How can you have a brand if management keeps changing its mind?
Strategic planning is crucial to business success, yet planning often goes out of the window as the latest business theory or article whizzes past the desks of management. This is not a good thing; if anything, vacillation shows inexperience. No matter how good the latest theory, if a manager cannot digest it in line with the strategy of the business then leadership will fail. And the same applies to brand management and the product portfolio.
Take Naymz – the competitor to successful networking site Linked In which describes itself as “complete personal brand management”. Originally it was called Naymz. Then it was called Visible.Me. And Now it’s called Naymz again – with emails saying “Visible.Me has changed back to Naymz”. Hmm, not a good advertisement for complete personal brand management then? Of course, Naymz is not alone; only a few years ago the Post Office in the UK toyed with changing its name to Consignia – completely overriding consumer perception of the business. Publishers can learn much from this nonsense. To coin a phrase, “publishers – know your place.” Or, rather, know your position.
Brand is about emotional perception – delivered consistently. Waiting to see which way the wind blows is not an option when it comes to brand: customers purchase through known attributes. Penguin books are well written, well edited, well produced. A legal solution from Lexis-Nexis will be robust and authoritative. A Mills and Boon Romance “does exactly what it says it says on the tin” – to quote the successful Ronseal advertisements of a few years back – and “brings romance to life”
Yet brand erosion can occur swiftly when the brand, and its perception, are not managed. Publishers start to publish books “out of portfolio” just to bring in volume and cashflow. Cash shortfalls cause those who panic to start discounting unnecessarily resulting in core brand assets of price/value being eroded. Products offered through e-readers are somehow not dealt with in the same way as print, with branding going out of the window. In truth, all these examples highlight that when the financial chips are down, it is very easy to avoid discipline and to go with the flow.
But, as with a company whose management keeps changing its mind and staff leave, the same applies to customers of a brand. If a publisher has an emotional link with its customers, it messes about with that link at its peril. In order to ensure that brand is managed effectively in these difficult times, publishers need to reflect on brand management itself and take the process more seriously than ever before.
Yet these things are easier said than done. Publishers – again largely for financial reasons – often do not invest in brand or brand management. While some may have some “corporate guidelines” for logo placement and the like, others leave brand in the hands of the marketing department to do with what they will. Neither of these options is in any way serious enough.
Brand, successfully managed, will deliver long term benefits across the business: a strategic marketing and business plan providing a long term and credible leadership position which staff can grasp; consistent commissioning decisions in line with segmentation; reputation management across all touch points; a logical price/value position for portfolios; a direct consumer/publisher relationship; long term loyalty and revenue streams; a logical entry point for prospects.
Relevance plus dependability = commercial longevity, you might say.
So how can brand management be championed to enable consistency of thought and excellence of delivery? Much depends on a company’s willingness to change – to place itself at the heart of its customers’ emotions. This requires a new way of looking at brand management and its recruitment and maintenance within a publishing company. Solutions can include:
- Recruiting the right kind of people who are less obsessed with self and more concerned with a company’s relationship with its customers
- Avoiding a “central guru” brand manager who becomes so indispensable that when he/she leaves the brand falls apart – dissemination of understanding is crucial
- Questioning the current set up and being prepared to act to get rid of underperformance
- Determining the greatest brand opportunities in the business and putting the best person on the job to manage them
- Encouraging vigorous debate about brand strategy, arriving at decisions and incorporating these into the marketing and long term business strategy
- Actually having a strategic marketing plan and taking the process seriously (beyond the usual budget line and spending outputs)
No business – no political party even – survives long by promising much and delivering little. The same applies to successful brand management. By bringing brand perception and management within the core strategy of business – and by hiring the right people to do it – publishers can make themselves relevant before it is too late.