Find me a brand or a marketer, and I’ll show you someone who is keen to jump up and holler, “I know my customers! I love my customers!”
But most don’t.
Just look at Groupon and Borders. While their businesses are in wildly different places at the moment, they share a vicious disregard for their customers.
Borders’ Chapter 11 announcement this week hit readers, authors, and booksellers hard. And theories are rampant about what got them to this mess. One thing, though, is true: At some point not long ago, Borders as a corporation (not on an individual level—the people who work in their stores are, for the most part, engaged, smart readers) lost touch with their customers. With readers. The result is hundreds of bookstores closing, which is woeful.
Marketing books—selling them—is personal. Books are personal. They’re read by real-live humans. It’s not just a numbers game. Ask any bookseller who has “hand sold” a title. Or any reader.
Why personal? Because people who read—the market—tend to be passionate about what they read, and therefore, what they purchase. They also tend to share what they like with their sphere of influence, and so they are, by definition, influencers.
It’s a damn shame, but too many marketeers make decisions based on board room discussions rather than conversations with their audience. They don’t understand that to most consumers (and, indeed, media), a company or brand is less important than a person. They spend precious marketing dollars based on envisioned scenarios or spreadsheets rather than street-level reality. They don’t take off their blinders.
Case and point is Groupon. They aired an idiotic, offensive, ad during the Super Bowl, which I saw accidentally. And I immediately unsubscribed. Won’t go back. I’m lost to them. Why should they care? I am their ideal demographic. I have some disposable income. I love a deal (almost more than I love chocolate). I’m online. I have a circle of friends who used to be fans of Groupon and recommended I try it out. They’ve pulled the ad now, but it’s too late. And Timothy Hutton? If he ever gets another movie or TV show, I won’t watch it.
Even more offensive to me than the ad itself are their actions since it aired. They planned for the controversy; they instigated it specifically so they could follow the PR 101 chapter on “crisis response.” Their orchestrated response is designed to garner them kudos for…what, exactly? Apologizing? Oh wait, no…they say they did it in order to raise money for charity. They say to go to SaveTheMoney.org and make a donation. But when one clicks that URL, it directs to your regional Groupon page (go ahead, try it; I’m not making this up). Doesn’t matter, though, because the ad was so poorly executed that nobody even knew they were supposed to go to that site.
All the while, Groupon’s CEO, Mr. IWantToBeMarkZuckerbergButIWentToNorthwestern, is giggling. Because he’s so much smarter than the rest of us. Hell, we’re just consumers. Wouldn’t recognize a heavy-handed orchestrated marketing campaign if it came up and bit us.
There was a time when any publicity was good publicity, but that time is gone.
But back to publishing. One of the questions that came across the Twitter transom recently was whether authors are—and should consider themselves—entrepreneurs. To which I offer a resounding yes—because few readers (you know, those humans who actually pay money for books) don’t care who publishes a book. Couldn’t give a crap about an imprint brand. They want good books, and when they find them, they tend to bond with the author.
But that doesn’t let publishers off the hook…
Smart publishers regard themselves as reader advocates, whose mission it is to tell people about great books. Less smart ones invest millions in building imprint brands, to the glory of nobody outside their own board rooms.
Meanwhile, authors like Daniel Palmer, whose first book, DELIRIOUS, was published a few weeks ago, is over on Twitter and Facebook talking to readers and other authors. Thanking them. Answering questions. Being genuine. Giving away copies of his book to libraries.
And his book? The buzz around it is building daily. That’s the kind of entrepreneur I love to see succeed.
There’s a lesson there for us all.