Publishers spend a lot of time talking about building their brands, but most of us know in our heart of hearts that – for most of the readers most of the time – our brands are pretty much irrelevant. Some have nailed it – Penguin, Oxford, Nature, Rough Guides, Wiley’s Dummies Guides – but they’re the exceptions that prove the rule.
For the most part, the real brand in book publishing is the author. Which is a potential problem for publishers, as it leaves them vulnerable to disintermediation.
This week in The Extraordinary Business Book Club I talk to Alan Weiss, author of Million Dollar Consulting. Brand is central to who Alan is and what he does, and he offered two succinct definitions:
1) Brand is a uniform expression of value (as he put it, ‘Nobody goes into McDonald’s to browse, they know exactly what they’ll find in there.’)
2) Brand is how people think about you when you’re not there.
The first is where publishers have traditionally focused their brand-building efforts. They have positioned themselves as gatekeepers, curators, a guarantee of quality in a sea of indifferent (or worse) content. Nothing wrong with that. But does it go far enough?
I think that second definition is a great challenge for publishers. It carries a couple of implicit questions. Firstly, ARE people thinking about you when you’re not there? (For most of us, the answer is, not much, probably.) Secondly, WHO are the ‘people’ we’re talking about here? Publishers need their brand to have value for two (usually very different) groups: authors and readers. And thirdly, WHAT is it they’re thinking about, exactly – your company, or your products?
Alan was clear that for him, the ultimate brand is simply his name. He wants CEOs to yell ‘Get me Alan Weiss!’ But he adds, ‘Beneath that, covered by that umbrella, you can have a multitude of brands.’
One is the ‘Million Dollar’ moniker itself, which now features not only in other books such as Million Dollar Maverick but across a whole suite of products and services including an annual convention, a regular newsletter, an online community and a training college. Daniel Priestly did something similar with Key Person of Influence, which has become a franchised business accelerator programme. When you’re thinking of titles, it never hurts to use one with the potential for this kind of immediate recognition, something distinctive and resonant, with the ability to flex and extend beyond the book itself.
But one of the reasons that Alan knows his name is his strongest brand is that it’s the one to which people can connect most readily on an emotional level. Alan uses this very consciously, featuring his beloved dogs – Buddy and Bentley – in his videos (he even offers credit cards named after them), and often posing in front of his equally beloved flashy cars:
People expect a certain lifestyle from me. I don’t just tell people to create a business and to market better, and to write books and so forth. I help people to understand how to live, and so people are interested in my lifestyle. They’re interested in exotic cars, they’re interested in my travels, they’re interested in how I choose to live. I happen to love dogs… The more you involve your passion in your business, the better you are at it, it’s as simple as that.’
It’s hard for a business any business not just a publisher to achieve that level of emotional engagement. Certainly Summit Consulting Group as a brand doesn’t have the same cachet as Alan Weiss own name.
But here’s the interesting thing: Summit Consulting Group leverages the power of the Alan Weiss brand. The company fulfills the first of Alan’s definitions of brand – the uniform expression of value – and it’s reinforced and magnified by the more emotional connection inherent in Alan’s second definition: how people think about you when you’re not there. Clients know that when they work with the company, they’re getting something of the rock-star thrill of working with the man himself even if they never actually speak to him.
As publishers we can and should build our brands – at company, series, title level – and deliver consistently on the promise that each implies, but at the end of the day how we work to build our authors’ brands reflects back on us more powerfully than any marketing copy we can put out there. Quite simply when they succeed, we succeed.
Alison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com.