Monday, September 10, 2012

MONDAY MARKETING Branding 18 Law of Borders #pubtip #indie #selfpub #marketing

  some image rights reserved by Paulo Brandã
Welcome back to my marketing series on Branding (for Indie Authors). Over the course of the series, we've been talking about "branding." Not sure what that is? Well, it's far more than a graphic design. Here's the definition:

A brand is an idea in the mind of the consumer whose power lies in the ability to influence purchasing decisions.

The key point is the power to influence. The more-narrowly focused the idea is, the stronger its power to influence will be. In fact, a brand's strength is precisely inversely proportional to the narrowness of its focus. Through branding, you make yourself, the Author Brand Name, interchangeable with the "idea." You promote the Author Brand; and the brand sells products.

Today, we're looking at giving an Author Brand Name the ability to cross borders and become a "local" hit the world over. In Digital Publishing, one might think, this would be a no-brainer but for some reason, especially in the United States, Author Brands do not reach beyond our own localized borders without concerted effort. Click through the jump-break to learn why you'd want to change this.

Perception, It's Still Everything
As we've seen earlier in this series and as I defined in my Positioning series, reality doesn't matter as much as perception. A customer's perception is going influence their purchasing decisions far more than reality because, inside their mind, their perception is their reality.

Odd as it sounds to say, simply calling something "imported" makes consumers perceive it as "better." They attach a higher value to the thing. Imported brands are perceived as better than domestic brands--in all parts of the world--even if the imports aren't actually better at all.

The Law of Borders is the reason why imports carry a perceived higher-value despite their higher price tags, higher hassle factors and higher attendant fees in the form of duty and tarriff fees, as well as excessive shipping times. Then to seal the deal, because they are perceived to be "more valuable," imported products are placed on higher rungs of the product ladder than domestic products.

Recall that product ladders are created by the consumer and exist inside the consumer's mind so you cannot control them--except through positioning which you accomplish through branding. Despite reality, if a product is perceived to be imported, it is perceived to have a higher value and will end up being placed higher in the product ladder for the category.

Examples of Imported Perceptions--or Perceived Importedness?
Leaders in some global product categories are strongly perceived to be from one specific country--again, even if they aren't made there but just carry a brand name implying they are. For instance, most of us will agree with the following categories, led by brands perceived to be from the following countries:
  • Haut coutre fashion from Italy
  • Fine wines from France
  • Beer from Germany
  • Accurate timepieces (clocks, watches) from Switzerland
  • Electronics from Japan
Would it surprise you, then, to learn that Heineken is not a German beer? Its country of origin is the Netherlands. Because Holland is geographically located near Germany, and shares the German language, they were able to choose a German-sounding name and exploit the worldwide perception of German beer as being "the best." In reality, the leading domestic beer inside Germany is called Warsteiner--but a beer with a name that starts with the word "war" never had a chance on the world market after World War Two.

Ironically, the leading imported beer in Germany is Beck's which has an English-sounding name, doesn't it? Company branding and customer perception are simply strong enough mechanisms to turn reality on its head. So the question for Indie Authors becomes this: From what country do books originate? From what country would the "imports" originate? Answer: Everywhere. Or rather, anywhere and everywhere that isn't "here" for wherever "here" is at the moment the book's being read. Books, unlike beer, fashion or automobiles, transcend national borders--or so one might hope.

Borders in the Indie Author World
In the Digital Publishing industry, any reader anywhere in the world with an internet connection can purchase a book from anywhere else in the world. The idea of "imports" doesn't really apply, but the Law of Borders does. Fiction readers still "think locally" and yearn to read globally. Stories set in "exotic" locations remain one of the more popular types of stories across most genres. The perception of "exotic," of course, completely depends upon the reader's perception of local. Since the consumer--or in our case, reader--perceives whatever we write within the context of their own, personal knowledge base, the reader alone determines whether or not what we've written has crossed international borders. In their first reading, they might decide we have written about somewhere "over there"; whereas, in their second reading, they might decide, "No, I've been to that place and this isn't it."

This phenomenon was dubbed Reader as Collaborator by the inimitable Lois McMaster Bujold. She writes series but knows that a reader can enter a series at any point, thereby "interpreting" the series on the basis of the book in their hands "right now" and nothing else. Likewise, a reader who has already gone through the entire series might like to read it again, to revisit the people, places and events they think they recall from their earlier reading.

This next time through, however, the reader finds something new in the story or interprets something different. The story hasn't changed, but the reader has--their life has intervend and they have perceived the story in a new way. The reader has "collaborated" with the author to change the story. This can be either good or bad for you, depending upon your ability to deliver a "Satisfactory Reader Experience."

If the story is rich enough, layered enough to provide this kind of collaborative experience, then this phenomenon (a story "seeming" different the second or third time through) will leave a good impression on the reader. They will add value to the Author Brand based on the author's ability to bring a story to life.

A story which isn't rich enough or layered enough or vibrant enough to spark a reader's collaborative interpretation will result in the reader subtracting value from the Author Brand. All of this is true whether your story is set in some faraway land, an alien planet or the next street over in your own home town. A reader will "collaborate" with the author each and every time the reader picks up the book.

For those of us who want to write about an "exotic," the Law of Borders can either make or break you. Your story might capture a reader the first time through, if the "exotic" facets are finely-detailed and authentic-sounding. However, it's possible the reader will actually travel to those places after reading your book and then decide to read your book again specifically to "revisit" the places in their mind. If they find that their perception of the reality they experienced is different from their perception of your story this next time through, they will now be inclined to subtract value from your Author Brand. This is one of the ways in which the Law of Borders can uniquely impact our industry in a way it cannot influence automobile imports (for example).

While it might seem appealing to build a world of exotic places in your mind, if you're unable or unwilling to do the hard, detailed research into what makes  "over there" different from "here at home," and edit your story until all of those details are neatly folded into it, vibrantly nestled into place, then your story will fail to deliver a "Satisfactory Reader Experience" of exotic, faraway places. The Law of Borders will work against you.

What's Next....
Tomorrow's Tuesday Tip will look at how to obtain and place an ISBN's bar code onto your book cover design. Obviously, this only applies if you're creating a book cover for a printed book.

Next week's entry in the Monday Marketing series will be Immutable Law of Branding 19: Law of Consistency. This is one of the hardest laws for Indie Authors to adhere to, given that we have active imaginations and know how to use them! I hope to see you next week!

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