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Content Marketing Lessons From the Battle Between Amazon and Hachette

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Search for a Hachette book, and you'll most likely find what you're looking for at either Amazon or Goodreads, an Amazon-owned website that adds a social dimension to reading and book buying.

That is why the long-running battle with Amazon over e-book pricing is such a high-stakes battle for Hachette—and all publishers. Amazon owns the coveted first position for millions of books; but, more importantly, it owns the customer relationship.

To a large degree, Amazon has achieved its enviable position via content marketing. Which means that an online retailer has effectively beaten a content company at content marketing.

How did that happen? That's a question all marketers need to ask, especially if they want to know how to maximize their content marketing strategy.

Here's a look at some takeaways from the battle between Amazon and Hachette.


1. Educate first, sell second

Seeing Amazon as the biggest, baddest animal in the e-commerce jungle is easy. It has been called the Wal-Mart of the Web because the company is so intently focused on making sales—even at the expense of profit. But how does Amazon attract customers in the first place?

Price and order fulfillment play big roles, but in theory, anyone should be able to undercut and out-deliver Amazon (at least in a specific category in the short run). What keeps Amazon's customers loyal is great content. Providing customers with great content helps Amazon prove its worth as an educator first and seller second.

Consider the case of David Baldacci, a best-selling Hachette author who has written more than 20 novels, including Absolute Power, which was adapted into a movie by Clint Eastwood. Baldacci is big deal in the book world... but you wouldn't know that to look at his Hachette author page. Aside from a few links to Baldacci's social media profiles and his website, the page is a boring storefront. Click on a Baldacci book, and get a minimum amount of information—a quick synopsis, a few sentences about the author, and some quotes praising the work. That's a shockingly small amount of information from a company in the content business.

In contrast to the Hachette page, Baldacci's Amazon page has all the same content you find at Hachette, plus links to forums where fans discuss the author's work, links to similar authors and related books, and a prominent offer to email you whenever a new Baldacci book comes out. Click on one of those books, and you can even read a few sample chapters for free.

Both Amazon and Hachette want readers to buy a Baldacci book, but Amazon's real edge is that it uses content to educate the customer, which in turn gives Amazon ownership of the customer relationship, even if it doesn't result in a sale right away.

Content marketing takeaway: Customers don't want to be sold to; they want to be educated. By visiting your website, they've expressed an interest in learning, which is your opportunity to teach. A transactional approach may result in a sale, but an educational approach will foster a long-term relationship that causes customers to think of you as the only place they want to buy, when they're ready to buy.

2. Make useful, original content accessible

When you're in the market for a book, the one thing you really want to know before you buy is whether the book is any good. That's a subjective question, but here again the difference between Amazon and Hachette is striking.

Hachette's website may be a lot of things, but one thing it's not is a trusted source—because Hachette's website is stuck in an advertising mindset.

Instead of offering reviews, Hachette invites readers to click on a link labeled "praise." Not much suspense there, right? Hachette is effectively telling its customers, "The book is great because all Hachette books are great and you'll love every single one of them, especially this one. Buy it now!"

Amazon, by contrast, is an honest broker. It doesn't use outdated advertising tactics to sell books. Instead, Amazon markets them with content in the form of aggregated reviews from readers and professional critics.

Consider The Target, the latest thriller in Baldacci's Will Robie series. Hachette cherry-picks critical praise for the book, but Amazon aggregates all reviews, whether they're positive or negative. Amazon can afford to bring in good and bad reviews alike, but in a world where information is just a click away, Hachette no longer has the luxury of providing only positive information to customers.

Or put another way: Hachette needs to make original, useful content as accessible as possible because hiding the ball is no longer an option. Whether the book is bad (or more likely just not right for some readers), Hachette needs to be the one to tell the customer.

Content marketing takeaway: Advertising is over. Content marketing is a big part of what comes next, but for content marketing to work, marketers need to accept that they can no longer jam product down the customer's throat. Instead, marketers must put their energy into answering every question a customer may have and then making all those answers accessible.

3. Think like a (quality) publisher

Brands need to think like publishers. That's the conventional wisdom for content marketing, and it's right on the money. Which is why Hachette's fight with Amazon is so ironic.

Hachette is a publisher, but Amazon is the company thinking like a publisher. Amazon uses a blog to reach readers, posts author interviews, and offers a full editorial suite of content. Hachette could offer those things, albeit on a smaller scale. But it's not the size of the content offering that counts, it's the quality of the content. That's where Hachette is missing its biggest opportunity. Because, unlike Amazon, Hachette has its authors—a resource any content marketer would kill for.

Content marketing takeaway: Thinking like a publisher isn't a strategy, it's an imperative. Your strategy can't just be blog posts and social media... Your strategy needs to reflect a vision, one that harnesses the unique DNA of your brand. For Hachette, that's its authors.

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Whether you're marketing books, cars, or cloud-based data storage solutions, you need to be able to unlock your brand's capacity for producing quality content by tapping into something specific that differentiates you from your competitors.


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Seth Dotterer is vice-president of marketing for Conductor, a provider of Web presence management solutions.

LinkedIn: Seth Dotterer

Twitter: @Dotterer

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  • by Emily King Wed Oct 22, 2014 via web

    Some interesting takeaways from their current scuffle. I have to say that Hachette aren't the only publisher who's doing hardly anything when it comes to sorting out their websites to be more than just echo chambers for why their books are supposedly great.

    "... marketers need to accept that they can no longer jam product down the customer's throat." Fully agree with this, but I'm finding it really hard to convince people of it, despite the evidence that shows such tactics don't work.

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