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Publishing brand touchpoints – and why they matter

June 28, 2012


Penguin Books Logo

Effective brand management and positioning – the Penguin Books logo highlights the importance for publishers to manage their brands effectively for long term success. But brand is more than just a logo.

Publishers don’t like brands. Or rather, a “brand” is one of those words which has the potential to send shivers down the spine of anyone trying to nurse a decent margin out of a low margin business. Yet today, when the publishing industry is being subsumed by the mega brand which is Amazon, there is no room for complacency…

A brand is an emotional construct of course – a promise of delivery which, when tasted and approved, delivers and retains new customers. For a publisher, the brand rests on two pairs of shoulders: each and every author; the publishing company itself. Most publishers “get” the author side. Few publishers develop the corporate side. Yet the latter is now crucial as the battle for perception is fought in the online space rather than the high street.

Cue the “touchpoint” – where brand meets consumer (consumer being defined as the person reading the publication). Let’s consider brand touchpoints in publishing:

Product touchpoints:

These include: the author; author reputation; the physical product itself; its readability; packaging; readability design; price; quality; availability; robustness; credibility; delivery against promotional claim; availability; perceived value; actual value; presentation in store or online; social media.

All of these touchpoints help inform the consumer of the value of the product. If the value delivered is in excess of the price paid then, to the customer, the product brand is successful. The implication of this achievement has a profound effect for the publisher: referrals from the consumer for others to buy the product (the “Richard and Judy” effect); an increased likelihood of the consumer (and referred consumers) buying more products by the same author; a potential uplift in areas such as rights sales; opportunities beyond the book itself such as films etc. 

Implicit in the product touchpoint arena is that the reputation, brand value and promise centre on the product itself. This is the conventional publishing model: most publishers hope to discover the next best thing which will help offset the vast majority of products on their list – the underperforming make-weights.

Yet product value can and should be leveraged by the publisher to create reflected brand value. Today, publishers are threatened by a significant brand in the market: Amazon. Amazon has taken ownership of the emotional space between product and consumer. If you want a book – on any subject – go to Amazon, research it, find it and buy it. What can publishers do?

Publisher touchpoints

Publisher touchpoints are subtle but relevant and include: web presence; social media engagement; vision; values; passion in practising what they preach; author accretion; management profile; promotional performance; commissioning consistency; delivery against promise; delivery time of product to customer; delivery time to retailer; position on the consumer value chain; visibility; price; sales personnel; customer service performance; reputation; consistency; packaging; logo prominence…

Why should these things matter to a consumer? The answer is that if they don’t matter to a consumer then your company and its products don’t matter either. With Amazon increasingly in control of consumer research and delivery in a digital information world, the battleground now is for relevance in search and for visibility on arrival.

If a consumer is looking for a book on planing techniques for English hardwoods, how can their choice be informed? Brand is now critical: to reassure before purchase; to reassure post purchase – especially if the sales process is in the hands of others.

Why touchpoints matter

With commerce increasingly web-bound, preference is informed by writing and communication – written marketing and written proof. Marketing communications therefore have now achieved a significance far beyond the tired days of cheesy copywriting and back cover copy. In decision-making, brand touchpoints – from the brash to the subtle – all play a part. The greater the reputation, the lower the threat of the perceived substitute and the more natural the purchasing decision.

So, while it is of course crucial to leverage author quality in the online space, this faces significant barriers where an author is unknown. Why then, should a consumer buy a book by an unknown author? This is why an author-focused brand strategy is flawed and why company brand strategy is crucial.

Indeed, with greater brand significance of the publisher, the author-as-brand issue becomes reduced (provided of course that the book has been produced with a genuine need (b2b) or deliverable (b2c) in mind. People buy Mills and Boon – would they buy a boddice-ripper by unknown author Seymour Cleavage? In the legal publishing space, competition is no longer between authors but between publishers: Lexis Nexis v Westlaw for example.

When there are no touchpoints, what then?

A life without brand touchpoints is to invite a life without an emotional relationship between consumer and publisher and to leave commerce in the hands of third parties. A lack of emotional relationship means that, for book publishers in particular, each and every sale comes at a heavy price: intensive marketing for limited return. Touchpoints and reputation reduce per-product marketing costs in the long term.

The most effective publishers right now are those which understand and deliver a relationship between perception, values and delivery. In social media, for example, some publishers are making signficant advances in developing brand-focused communities on a significant and international scale – and, contrary to what you might expect, not just in the B2C field.

As consumers engage with brands, they talk about brands; they spread the news about brands so that other consumers research those brands too. It may not necessarily be the case that consumers then choose to buy direct from the publisher – indeed, why should they when they can buy from Amazon (especially in the book publishing field) – but the publisher can measure performance through conventional sales uplift.

Which brings us to the ultimate touchpoint – the logo or colophon. If – and it’s a big if – a publisher’s brand strategy delivers against all touchpoints, the logo can then – and only then – have a strategic and deeply commercial value. The Penguin logo, for example, creates an image in the mind of the consumer as strong as the author; the two are symbiotic.

Yet many publishers think of their logo as merely a trading badge. This is why many publishers are almost invisible in the consumer choice environment. By leveraging brand strategy so as to emblomise brand assets and touchpoints via a visual device is today a core battleground if publishers wish to remain relevant. Publishers’ profit margins will reveal every year how effective their brand strategy – their touchpoint strategy – has been.

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