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Are You “Programmatic”?

To end our year, Caroline Haurie reviews the key themes from FutureBook’s 2016 conference and gives us food for thought for our marketing strategies in 2017…

One of the lessons from FutureBook 2016 is the need to know your audience, even before your product is out. It is not just about content, marketeers have said; it is about how you connect the right audience to the right product. Interestingly, we are often told the product creates audiences, but people do not know always know what they want, so sometimes you need to tell them what they want and you need to create fans. That’s what ‘programmatic‘ is. At the session entitled, Meet the Consumer: New Approaches to Audience Growth, Daniel Solomons from the Google Digital Academy defined this new marketing strategy as “advertising sales in real time, targeting the right people at the right time’’.

Many professionals at the Virtual Realities: The Market for Interactive Storytelling talk agreed that the challenge for interactive storytelling is to engage the audience at every stage of the marketing strategy, in order to deliver a product that readers want. When asked about why they think one of their projects failed, Bobby Thandi from Dubit answered, “You have to ask yourself who reads your story and test the idea out with this audience”. Reference here to the trilogy: intent/engagement/retention. Identify who is willing to buy the product, engage them before and after to motivate them to use it, all in order to create a pool of users that stay.

It is important to use a data management platform to identify who people are, what they are consuming and what they are doing in relation to their product. This data is used to find new people and to tell them a story that you know they want to hear. It is contextual advertising at its highest. This method of advertising can sound intrusive or aggressive, but Solomons insisted it is “more than that’’. It is about using traditional syndication to identify people with purchase intent and tell them a personal story.

The main shift here is that audiences are treated as individuals and not as consumers. Solomons explained, “Consumers don’t exist, it’s people who buy things.” You need to get intimate with buyers, know them personally, what they do, when and what they use to do it. Build your content in order to reach a pool of the right people for the right message. Use social media to identify what people like and then redirect them to similar content. However, although data helps to find consumers, it also locks them into the same type of content. You need to know your audience but expand it as well by stepping out of social media and its echo chamber effect. Look for similar audiences elsewhere, through partners and like-minded brands.

Solomons warned that using data without being able to analyse them is pointless: “data makes your suitcase heavy’’. Knowing how to look for and read data is crucial, thus you need to invest or support employee development so they are able to do so.

Pan MacMillan’s Lee Dibble mentioned it is key, when entering the world of data, to know what your goal is and to find the right set of tools for your goal. She reminded us that, at the end of the day, it is all about checking your sales, which are ultimately the best indicator of your marketing strategy’s health.

Yet Solomons clarified that being programmatic isn’t just about technology. It is a culture, a behaviour that is demanding for a change in the way book publishing thinks. Accordingly, FutureBook showed that, away from data, there are other ways to target audiences towards a product and to expand audiences, which are still programmatic. In a cultural sense, programmatic means building marketing strategies that look at engaging individuals with a specific product by approaching them personally. The Venture Capital: Commercial Opportunities Out of Books presented businesses in or out of the publishing industry that have dared to look for audiences in a different way in order to create more revenue.

The gaming industry is largely dominating the app market, generating £664m in the UK in 2015. FutureBook identified there is a lot to learn from the industry, specifically deep gameplay and partnership. Deep gameplay uses the intent trilogy: engaging the player to the point of retention, which will bring them to spend money for what was, in the first place, a free game. The use of virtual prizes such as winning card for which you pay and that help you win the game (we’ve all seen those ones on Candy Crush I’m sure); or time-limited games inside the game that are sponsored by partners. To explain this, Oli Christie from NeonPlay presented us with with a game prototype, ‘build your own city’ inside which you could buy a Manchester United stadium or a Taylor Swift concert hall. Partners benefit from advertising inside the game while helping you sell add-ins.

A very good example of the gaming immersion strategy applied to books is the augmented reality technique presented by Carlton Books in Print vs Digital: Together in Harmony. They created an augmented reality iDinosaur app to work specifically with the iDinosaur book. The app brings to life the fearsome 3D dinosaurs on phones and tablets. Jamal Edwards, in the FutureBook closing interview, mentioned he’ll be using a similar technique for his next book.

Paul Lomax from Dennis Publishing summed it up: “be different in a big way”. For example, if you’re selling a magazine on cars – start selling cars (literally). The magazine becomes a platform for another business with a ready-made pool of potential buyers that you already know will be, if not interested in buying, at least curious to have a look. Entertainment is another source of inspiration. The marketing campaign led by Penguin Random House‘s Jo Edwards on the comedy duo Dan & Phil was centred around a meet-the-artist tour with VIP meetings and selfie takings, which also produced the content for a spin-off book. If you get closer to the artist, you make the audience feel closer to the product and create fans likely to buy into the next product. It is vital to use content as a link between platforms to build a relationship between the audience and the brand.

The Print to Digital Together in Harmony talk zeroed in on the use of content for marketing. The award-winning team for best use of digital in a marketing campaign at Penguin Random House (Claudia Toia, Matthew Young and Mathieu Triay) clearly had a flair for what is happening next with their marketing strategy of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene. They took the idea of the gene out of the book, recreated a design for it, set up a website where the users can play with the genes, and organised a design competition for which the winner will see its design on the cover the book. The book is marketing itself; the content is the key attraction. The reader is already engaged despite not having read the book. That’s programmatic: using a personal link to engage readers and create buying intent.

So, are you programmatic?


Caroline Haurie is a fiction writer working on her first novel in French, Sans visage et sans corps. The novel has evolved to be a broader writing project in which she hopes to achieve a publishing process that will mirror the intention of her writing inside the novel. She is passionate about giving the writing back to the characters through the exploration of changing points of view and the slow disappearance of both author and narrator in the story. She currently lives in London where she works as a freelance writer.

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