Thursday + Gregory Huffstutter = The Ad Man Answers
Thursday + Gregory Huffstutter = The Ad Man Answers
Q: Last column, you talked about how lousy the college crowd is for book marketing. Since that audience is into online social networking like Facebook and MySpace, what about using those sites to generate word-of-mouth buzz?
A: Word-of-mouth buzz is a tricky thing. Sometimes the stars align and something new and unexpected bubbles into the collective consciousness – the masses suddenly asking each other “have you seen…?” or “have you read…?”
The Blair Witch Project. Napoleon Dynamite. Bret Easton Ellis’ “Less Than Zero.” And, as was pointed out by a commenter after my last column, Alex Garland’s “The Beach,” which rode word-of-mouth to success in the college market.
Personally, the Ad Man files above examples under the category of “Unrepeatable Phenomenon.” These properties did not arrive with great expectations, nor did they have massive advertising budgets to generate broad initial awareness. Yet – somehow – they managed to strike the right chord, get the right reviews, and start a feedback loop of positive customer opinion.
The advertising world would love to reverse-engineer the formula for these success stories. Add 5 interviews with college newspapers to 100 ARCs sent to major market booksellers… mix with a kind word from Janet Maslin and interview on Good Morning America… simmer for two months, and voila, word-of-mouth buzz! Now sit back, collect your royalties, and start working on your sophomore slump.
One company – BzzAgent – built their business model around trying to ignite these kind of word-of-mouth (WOM) chain reactions. They use a network of over 250,000 “agents” who talk up certain products to their friends and acquaintances. In fact, their first program was to help promote a book: Alan Davies’ “The Frog King.”
BzzAgent has amassed a nice client list that includes VW, Pfizer, Kraft, Kellogg’s, Anheuser Busch, and American Express – and they claim to do sales-based ROI tracking, as well as measuring “Net Promoter Scores,” which rates an individual’s likelihood of recommending a product in the future. So does paying for WOM work? Like everything in advertising, there’s an element of “you pays ya money, you takes ya chances.”
Ideally, I think word-of-mouth advertising – be it BzzAgent or MySpace – should be an EXTENSION of traditional and grass-roots advertising campaigns, not the end-all, be-all. Even “The Beach” received $150K in advertising support, according to Publishers Weekly.
But if you don’t have the funds to go the traditional route, social networking websites do give you the opportunity to reach more people than screaming from your porch. JA Konrath has this excellent post on maximizing your MySpace page.
In addition to discussing the benefits of a “friend adder,” Konrath talks about “pimping out” your page with music, pictures, and video. Advertisers have similarly figured out that the more opportunities you give potential customers to interact with your ‘brand,’ the higher the odds of repeat visits and greater receptivity to your message.
Movies like X-Men have pushed the social-networking envelope with branded pages that include videos, ringtones, wallpapers, buddy icons, polls, and sweepstakes. And forward-thinking authors have joined suit – like Harlan Coben, Brett Battles, and Robert Gregory Browne – who offer content along with their buddy list.
Battles and Browne even started their own writer’s-talk podcast to compliment their marketing efforts. This is a smart way to create multiple “entry points” to their brand (which is not just their debut novels – but all future offerings). Someone might hear about their podcast from a friend, then check out their MySpace pages, then discover their blogs, buy the books, recommend them to another friend, and hopefully the cycle continues.
But if you don’t have these entry points… if you don’t get your name out there through other means like web banners, bookstore signings, newspaper ads, library talks, writer’s conventions, radio interviews, YouTube videos, etc – then your social-networking efforts are unlikely to generate a lot of steam.
You should be asking yourself, HOW are people going to find my MySpace, Facebook, or Friendster page? And once they do, what am I doing to enhance their experience? What reasons do I give them to come back?
And going back to the original question posed to the Ad Man… while college students may be pre-disposed to word-of-mouth recommendations or social-networking websites, that doesn’t change the fact that, as a whole, they’re fickle, time-crunched, overworked, and short on cash.
One of the primary rules of advertising is: Fish where the fish are. Would you rather take your chances making it onto someone’s free-reading schedule if they buy 2 novels a year, or 20?
Because for every “The Beach,” there are thousands of worthy novels that never get the attention they deserve. Especially from college students.
Gregory Huffstutter has been punching Ad Agency timecards for the past decade, working on accounts like McDonald's, KIA Motors, and the San Diego Padres. He recently finished his first mystery, KATZ CRADLE. The first 100 pages of his novel are linked here. For general advertising questions, leave a comment or send e-mail to katz @ gregoryhuffstutter dot com with 'Ask The Ad Man' in the subject line.