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Defining the Publisher Brand – before it’s too late

March 28, 2011
Books on display

Books in a shop - why should customers choose your books over someone else's?

The rise of the Kindle (now being cynically offered by Amazon as a mother’s day gift – yawn) and other electronic readers has placed enormous stress on publisher brand equity. Quite right too.

Where once the pomposity of opinionated publishers and their “knack” of spotting a best seller was enough to keep a business going and have authors cowering in fear, now these denizens of restaurants, gentlemen’s clubs and masonic lodges cower themselves in the face of technological advance.

In the old days, a publisher could walk into a room and earn respect – as if somehow they alone had access to the world of literary fame: a route to stardom guarded by a clipped accent, rounded stomach, glass of port and a stained napkin. Alas no longer – today the reader and the writer hold the cards. Why? Because Old Tufton Bufton of Tufton Bufton Books believed more in his own self image than in the perception of his brand.

Of course, the world’s best publishers – like those in the professional, B2B and STM fields, have known for many years that brand offering, not personal vainglory, is what grows, defines and maintains a brand. They know that service and delivery is all – the customer comes first. Their trick has been to be able to understand what a customer wants and then to pitch their businesses as the way for the customer to get what they need.

These publishers have understood the power of the brand – the emotional relationship between consumer and provider – and have developed strong and robust relationships and revenue streams.That’s why companies like Reed Elsevier, Pearson and Informa command excellent relationships with the City.

Alas not so the other kind of publisher, still carving out an uneasy existence from pared down costs and marginal sales. Here, the glamour of being a publisher is often seen as more important than the relationship with the reader. Little wonder that many of these publishers are in dire straits and blame everyone but themselves for the state they’re in.

But why should a reader buy a book from one of these publishers? Without creating a brand presence, all a customer has to go on is the cover design and , perhaps, the author. Provided, of course, that the author is known. 

But where an author is unknown, this places enormous onus on other factors: favourable reviews; cover design; even paying some bookselling chain’s outrageous demands just to place the book in some spurious display area.  

Publishers facing these problems have two choices: to carry on as before and continue to harvest tiny margins as the world moves on; or to get real and work out who they are and what they provide – and then encapsulate it within a brand position.

As Derrick Daye and Brad VanAuken say in today’s Brand Strategy Insider:

“A brand is a source of a promise to its customers. It promises relevant differentiated benefits. It does so not only to place itself into the purchase consideration set, but even more importantly, to be the brand chosen from that purchase consideration set.  This is also sometimes referred to as the brand’s unique value proposition. Whether it is called a unique value proposition or a promise of relevant differentiated benefits, it is very important that the promise or proposition be delivered consistently at each point of customer contact, time after time.”

Publishers delude themselves if they think this does not apply to them.

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