First, a one-paragraph overview of what marketing research is. Marketing research is accomplished in five steps, step three being what I workshop below for three pieces of the author platform:
Step 1: identify the marketing problem What should my author website look like?
Step 2: analyze the situation How do I figure out what my author website should look like? How do I plan for step three?
Step 3: gather data, both secondary (gathered and published by someone else) and primary (gathered by you) Data just basically means any information that will help you make decisions about the problem.
Step 4: interpret data in conjunction with what your gut is telling you to do.
Step 5: make conclusions That’s it. Now you’re ready to design/redesign your author website.
MARKETING PROBLEM 1: What should my author website look like?
Here’s how I would gather data for step three.
Secondary Data: I would make a judgment call that the easiest way to find ample information about designing an author website is online. If you want to buy/borrow books on the subject, go for it, but I would just start plugging in keyword searches, narrowly and then broader if I’m not finding what I want (e.g. “mystery author website design” “author website design” “website design”.) I would read some of the most popular articles as decided by the search engine’s ranking, but then I would also adjust to search for information published in the past year, because not only do I want to get an idea of the best practices, but I also want to see if those best practices are trending toward change. Does this method seem too simplistic to be produce good results? Here’s a thought: When [insert your fave famous author here]’s assistant needs to figure out how to go about redesigning their employer’s website, they start with some initial research using the same Google algorithm you do.
Primary Data: After getting grounded in the available secondary data/information, I would invest time in finding primary data that, together with my instincts, will either reinforce or discount the secondary data, and will help me come to well-balanced decisions regarding my website’s design. I would search for author websites that I admire and start tracking links in a spreadsheet. My goal would be to narrow to 5-10 that I really like, but I know going into this search that I’m probably going to have to spend a few hours to get to that number, that I’m probably going to have to look at 50-100 websites at least. I would use keyword searches for authors (in and out of my genre), but because I realize that Google tends to show me websites that have been around for a long time, I know I need a better way to find newly designed sites that fit my budget. I might try a genre-specific author’s organization like RWA, which has a member listing of romance authors with links to their websites. Or I might try searching for authors using the #amwritingfantasy hashtag on Twitter, because authors with websites tend to link to it in their profile bio. Even though I want to look closely at the top 5-10 (for elements like design, placement of menus, how the navigation works, content, etc.), I would keep track of all the links, because I would have thought ahead and realized it would save me time on another marketing problem (more on that below.) Once I have my top 5-10, I would move on to step four and interpret (analyze, compare) all my secondary and primary data, and then I would make marketing decisions based on that interpretation.
MARKETING PROBLEM 2: With my limited time, which social media platforms should I have a presence on?
Secondary data: Same plan as above except with different keyword searches.
Primary data: Remember those 50+ websites I looked at earlier? Time to open each link again, especially from the genre matches, to locate each author’s social media links. Any good website will have a cluster of them on the main page, but sometimes, I’ll have to navigate to either the About Me page or the Contact page to find them, skipping the sites that don’t have any social media links. I’m looking, among the authors I’m a genre or near genre match with, for which social media sites appear most often. If I write travel memoirs, I might try to figure out which sites backpackers are more prevalent on, and I would probably determine that they like sites that specialize in visual media. To complement this observational data, in the case of social media, I would incorporate an element of questioning data, which means I need a way to ask either other authors or potential readers (or both) which social media sites I should be on. Questioning data methods include focus groups and surveys, but for a time and cash-strapped author like myself, I would just identify some people and ask. If I were a YA author, I would either ask teens I know, or if I don’t have teens in my family or circle of friends, I might ask a teacher to ask their class for me. Or maybe I would mine my online acquaintances, on Facebook for instance. “Hey, I’m trying to figure out, as a YA author, which social media sites young adults are on. Do your kids have any recommendations for me?” I might also do a quick search to determine where teen celebrities are hanging out online.
MARKETING PROBLEM 3: How do I create an e-newsletter?
Secondary data: Because e-campaign service providers don’t tend to specialize by profession, I would keep my keyword searches broad. I would start by reading comparison articles, and then I would narrow to the providers I’m most interested in and spend time creeping around their sites, watching how-to-videos, reading how-to articles.
Primary data: I would go back to those 5-10 websites I like, because if they’re doing websites well, maybe they’re doing e-newsletters well, too. Not only would I sign up for their e-newsletters, but I would sign of for a bunch more as well. I can always unsubscribe after I finish my research. And I would mix it up: a few really famous authors, whether they’re in my genre or not, a few authors who I admire for their marketing efforts, etc. It’s not enough to see examples of their newsletters from their archive, I need first-hand experience of receiving e-newsletters. (What time of day does their newsletter hit my inbox? How often? Do they land in my junk mail? If they do, their service provider might not be a good option. What does the newsletter’s design look like? How many features does the newsletter have and what are they? How do they do promotions and contests? What is their ratio of promotional to value-added content? What annoys me about what they do? What do I like about what they do?)
My hope is, that by studying the three examples above, authors will be able to approach any marketing problem with an idea of how to do the research. Have you ever done primary marketing research? Do the strategies above sound feasible to you? Talk to me in the comments.
This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.