Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Creating Value For Your Comic Book (or Fiction Books in General)

In the previous blog post, we talked about the one principle that drives most, if not all, marketing efforts for a product. And that's making sure that the perceived value of a product trumps the perceived cost associated with it.

Value is relative. What's valuable to you may not be as valuable to your friend. That's why we call it perceived value. If you observe some of the recent shampoo ads shown on television, you'll note how marketers zero in on specific values to make their shampoos stand out: For instance,

1) In an ad for Pantene featuring KC Concepcion, the benefit that was emphasized was "you don't need a comb," aptly named, "The No-Comb Revolution." 
2) In an ad for Sunsilk featuring Sarah Geronimo, the benefit that was emphasized was "great hair for 25 hours," which they encapsulized in a "25-Hour Challenge."
3) Meanwhile, Tresemme ads stress the value of "salon quality hair." (This is reinforced by the brand's appearance in America's Next Top Model.)

One could say that there isn't much difference between these shampoos' formulations, apart perhaps in their scents, consistency, proportions of ingredients, packaging. A shampoo is a shampoo--as long as it cleans hair, doesn't irritate the scalp, and doesn't leave gunky residue, it's good enough. But marketers need to sell their products, so they try to differentiate their products over others, make them stand out, and ultimately appear valuable because they are solving specific concerns. 

For comics, and fiction in general, creating value is much more difficult because the value of fictional works is much more subjective. No one really knows what will sell at any given time. However, marketers have found some strategies to give fictional works a boost. Here are some of them:

1) The book becomes valuable because it's related to a season or occasion - Books are usually pushed during times when the season or occasion is related to the books' contents. John Grisham's Skipping Christmas was published in November 2001, and hit the bestsellers' list in December. 

2) The book becomes valuable because it's related to a trend or cause - There are books that coincide with trends. An example would be Chinggay Labrador's Popped (Summit Books), about a girl who immerses herself in the world of K-Pop. It was released in 2011, around the time when K-Pop was a huge thing in Philippine entertainment. Another example would be books riding on the success of other books, or books revolving around a major real-life event that made recent headlines.

4) The book becomes valuable because it talks about stuff of interest to a specific market - Books are usually pushed/promoted in venues frequented by the target market, because the content talks about something the market can relate to. A book about a hit-man running from the law won't find a review in Cosmopolitan magazine, but if that book was written by a famous fashionista, that book might get a feature in the same mag. 

5) The book becomes valuable because people can afford it - Books are usually pushed during those times when people have more money: paydays and year-end bonuses. 

6) The book becomes valuable because it's by a well-liked and capable author - If an author has a good-enough reputation, it's enough to sell a book. Which is why authors are encouraged to have an author platform.

7) The book becomes valuable because it looks great - I asked a number of people this question: "If there were two similarly-priced books in front of you and you could only buy one, what would you choose?" Most common answer: the book that had the more interesting cover and back-cover description. The issue of distribution is tied to this, because the cover needs to be seen to spark interest. However, online venues already allow us to spread the image of the book cover painlessly.

8) The book becomes valuable because other people seem to like it - By soliciting feedback from discriminating readers weeks before release, marketers can create initial buzz around the book. Post-release reviews are also monitored and compiled.

9) The book becomes valuable because a lot of people are talking/writing about it, or the author, sincerely - The idea of "buzz" rests on the thought that when people talk about something--whether it's a singer's wardrobe malfunction, or a comedian's quip about Nazis in an awards ceremony--it rises in the public's consciousness. We can't discount the benefits of word-of-mouth, but when word-of-mouth is hard to find, marketers turn toward engagement. Engagement is about finding ways to get people to talk about the book or the author in the sincerest possible way, whether in social media or in the real world.

Comics and other fictional works won't sell themselves unless the author is really, really popular, or at least has a captured market or reliable fanbase. So for new works from new authors, marketers not only have to find the values the work contains, but also find the proper ways to spread those values where they'll have the most impact, to get the information through to as many people in the target market as possible. 

Here's an example: After I conducted a comics workshop in a large corporation in The Fort, one of the twenty-something participants approached me and asked about local comics. I asked him, "Oh, have you read Trese?" Trese, of course, is the bestselling comics series by Budjette Tan and Ka-jo Baldisimo.

He said no.

I asked, "Have you heard of Trese?"

He said no.

And that may be a top reason why Philippine books don't get much attention. People really don't know about them. And here's where a well-planned and executed information campaign is needed, a series of activities that aims to communicate the values of your work, and reinforce those values to the point that they become knowledge in the minds of your target market. I'll try to put together a blog post about that next.

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