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Success is a Matter of Perception

Success is a Matter of Perception

By Brian Jud

A critical factor in an independent publisher's ability to thrive in the long run is the image it holds in the minds of its current and prospective customers. Unfortunately, many publishers do not attempt to create an identity for themselves, but try to achieve customer recognition by relying on the marketing ability of their authors. These firms introduce a title with great fanfare around the author, creating awareness of the title and loyalty to him or her. However, if the authors do not write other books, or if they change publishers, the publisher's image and awareness are lost.

You can prevent this from happening to your publishing firm by establishing brand identity for your business among your ultimate customers. This does not refer to the name of your company or your imprints, but of the unique promise of value you make to your customers. Then once the promise is made, you must fulfill it by selecting, packaging and marketing your titles prudently. A well defined and communicated promise will help attract and keep customers, improve relationships with your distribution channel partners, help you better focus your resources and contribute to your long-term growth.

Be careful not to confuse image with imprint. An imprint is a distinguishing name that identifies the books offered by one publisher. A brand image is a distinctive identity; the relevant, enduring and credible promise of value associated with an imprint. Just as an imprint must be seen and recognized by customers in order to perform its identification function, so too must your promise of value be manifested in your publishing firm's product line.

The foundation for your marketing activities should be creating and nurturing a promise of value to target customers and prospective readers. This promise - and delivery on that promise - is critical if you are going to differentiate your business from your authors and your competitors, and stake a solid claim in your intended markets.

One of the difficulties in maintaining a powerful brand in the publishing industry stems from the involvement of numerous participants in the production, promotion and distribution of your books. A book that is poorly packaged, an inaccurate news story or shoddy deliveries of your books all negatively impact your carefully crafted identity. Additionally, resellers are more likely to be interested in higher margins than in reinforcing a publisher's promise of value.

Therefore, your promise of value should be made to the end user. Convince people that your titles will give them more of what they are looking for, driving them into bookstores demanding books bearing your imprint. While it is inherently a pull marketing strategy, it is certainly wise to reinforce this identity with your channel partners as a push strategy.

Building a powerful promise

An enduring brand identity builds equity through a process illustrated in the image hierarchy. Each level in the hierarchy builds upon answers to the questions posed in the previous one.

Level One. The base of the hierarchy represents the core features of your business. What are the tangible, verifiable, objective and measurable characteristics of your publishing business and product line that differentiate you from competitors? What elements of service, location, breadth and depth of titles, pricing or distribution do you provide that make you unique among your rivals?

Level Two. What benefits do these features provide to people in your target markets? The purpose of this question is to shift your thinking from tangible characteristics to solutions for your customers' problems. Think about how your customers will gain something as a result of experiencing the features you listed in Level One.

Level Three. The first two levels still embody the elements of product competition, not those of image competition. Competitors can continually match and leapfrog over one another by offering better and more features, and by communicating the subsequent benefits to their customers. The third level of the hierarchy is where you can begin to significantly differentiate your publishing business by providing an emotional payoff to the readers of your books. Do they make readers feel confident? Innovative? Caring? Happy? Successful? Entertained? Effective image management enables customers to easily fill in the blank in the following sentence: "Oh, yes, (Imprint Name); those are the books that _________."

Level Four. The top two levels of the hierarchy illustrate the concept that powerful identities attract and hold customers with a particular promise of value. First you must ask what value means for the typical customer: What is it that makes people feel as they do in Level Three?

Level Five. At the top echelon of the hierarchy is the personality of your image. It is the answer to the question: What characteristics would your brand would have if it had human qualities? For example, is it friendly, warm, caring, confident or aggressive? Taken together, these last two levels define the relevant and differentiating character of your imprint.

Creating your brand plan.

Once you have completed analyzing your business according to the questions posed in the image hierarchy you must prepare a brand plan, which is similar to your business plan. Business-planning processes are the same in a promise-centric company as they are in a product-centric company. Here are the steps in that process.

Decide who your customers are. This step requires you to make two crucial decisions. First, describe how your potential markets are segmented, and then choose the niches you wish to serve.

Investigate your company's current promise of value in each segment. What do employees and customers think of your company and the titles you offer? Is this what you want them to think?

Determine what types of promises are feasible to offer. Becoming known as the company that provides same-day delivery may be desirable promise from the readers' perspective but it is probably not practical from yours. In addition, must you create a different promise for each segment or is there something germane to all? Will a promise to one segment dilute or contradict a promise to another?

Think about how you and your employees will deliver on the promise of value. If your promise of value boils down to superior service and customer support, then those capabilities must be fully developed, maintained and integrated into the ways in which your employees conduct everyday business.

Create your brand plan. Choose the way you will position your brand in the minds of your customers. Describe the attention-getting headlines you will use and the copy points that must be communicated to establish your new identity. How will your advertising, trade dress, publicity and selling efforts interact to consistently project this new image?

The benefits of image management

Strong image management provides many benefits. First of all, it helps breed loyal customers. Similarly, it can improve the relationships you have with your distribution-channel partners. And, you will be better able to evaluate and select partners based on their ability and willingness to support the promise. Finally, you will be better able to focus your resources to project and deliver upon an image that will build your stature and sales among your customers. Launching new titles may also be less costly for powerful brands because of your loyal customer base.

When buyers face a variety of alternatives, they want to deal with a brand they trust. Create and project an image to each of your target markets that you know what they need and have created a product line that will meet their needs.