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Advertising and Marketing

Successful Advertising Means Playing the Long Game

By: Ginger on November 24, 2023

Our Hidden Gems guest author for today.

By: Ginger on November 24, 2023


If you’ve ever felt like your book ads aren’t converting as quickly as they should, it could simply mean that you need to adjust your expectations rather than your images or taglines. Successful advertising is usually more about building familiarity and trust over time, rather than via instant gratification.

In today’s blog, Ginger discusses how advertising your book in the digital age requires patience, and why the customer journey often requires frequent exposure to your ads before any action is taken. That understanding, combined with some fine tuning and iteration, can lead you to long term success and a loyal fan base. 

Google ruined advertising.

In the late 1990s, during what’s now known as the “Dot-Com Bubble”, the world was introduced to ecommerce. Before then, selling and advertising was a very different racket.

Back before ecommerce, most businesses understood the importance of advertising, but often weren’t able to connect exactly which advertising resulted in sales. Running a billboard in Times Square, a newspaper ad in The Chronicle, and a jingle on the local radio station might lead to an uptick in sales – but if all three were running concurrently, which of these three advertising strategies actually produced the results?

It was nearly impossible to tell – leading to the common expression: “Half my advertising is effective. I just don’t know which half.”

But then Google introduced the concept of ecommerce and that changed the nature of advertising forever. By advertising online, an advertiser was able to track every step of the purchasing process for the first time ever – from the first click on an ad, to the moment a customer clicks “Buy Now” and completes their purchase.

This has led, however, to a very warped view of advertising – especially among people who aren’t familiar with the advertising industry (cough, cough, self-published authors.)

There’s now this idea that you should be able to track every penny you spend on advertising, and if you’re not seeing an immediate, profitable return on that investment, that means your advertising has failed.

However, that’s never been how advertising works! 

While people certainly do sometimes click on an ad the first time they see it, and do sometimes purchase whatever that click leads them to (a nice, impulse-purchase-friendly ebook, for example) that’s certainly not what happens in the majority of cases.

Potential customers often have to see an ad several times before they actually click on it – and sometimes even more times before they’ll actually make a purchase.

That’s not to say your advertising strategy doesn’t work, or it can’t be profitable. However, when it comes to successful advertising of your book on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, the key lies in understanding the power of patience.

Advertising is a long game, and only those with the courage to keep at it will end up successful.

The Instant Gratification Myth

In the realm of digital advertising, the myth of instant gratification is a seductive one. Self-published authors, eager to see immediate returns on their investment, often fall into the trap of expecting overnight success. Facebook and Instagram advertising, powerful as they are, require a different mindset—a mindset that embraces the long game.

The Rule of Seven

One of the golden rules in advertising is the “Rule of Seven.” Coined by marketing experts, this rule suggests that a potential customer needs to see your message at least seven times before they take any action – and not always in the same place. In the old days, a “message” could appear as a TV commercial, a billboard, a 30-second radio spot, or a direct mailer in your postbox. In the world of self-published books, it works the same way. Readers may need to encounter your ads multiple times in several different places before finally deciding to make a purchase.

Building Familiarity and Trust

The Rule of Seven works because advertising is not just about selling a product. It’s more about building a relationship with your audience. In the case of book promotion, this involves creating a sense of familiarity and trust. Readers are more likely to invest in a book when they feel a connection with the author and have seen the book featured multiple times in their social media feed.

Facebook and Instagram, with their vast user bases and sophisticated targeting options, provide the perfect platforms to implement the Rule of Seven. By strategically placing your book in front of potential readers through a variety of targeted ads, you can gradually build a sense of familiarity, trust, and a relationship with a reader (one of the four essential elements for selling books, as I discuss in this blog post.) However, it doesn’t happen overnight. 

Understanding the Customer Journey

To fully grasp the impact of the Rule of Seven, it’s essential to understand what advertisers call the Customer Journey. Readers often go through a series of stages before making a purchase, almost like a journey. First there’s Awareness, then Interest, next comes Consideration, Intent, and finally Purchase. If your advertising works right, and your books are good enough, that will lead to a final crucial state: Loyalty

However, guiding a reader through each stage of this journey requires a different approach, and the Rule of Seven plays a crucial role in this approach. Here’s a guide to how you can help nudge a reader from first glance to final purchase:

  • Awareness: Use eye-catching visuals and engaging ad copy to introduce your book to a broader audience. Experiment with different ad formats to discover what resonates best with your target audience.
  • Interest: Share snippets from your book, intriguing quotes, or behind-the-scenes content to capture readers’ interest. Encourage interaction by posing questions or conducting polls related to your book’s themes.
  • Consideration: Showcase positive reviews, endorsements, or awards to bolster the credibility of your book. Use carousel ads to highlight different aspects of your book, such as characters, settings, or plot twists.
  • Intent: Implement call-to-action buttons like “Learn More” or “Sign Up” to guide potential readers toward the next step. Utilize retargeting ads to remind users of your book after they’ve shown initial interest.
  • Purchase: Offer limited-time promotions or discounts to incentivize book purchases. Ensure a seamless transition from consideration to purchase with a clear and user-friendly buying process. Ideally, at this stage, get your new reader to join your subscriber list and officially become a fan.
  • Loyalty: Keep engaged readers informed about upcoming releases, events, or exclusive content. Encourage reader reviews and testimonials to create a community around your books.

The Art of Persistence

With the Rule of Seven to start with, and the six stages of the Customer Journey to follow, something should be becoming obvious: The success or failure of your advertising campaign can’t be accurately gauged in the short term. 

Persistence is key. It’s not uncommon for authors to feel discouraged when they don’t witness an immediate surge in book sales when they start advertising. However, the Rule of Seven reminds us that the impact of advertising is cumulative.

Each exposure to your book ads contributes to the overall awareness and perception of your work. Even if the initial results seem underwhelming, the impressions and interactions you’re buying with your advertising are laying the groundwork for future success. Trust the process and have the courage to continue your advertising efforts, even if the return on investment is not immediately apparent.

Fine-Tuning Your Strategy

While patience is crucial, it’s equally important to monitor and adapt your advertising strategy over time. Facebook and Instagram provide robust analytics tools that allow you to track the performance of your ads. Regularly review key metrics such as reach, engagement, and conversion rates to gain insights into what is working and what needs adjustment. A good place to get started can be found in this blog post – and here are some extra tips.

  • A/B Testing: If you’re committed to the long game of advertising, you can invest time and effort experimenting with different ad creatives, copy, and targeting options to identify the most effective combinations. This will really help you create successful advertising in the long term. Some good ways to do this include splitting your audience into segments to test variations to understand which elements resonate best.
  • Audience Insights: Patience and courage are important, but even when playing the long game, you need to know how effective your advertising actually is. Use the data provided by Facebook and Instagram to refine your target audience. Analyze demographic information, interests, and behaviors to tailor your ads to the preferences of potential readers. Leverage Attribution Tags to make sure you can track just how much money your advertising is earning for you.
  • Ad Scheduling: Consider the timing of your ads. Test different days of the week and times of the day to determine when your audience is most active. Use ad scheduling to optimize the delivery of your ads during peak engagement periods. While this kind of granularity isn’t a good strategy to focus on at the beginning of your advertising journey, it can definitely squeeze out better campaign performance in the long run.
  • Budget Allocation: Finally, allocate your advertising budget based on the performance of different ads and target audiences. Focus on scaling successful campaigns and reallocating resources away from underperforming ones. One good rule of advertising is to simply spend money on what sells!

Realizing Long-Term Success

I can’t pretend I came up with the concept of digital advertising as a “long game” all by myself. I learned about it the hard way – by spending years and thousands of dollars on advertising I thought was failing, without realizing that the payoff happens further down the line.

For example, when I originally launched a Facebook and Instagram advertising campaign for the first book in my MC Romance series, sales were initially modest, and I tracked that I was actually losing money on my ads. However, I continued the campaign, tweaking a few details but maintaining a consistent presence in the feeds of potential readers. By the third month, the cumulative effect of these weeks of advertising started to be seen by a noticeable uptick in sales. Over the following months, those sales gained momentum, accumulating not just book sales and KU page reads, but also positive reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations. My initial patience and persistence finally paid off when the first book in my series finally became a steady, profitable seller.

Iterative Optimization

The other reason playing the long game worked in my favor was that I could use the freedom of not expecting an immediate return on investment in order to experiment. 

I launched a campaign for one of my other books, but my initial ads generated only moderate interest, and the conversion rate was lower than expected. That’s when I experimented with some A/B testing to identify the most effective ad creatives and targeting parameters to see if I could then use those in the future. Armed with the insights from Facebook analytics, I was able to refine my campaign, reallocate my budget to higher-performing ads and audiences, and saw a significant increase in book sales as a result.

Conclusion: Trust the Journey

Even in the dynamic landscape of digital marketing, success rarely happens overnight. For self-published authors navigating the realms of Facebook and Instagram advertising, embracing the Rule of Seven and understanding the long-term nature of the game might be the only thing that leads to eventual success.
When it comes to book sales, patience, persistence, and a willingness to adapt are the cornerstones of successful advertising. Trust the journey, celebrate small victories, and remember that the true impact of your efforts may take time to fully materialize. Just know one thing: By playing the long game with courage and dedication, self-published authors can transform their advertising endeavors into a powerful engine that drives sustained, long-term success.

And also remember that you don’t need to figure all of this out yourself. I regularly work with authors on their advertising strategies, or simply help guide them through initial setup and how it all works. You can book a consult call with me whenever you need some help!

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About the Author

Our Hidden Gems guest author for today.

Ginger is also known as Roland Hulme - a digital Don Draper with a Hemingway complex. Under a penname, he's sold 65,000+ copies of his romance novels, and reached more than 320,000 readers through Kindle Unlimited - using his background in marketing, advertising, and social media to reach an ever-expanding audience. 

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  • Pingback: How to Revamp your Publishing Empire in 2024 - Hidden Gems Book Blog
  • Hi Ginger,

    What a thoughtful, encouraging post on ads! Thank you!

    Of course, mastering readthrough percentages is crucial. An author friend contacted me the other day, saying he’d listened to my old interview with you on Hidden Gems, where I’d said my readthrough from Book 1 to 2 of my first series was 22%. ‘That’s terrible,’ he said. I was able to put him right. 22% of readers DIDN’T read on to Book 2. Note to everyone: if you’re not confident with maths, don’t guess or misremember numbers doing live interviews!