Marketing Roundtable Provides New Ideas for Customer Engagement

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Booksellers who participated in the February 22 session online marketing roundtable hosted by ABA’s IndieCommerce team learned some creative new forms of customer engagement, including periodic text messaging.

IndieCommerce logoThese biweekly online video conferences, held on Zoom.us and led by IndieCommerce Director Phil Davies, feature a visual format similar to the opening credits of The Brady Bunch: all participants are visible via their webcam feed in small windows at the top of the screen, while the main screen switches whenever another person begins to talk.

At this most recent session, led by Davies with the help of IndieCommerce Specialist Ryan Quinn, booksellers discussed the possibility of using SMS or text messaging to communicate with customers who opt in to the program. Before the session, booksellers who had signed up for the roundtable were sent an article from AdExchanger titled “What’s Old Is New Again as Online Sellers Rediscover SMS Text,” meant to serve as a jumping-off point for the conversation. SMS (Short Messaging Service) is a text messaging service component of most telephone, World Wide Web, and mobile device systems.

“There is usually a double opt-in. Customers who sign up to receive text messages also have to opt in a second time, so these lists are pretty well-vetted,” Davies told booksellers. “No one is on the list who doesn’t want to be on it, so it’s a good way to reach your core customers.”

Booksellers at the roundtable learned that they could send information to customers about sales or events via exclusive text messages, letting those customers get that information before anyone else does. According to the AdExchanger article, online wholesaler Boxed found 100 percent open rates and 20 percent click-through rates for texts, with eventual conversion rates measuring two to three times higher than e-mail messages.

“It seems to be very effective, depending on that first offer you grab them with,” said Davies. “There is so much e-mail being sent out by stores now that customers just seem to be getting numb to the quantities that are coming in. If used sparingly, SMS is a great way to cut through the clutter that is being generated.”

Another idea mentioned during the roundtable came from Jamie Winter, marketing manager at Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, Montana. Winter said the store is currently preparing to launch a new reading challenge on Thursday, March 1, which store owner Ariana Paliobagis first read about in Books and Whatnot, a marketing newsletter for booksellers.

“We’re going to have a list of 24 challenges, like a book that you’ve owned forever but haven’t read or a book written by a Montana author,” said Winter. “If you’re able to complete 12 of the challenges by the end of the year, you get a prize; if you complete all 24 by the end of the year, you get to enter a raffle for a bigger prize.”

Those who read 12 books out of 24 categories can choose from a selection of children’s, young adult, and adult prizes, including ARCs, publisher swag, and other freebies. Those who read 24 books will be entered into a raffle for a $24 gift certificate. Winter said her marketing efforts for the contest will include mentions in the store newsletter, social media posts, and in-store communication with customers.

One participant at Thursday’s roundtable, Carol Price, owner of BookPeople of Moscow in Moscow, Idaho, told Bookselling This Week that she’d be interested in trying out Winter’s 24-book challenge at her own store. Price said she’s gotten many new marketing ideas since she started the IndieCommerce marketing roundtables, which launched last year.

“Even though I’m not super-great at marketing, I joined because doing the roundtable helps me do the things that I want to do. It’s a good motivator. And it’s kind of like a little miniature version of the charge that you get out of Winter Institute, where you’re getting to talk to people and getting new ideas,” she said. “It’s like getting a tiny piece of that every couple of weeks.”

“I also feel like I’m getting to know the other booksellers that are on the roundtable regularly and it’s getting to be more fun,” added Price. “It’s not about impressing everybody: it’s about trying to learn and running ideas past each other, maybe getting a little bit of encouragement. It’s been really helpful for me in that way.”

ABA hosts these 30-minute marketing videoconferences at 11:00 a.m. EST on two Thursdays a month; the next roundtable is on March 8. Stores do not need to be part of the IndieCommerce program to participate — all ABA members are invited to join in. Booksellers who would like to participate can send an invite request to Phil@bookweb.org