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A brand is an idea in the mind of the consumer whose power lies in the ability to influence purchasing decisions.
Branding is all about the idea, the "one word" which you plant inside the reader's mind to establish and grow your "position" there. Okay, you're thinking, so if that's your brand, then what is your company? Click through the jump-break to find out.
The Company vs. The Brand(s)
As an Indie Author, you might not have formed an official business. You might be operating as an individual who pays "Self-Employment Tax" on your "additional earnings" that come through as royalties from various eTailers where your book is on sale. I've done this for the first year I was in business, but in this, my second year of earning money from my writing, I decided to expand a little and establish a Company so I could operate as an Indie Publisher. You might still be the Indie Publisher's only Indie Author (as I am for mine), but you decided to create a company name under which to do the business of writing and selling your books.
That makes you both a Brand and a Company.
From a marketing standpoint, you benefit from being an Indie Publisher with individual Author Brands rather than being an Indie Author who writes across multiple genres for one reason: your Company can be branded as well. Why would you want to do that? Because although readers buy an Author Name Brand and 90% of the time don't care who the publisher is, readers do come to associate a publishing Company with a specific kind of book--the Company ends up branded even if it's in spite of themselves. Sadly, in most cases it is indeed in spite of themselves.
Also unfortunately, this is where the grey lines start blurring. People really become confused as to what's the Company versus what's the Brand, so to alleviate a little bit of the confusion, I'll use the term "Author Brand" rather than just "Brand" in today's discussion. I'll also capitalize the word "Company" when I'm referring to the Indie Publisher entity acting as an umbrella over multiple Author Brands.
Widget Brands vs. Author Brands
In the widget world, it's easy enough to see the difference between the Company and the Brand. As the following 3 questions:
- What's a Coca-Cola?
- What's a Zippo?
- What's a WD-40?
- A cola-flavored soft drink
- A windproof lighter
- A lubricating spray
So how does this relate to Author Brands? When a customer asks a sales person in a book store for a scary horror story, they might ask "Are there any new Stephen King novels out?" and the salesperson will know what kind of book they seek even if they don't have any new Stephen King titles. If a customer wants a spy thriller, they might just ask "Do you have any new Tom Clancy novels?" instead of asking for a spy thriller. These are strong Author Brands. Do you know who the publisher is for any of these books? Probably not. Do you care? Again, probably not.
As I said earlier, readers buy Author Brands, not the publishing Company name.
Then again, readers do often come to expect certain types of Author Brands from the publisher Company names. For example, if you buy a Tor/Forge book, you know it'll be science fiction or fantasy genre. You would notice if it were not.
Likewise, if you buy a Kensington book, you know it'll be a romance novel. You definitely would not expect it to be a science fiction or gritty detective novel.
As an Indie Publisher, we have to maintain two branding campaigns:
- the Company Brand
- the Author Brand(s)
In the widget world, a marketing executive at General Motors (for example) never wants to hear people asking for a General Motors Luxury Sedan. Instead, they want to hear people asking for a Cadillac as though the Cadillac Brand is all people think of when they think of luxury sedans.
In the Indie Publishing world, however, a marketing executive at Tom Doherty (the parent company which owns Tor/Forge or Simon & Schuster, the company which owns Tom Doherty) might enjoy hearing people asking for a Tor Book--but they'd be cutting themselves off at the knees to promote that behavior.
In fact, your branding strategy has turned upsidedown if the Indie Publishing Company Name is used instead of the Author Brand Name. How could you possibly know you'd be getting a "Stephen King" if you were offered a "Simon & Schuster" book? They publish him but they also own and publish science fiction through the Tom Doherty Company called Tor/Forge.
The point is your readers are going to buy your Author Brand. The purpose of your Publishing Company is to make your Author Brands recognizeable Brand Names. As a Company, your Indie Publishing name can become a Brand unto itself (as Tor Books has done; every librarian will know Tor publishes SF); but the purpose is to be the company behind the Author Brand. Keep your priorities straight as you define your branding strategies.
Next week's entry in the Monday Marketing series will be Immutable Law of Branding (for Indie Authors) Law 14: Subbrands, which will revisit and continue this discussion of "Simon & Schuster" versus "Stephen King." I hope to see you then!
Tomorrow's Tuesday Tip will be another entry in the miniseries on how to use Amazon/Shelfari's Book Extras. Stop back at 10:00 AM Eastern (ET/USA) to learn more.