When was the last time you did a SWOT analysis? College?
When talking about how to leverage your organizational and personal strengths to optimize online discovery and sales, it’s vital you know and understand what your strengths are and how they can meet the signals that are most important to online algorithms, like Amazon's.
We've found nine different areas of strength and what it looks like to be strong in each area, how you can amplify each strength through tactics and strategies, and what to ignore.
If something isn't a strength of yours or your organization, how can you work around it or develop it into a strength?
Today, there’s more of “everything” (except one thing), time. At Ingram, we've talked with hundreds of publishers of varied sizes, publishing all different kinds of content in different geographic markets. And there is a common refrain of being overwhelmed.
More people shopping online...
More books available...
But not more time!
You're dealing with an environment where there's more complexity online, and more signals that matter, which directly impact your performance.
Some signals are technical in nature, and you have a whole list of titles you need to manage and pay attention to.
You might be saying to yourself,
"Hey, I have 30 tabs open on my browser, I'm working all day long. I'm doing as much as I can. But when I get to the end of my day, I'm not entirely confident that what I've spent my time on matters the most to my organization, that it was the work that I needed to do to move the meter forward in terms of success online."
Right now, we want to give you the opportunity to evaluate how you're spending your time and where you might want to spend your time.
We want to do so in the context of the world and the publishing environment today. So, let's talk for a second about the last 12 months.
You’ve seen the story that e-commerce penetration had 10 years of growth in three months.
You hear a lot of “when the pandemic ends” or “as we shift to a post-pandemic world” but most people believe their habits that shifted during the pandemic will stick.
And it's likely that e-commerce will continue to be strong and require more of your attention.
Consumers are creatures of habit but now they have new habits. Any future scenarios will require an omnichannel approach with a strong online focus.
“The pandemic has amplified the consumer’s desire for convenience and immediacy. The permanency of these shifts will be determined by how satisfied consumers are with online experiences.” - Shopify
The shift to your backlist taking a larger percentage of your overall sales will continue.
According to NPD Bookscan, 2021 YTD backlist sales are making up 71% of unit sales, up 6% from 2020.
Penetration of online retail plus a shift to backlist makes the case for efficiency even stronger.
These two trends together, means SEO, enhanced metadata, and backlist availability will lift you above the competition.
When we talk with publishers and look at all the different data points that are available, publishers will say,
"Well, which one should I focus on first? What's most important?"
Honestly, it depends on your organization.
Playing to your strengths is clear if you know what those are. Weaknesses are not always clear (often why they are considered weaknesses — you don’t know what you don’t know).
Playing to your strengths can be broken down into 4 steps:
1. Realistic baselines
Knowing exactly where you're starting from and what improvement means for your organization, because success looks different for every organization.
Tools level the playing field, reveal baselines, emphasize strengths by enabling more efficient work, and help you either ignore gaps from a point of knowledge or learn more and turn them, over time, into a strength.
3. Practices & Skill development
We’ve had many conversations with publishers who say, "Oh, I tried that, but it didn't really work.” When it's a skill that needed development over six months, or a year or some other period.
4. Knowing what to ignore
Being aware of the signals that matter but may not be worth focusing on now.
We believe in the philosophy of tools to help diagnose where you are, capture improvement, and help you be more efficient in using those strengths and moving quickly and swiftly to improve online discovery and conversion.
Amazon’s algorithm combines many factors together.
Supplier provided information:
Amazon will take your supplier information to position your book online. Think of it like shelving in a store.
Amazon will then combine your supplier provided information with consumer behavior to inform overall product visibility.
Since we’re talking about strengths, you want to think about how well you provide supplier information and how well you influence consumer behavior.
You can break it down into three key requirements:
If your title is unavailable, you're dead in the water.
2. Driving Traffic
You need to drive traffic to your product pages. The more relevant those people are to your book, the better.
3. Maximizing Conversion
This step ranges from metadata, the quality of the description, the quality of the cover image, whether “look inside” is available or not, reviews, the presence of them, price, and whether the retailer is discounting your suggested retail price.
Looking to take your Amazon SEO to the next level? We dove deep into Amazon SEO and online bookselling in our recent blog, How to Grow Your Online Book Sales Through Amazon SEO and Keywords.
The strengths needed for Amazon’s three key requirements range from operational efficiency to advertising and promotion to pricing and influence and, always, content and talent.
Every publisher has strengths, and every publisher has areas that can be improved.
Knowing what your strengths are can feel challenging. But can also be simple if broken down.
What may have been strengths five years ago may not matter anymore. For example, 15 years ago, Amazon didn't have advertising. So, if you wanted to do keyword search advertising, you did it with Google, and you did it with Google only.
Social proof didn't matter before. Social media meant just Facebook. It's an ever-evolving ecosystem of the factors that drive traffic to retail and the strengths you need to make the most of your list.
We like to think of marketing as a process not an event.
We notice that “playing to your strengths” sounds like it would be easy but often organizations and individuals are so close to things and under pressure that it becomes hard to see.
Taking a step back is key – look at where you excel, where you might be weaker, and what you can do to lean into your current strengths to grow sales.
So far, you’ve learned about the Amazon algorithm and how online sales work and what influences the consumer journey.
Taking inventory is about taking an honest assessment of where you stand, what your strengths are, where your strengths really lie, where you might be weak, and then finding ways to balance those together to ensure the broadest potential reach for your books today.
You can start by naming your existing assets. The components you or your organization have that can be used in your marketing.
Brands (this is where you show authority)
Relationships (this is how you can reach consumers)
Platforms (this is how you can reach consumers, too)
Infrastructure (this is your ability to grow)
Next, couple your existing assets with your capabilities and resources.
Taking a moment to assess these areas of your business will help you make more strategic decisions going forward.
Operational efficiency is the baseline cord that runs underneath the entire business. Its tone matters to the ultimate success and health of your organization.
Operational efficiency is worth a lot. It means never missing a potential sale. So, capitalizing on all the work you do to drive demand for your titles and not have that torpedoed by the title being out of stock or incorrect product information.
In relation to product information, you could ask yourself or others in your organization these questions:
If you said yes, this is something that I'm good at, you can get fancy in playing to your strengths.
This might look like driving more margin through your pricing strategies or looking at the way you're supplying inventory to key partners like Amazon, for example. It means being able to market and sell your full list.
When your titles are available everywhere and in many different formats, you can be where the consumer is and take advantage of every single potential sale.
Price is incredibly important to driving conversion. Consumers rate price as one of their highest considerations when they're looking to buy.
With books, it's a little less important than other items. But for books, it still matters.
In assessing yourself, your organization, your department, you identify whether pricing is a strength of yours.
Publishers whose strength is price, know the difference between charging $8 and $7.95. They know the difference between pricing an ebook at $9.99 versus $12.99 versus $7.99.
From a capability's standpoint, you're agile, you can run tests, you can get data, and you can analyze data.
You're good at understanding the landscape. You know who you're competing with. You know what kinds of books are competing within the general pricing strategies of your competitors. And you're using multi-format because price changes are mostly easily made on ebooks.
You're usually publishers who are either ebook only or published print and ebook.
What if pricing is not one of your strengths?
If you've not refreshed ebook prices in a while, you may not know if this is a strength or not. So, if you lock them in at $12.99 five years ago across your list, or you locked them into a set percentage of the print book price, and you never revisited it, this may not be a strength.
We often see an across the list flat ebook pricing strategy and often the strategy is contributing to lost sales. Potentially, because a competing title gets inserted into the space.
This happens more often with nonfiction publishers who’ve had category ownership with a certain title.
Then a competitor comes in and underprices you by just a little bit or they're a bit more sophisticated understanding how to work the price and take over some of your market share.
We see publishers with this strength run tests and improve their sales and margin, nonstop, but they're doing this all the time.
You'll see them updating the book prices frequently. They keep an eye on profitability across the list. And they're willing to use price as a lever to drive overall demand for both print and ebooks.
You see them do a lot of price promotions and they are very strategic. They couple price promotions with product marketing to doubling down and get a maximum effect.
They continuously watch what's happening, playing on their strength, and always getting better at it.
As we mentioned, an ebook pricing strategy from five years ago would not be a good ebook pricing strategy today.
Metadata matters because it improves your rate of conversion. And it's an area of focus for many publishers because it's something that you really can control.
You can always change your product descriptions. You can update your categories. You can add keywords.
What’s marketing metadata worth?
Does your content have?
Does your organization have?
Your organization will follow these best practices and workflows if marketing metadata is a strength.
There are a few symptoms of when your metadata is not a strength.
Everyone is on social. 98% of adults in the US are active on social or some social media platform and 32% use it as a primary source for product and brand research.
When you're assessing if this is a strength for you, the questions you want to ask yourself are:
Social media is not a part-time job for somebody who does all the digital stuff or for an intern. A strong social media presence includes skills in copywriting and design, market research, audience segmentation and targeting, and customer service aspects in responding to followers online.
And to have that strong social media presence, you really need to be creating engaging and authentic content and regularly communicating with your followers.
If all of those are yeses for you, you have that detailed audience understanding, you can post, you understand what's happening when you post, then that's a great opportunity to start to build and maintain your social followings and use those followers to strengthen other areas of your marketing.
The bigger your following, the greater insights you have into who they are. You can develop rich analytics about your followers, the things that they like, the people that they follow, and that can inform and strengthen things like your author marketing efforts, and your influencer relationships.
You can also use social media to generate demand for key titles, link to retail channels, share deals and promotions, share cover reveals and excerpts. Really engage your readers with your content, and strategically advertise to grow your following and reach new readers who aren't yet engaging with you on the platform.
Best Practices & Guidelines
Websites can be incredibly valuable for publishers and authors as a center of gravity. A website gives you a central place where you can own and maintain control who you are, what your brand is, and all the items that are related and connected to you.
Strengths in this area include having a strong catalog on your site, information about all your books and authors, and relevant content marketing.
Blog posts and landing pages will bring people to your site. You should place a focus on topics and genres that you publish You need to have deep visibility into how your website is performing and rich analytics around:
Are your website visitors doing the things you hope they do, whether that's clicking through to retailers, signing up for an email newsletter, or going over to your author sites to sign up for an event?
As you build your site, you really want to think about making sure that all the content there is informing readers and helping them to understand more about who you are, what you publish, and all the books and brands that are related to you.
The core strength of websites is it's an owned presence and anybody who comes there is your visitor.
The more you understand about who they are, what they're doing, and what they're likely to do next, the stronger all your marketing efforts can be.
The key is analytic tools to help you get a richer insight into what's going on with your site.
SEMRush will help you understand keywords that are driving traffic, where you can improve, and who you're competing with
Email continues to be one of the strongest marketing tactics.
It feels a little old school sometimes, but it is consistently one of the most reliable ways to reach readers and consumers consistently.
Many consumers routinely report email as a preferred communication method for brands they want to engage with.
Having an email list and growing the list, is an owned relationship you can keep coming back to versus the rented reach you have on social media where you're at the mercy of those algorithms.
If you have a larger, ever growing email subscriber list, here are a few ways to play to your strength:
There is an ever-growing list of email management tools that help manage user preferences, unsubscribes, build segmentation, automate campaigns, and provide analytics.
A few you might find useful:
· Constant Contact ($)
· SendinBlue ($)
Advertising is a terrific way to boost your organic efforts. We've seen publishers really be able to drive increased sales and grow the audience for their books with strategic advertising.
They don’t necessarily have large budgets, but the capabilities to run many small campaigns and understand how each of those can then be used to optimize the next campaign.
How to know if Advertising is a Strength
Consider investing more dollars or resources to reach untapped sales potential among broader audiences.
Larger affinity groups who are interested in other forms of related media—movies, television, music, games, news outlets, podcasts—are highly attractive if they're a good fit.
They tend to be much larger than typical book and author audiences and capturing just a small percentage of that larger group can mean very meaningful sales for a book.
Target fans of similarly themed media (e.g., TV, movies, music, or magazines) or other large brands with a high degree of affinity with your audience (e.g., a popular health brand for a diet book).
Target fans and followers of well-known media and influencers who have reviewed or endorsed the book. (Creative should include a quote.)
You may want to narrow your targeting to improve conversion by layering in other "book" affinities, for instance you might target fans of Stranger Things who also buy on Nook.
Be sure to use compelling creative (quotes from known influencers, eye-catching visuals) and a strong call to action (e.g., discounted price for a limited time).
The overall question here is can you, your authors, or your network influence consumer behavior? And to what extent?
If you or one of your authors can sell books just by sending your followers to a retail page, then authority and influence are a strength of yours.
You can play to this strength through multiple efforts.
This is all about having relationships with retailers. We’re talking relationships with retailers who will help amplify your titles online. Retail promotion is a strength when retailers want to promote your titles and you know your threshold for discount and understand profitability of running a promotion.
You can use retail promotions as a strength through the following ways:
We just covered a lot of ways you can play to your strengths across operations, marketing, and retail. But this isn’t one size fits all. You've got your unique strengths that we haven't mentioned. We're certain of that.
We're often the worst at seeing our strengths and weaknesses, whether it's at an individual level, a department level, or an organizational level.
So, we've made a short self-assessment for you.
These are the areas you excel and where you want to focus your resources and capabilities. Lean into core strengths.
This is where you have the capabilities but lack the resources. Identify tools to help stretch limited resources.
Need Training or Support
Here you have the resources but not the capabilities. Consider tools, training, or freelancers to shore up gaps in skills and abilities.
Having gaps in your resources and capabilities can be a difficult predicament. At this stage it’s best to understand your gaps and decide where to invest next.
It’s time to assess where you are on a scale of 0-10 and compare that with where you want to be. 0 is total weakness and 10 represents a complete and utter strength.
The goal is to be 100% transparent with yourself and understand where you are now and where you want to be. Visually seeing where you want to be will help you focus on improving that area in the future.
Once you finish your self-assessment and determine your organizational strengths and weaknesses, go back through the earlier stages of this blog, download the PDFs and read further about how to assess your strengths, understand your gaps, and magnify your strengths.