Organizers of the Winter Institute's "Marketing That Moves the Needle" panel decided to test some of their own best practices with an experiment, Meg Smith, the ABA's membership and marketing officer, said as she opened the Monday session.
First, ABA's Greg Galloway designed a logo for the session that was used to promote it to attendees. Then the ABA placed coupons in welcome bags that promised a free poster for the first 10 people at the session; sent daily e-mail reminders; put flyers on the tables at other WI8 sessions; held a trivia contest on Facebook and Twitter; advertised a contest in Bookselling This Week that offered the bookstore winner a free design consultation with Galloway; and had a table at the Oscar Viewing party.
With the help of Poll Everywhere, Galloway helped Smith track live, via smart phones and laptops, booksellers' answers to questions about what got them to attend the session. By a landslide, most attendees saw the session listed in the printed WI8 program, and the coupon in the bag attracted a few early attendees. But other efforts were not as effective: 83% of booksellers said they would have attended the session without the extra marketing; 59% described the marketing efforts as too much or annoying; 30% asked, "What e-mails?"; 74% likewise weren't aware of a trivia contest. And the panel logo and e-mails made some booksellers suspect they were being marketed to by a third party.
Panelist Julie Wernersbach of BookPeople in Austin, Tex., which has 30,000 square feet of space on two floors, said the store does many giveaways, often using "swag from publishers." Giveaways work best, she said, when she took pictures of the swag and posted them on Facebook and Twitter. Food giveaways are also popular.
The other panelist, Jill Miner, owner of Saturn Booksellers, Gaylord, Mich., with 3,000 square feet, said that the size of the giveaways matters in her store and that the most effective way to draw attention to a particular author and attract customers is offering a chance to win a "basket of backlist" titles. To offset the cost, the store requires a book purchase at the event to participate.
During the long, free-flowing exchange of ideas, Miner said booksellers should use coupons "judiciously" if they do not want to overwhelm consumers. Bruce Delaney, owner of Rediscovered Books, Boise, Idaho, said his store will accept expired coupons. "We try to win the customer and we don't want them to have a bad experience," he said.
Mary Ann Donaghy of the Bookworm in Bernardsville, N.J., added that her store uses specials run on Foursquare, which is a social media platform that connects with users in a store. "It's not applicable everywhere, but it's free," she said. Smith urged booksellers to claim their real estate on social media like Foursquare and Google+.
Although Bookpeople has not found coupons effective at drawing new customers, e-newsletters--five of them--have helped. "In Austin, everybody sends out stuff about what bands are playing where, so it's expected," Wernersbach said. BookPeople has two newsletters tied to events; the others focus on children's books, teens and mystery readers. Miner sends out a "folksy" e-newsletter that suits the nature of her store. "I sign it at the bottom," she said. Both stores found that sending e-newsletters out late in the afternoon on workdays helped increase open rates. Saturn Booksellers also sends co-branded editions of Shelf Awareness for Readers to customers twice a week. (Editor's note: this program is open to all booksellers.)
In-store signage is still very effective, along with the electronic tools in the modern marketing toolkit, Wernersbach said. Miner calls customers who bought a book at past events when there is an upcoming event featuring that author or someone similar. "I pretend that I remember what they bought," she said, but the information is tracked at point of purchase.
At Saturn Booksellers' events, a form on every seat asks customers to share how they heard about the event and their contact info, with a drawing as a reward. The results, Miner said, help her allocate resources to the things that work best. Why spend money on ads that no one sees, she asked, if the number one way people hear of events is from store staff?
And Stephen Colbert--or at least a cut-out of him--helped one store promote Small Business Saturday last year: it took pictures of its Colbert cut-out at other local businesses. Another bookseller got a unexpected promotional boost from the absence of its Colbert cutout: someone stole the faux Colbert, which got the community talking about the store. --Bridget Kinsella