Audiences Vary and So Should Marketing: A Case Against the Global Marketing Approach

Last week, Evan Schnittman wrote a blog post for Digital Book World called “Enabling a Global Marketing Strategy” in which he argues that we should go back to selling world English rights to one publisher. In his opinion, global publishing plans serve the author and the book better. His claim is that: “In a global marketplace where customers can order books online in Australia from the US or UK and pay no freight, it is incredibly important to market a title coherently and wisely with a single brand and publish everywhere at the same time (or as close to it as is reasonable or possible given the differences in language).”

I take issue with this approach. I don’t necessarily mind the idea of one company with offices in each territory buying world English rights, but I do think one is making some dubious assumptions when relying on one marketing and branding strategy for an author across several borders. Publishers have proven over and over again that a book’s audience is varied, that different formats, looks, titles, pitches work for different people—sometimes different people in the same country. Although we are increasingly connected to each other digitally, is it right to assume that the culture and tastes of people around the world have homogenized? Are book buyers in the US and Australia the same? I think not.

That said, our increasing interconnectedness does warrant some collaboration or uniformity across certain borders. For example, it is simply bad business for a Canadian publisher to ignore American branding because of the huge amount of media crossover. We all know that the harder we make it for a customer to get to the buy button, the less likely a sale is. So if a book is seen on an American show and the Canadian edition does not have the same look or title (i.e., it’s American branding is not immediately identifiable in the Canadian branding), it becomes more difficult to get the Canadian viewer to purchase the book. When the potential Canadian reader tries to look up the title the next day with a fuzzy memory of the book, they will give it a go but give up when the results seem unfamiliar. True, there are some impassioned fans that will search high and low, but they are less common than those readers with a passing interest. And this isn’t limited to googling the title. Recognizing a cover in a banner ad or review or even a poster reinforces an impulse to buy if it can be remembered as the same book previously seen on the US television show.

But Canada and the US are in close proximity. It is harder to see the need for an Australian edition to be the same as the American. The two countries have yet to influence each other with the same intensity as Americans and Canadians do. In fact, the way we use English can also vary from one country to the next. While we may read a British book and adjust to its turns of phrase and cultural signifiers, it does make sense to change the lingo or the story angle in the book’s promotional campaign to reflect the culture of the audience in that country.

Schnittman says “The semiotics of a single cover design uncovers an imprinting effect that carries over from market to market.” Ideally, yes. But this only holds when the cover and brand resonate with each country’s audience. Most publishers in Canada will tell you that if they don’t go with a cover from a foreign territory, it is not just to put their own stamp on it, but rather because a Canadian redesign will resonate more with Canadians. Publishers must carefully consider whether to stick with or diverge from another country’s approach. It is one thing to use the same title, but a whole other thing to use the same cover and the same marketing campaign.

Despite the impact of the digital age on all of us, audiences are still far from uniform and have many different influences. Whether one company uses its foreign offices to make targeted campaigns, or whether a book has separate publishers in each territory, your book’s marketing approach must speak to your specific audience, not force that audience to know your brand.

Do you agree? Let us know, leave a comment.

Read Evan Schnittman’s Enabling a Global Marketing Strategy at