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Want More Sales? Think Cohorts

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Want More Sales? Think Cohorts

by Leigh Steere

I am your best customer. The one who reads voraciously from a variety of genres and reads for hours on end to three children, cultivating a new generation of bookworms. I buy books for me because I like to digest them slowly and several at a time. It’s a bummer to return a book to the library half-read because someone else has reserved it and I can’t renew it. I am a person you want to reach when you are launching a new book, and I regret to say that most of you are missing me completely.

Even though I have a master’s degree in integrated marketing communication, it’s taken me a while to sort through why this is true. But I had an epiphany when I was reviewing a book written by a colleague. He had poured his heart and soul into crafting a management book, and its sales figures were disappointing. A Harvard-affiliated management guru had endorsed his book. Reviews on Amazon were positive. A trade association had published an in-depth interview on its Web site. Financially, however, the title was not even close to breaking even. My colleague asked if I had suggestions for a rewrite or different marketing.

In my opinion, four issues crippled this particular management book, and I believe these same issues prevent me—and other heavy readers—from “seeing” many of the newest titles.

The crippling factors were:

• insufficient focus on felt needs

• overreliance on readers to connect the dots

• one-size-fits-all marketing

• undermarketing

Let me explain.

No Pain, No Gain?

What “pain” does your book address?

We all know that it pays to highlight the benefits a book offers. On the surface, “Discover how to get double-digit returns” may sound more appealing than “Portfolio in shambles: the painfully slow process of rebuilding after the market slide.” But most people, even if they don’t want to admit it, buy based on pain alone—or pain and promise in combination, with pain as the hook.

Over the years, I have browsed through a number of articles and books on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, a personality profile. Only one of them sticks in my memory, a gem of a book entitled Do What You Are. Why did that one stick and not the others? At the time I read it, I was feeling the need to make a major career adjustment. This Myers-Briggs book offered Rx for a felt pain.

Had the book been titled Myers-Briggs: An Overview, the title would have been accurate, but it would not have caught my eye. That is a functional title, and I would have overlooked a gem because no felt issue was on the cover, either in the title or in the back-cover copy.

If you are selling on promise alone, you are likely missing some portion of your target market. If the title of your book is purely a functional description without reference to pain or promise, many readers will pass right by the book when scanning a shelf at the bookstore or library. That book will be largely invisible.

Who Needs Your Book?

Each book has a natural audience and a possible audience. The natural audience is the group of people who would select the book from a store or Web site based on title, book description (from the cover), and a quick perusal of a few pages.

The possible audience is the group who could benefit from the material but may not know they need or want it.

The natural audience for a book with a functional title is often very limited. For example, without a new cover or a marketing campaign that overcomes the functional title, the people most likely to read Myers-Briggs: An Overview are:

• psychologists or others who use the Myers-Briggs tool and continually look for

additional insights on it


• test junkies who like filling out and reading about every psychological inventory

on the market

• people who know the author personally

The possible audience for the book is much larger. For example:

• people who are unhappy in their careers and trying to sort through why

• job seekers and career changers trying to figure out what’s next

• people whose military service is ending and who are trying to determine what type of

civilian job to pursue

• . . . and so forth

A publisher can expand a target audience by millions of people just by thinking through the pain issue and the natural audience vs. possible audience distinction. It is the publisher’s job to connect the dots for potential readers with publicity and promotion, so they can easily see why a particular book is for them. If they don’t, they may well skip over it as they scan physical and/or virtual bookshelves.

Make the Marketing Fit

It is vital to tailor your marketing to your possible audience.

In my spare time (and I don’t have much), I am a crafter who enjoys working with paper, beads, fiber, and paint. My like-minded friends and I affectionately refer to craft how-to books as eye candy that we crave more than chocolate. You would think marketers of craft books would reach us effectively. Think again.

I notice how-to craft books in exactly three places: where craft supplies are stocked, in the bargain-book section of brick-and-mortar bookstores, and in new-book displays at the public library.

By using a quick cohort chart, like the sample below, publishers would find better ways to reach me. Unfortunately, very few marketers start with a chart like this to clarify where to spend their marketing dollars.

As you scan the cohort chart, you can see that availability is likely the biggest barrier for a marketer trying to get my attention. As a working parent, I have little free time to go shopping. When I am in a store, I typically have three elementary-school children with me, including a boy who hates shopping and wants to get back to the car as quickly as possible. As a result, browsing through books at either a crafts store or a bookstore is an unlikely, and even unpleasant, activity for me.

That leaves the library. I scan shelves in spots where I can still keep an eye on the kids. In our library, that means a few shelves of newly acquired titles and whatever I saw on the way into the library. You can assume three kids are asking me constant questions as I browse. “How many books can I check out? Can I have this one? Can we get a movie? Can we buy books from the used-book sale? Can I have this magazine from the free bin? Can you help me on the computer? Can we leave now? I’m hungry.” Sometimes, a book’s cover will grab my attention despite the interruptions, and I’ll check it out, hoping for time to look at it before the due date.

All this entails a lot of if’s and maybe’s. If it’s in the window, I might see it. If I do see it, I might check it out. If I check it out, I might be able to read it before the due date. And if I really like it, I might put it on a wish list.

A craft-book publisher does have a chance to grab me as a customer during that library visit, although not if the publisher relies on me taking the initiative.

But suppose the publisher included an invitation on the inside front cover of its books, and flagged it with a line of front-cover copy: “Inside: Special offer for bead lovers.”

“Like this book? Go to www.beadmamabead.com to register for our free design-of-the-week emails. Each Friday, you will receive a picture of a gorgeous creation by a nationally known designer, along with a materials list and details on how to make it. (P.S. If you are a bead addict, don’t sign up.)”

Jotting down the URL takes a few seconds. Enrolling for a newsletter like this takes less than five minutes, and I can sign up any time of day, such as after the kids go to bed.

This might not sell a book to me right then, but the publisher would now know how to reach me directly with information on new titles and preorders. Further, it could earn revenue by selling advertising in its design-of-the-week emails to craft suppliers. They want my eyeballs as much or more.

A Sample Craft-Book Cohort Chart

To design a cohort chart for a particular book, think about the demographic and psychographic characteristics of its possible audience. Will your book attract primarily men, women, or both? What age(s) will it appeal to? What other factors are important? For example, a book on dog grooming might interest a new dog owner or a long-time dog owner. Are there important differences between those two groups?

Cohort Factor

Consumer of Craft How-To Books


• Male

• Female


• Retired; lots of time availability

• Retired, caring for young grandchildren

• Single; lots of time availability

• Single; workaholic

• Married, double income, no kids; lots of time availability

• Married, double income, no kids; workaholic

• Married, double income with kids

• Married, at-home mom with young children

• Etc.

Experience level

• Beginning crafter: likes the visual appearance of the

projects but hasn’t crafted before/hasn’t taken a class

• Beginning crafter: has taken a basic class and is eager

to get started

• Intermediate crafter: has some experience and enjoys craft

projects on a regular basis

• Intermediate crafter: has some experience but is time-

challenged, not currently working on a project

• Advanced crafter: can teach others and regularly

engages in the craft

• Advanced crafter: can teach others but is time-challenged,

not currently working on a project

• Etc.

Addiction level

• Dabbler, not addicted

• Addicted “supply collector” (has lots of materials; enjoys

“collecting” supplies as much as “doing” crafts)

• Addicted doer (not happy unless working on a craft)

• Etc.

Use for book

• Needs instructions for each craft

• Copies designs in book but does not need instructions to

duplicate the results in the photos

• Uses book to get new ideas and inspiration; rarely copies

a craft exactly

Source for books

• Prefers brick-and-mortar; buys on the spot

• Prefers buying books online; buys on the spot

• Prefers reviewing library books before making a purchase

decision; purchases selected titles online

• Prefers library instead of purchase


• Enough disposable income to purchase 2+ books per month

• Enough disposable income to purchase 1 book per month

• Can only purchase 1 book per quarter

• Relies on library books, borrowing from friends, or

other free options

Using a cohort approach will yield tailored marketing initiatives and messaging instead of the one-size-fits-all approach that many publishers rely on today. Yes, a cohort chart may take more time than you were planning to spend, but it will help you reach more people more effectively and less expensively.

Maintain Marketing Momentum

After you have identified your cohorts, you can prioritize them and cross off the targets who are less likely to buy your book or too hard to reach. But consider this: If a cohort is a tough target for you, the group will be a tough target for your competitors, too. If you can find a creative way to catch their attention, you have the opportunity to outdo your competition.

Once you define your pain/promise hook and identify the cohorts you want to reach with your books—and once you devise the right marketing initiatives for each cohort group—you will need to maintain your efforts to build a sufficient customer base. Undermarketing occurs when marketing stops before buzz becomes widespread and sustained.

Set measurable goals, such as a specific number of books sold to each cohort, and keep adjusting your marketing initiatives until you reach those goals. If you have a book you’ve been trying to market unsuccessfully for a while, use this article to create a new game plan and watch what happens.

Leigh Steere is on the product development team for Ripple, a Web-based service that lets people read picture books to children online. She also owns Incisive, a branding and product development firm for B2B enterprises. She can be reached at 888/339-0950 and leigh@ripplereader.com, or on Twitter @IncisiveLS.

Try “A Day in the Life” for Targeting

To reach a target audience, you need to ask the question, “When and where will this person be most receptive to what I want to say?” Some advertising firms write a “biography” of each cohort to get insights on its challenges, how to reach it, and what messaging to use, as in the example below featuring “Jill.”

As you think through possible marketing activities, a biography like this shines a bright spotlight on what not to do. For example, let’s say you were thinking of marketing your book on morning radio and morning TV. Jill might have those on in the background, but she will not hear your message because her attention is elsewhere. You also will not catch Jill in a store, because she does not have time to shop. Reaching Jill will require some out-of-the-box thinking. You may even need to get some Jills together for a focus group to understand how to connect with them.

The ideal biography follows an example customer through an entire day. By understanding the customer’s schedule and challenges, you’ll gain insights on marketing activities that might work versus those that are likely to be a waste of time and money.

Biography: Mom of young children

My name is Jill. I’m 32 years old and have two children: John, who is 6, and Emily, who is 4. Our life is chaotic. My husband, Frank, leaves for work at 7:30 a.m. and doesn’t get back until 6:00 p.m. John just started first grade and needs to be at school at 8:15. He’s not an early bird, so getting him out the door is like pulling teeth. He dawdles, doesn’t finish his breakfast, “can’t find” his backpack or his right shoe. We’re late four days out of five.

Once we go through the antics of getting him to school, I have Emily. She can’t wait to have Mommy all to herself. I am her new playmate (she thinks), since John is at school. I couldn’t get Emily into morning preschool, so she’s with me until her program starts at 1:00. I need to get stuff done—laundry, phone calls, email, bills—but every time I get started, Emily looks at me with her big brown eyes and says, “Will you play with me?” or “Will you read to me?” I feel guilty if I tell her no. After all, she won’t be this age forever.

During her brief preschool program, I have a part-time job as a bookkeeper for a small business. It’s only a few hours a week, and we can use the money—but I wonder if it’s worth it. I feel so isolated. I rush out of there to get to John’s school for pickup, then to Emily’s, then to Boy Scouts, and then home to our messy house. The laundry is barely touched. A trail of toys litters the hall and family room. Dishes are piled up in the sink.

Next, homework. John can’t do it by himself because he can’t read the instructions yet and doesn’t stay focused, so it’s really my homework. Dinner. Bedtime. Then I’m so tired that I want to go to bed, too. And the cycle will begin again tomorrow.

Frank and I rarely go on a date. And my hobbies—I love crafts—well, my hobbies are on the back burner right now. Sigh.

A craft-book marketer may decide that Jill’s cohort is so hard to reach that it’s not worth the effort. However, there are thousands of Jills who might like and buy the book if they knew about it.

So, how is Jill most approachable?

• through school communication that comes home with a child

• in activity waiting rooms (ballet lessons, sports practice, and the like)

• when visiting the library

• through pediatricians

• through teachers

• when scanning packages at the store for needed items (laundry soap, foods for kids’

lunches, staples like milk and juice)

• through email and social media (for those moms who rely on email and Facebook for

their primary social connections)

Of the options listed above, the waiting rooms, libraries, and email/social media are the most likely fits for marketing a craft book to the Jills of the world, and getting the book itself or promotional material with ordering information into these channels may be feasible and cost-effective.

Possible messaging:

• No time to breathe but need a craft fix?

• Yearning to play with your beads?

• Craving your beads right now?

• Moms find clever ways to sneak bead projects into crowded calendars.

Using biographies like Jill’s will eliminate a great deal of guesswork as you craft a marketing strategy for any book’s target markets.

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