|some image rights reserved by Paulo BrandÃ£|
Welcome back to my marketing series on Branding (for Indie Authors). Over the course of this series, I'm helping you understand what branding is (especially that it is not a book cover).
We're discussing how to choose that one word that best describes your brand in that special, unique way that makes you you instead of like every other one of the millions of Indie Authors trying to break out of the pack.
Today, we're focusing on quality--or the perception of quality--because remember the saying, perception is everything rings all the more true when we discuss "worth" or "value" of a product. Your brand must be perceived as a quality brand before your products will have worth. Click through the jump-break to see how you can build this perception in the minds of your potential customers.
Perception is Everything
As an engineer who abides by the Philip Crosby School of Quality (read Quality is Free if you haven't already!) Law 7 of the Immutable Laws of Branding (for Indie Authors) is particularly difficult for me to discuss without grinding my teeth. I have to switch off the engineer inside--who knows that the true meaning of quality is not "perceived goodness" but rather "conformance to requirements"--and instead turn on the marketing maven who knows Perception is everything!
According to Law 7, brands are not built by "quality" alone--where Ries is using the word "quality" to mean only "perceived goodness." According to Law 7, you can "build quality into your product" but that will have little to do with its success (or failure) in the marketplace. This discussion goes completely against the Crosby Concepts of Quality, but again, it is because the definition of the term "quality" is at the crux of understanding the discussion at all. But there is a point of convergence--and I'm thrilled to bring this to light.
Ries School of Quality
Ries points out that the definition of quality resides in the minds of the consumer. True. According to Ries's definition of "positioning" and discussion of "perception" as it influences a consumer's buying decisions, how the consumer perceives you and your brand or your brand's products is definitely more important than who or what you or your brand think you are! The entire purchasing process of evaluation and decision-making occurs in the minds of the consumer. Therefore, their perception of truth matters more than truth itself.
Crosby School of Quality
Okay, with me so far? Let's step over to the pragmatic side of "quality." Crosby points out that no matter what the consumer perceives about a product, it is only a "quality product" if it conforms to the requirements set out for its existence. If you define the requirements of an automobile to be that it "has a steering wheel and pedals for a guidance and navigation system and has four tires" -- and you don't define anything else -- a "quality car" would be one that has no doors or windows or seats! It would conform to the requirements you set forth without these things; therefore, it would be a quality product. Obviously, consumers would perceive this as a product lacking in quality as it is not the product they want. Again, perception of truth matters more than truth itself.
Marketing School of Quality
So how to merge Crosby's truth approach with Ries's perception slant to make a "real" school of quality you can apply to branding your Indie Author self and your books? It's a subtle blending, let me warn you right now, but it probably rings more true than any other Law of Branding I've discussed so far.
When your reader finishes one of your books, will they feel they got everything they were promised? Did it live up to its reputation? The first question pertains to the "conformance to requirements" definition of quality; the second, to the goodness factor. Both are going to be questions a consumer will ask themself when they read The End. It is in that instant of time that they determine whether or not they had a Satisfying Reader Experience--and whether or not your brand delivered a quality product.
Consumers aren't reviewing the pitch blurb on the book page to determine, point by point, if your book "conformed to requirements" and even if it did, that won't make them "feel good" about it when they get to The End. They have a perception of what to expect when they pick up the book and start reading. When the consumer gets to The End they want to feel that you have fulfilled your silent Contract with Reader and delivered to them what they expected. Not, please notice, what you said you would on the book page, but rather, what they expected you would when they began reading.
Contract with Reader
Because perception really is everything in the marketing world, you only need to make sure that your readers "expect" to receive whatever your products deliver so that your conformance to the terms of your Contract with Reader are completely fulfilled at The End. If you do that, then you have a quality product--even if the writing sucks and the book wasn't edited and the cover art is done by a ten-year-old in PowerPoint. Okay, not completely true. You have to edit and create professional cover art. Your writing, however, only has to deliver what they expect. "Suckage" is a relative term that is part of their perception. You can "suck" at writing and still have a very-high quality product!
This is the sticking point aggravating a lot of Indie Authors right now who are squeezing their sour grapes over 50 Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games to make vinegar remarks about the quality of writing--or lack thereof. It doesn't matter. The books deliver what people are expecting them to deliver. They are a quality product in their respective niche brand. That is why these two series have succeeded so dramatically. They are narrowly-focused brands, (Law of Contraction) and they are delivering on Law 7: Quality.
Building a Perception of Quality
In the case of these two series, the quality perception was built on buzz, hype, publicity that branded them strongly and narrowly. There are other ways to build a perception of quality--or to destroy it. Hopefully, the number one way that pops into most of your minds is price. Given the 99c market debate in Indie Publishing, I should hope you have sufficient evidence to see how pricing truly impacts perception of quality. Plenty of people will download a 99c book but their remarks about the 99c book -- if any commen is made at all -- is usually couched with the phrase "for 99 cents" as though that explains what the book is. It could be anything--even a new entry in The Hunger Games--but if it's priced at 99c, it's "one of those" 99c books. Period.
Attaching a bargain-basement price to a book locks the book in the basement, down at the bottom of the Product Ladder. You can sell a lot of books down there in the basement, don't get me wrong, but if you want to climb the ladder, you'll need to change the consumer's perception of you from "one of those 99c books" to a "quality product."
Well, okay, half of you are probably too young to remember this but these chairs were "it" back then and the talk was they were "high quality" and "worth the price." They're just chairs. At least today they're reasonably priced chairs ($500 for a fully-adjustable desk chair is what I call "reasonably priced" okay? And yes, I want one - if you want to send me a birthday present, I accept all gifts. My birthday is November 7th *haha*)
This question of a high-priced product being a quality product is not just about snobbiness or status symbols. It's perception actually changing enjoyment of a product. Take this example. You go into an expensive restaurant and after discussion with the Sommelier decide on a bottle of wine that costs $200. Do you think the Sommelier will suggest the $20 alternative that tastes just as good?
Even if the restaurant had a $20 alternative that tastes just as good and even if the Sommelier (snotty as he might be) could even believe such a bottle could taste "just as good" and oh yeah, even if the customer asked for less-expensive alternatives, no way, no how is the customer ever going to believe that the $20 bottle tastes as good as the $200 bottle. Perception is everything. The Sommelier has recommended the "good" wine and the cheaper one will automatically be "less good" in the mind of the customer--even if it's the same wine!
That taste test was actually performed in a real restaurant in New York in the 1980s, if I recall correctly. The customer insisted the exact same wine--labeled with a higher-priced label so neither the customer nor the Sommelier knew it was the same wine--wasn't as good as the "expensive" one. It was a huge piece of publicity for the marketing firm that had arranged it. I don't remember exactly who the firm was but I think the lead was a guy named "Al" whose last name started with an "R" and rhymes with "piece." Yeah, he might've had something to do with it! ^)^
Quality writing and quality editing and quality artwork are all good things--but they are your "wine bottle label." They won't sell your brand and it is your brand that sells your Indie Author career (rather than just one book to ten people that you happened to speak with personally).
To build a "quality brand" that can accompany your quality writing, quality editing and quality artwork, you need to narrow your focus (use the Law of Contraction), use the right name, and set a quality price. You can still reach those non-affluent customers who shy away from a high-priced book. Don't lower your price and thereby, your perceived value. Instaed, leave your regular price set high and mark it down--better yet, give it away, FREE. Just leave the regular price on the book to make sure perceived value is still there.
I am shutting down the blog for 2 weeks so that I can move my residence in real life with a lower level of stress than I'm currently piling on trying to "do it all" at once. I've got a Tuesday Tip prepared for you for tomorrow (collecting Mark's announcements of recent changes at Smashwords) but the regular blog entries won't resume until Monday, July 9th. Hope to see you then!
During the interim, please follow @webbiegrrl on Twitter for links to past blog posts and series, as well as random news as I find time to tweet it. The Webbiegrrl Writer Facebook Page is probably going to stay pretty quiet until after I move but be sure to "like" it (and then click "liked" and select "show in newsfeed") or even better, subscribe via Networked Blogs, so you can receive the posts when they start flowing again. The new changes to Facebook Pages are really getting annoying, but where else is there to go?