What a goldfish can teach you about selling books

by | Jan 21, 2019

A goldfish has a 9 second attention span!

That’s more than your online customer! In 2012 the average attention span was 12 seconds, by 2015 that was reduced to 7 but now if you want to grab a customers interest you have just 4 seconds to get it.   To sell a book using digital marketing in this attention deficit and ‘time poor’ world you have to do something extraordinarily creative and instant. As the online customer’s eyeballs first see your author/book, within 4 seconds you must hook them to the next stage. This is no time to be vanilla.  

Attention is now one of the world’s most important commodities. How you get it, how you keep it and how you use it. The publishing industry produces a product that does just that! It already has at hand the number one most effective marketing tool and one that Steve Jobs described as the best means to engage the hearts and minds of clients to walk your way. Let me explain. Are you sitting comfortably? Well, I’ll begin… Ever since Goldilocks staged a home invasion of the three bears place, we all like to be told a good story. Advertisers and marketers now use it as a means to get customers to absorb, understand and remember a company message or brand. This is why United Airlines have hired Dana Brooks Reinglass at their chief storyteller – to create their brand story. Our brains are trained to be entertained – and story is at the heart of entertainment. It is also at the heart of buying – particularly now that 70% of all buying happens on-line  

The buying ‘teases’ that hook and progress the sale of a book are traditionally on the cover and in the newspaper reviews – marketing that quickly turns into fish and chip wrapping while digital marketing content goes on working time and time again. This is potentially the salesman who can be busy selling 24/7 worldwide and is more effective than putting an author on a train to an obscure book fair, where an hours talk and a few book signings might add to the marketing reach by a 100 or so. Probably cheaper and just as effective to send a postcard. To market online you need to put those book cover teases into a video and motivate customers through emotion, empathy and instant hooks . If you can get to both your clients heart and minds – your product will be unforgettable up to and beyond the purchase point. A short storytelling video of one to two minutes can convey the essence of a book together with some 20 second teaser bursts that work well in Facebook. These are the trailers that help build an audience and as BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti recently pointed out, if its going to interrupt family and friends on social media its gotta be good. However a quick scan through You Tube and look at some of the filmed interviews with authors – you will notice that none of the videos pay attention to the 4 second goldfish rule. Those precious first few seconds wasted telling me the authors name and the book. I already know that by the time I hit play. Use captions for names instead. I come from a history TV background and now straddle both TV and digital marketing. A history book can be marketing much the same as a TV documentary. You need good trailers. Use available archive footage, intercut with author interview and add plenty of takeaway facts. These are important because they’re a viral currency and act as reminders that drive a client to a purchase. A good video should grab eyeballs and hang onto them long enough to get the reader interested to know more.

It’s so easily done, it doesn’t cost a lot to do but it does need to be done well – and mostly it isn’t. 300 hours of you tube footage is uploaded every minute so in this world of overcrowded social media, digital marketing has to push through the poor quality videos. So don’t waste your money paying a bloke with a camera to produce the unwatchable. Aim for tv quality. In my view stick to producers who have a long reputation in TV – they know how to make a compelling watch because television has decades of experience in using story to fight off competition for attention. I see history as the most obvious sell for use of film and storytelling in digital marketing but the principle of story teases and trailers applies across all book genres – what’s needed is some creative thinking and an understanding of how content is consumed online. Understand why the viewer is there and what they have come for and don’t fall into the conceit “we’ve made it therefore watch it”. If a film fails in both technical and narrative skill it will lose audience – very quickly.  Once you have great watchable content to tease potential readers you need to get it seen – with a distribution plan. Weak distribution is the equivalent of going to the supermarket – filling a trolley, paying for it and then shoving it in the bin outside. A video needs an audience – otherwise you might as well hang the Vermeer behind the loo door. Content needs to go find its audience of readers/viewers/clients/employees in their own playgrounds – attract with information deficit teases, keep feeding and entertaining.  We all now expect to be entertained the moment we press play – story hooks keep people watching and story teases keep them coming back for more.  Think about your customer’s journey – how can you be there at the start, how can you hook them in just 4 seconds, and how can you create touch points on a journey to purchase. Facebook live is an opportunity to keep feeding and growing an audience and creating a strategy for selling based on a breadcrumb trail. Keep leading potential readers to the main content – and refresh, refresh refresh. Every spare few seconds we have we check our mobiles for notifications some 1500 times a week. As a publisher you need to be in on those checkpoints.    It’s so important to understand how people behave on social media. For instance most people who receive a video in their Face  book won’t press play in order to hear the sound…. so give it to them in the subtitling.

What can authors do themselves? Become digitally competent. Understand the basics enough to be able to participate and communicate in whatever platform is relevant to you and your audience/readers. Build your brand audience way before launch and keep feeding it. In his book Evolve or Become Obsolete my colleague David Shaw points out that too many people have been blinded by vanity metrics over the last few years. Its not quantity on social media that you need – but quality. Large social media followings are great if they are engaged and active with your content and company. Better to have 10 twitter followers if those 10 are engaged, interested and distributing as opposed to 1000 followers who do not care or see updates.

Thanks to the Internet we have access to an unimaginable amount of information and we expect to find what we are looking for in a heartbeat. This change in the way we access information has altered the buying process for every single industry but publishing seems to be missing opportunities that it is so perfectly placed to grasp. Either grab those opportunities now or your competitors will.