How to use consumer insight to improve book sales [INTERVIEW]

consumer insight book sales

This is a guest post from Louise Vinter. Louise  is Head of Consumer Insight at Penguin Random House UK, having previously held the role at Random House. She leads a team of consumer insight specialists in delivering research and insight to support all parts of the business. Louise started her career as a political opinion pollster at MORI and worked in audience research at the BBC before moving to publishing in 2011.

1. What exactly is Consumer Insight and how does it fit into the rest of the publishing model?

At Penguin Random House UK our publishing strategies are shaped by a happy marriage of publisher instinct, insight and the conversations we have every day with readers, and underpinned by a wealth of data, analytics, and the collective expertise of our analysts, digital and marketing teams.

Consumer Insight means understanding the characteristics, behaviours and motivations of your consumers, in our case, people who buy books. If we understand who’s buying which type of book where and why, we can better shape our products and communications to reach the right readers in the right places.

We use a range of techniques to help find out about our audiences. Each week our dedicated Consumer Insight team runs surveys and focus groups with readers and speaks to a diverse panel of over 3,500 readers, Bookmarks, to ask their opinions on a range of topics. We also work alongside a team of insight analysts and data experts, and our marketing teams use web analytics and social media listening to understand what’s happening online.

Consumer Insight is relevant at every stage of the publishing model, from informing acquisitions to evaluating campaign performance. We work most closely with the Marketing teams as there is a natural fit between understanding consumers and shaping the messages and marketing channels that we use to communicate with them.

Whichever part of the business we’re working with, it’s important to emphasise that Consumer Insight is complementary to and doesn’t replace intuition and expertise. It’s an additional tool on top of the informed decision making that publishers have always been used to. However, in the changing digital and media landscape I’d argue that it is more important than ever before to understand where people are and what gets them excited about a book, so we can connect our authors with the widest possible audience.

2. What effect has the Consumer Insight team had so far in terms of results?

Consumer Insight has informed decisions throughout the publishing process including the copy we use, cover design, formats we publish, and even editorial content in some cases. As we move to creating more digital and interactive experiences beyond physical books, Consumer Insight is also important in understanding how audiences want to interact with our authors and content. For example, we ran research with cookery fans to inform the development of The Happy Foodie website and brand.

Some of our most visible impacts have been in terms of cover design. For example, we helped shape the James Patterson Middle School series to appeal to UK children based on feedback from young readers themselves. We’ve also worked really closely with publishing teams on some of our biggest authors to make sure we’re continuing to reach new readers. We ran some research on the Lee Child / Jack Reacher brand which informed the packaging, marketing and publicity for the latest Jack Reacher novel, Personal, and we’ve been pleased to see Lee Child’s sales go from strength to strength.

In each case we share insights across the business to make sure every campaign or community is improved by our collective experience.

3. How do you segment your consumer groups at a publisher as large as Penguin Random House, where you publish such a range of titles? Do you categorise by regions or demographics?

We do segment consumer groups at Penguin Random House UK and we find this a useful way to think about different types of book buyer. We use a combination of behavioural and attitudinal factors to help us go beyond thinking about age and gender or genre as the key differentiator.

We publish a wide range of titles but we also find that people have wide ranging tastes! So the person who’s buying H is for Hawk in Waterstones may also be interested in hearing about the newly relaunched Puffin Classics for their children, and the person reading The Girl on the Train on their commute might use the Jamie Oliver app to cook their evening meal. By considering attitudes, motivations and behaviours in our audience segmentation this helps us to make connections between the different genres and formats that might be relevant to any individual consumer.

4. What has surprised you most about book customers?

One thing which constantly amazes me is how quickly consumer behaviour changes and adapts to changing technology, and that is true of readers too. In particular, over the past few years we’ve seen ereaders become eclipsed by tablets as the device of choice within households. The pace of change makes it difficult to predict what will happen in the future and means it’s really important that we’re keeping a close eye on consumer and digital trends.

5. How can smaller publishers access consumer data and act on it to improve book sales too?

There are a lot of tools you can access with relatively little cost, for example survey tools and free search insights. The main advice I would give to smaller publishers is to start with a specific question in mind and then find the most appropriate way to answer that question. I’m a big believer in qualitative research done well, and big insights can come from relatively small scale research as much as from big data.

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