Marketing Meetup Recap: How to Determine Your Marketing Budget

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On Thursday, November 6, the American Booksellers Association presented a Marketing Meetup that focused on how booksellers can determine their marketing budget. Guest speakers were Mark Kaufman of Paz & Associates; Alana Haley of Schuler Books, which has locations in Michigan; and Ari Gersen of Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine. Additional information was provided by P.K. Sindwani of Towne Book Center in Collegeville, Pennsylvania.

ABA meetups logoHere are some of Kaufman’s key points:

  • The most important part of creating a marketing budget is starting with a plan that estimates how much everything will cost.

    • Booksellers should put together a spreadsheet that details marketing strategies by different categories. For example, marketing efforts for existing customers, marketing to new customers, etc.
  • Booksellers can track ROI, depending on the nature of the marketing strategies being used, by collecting things such as coupons from customers to see what is bringing them into the store.

    • Then, booksellers should estimate the combined cost of these strategies.
  • Kaufman’s example of a marketing plan can be found on

    • The plan helps to easily break down a store’s full marketing budget through a variety of different categories and expenses, from newsletters and bag stuffers to web hosting. The example also organizes marketing expenses by new and existing customers.
  • According to ABA’s ABACUS survey, the most profitable bookstores only spend about one and a half percent of what they’re able to sell on marketing expenses. The total budget doesn’t amount to much unless booksellers are able to take advantage of the total amount of co-op funds available to them.
  • One tool that can be helpful for new booksellers is the U.S. postal service’s Every Door Direct Mail program, which shows the various carrier routes and demographic information around your store.

    • Booksellers can use this to find where there is likely to be a greater degree of disposable income, which can help them figure out where they should be marketing their store.
    • Kaufman used the service to invite potential customers within a five minute walk from his bookstore for a free cup of coffee and saw an 11 percent return.

Here are some of Gerson’s key points:

  • Gerson said he doesn’t look for a target number, but he also doesn’t underestimate the value of marketing. Longfellow has been around for 20 years and has a dedicated customer base, so they prioritize free marketing strategies over paid ones.
  • Gerson tackles his marketing budget in two ways. He tries to do an annual budget that is, for him, relatively conservative and has fixed costs and incremental costs. Then, using what’s leftover, he determines what the store should spend to be where it needs to be in the market.

    • The cost of the store’s website is not included in the marketing budget.
  • He’s recently been cutting the advertising budget year after year because Portland, Maine, is a seasonal location that relies on tourism, mostly in the summer.
  • The key for Longfellow Books is timing — when is the store doing its marketing and what is it saying?
  • Most of the store’s advertising is in print within a small group of publications. The most money spent is on ad space on free maps that are given out around Portland in the summer, which he finds more effective than being in a sea of other ads in a magazine.
  • Tracking ROI for offline advertising is difficult, but can be done by gauging what seems to be bringing customers in anecdotally. Booksellers can hit pause on a certain aspect of their marketing plan for one year and see if they find a drop in store traffic, or simply ask customers who are new to the store how they found out about it.
  • The store also has a loyalty program that provides a six percent return on every five items they buy, as well as a 25 percent birthday coupon, but it doesn’t necessarily include those costs in its marketing budget.
  • Longfellow doesn’t spend money on digital marketing because it caters to an older demographic. The store uses social media to reach a younger audience.

Here are some of Haley’s key points:

  • Schuler’s has three locations that are in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Lansing, Michigan, which are fairly large year round markets. Most of the stores’ time devoted to marketing is spent developing content, which is mostly free, and using local partnerships.
  • The budget is set by the stores’ co-op money. All of the advertising, marketing, and events expenses come out of this budget. A pool was put together for all three locations. Bookseller salaries are not included in this pool.

    • There is a team that includes a marketing coordinator, an event coordinator, an in-house graphic designer, and an offsite person who handles the stores’ websites and SEO.
  • To set the budget, booksellers should decide whether they want to grow or maintain. Haley said her stores are focused on maintaining their millennial business, which means their marketing and events are created with that demographic in mind.
  • Her stores spend anywhere from seven dollars to 50 dollars on social media marketing for events.
  • Before Haley started, the stores focused more of graphics, print, and radio, but now more work is put into the e-newsletter. The store also makes daily posts on Instagram and Facebook, and uses Twitter to interact with authors and publishers. Additionally, the stores send out a weekly e-mail. They also have a small print ad for author events in the local entertainment newspaper.
  • The stores focus on strategic partnerships to leverage their audience with its own.
  • They also focus on in-store marketing through graphics and posters created by the in-house graphic designer. Some of the best advertising, Haley said, is on the back of the stalls in the ladies room; customers often say that was the way they found out about something.
  • One bit of advice is to not leave any money on the table; take even the smallest amount of co-op money available to you.

Here are some of Sindwani’s key points:

  • Towne Book Center used three percent of its total sales as its marketing guideline. Sindwani created a marketing budget at the beginning of the year based on the previous year’s sales history.
  • Sindwani typically spent proportionally to sales, so more money was spent in the fourth quarter.
  • He targeted marketing so that 70 percent was used for existing customers, and the remaining 30 percent was used to bring in new customers.

    • To target existing customers, the store employs its e-mail newsletter and social media.
    • To target new customers, the store makes use of a money mailer or Valpak.
    • Additionally, the store sent out a press release for all author appearances and sponsored a local bestseller report in its town newspaper.
  • Overall, a catalog mailing with a coupon or a special postcard with 15 percent off sent to customers who spend the most money at the store worked well during the holiday season, likely because customers are more price-conscious during that time.
  • Sindwani also designated his store as a Toys for Tots location and advertised this on Valpak.

A recording of this Marketing Meetup and a sample marketing plan can be found on the American Booksellers Association’s Education Resources page. Booksellers must be logged in to to view the recording of the session.

The American Booksellers Association now offers two opportunities for live online education: a twice-monthly Marketing Meetup and a monthly Technology Meetup. All member booksellers are invited to participate in these online discussions; subscribe to the mailing list here to receive invitations for the Technology Meetups, Marketing Meetups, or both.