What Is Human-Centered Marketing?

I asked on Twitter earlier this week: “Do you find writing or sharing your writing to be more challenging?” Nearly every reply said that sharing was the greater challenge.

If you have read my work for awhile, you may know that I focus on the idea of human-centered marketing to help writers connect with readers. A writer recently asked me what that is, half-joking if there was an alternative: non-human-centered marketing.

I replied back to her via Twitter (hence the brevity):

“That’s a great question. I’ve seen a lot of marketing strategy that treats people as cogs in a machine. As if they are an inanimate object within a larger marketing funnel. So human-centered, to me, is about seeing people holistically, including within marketing.”

So today I simply want to explain the concept of human-centered marketing. Not just what it means in theory, but how it becomes a practical way for you to consider how to reach more people, and truly have an impact with your writing.

The first way to consider this is to view other people — readers — holistically. They are each a complex and unique person. If you are a thriller writer, your readers are not just “thriller book buyers” — a special kind of zombie that walks around all day seeking out thriller books and nothing else.

To find and engage them with your writing, you need to seem them as more than just a buyer of your book. Because as a writer, we ask so much more of them. Not just to buy the book, but ideally they read the book. Which, let’s not forget, takes maybe 5 or 8 or 10 hours of their time amidst their otherwise busy lives. That isn’t all in one day either, it is often spread out over weeks or months.

We also hope they are moved by the book, perhaps even changed by it. That their affection for it leads them to post a review for it online, and to recommend it to others. That is a key aspect of word of mouth marketing, when readers and book advocates talk about books.

Too many writers only focus on the sale of the book. And this is what they get wrong about the concept of the marketing funnel. If you are unfamiliar, this is a concept of an inverted pyramid, where a wide range of potential readers may learn about your writing at the top of the funnel, and then as they go down it, there is a process to identify readers who will love your writing, and then take meaningful actions to engage with it.

Too many writers assume that the goal of the marketing funnel — the very bottom of it — is the point of sale; someone forking over $15 to buy the book.

But that is actually in the middle of the funnel. Buying a book is a wonderfully important milestone to find success as a writer, but isn’t the goal. The goal is that they read it. That this person then goes on to become a loyal advocate of your work. Someone who supports and recommends your work. The ultimate goal is a deep connection, not a brief moment where a few dollars changes hands and shows up in your royalty check as pennies.
To think of your readers in a human-centered manner, you are considering them in the context of their actual lives: busy, distracted, perhaps filled with worry about all they are responsible for. Why see them this way? Because it allows you to reframe how you share your work with them, and how you develop your author platform and the strategy for your book marketing.

Seeing readers as busy and complex individuals reminds you to consider how they will even hear about your book. Where does that person show up online and off? What themes and messages resonate with them? What else are they reading?

The answers to these questions helps you reconsider whether you should indeed have an email newsletter, or join a certain community, or become more active on social media.

It can also have you reframe what “success” looks like on those platforms because it allows you to take into account their experience. That if you send an email newsletter, a subscriber is seeing it amidst dozens of others they are scrolling through. Emails from colleagues, friends, family, other newsletters, promotions, and spam.

This begs the question: how can you truly engage this person in a manner that feels meaningful to them in this moment? That gets them to stop scrolling, to pause, to read. Perhaps even to engage with you and your work.

This connection is an incredible opportunity for you to learn. Why? Because the basis of human-centered marketing is empathy. It helps you understand readers, where to find them and what engages them. And the more you do this, the more you understand the marketplace that your writing will be trying to succeed within.

These interactions give you more opportunities to discuss the themes of your writing, without it sounding promotional. Why? Because why you write and why they read share something in common: an appreciation and love for certain types of stories.

You can also look at human-centered marketing from the perspective of psychology. What are the triggers that get people to notice things and to take action? You know, like becoming aware of and buying your book. Or posting a review for it online. Or telling a friend about it. As you learn more about what motivates readers to take action, you can infuse them in your strategies for a book launch or platform building.

If all of this sounds like work, that’s because it is. I talk to writers all the time who say that they are finally done with waiting for their book to somehow magically land in the hands of readers. They are ready to do the work to understand who their readers may be, where to find them, and take steps to reach them.

They are ready to engage.

This doesn’t have to mean that they are putting on their “self promotion hat.” Instead, it can mean that they are engaging with like-minded people around a shared love of stories and themes and books.

If you want readers to actively engage with you, then that may just require you to take the first step. As I said earlier, this doesn’t begin with you promoting to them, but with empathy. With you caring to consider who these people are as individual human beings, and what is their drive to read stories like those you write.

My days are spent talking to writers, where we discuss the many ways that this happens in real life. This is why I have my weekly podcast, because I find that the example of how others navigate this helps me to understand it in context of our otherwise busy lives.

Kalynn BayronIn my podcast this week, I interviewed author Kalynn Bayron. One thing we discussed was the role of collaborators and a support system in her career. When she was young, her parents supported her pursuit of music, dance, and opera. But when she worked with others, she found some people were not so supportive. They gave her bad advice that limited her potential in each field.

Years later, when she decided to query agents with her first novel, she received some similar feedback. People telling her that her book didn’t have a place in the market. That only a very limited group of people would ever want to read her book.

But then, after more than 70 queries, she met her agent who said to her: “This story has to be out there. People need to read this.”

It made Kalynn feel that someone else shared her vision. This is how she described feeling in that moment: “This story can be told. People will want to read this. There are people out there waiting for this. That was like somebody flipped a switch. That’s how I feel, now somebody else feels that way, now we are on a team, let’s go!”

Finding momentum in her writing career is about connecting with people who are like-minded, who share her enthusiasm and worldview. It is about actively engaging with them, not just waiting for vague likes on social media.

This requires risk, because it is inherently about outreach, putting yourself out there. When I asked Kalynn about her 70 queries, and 70 people passing, she noted that this was a low number compared to many writers she speaks with.

Think about that. When you are reaching out to the 70th agent pitching your book, that means that you are far beyond your initial A-list of agents. It means that you are in a process of discovering that there are many other agents you never knew about. And that you must constantly research to not only find them, but to try to establish a connection to them.

The way Kalynn described her collaboration with her agent and editor is inspiring. These people didn’t just magically appear at the slightest effort. Kalynn had to put herself out there again and again and again (repeat this 70 more times…) before she found her agent who became such an important part of her writing life.

Then it took months and months longer, and many submissions, before they found her editor and publisher.

This is why I focus so much on the human-centered aspects of sharing and marketing. Because it is about that magical moment when you and your work connects with another human being.

It is looking beyond the idea people as cogs in a machine.

The magic of writing and art is not just in its creation, but in that moment when it connects to another person. When the intention of the creator mixes with the life experience of the reader or viewer. In that moment, something new is created. Something magical.

That is not just a key part of the creative process, but the marketing process as well.
That is why I resonate so much with the phrase human-centered marketing.

What are the most challenging aspects of marketing for you?