“It’s about the message and engagement, not the medium”

Credits: Sharjah Book Authority Instagram

During the ongoing Sharjah International Book Fair, Khoula Al Mujaini, Director, Events & Marketing – Sharjah Book Authority shares with Campaign Middle East how marketing a large fair for books works and how building experiences is the key factor.

The publishing industry by itself has moved a lot, moving from traditional marketing means to more digital ones. Has this affected how you market your event and how?

Our primary goal has always been audience satisfaction, which now requires a more pronounced digital approach to cater to their evolving needs.

It’s not so much a departure from ‘traditional’ marketing as it is an expansion into diverse mediums.

We’ve embraced digital iterations of conventional channels, blurring the lines between what was once deemed ‘traditional’ and ‘digital.’

For instance, a newspaper advertisement has found its contemporary counterpart in digital news platforms. Similarly, billboards have morphed into immersive 3D virtual displays.

It’s about the message and engagement, not the medium.

A pivotal element of our strategy is community building, particularly among book enthusiasts.

Collaborating with catalysts—individuals or entities influential within book-loving circles, such as academics, students, and researchers—enables us to forge meaningful connections and engage with our niche audience more effectively.

These collaborations are central to our marketing, ensuring we reach those who will benefit most from what the Sharjah International Book Fair has to offer.

What are the different segments of visitors attending the Sharjah Book Fair? And how are you targeting each segment?

The Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) is a melting pot of literary enthusiasts from all walks of life.

Our visitor segments range from the young budding readers, who come wide-eyed, ready to embark on a journey of imagination, to the seasoned academics and bibliophiles searching for rare manuscripts and scholarly texts.

For the younger audience, we have a kids zone where interactive storytelling sessions and workshops spark their love for reading early on. This is complemented by school outreach programs, ensuring we engage the youth across all emirates.

Then there are the tech-savvy young adults, for whom we’ve tailored digital-friendly content. Social media campaigns featuring popular influencers, interactive book reviews, and discussions on platforms like TikTok and Instagram are key here.

Professionals and business visitors are drawn by our industry-focused panels and networking opportunities that promise growth and learning, while the literary purists are regaled with sessions by acclaimed authors and poets.

Our efforts to target each segment are meticulous. We curate content and experiences that resonate with each group, leveraging data analytics and feedback to tailor our outreach.

Partnerships with educational institutions, literary clubs, and corporate entities also play a significant role in this targeted approach.

What marketing/advertising channels work the best for you, when it comes to bringing in the footfall?

Utilising insights from previous events, we’ve honed in on our audience’s evolving preferences.

Television and radio broadcasts have been repurposed as vibrant storytelling channels. They’re not just mediums but starting points for a narrative that continues across other touchpoints.

For example, interactive street installations bring our “We Speak Books” theme to life, engaging passersby and creating a seamless journey from auditory and visual exposure to physical interaction.

Whether through a heartwarming ad that speaks to a grandparent or a vibrant TikTok or Instagram trend enticing the youth, we ensure that every segment sees a reflection of themselves in our messaging.

At the core of it all is our extensive database, which allows us to attribute interactions and preferences, creating a feedback loop that continually refines our strategy.

What are some trends in the region you’ve seen change over the past few years when it comes to marketing books?

In the realm of book marketing, I’d say we’ve not just observed trends—we’ve been at the forefront of setting them.

Recall our campaign to dismantle the notion that books are solely for the erudite, which resonated across generations, winning the Dubai Lynx award in 2021/2022.

This initiative broke boundaries by asserting that there’s a book for everyone, regardless of their interests, which certainly includes Gen Z.

It was a message heard loud and clear, with over 52 million people engaged worldwide and a surge in book sales topping 300,000 via e-commerce platforms aligned with the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA).

We didn’t stop there. Our strategies are designed to empower authors and publishers to navigate the shifting landscapes of the digital age, leveraging online book launches, podcasts, and the wide reach of social media.

At SIBF, our eclectic mix of speakers—from literary giants to cultural icons like Zlatan Ibrahimović—draws diverse crowds.

Last year, witnessing throngs of young fans at a book fair, hanging on to every word of their football hero, was a cultural moment.

It illustrates our vision: to bridge worlds through books, to encourage a love for reading across all demographics.

That’s the pulse of our trend—creating experiences that leave an indelible mark on the community’s collective consciousness.