the Reader Channels is $6.    

If bloggers or bookstores want to apply to join your network, how do they go about it? How much do the sites get paid to run your ads?     

Denise: While we’re big fans of bloggers and do buy ads on blogs for most of our clients separately, blogs are not part of the Reader Channels because Burst has strict rules about member-site content, audience level and comment field moderation that most blogs cannot meet, according to the eligibility requirements of the network.      

What have you learned about what readers respond to from observing the activity in this network of 5,000 sites?     

Denise: We surveyed thousands of respondents about their book buying habits and preferences, with early data showing some surprising behavior by heavy readers and ebook enthusiasts. We will reveal more about that at the Digital Book World Conference on January 26 and 27.     

Join us for tomorrow’s live chat with Berthiaume and Thompson (Friday, December 4, 2009, from 4-5pm ET), in our weekly #FollowReader conversation on Twitter.

To follow to our discussion in real time and contribute your own comments, go to TweetChat and type in #followreader. 

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