Chopsticks make great wands and 17 (more useful) things we learned at the Brands Masterclass

November 2017 saw our final Breakfast Masterclass of the year with James Spackman. It was another stimulating session with four fascinating talks examining brand authors across the spectrum, including two bold re-positioning campaigns. Thank you to all the presenting marketers for their sharing.

These are James’ top takeaways from the class — featuring absent authors, lapsed readers and, chopsticks.

Bunting Fatigue is a thing. But that didn’t stop Niamh Murray’s Alan Bennett bunting being well-used in bookshops (and it’s still there …)

Take branding benchmarks from wherever you can find them. The Pan Macmillan team’s pitch to Joanna Trollope used The White Company as its key reference, for a newly city-focused proposition (for City of Friends)

It takes courage to change direction with a brand author. Joanna Trollope bought in to Pan Mac’s repositioning pitch, but, for Jodi Picoult’s new look with Small Great Things, Hodder had take the leap themselves

“No author” can be an opportunity. Ian Lamb and Grace Whooley from Bloomsbury told us that their plan to reactivate readers’ emotional connection with Harry Potter with the 20th anniversary campaign partly came about because the author wasn’t available. Full focus on the readers was the way to go.

Profile also made a virtue of their author’s (near) absence; they worked with Playhouse cinemas to promote a simulcast Alan Bennett interview, and put on “An Audience Without … Alan Bennett” in libraries, which – appropriately – involved a monologue drama for stand-in “Alans”

… and libraries were effective partners for these events, organised via The Reading Agency; partly because Profile provided the busy librarians with a self-contained, appealing, event format everyone could deploy

Marketing objectives come in all shapes and sizes. “Keep the average selling price high and maintain the value of the product” was the key for Profile’s campaign for Alan Bennett’s Keeping On Keeping On. If they held their nerve and supported bricks and mortar bookshops, they knew volume and profit would follow

Live events are “horrible” to organise but can achieve strategic results, said Emma Bravo from PanMac. Their objective was to drive through a repositioning of the Trollope brand with selected influencers (not maximising book sales)

Market research can confirm strengths and discount weaknesses; Hodder discovered that some Jodi Picoult fans had grown tired of “the formula” but that potential new readers weren’t put off a serious book by an American woman

The best partnerships are based on genuine reciprocity. In Pan Mac’s Trollope work with The Pool and Smartworks, each organisation was getting useful introductions to others

“Lapsed readers” of an established brand author are a vital target audience; find out what’s stopping them and you can get them back in droves

The selection of the right creative agency can unlock a whole campaign. Hodder listened to some extreme ideas before the agency 101 came up with the black/white unconscious bias text that conveyed the proposition for Picoult’s campaign immaculately

“Blind reads” are a key tool in book insight work. Both the Trollope and Jodi Picoult campaigns, in different ways, used anonymised proof copies. One to get unfiltered reactions from a new target market; the other to reset an audience’s perceptions of an author’s writing

The big social networks work very fast; perfecting the Facebook campaign for HP20 involved fast design and testing of Text Delight fireworks and video. Getting the most out of the partnership meant keeping up the tempo

Trust between stakeholders is key, with a complex, jointly owned brand. Bloomsbury’s closeness to Warner Brothers made adopting their Wizarding Wednesdays initiative straightforward.

Long time-frames help with almost everything (a theme common to all campaigns in both the brands and debuts masterclasses). Getting readers on board, testing creative, building trade momentum… And no book ever failed by “being talked about too much”

Mobile comes first. Bloomsbury created their HP 20 video in portrait, mobile friendly format, contributing to its huge (9 million+ views) impact on social

Chopsticks … make great wands.

We’ll be back in the new year with plenty of new Masterclasses, Member’s events and much more.

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