Last week, I was invited to take part in a Direct Marketing Association Advertisting Week panel with Zinio chief marketing officer Jeanniey Mullen and AdWeek columnist Barbara Lippert (plus, not pictured, Marketingworks Charles Salmore and Crayon Consulting‘s Greg Verdino). Our conversation focused, among other things, on the need for companies to approach their online relationships with audiences/customers from a position of authenticity and respect. “There are so many examples when brands tried to force their approach on consumers rather than get a sense of what the community is saying and adjust accordingly,” Salmore warned, while Mullen emphasized the need to make every online engagement matter: “People only go online if it’s going to give them some personal benefit, and we always talk about personal relevancy and making the message count.” (I also stressed authenticity, along with the soft sell, citing publisher websites like Beacon Broadside as an example of how publishers can communicate their passion for books without pressuring readers to buy.)
The panel before ours, on direct/digital marketing, was highly engaging as well. Chick-fil-A‘s Michael McCathren explained how his company tries to make it easier for customers to share their offline experiences at Chick-fil-A in an online setting: “It makes our job easier when they have a story to tell. It gives customers a brand experience they will want to talk about, because they’re talking about you already.” Maggie Tucker talked about how the InterContinental Hotels Group is deploying a variety of online marketing strategies, from paid placements in Google Maps to a Crowne Plaza conference suite in Second Life. And Kitt Williams, the chief marketing office of Lealta, discussed the “Savvy & Smart” customer rewards program, which aims to engage consumers in pre-existing social networks and help them shift rewards from various retailers towards their own preferences. Women control more than 80 percent of consumer purchases, she noted, and they already have vast influence networks offline as well as online. The key to a successful program lies in retaining those consumers past a single purchase—and, she assured the audience, people will continue to buy non-essential goods, even if the economy gets significantly worse than it is now. (So that’s a ray of hope for the book industry there, right?)
(photo: Carmela Uzzi)
Later in the week, I flew to Minneapolis to take part in a luncheon with staffers at several independent publishers based in and around the Twin Cities. Jessa Crispin of Bookslut and I talked about blogs and social networking tools; I emphasized the ways that publishers could use these tools to reach out directly to readers, while Crispin said that writers were best-equipped to handle them. At the same time, she cautioned, the litblogging world was well-stocked with “narcissists and sociopaths;” maybe, maybe not, I countered, but when mainstream book reviewing had atrophied into a celebration of a handful of critical darlings, blogs were one of the primary sources for compelling conversation about the books and writers that were holding readers’ interest.
The publishing industry pros in the audience had a lot of questions for us, from the technical aspects of launching a website to the best way to measure the effectiveness of an online campaign. It was great to see them so engaged—people may have been concerned about how they could do better, but the operating assumption in the room seemed to be that they could do better… that book publishing, at least in Minnesota, was in no danger of collapsing any time soon.