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A brand is an idea in the mind of the consumer which has the power to influence purchasing decisions.
After reading that definition, you might think a brand is merely a book cover--or series of book cover designs tied together by a theme. It's far more powerful than that, though I'll grant you, a themed book cover will, in fact, "influence purchasing decisions" and create "an idea in the mind of the consumer."
The question is, do you want your brand to be the one, individual book (or series of books) with that specific book cover design or do you want your brand to be an idea which encompasses all of the stories you write, collectively, as though they are a unique category of book called "books by you"? We'll look at the latter in today's discussion of Immutable Law of Branding 8 (for Indie Authors): Law of Category. Click through to get started if you have written--or want to write--more than one book.
What is a category?
Understanding the difference between a product and a category is critical to grasping today's discussion. I'll explain by way of example and, because it's pretty certain you've heard of this guy, I'll use Stephen King as my example ^)^
King's novel The Stand is a suspenseful thriller written about an apocalyptic event--and the aftermath. Or, in today's terms, it's a post-apocalyptic saga. It happens to be a great story that was written in the 1970s when King was first starting out (yeah, in that dark age before he was famous) and it's actually still a solid example of what is the essence of a "Stephen King novel." That is, you probably have an idea in your mind that it's a book that tells a thriller or horror story.
The Stand is, in fact, a novel which revived the then-stalled-out category of "post-apocalyptic" horror stories. The post-apocalyptic books are all en vogue right now (to wit: see Hunger Games and the myriad of vampires-take-over-the-world-then-what books out there) but for a while there (10-20 years in the middle of the 20th century), the public had lost interest. The category is a "fad" not a trend (horror is a trend; thriller is a trend). Had Stephen King not revived the post-apocalyptic category and continually worked to expand it, Suzanne Collins might not have been able to establish her YA Dystopia genre hit. Believe it.
King could have pushed the horror factor of The Stand and maybe he, personally, wanted to; I don't know. What happened instead was that the book and then later, the TV mini-series movie made based on the book, became an "overnight" hit in a "new" genre called post-apocalyptic stories. I recall when it came out how the SF/F community debated whether or not King had ripped off Richard Matheson's The Omega Man (a 1955 novel that was, essentially, the same story and was later made into a movie starring none other than SciFi superstar of the 70s, Charlton Heston, though the movie decidedly did not focus on the vampire idea and instead, highlighted the "deadly strain of disease wipes out human race" headline).
It was around that time that King was talking to the media, openly praising Richard Matheson for founding the (then) new genre of suspense thriller and "end of the world" stories (the tag "post-apocalyptic" was not yet in common usage). King said repeatedly how he would not have been able to write the books he does and plans to write into the future had it not been for Richard Matheson establishing this new genre. King was promoting the category when he said that it was only because Matheson laid the groundwork, pioneering a new genre (category), that new and emerging authors such as himself were even able to write new and exciting stories.
This sounds very humble of King and not to discount his amazingly generous character, but this is in fact a hallmark of King's brilliance as a marketing strategist. He's kind of a smart guy, you know? This distinction King applied is the key to Immutable Law of Branding (for Indie Authors) 8: narrow the focus of your brand sufficiently to leave nothing but a new category--then advertise the category, not your brand.
Stephen King still dominates the horror category--and still actively promotes the category, not himself--while he's recreated himself over and over in other categories. He actually has been writing urban fantasy and paranormals for some years now. Did you know that or did you still think of him as a horror and suspense writer?
Dominance Is Death--And Not in the Murdery Mystery Way
Competition is healthy. You've heard that before, I'm sure, but do you really know why killing the competition will kill yourself with it? By killing the competition and dominating the category, you actually give yourself nothing by which your potential customers can measure your greatness. You can no longer be compared to lesser products if you've put them out of business.
People make subjective decisions--especially purchasing decisions--and our subjectivity is based on comparisons. By establishing a new category, and inviting others to join you in it, you establish a system of comparison for your potential customers. If you then promote the category, not your brand, you actually strengthen the system by which your customers will choose you over your competition by broadening the field of players. You make the "pie" larger and your slice grows with it, right? Proportionally, yes, it does.
The more competition in your category, the better--if you're the leader, anyway. If you're the one who established the category, then you are the original, the leader, the first. Use one of these words to promote your brand but focus on promoting your brand as first in the category.
Leaders should continue to promote the category even after it has begun to grow on its own. Does Stephen King promote horror and suspense stories (the category) or just the fact that he writes some of them (okay, most of them *haha*)? Of course, he promotes the entire category. In fact, Stephen King was one of the first proponents of the Indie Author community, rallying for eBooks over five (5) years ago. He has always been a man ahead of his time and a brilliant marketing strategist. If you want to follow someone's lead, King is a great leader to follow.
Leaders Should Never Own More Than 50% of the Pie
This probably sounds off to you. Most of you are probably watching your sales rank and worrying if you got up to #1 and then see it drop down to 90% and 80% and even (gasp) 70% but don't worry, be happy ^)^ A market leader should never own more than 50% market share. If you do, then you haven't invited enough competitors into your category to make your category thrive over the long term. If you see your market share rising too high--say to 75%--then you probably will see a drop in overall sales numbers. That's right, market share rising will result in sales dropping. Take the increased market share as a sign that you need to find and invite more competition to your category to drive your sales up again.
Case in Point: Coke vs. Pepsi
Let me take a classic example that was taken to the max (and no pun intended but it's a riot that it does fit so perfectly.) Coca-Cola company established the cola market and themselves as the leader. Immediately, competition sprang up and Coke became "The Real Thing" to reassert itself as the leader, the original, the "one." But in sales, remember, the attitude that there can be only one means the category is dying. Pepsi Cola Company understood this and came out with a truly legendary advertisement in 1995 which actually promoted the cola category, not just Pepsi's primary product. Watch the original advert here and then I'll discuss how this works.
1995 Super Bowl Pepsi Comparative Advertisement
Coke Zero vs. Pepsi Max (2010)