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Definition: A brand is an idea in the mind of the consumer whose power lies in the ability to influence purchasing decisions.
The marketing activity called "branding" is all about focusing the idea that will ultimately become your brand down to "one word" which is uniquely you. Then you plant that idea inside the reader's mind (called "positioning") so that you can establish and grow your brand's strength in their minds. Through branding, you make yourself, the Author Brand, interchangeable with the "idea."
Today, I'll discuss the idea of "sibling" brands, which is another way of saying creating a new Author Brand related to, but distinctly different from your current Author Brand. It's not for everyone and is a lot of extra work so until you've mastered what brands are in Indie Publishing and how to use them correctly, hold off on this one. Creating a second, third or entire family of brands will only multiply your problems, not solve them. If you're struggling with the branding concept, review the earlier entries in this series here. If you've got a solid handle on this stuff already, click through to learn more.
Siblings, Not Line Extensions
I can't stress this enough, Branding is a challenging marketing activity and if you haven't mastered the first 14 Immutable Laws, you should probably skip over Law 15, as it'll only lead you astray. Laws 16 and 17 (the next two Monday Marketing entries) might help you but learning about Law 15 might actually lead you into destroying what little you've built up.
Here's why. Line extensions will weaken your brand. I've repeatedly warned you against them. If you don't know (clearly) what a line extension is and why it will kill an Indie Author Brand, your efforts to spawn a sibling brand could destroy what little foundation you've built. Think long and hard about this. It's not nearly as beneficial a strategy for Indie Authors as, for instance, last week's discussion of Immutable Law of Branding Law 14 (Law of Subbrands).
Review the Law of Extension in both Immutable Law of Marketing Law 12 and Immutable Law of Branding Law 10 just to be sure you know what a line extension is, why not to use it and why it's a brand-killer. I am not reversing position with Law 15, but it might sound like it at first if you're not really, really clear on what we've discussed up to this point. Okay, enough couching and prefacing and qualifying remarks. Onto the new material!
We Are Family
A Sibling Brand is independent of, but related to, your Author Brand--much the same way your real-life sister or brother might be completely different from you but related at a family level. A sibling brand strategy is not for every company. If handled incorrectly, it can turn into a line extension (sorry, had to warn you one last time); but if done right, there is some strength in numbers.
A family of brands can support each other and cross-promote each other, and even "compete" in a friendly way with each other (sibling rivalry, anyone?) without resorting to rebranding themselves in the process. The key to a successful family approach is to make each sibling unique and different--just like in real life.
How then do you know the siblings are related, you might wonder? Let's look at an example from the restaurant industry to illustrate how then I'll give you 5 easy steps to creating your own sibling brand strategy.
Here in the United States, there a lot of chain restaurants--fast food and mid-priced eateries. There is a "family" of mid-priced or "casual dining" restaurants owned by General Mills Corporation. Actually, they were owned by General Mills but were later spun off together with its sibling under the international "casual dining" conglomerate, Darden Concepts, Inc.
The first of these restaurants was the Red Lobster chain. Since General Mills is a producer of food products (breakfast cereals, cookies and crackers or snack foods), it was exactly in line with the General Mills branding strategy of "feeding your family" to open a "casual dining" restaurant like Red Lobster where families could get a full-service meal at a family-friendly price. They focused on having fresh food, prepared to order and served with all of the accoutrements of fine dining without the high price (and they never pushed the liquor though they do serve alcohol).
For those outside the U.S.A., Red Lobster is a fairly large seafood chain here in the U.S. Red Lobster is not "cheap" or "bargain" priced but reasonable enough that families can afford to go there--at least, for a special occasion. They are substantially lower in cost than eating in, say, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel restaurant. Red Lobster also has annual "sales" such as the one going on right now: all you can eat shrimp, any style, all you like, one price.
Every Red Lobster meal comes with a House salad (or choice of an alternative dressing), a special-recipe roll, an entree and two sides (a cooked vegetable and starch like rice or potato, usually). Red Lobster became famous in the 1980s for its Cesar dressing on its House salads and the rich, buttery buns--not to mention great prices on seafood throughout the year.
Red Lobster was the first of its kind--a chain of casual dining where a "family" was not only welcome but could afford to eat fresh seafood. Then General Mills decided to launch another chain of restaurants and they did it very deliberately and very carefully--and very well! Most generically-named companies would fail. General Mills refers to grains which made sense for breakfast cereals but why were they getting into restaurant chains? General Mills made sure not to connect their established brand name with the new business they saw emerging in the form of Red Lobster and their new, second restaurant chain.
The new one was called Olive Garden and it sells Italian style food. The "family" atmosphere is still there and in fact, part of the slogan for Olive Garden restaurants. More importantly, though, General Mills learned from Red Lobster's success and from the start, Olive Gardens offered you a full-service meal with fresh food, prepared to order and included an "all you can eat House salad and special bread sticks" gratis with every meal.
The salad and bread sticks became popular enough that Olive Garden actually started selling them alone in the 1990s--as a meal unto themselves! That's one of their best-selling lunches actually because it's very low-cost and although it is fattening as all get-out, it feels healthy to eat salad for lunch. Olive Garden's branding was and is all about feelings and the "feel good food only family can bring you."
Olive Garden is an Italian "sibling" company to the original seafood restaurant Red Lobster. When General Mills launched Olive Garden, they even built their new restaurants physically adjacent to their existing Red Lobster outlets because they are smart enough to know that the Law of Category insures them Red Lobster customers will also be interested in Olive Garden food. They exploit one sibling's established market share in the category of "casual, low-cost fine dining" to launch a new competitor.
They are siblings: related, but totally different, each one unique unto itself. They are alike but totally different, just as real-life human siblings are. They share traits (price point, family atmosphere and of course, getting a salad and bread product gratis with your meal). What makes them "siblings" and not "line extensions," however, is that they each have their own distinct brand or "style" of delivering these shared attributes.
Both Red Lobster and Olive Garden brands are now owned by Darden Concepts, Inc., which proclaims to be the world's largest full-service restaurant company. They have spun off multiple sibling brands, following the same successful marketing steps they took to spawn Olive Garden out of Red Lobster's success. They are extremely good at doing this--repeatedly.
Each sibling Darden produces is unique and special. Click here to see some of their brands. You might just be surprised they're all owned and operated by the same one parent company! As Darden's marketing department, themselves, put it:
The Darden folks really understand marketing and branding.
How to Create a Sibling Brand in 5 Easy Steps
As an Indie Author, you only have one product--books--and you probably don't immediately see how to spawn off siblings without completely losing your brand. You can write in multiple genres, formats, voices. That should be an obvious way to do it but you have to brand each pen name you spawn separately or they become the dreaded "Line Extension." Try to choose genres that are as different from each other as possible--apply the Law of Opposites to yourself!
If you're a thriller writer, you could try your hand at children's illustrated books, like James Patterson has done, but don't make his mistake. He hasn't actually branded any kind of "sibling"; his efforts are a line extension of his famous Author Name. He has weakened his market shares in both of the genres as a result.
Instead, you could design and launch a Sibling Brand the way romance novelist Nora Roberts has done. Her two brands--Nora Roberts and J. D. Robb--write light and cheery or dark and edgy stories, respectively. They are not quite opposites, but close. Here are 5 easy steps to doing it right (WWND or What Would Nora Do).
1) Focus on a common product area. That is, find some element of your original Author Brand which you intend to carry forward. Maybe you have a distinctly snarky style of narration. Maybe you are exceptionally good at describing settings. This is what Nora Roberts did when she launched her Sibling Brand for J. D. Robb. Both of her Author Name Brands are known for the exceptionally descriptive settings with strong visual imagery.
2) Select a single attribute to segment. You want to avoid overlap among the siblings so as to keep each brand unique and special. In the case of J.D. Robb and Nora Roberts, she did it thusly: her stories have rich setting, visual descriptions but each brand is distinctly different in terms of pacing, plotting, style of characters in the stories. There has to be a common element, however, or the siblings are not related.
3) Set up rigid distinctions between the brands. Nora's primary Author Brand is extremely well-known for a certain kind of romance novel. They are sweet and light and easy to read--and easy to put down and pick up again, repeatedly. You never have to "figure out where I was" when you're reading a Nora Roberts romance.
Although she carries her own writing style forward to J. D. Robb's sibling brand, the J. D. Robb books are distinctly different--so much so that some readers still don't realize they are written by the same person! The primary Nora Roberts brand is what I call "peaches and cream" light stories while the J. D. Robb brand turns out more edgy, dark stories.
Note that these two brands, while sharing a single attribute (rich descriptions written in a visually-striking manner) are practically "opposite" each other in style. They are each distinct but related, like real-life siblings.
4) Create different, not similar, brand names. Notice how Nora Roberts and J. D. Robb are related but different names? That's on purpose--and note, they are both pen names. Yep, neither one is her real name. The woman behind them was born Eleanor Marie Robertson and she deliberately chose pen names that were similar but distinct from her own, real name. She was just that smart from square one--that's how she got over 400 million titles in print with most of them landing on the NYT Best Seller List. You must do the same with your pen names if you want them to stick, because they are your sibling brand names.
5) Launch a new sibling when you can create a new category for it. If you aren't already familiar with the Law of Category (Immutable Law of Marketing 2 and Immutable Law of Branding 8), become familiar with it. Understanding how and when to launch a new category--and then how to keep it alive by inviting the competition into it while holding onto your "top-rung" ranking--is critical to launching a sibling brand. Nora launched J. D. Robb after Nora Roberts Brand was firmly-established as a best-selling author and in the 1990s, when paranormal and dark romances were just starting to gain popularity again. In romance genre, it's a cycle but she hopped onto the cycle as it relaunched.
A family of sibling brands is not for everyone, but where appropriate, a sibling strategy can be used to dominate a category--or family of categories--over the long term. With over 400 million titles in print, this woman born Eleanor has been writing romance novels (in multiple genres of the category including "category romance") for over a quarter of a century. She's made it work--in the very long term--and she shows no signs of falling off the best seller lists anytime soon! Next time you're unsure which way to go, ask yourself WWND? ^)^
Tomorrow's Tuesday Tip will cover another Amazon Shelfari Book Extra. Hope to see you then!