I headed to The Bookseller’s FutureBook 2014 Conference last Friday – there were a range of strands, but one that I personally found most interesting and raised a real call-to-arms was the Consumer Insight: Strategic Advantage, or just a Buzzword? panel. Here is my round-up, also found on Book2Book.
Hype around a word can often distract from its purpose, especially in the publishing industry. Despite the importance of ‘digital‘, ‘social media‘, ‘content’ and ‘the future‘, each has suffered delayed action due to a lack of understanding and an apprehensive pursuit from the book sector to learn from and engage with them. It was interesting to see that these words and phrases were once again the focus of the annual FutureBook conference, demonstrating a clear need for publishers to stop bandying them around as buzzwords but actually assessing their businesses and industry at large, and finding means of using these increasingly important strategies before they slip behind their non-publishing competitors: an argument that was passionately raised by the opening keynote, George Berkowski.
Throughout the day, Berkowski’s observations were proven true as debates resurfaced from years past in an attempt to address this inaction. The focus of the day’s second strand, ‘Consumer Insight: strategic advantage, or just a buzzword?’, perfectly captured this communal need to sit up and address deficiencies in publishing strategy. Three speakers formed the panel led by The Bookseller’s Conference & Community Manager, Alice Ryan, and what became overwhelmingly apparent was the thought of ‘consumer insight’ as a buzzword was outdated. None of the speakers questioned this and Hannah Telfer, Group Director of consumer and digital development at PRH even branded the term ‘buzzword’ as ‘dangerous’.
Launching the (lack of) debate into action was David Boyle from Insight, BBC Worldwide. Drawing from his experience in the music industry, he demonstrated the benefits of partnering with power – identifying a brand that both complements your product and expands the audience. DJ David Guetta formed a successful example through his partnerships with musicians from different genres, growing from a relatively obscure artist beyond France’s borders, to a global phenomenon. Put into figures, his Facebook fans numbered at 32 million, but through his various partnerships, he could now reach an audience of over 280 million. But he did stress the importance of finding a partner that matches your brand over their global influence – taking the time and care to research the partner’s audience and ensuring they would respond positively is much more effective than throwing money at everything and hoping for the best.
Next was Hannah Telfer, emphasising the importance of curiosity in the industry and questioning not what people are doing but why: why are they engaging with your content? Insight is a means of understanding the consumer, but that a consumer is a person and not a piece of data. Nowadays, there is high expectation from consumers considering the diverse saturation of content available – this has resulted in a significant drop in attention span from 12 minutes to 5 minutes in only 5 years – which means publishers more than ever have to use the resources around them to get closer to readers. This does not mean relying solely on Google, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, the last of which is only used by less than a quarter of the UK population, but using these new data sources with the old, being ‘data informed, not data driven’. Equally, PRH no longer relies on ‘anecdata’ – those random anecdotes that every person can share but which do not form an accurate, all-encompassing overview of the reading market – it’s easy to forget in such a London-centric industry that 4/5 of book buyers are based outside of the city. Unfortunately our gut feelings do not always give us a good understanding of the market, and that is why we need consumer insight, Telfer explained. Rounding off her speech with a motivating call to arms that insight needs to inspire, provoke and be actionable, it was a shame that Telfer provided very little insight into the methods that she implements at PRH (aside from the Bookmarks reader panel and the Young Hackney scheme).
This is where Pan Macmillan’s Digital and Consumer Director, Sara Lloyd, came to the fore. Moving away from the definitions and theories, Lloyd went straight the actionable data to which Telfer referred and offered a brilliant range of examples of how Pan Mac were taking the challenges of consumer insight, and using them to improve different areas of their business. Starting right at the beginning of the publishing timeline, Lloyd explained the influence that consumer insight has had on the acquisition process to the extent that Pan Mac now have their own ‘backquisition’ scheme whereby they use the information gained through research groups with mums to commission a novel that would suit this particular reader market – the first of which will be published next year. Echoing David Boyle’s presentation, she agreed with the importance of finding new partners that complement your brand: for Pan Mac, it was a spa offer and Great Little Breaks that they believed would appeal most to mums. Covers were equally influenced by their consumer research. Through their efforts, they discovered that there was a huge female market that had thus far been left untapped for Jeffrey Archer books. By adjusting their cover designs, they were able to expand a brand that they believed had already reached its full potential, creating new sales opportunities and consumer engagement. Events proved to be especially important for Pan Mac as they discovered a physical presence and direct conversation with readers resulted in 72% of those who visited their stand at Latitude festival signed up for their newsletter and meant that they now had a direct relationship with their consumer.
But how did Pan Mac get to this stage? Once again, Lloyd offered an open and honest insight into the company’s strategy. Consumer insight became the heart of Pan Mac’s approach to new ideas which all underwent a process of pilots and workshops. Supported by the MD, they were able to roll out a company-wide engagement programme to increase each member’s understanding of their readers. This meant that there was a collaborative vision and strategy reaching across each department emphasising drive and discovery in addition to developing their current engaged community. Using platforms such as Bookmark moments and The Window Seat, Pan Mac were and continue to test ideas quickly and efficiently, adapting their plans according to the data they received. Similarly, on social media, these methods meant they could adjust their strategy on a book-by-book basis, so whereas they found inspiring imagery and motivational quotes largely more effective than book jackets, advertising for Oprah’s new book proved more successful with a large image and a ‘buy now’ button. Their social media campaigns don’t use the platforms as a place to churn out multiple adverts but as a means of learning more about their consumers and becoming a truly ‘social’ publisher. Lloyd’s presentation, for me, proved to be the most useful of the day: through her experiences, she was able to demonstrate the actionable data that defined consumer insight with real results and lessons.
The message ringing loud and clear is that consumer insight is no longer something to throw into the air and hope that someone in marketing will engage with the occasional Twitter user, rather it is a strategy that must be embraced across publishing companies and used to its full extent as an integral means of understanding readers as people and engaging with them to improve our services and prove our value.
Photos taken from the #FutureBook14 stream – check it out for details of other strands!