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Brand – it’s a vision thing

December 5, 2010
HMS Invincible and HMS Illustrious

Aircraft Carriers - will your company invest in vision or irrelevance? Image courtesy of

The recent diminution of naval and military power as a result of ten years of bloated and inefficient government has fundamentally changed the UK’s perception of itself in the world: apparently the country can no longer afford to be great. This momentous change, only now being recognised around the country as HMS Invincible was put up for sale on a website and the Ark Royal is decommissioned, is a metaphor for any company which believes that by cutting brand costs you can still stay relevant. Diminution of brand is a precursor to irrelevance and, therefore, commercial failure.

For publishing companies, where money is tight and (trade) customers tighter, cost cutting has become a way of life. But brand is about vision – what do you stand for? Why should I believe in you? What do you mean for my future? Yet as we have said before on A Brand Day Out, brand is not understood, valued or even practised by many publishers. But it is crucial to commercial success and longevity.

But what is a brand? Kotler famously described a brand as “a name, term, sign symbol or a combination of these, that identifies the maker or seller of the product“. I think  this definition is now old hat; increasingly, interpreters of brand identify experience linked to symbols ad defining a brand. To see a brand only as a logo or symbol is a failure of understanding when it comes to emotional perception – little wonder that publishers don’t see the importance of brand investment if all they see is a logo as the outcome.

The website Persuasive Brands ( I believe defines a brand much more accurately and relevantly for the modern brand strategist:

Any brand is a set of perceptions and images that represent a company, product or service. While many people refer to a brand as a logo, tag line or audio jingle, a brand is actually much larger. A brand is the essence or promise of what will be delivered or experienced.

Importantly, brands enable a buyer to easily identify the offerings of a particular company. Brands are generally developed over time through:

  • Advertisements containing consistent messaging
  • Recommendations from friends, family members or colleagues
  • Interactions with a company and its representatives
  • Real-life experiences using a product or service (generally considered the most important element of establishing a brand)

Once developed, brands provide an umbrella under which many different products can be offered–providing a company tremendous economic leverage and strategic advantage in generating awareness of their offerings in the marketplace.Any brand is a set of perceptions and images that represent a company, product or service.

Publishers may not believe in brands – perceiving them more as a legacy of historic application – but brand strategy will be crucial in the future. Not least when uber-brands such as Amazon’s Kindle are now vying for attention on mass-market pre-Christmas TV commercials. When everyone has a Kindle, or a Nook or some other product of dubious neologism, whither then the publisher?

So, publishers need to think long and hard about their brands and their battle for relevance. Brand experience can be provided by a single product but to leverage repeat purchase products need to engender an emotional warmth worthy of discussion with others.

When your products are discussed, it’s also important that readers know that the latest blockbuster comes not just from an author but from a publisher – your company. Otherwise, where else would readers go for more of the same?

And if your brand is enjoyed, shared, and discussed, how will your readers know to trust you? Yes, word of mouth is crucial but advertising is also key to ensure brand recall – off-the page, social media, online, ppc, SEO and more. Part of any brand strategy is to ensure recall so that products become more than simply the latest blockbuster they become a certain publisher’s latest blockbuster.

By keeping the publisher, as well as the product, in the public eye, the publisher itself becomes the perceived alternative to any other product on the market. That’s how Coca-Cola, the American cola maker, became successful: Coca-Cola is the perceived alternative to any other soft drink. It is the unspoken example against which all other offers are measured.

So a publisher brand strategy is not about the latest books and services. It’s about relevance, hooks and recall which support the latest launch. If your brand is recognised – through whatever touch points  – your commercial success will be greater.

So branding is not about logos (although the logo will ultimately come to symbolise brand delivery), it’s about vision. If your company has no vision (often because it may not know who it is serving) then it will, ultimately, fail. But if it acts today and begins to focus on how it wants to be relevant to customers of the future, then its own future will be assured.

Vision creates relevance. Lack of aspiration leads to irrelevance. Which path will you take? Will you scrap your aircraft carriers to save money or invest in relevance to preserve your future?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. indieanorak permalink
    December 7, 2010 8:22 pm

    I agree that many publishers do lack a clear brand strategy or vision. However, in a business as diverse as publishing, branding issues aren’t always clear cut. For some sectors of the industry it’s quite straightforward. If I’m flying to Paris and I’m in the airport bookshop deciding which travel guide to buy, then it’s a straight choice between brands – will it be a Rough Guide, Lonely Planet, or maybe Time Out or Thomas Cooke. I’ll go with the brand I trust, the one who has gained my loyalty over the years. However if I want a potboiler to read on the plane, then will it be the new Grisham or Patricia Cornwall? This is where publishing differs from selling beans. The author becomes the brand, rather than the publisher. As a punter I don’t care if the new Grisham is published by Transworld, or Headline or Little Brown – my brand loyalty lies with the author. I’ll buy his book whatever the name is on the spine. This is why publishers spend so much money on building authors rather than brand profiles.
    There are exceptions, Penguin being the obvious one. But even here branding is blurred by imprints. Book buyers may have a certain loyalty to the orange spine (and they do look nice on the shelf together!), but do they know that Allan Lane is a Penguin imprint, or Viking, or Michael Joseph? And will all the people filling up their stockings with the new Jamie Oliver book this Christmas (published by Penguin), be rushing to buy the Penguin classic edition of Dante’s Inferno when they are next in a bookshop?


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