In last week's blog, I defined the Advertising Problem and the PR Solution. Whatever you call the function (publicity, PR, Public Relations, "press") the objective is the same. You need to tell your story, make your Brand Name known, through a third-party outlet, primarily the media. You won't get anywhere by simply "throwing money at the problem" and buying ad space or air time, but that's been the traditional approach. Welcome to the Digital Publishing industry where nothing "traditional" reigns supreme and everything "Indie" is preferred. Click through the jump break for more "non-traditional" ideas.
Whenever I decide to spend money on something important, I shop around for alternatives. A lot of people do this, more women than men but since it's so easy to do online, more and more people of both genders comparison-shop prior to making a buying decision.
What I do is visit a handful of web pages and evaluate or compare various options for the pros and cons of the item I need. The Law of Attributes churns away inside my mind comparing options all choices have in common and filtering out one or more choices from the list.
Because I am just as susceptible to the Law of Duality as the next grrl, I am unable to make a choice--not yet influenced into my buying decision--until I have only 2 or 3 choices left. That's when I pick one based on my "gut" or because "it's the brand name I know."
Comparing attributes to reduce the list of brand choices is common enough, but how does one get that "gut" feeling about this or that choice? The answer, of course, is through branding. That is, due to a marketing strategy of branding and publicity, a consumer like me will have been exposed to the idea that Brand A is "better" than Brand B. I won't be able to say why, but it's that "everyone knows" factor at work again.
I'll do it subconsciously, and consistently, unless or until the branding strategy changes thus making the brand lose its position in my mind. Most people do practice "brand loyalty" and some of us do it for years--even after the brand has changed its product line, simply because the brand maintains its position in our minds.
We simply go with the brand we know because to change loyalty would take effort--a re-evaluation of the market choices--and the path of least resistance has more appeal to the average consumer. That's why the "path of least expectation" works (see Law of Singularity, also discussed in Ch. 16 of my marketing handbook, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing (for Indie Authors) available from Smashwords in all popular eBook formats).
In general, we don't really choose to like or dislike things; we simply "know" (or perceive) that Brand A is "better" than Brand B. That perception has been programmed into us deliberately through branding and positioning. The media has saturated us with the message until Brand A enters our minds and establishes a position whereby we choose Brand A over Brand B. We have been influenced to buy Brand A--or possibly, influenced to reject Brand B.
The influence was not instantaneous. We did not see an advertisement and decide, Oh, I want that one! It was a process that took place over time inside our minds--that is, the consumer, not the Brand, controlled the process to the bitter end.
Pros and Cons of PR
So how do you use publicity to effectively communicate this branding strategy? How do you get your positioning message out there for consumers to latch onto and reel in more information about you by their own volition? Let's treat this like I do a purchasing decision. Let's look at the pros and cons of using publicity to influence brand opinion.
When you create a brand, hopefully, you have knowingly chosen a brand identity. You have a specific idea in your mind and have defined your brand in a unique and easy to understand way. Your goal is to make consumers aware of this carefully-crafted brand identity. So when publicity occurs, it's not necessarily the best thing. Or is it?
1. You cannot control the timing of the delivery.
You're not even present when the message is delivered. Even if you purchase a specific time slot for a radio or TV ad to air, you never completely control the exact moment in the consumer's experience when your message will be inserted into their awareness.
2. You cannot control the actual content of the message.
Since you're not the one delivering the message, you're not the one who controls its content. You might pay cold, hard cash to have a specific set of words repeated or a specific banner ad displayed and then the medium through which the message is delivered might inadvertently alter your message.
Have you ever played the game "telephone" where a message is whispered from one person to the next and has completely changed after it's been "delivered" 20 times? This "translation" of your message is nearly guaranteed to occur with publicity.
3. You cannot control the appearance or connotations attached to your message.
As noted above, your message might be altered by virtue of the mere fact that others are delivering it for you. They might not even be aware they are altering the message but humans do tend to "translate" things into terms with which they are more familiar.
You may have chosen the color scheme and shape of your book cover design or you may have co-located your titles alongside like-kind books on purpose and then without your knowledge or consent, all of that could be changed by the provider of the publicity. It is beyond your control. Accept that fact.
For these reasons (and more), you can see how critical it is to be extremely focused in your brand definition and to keep the message as clear and simple as possible, narrowed down to just "one word" or concept if you can. If your branding is focused enough, no amount of "translation" will prevent consumers from positioning you.
Okay, so that's a list of all cons (and let's assume for the moment they are drawbacks), then what are the pros of having a third party do your talking for you? Why risk losing your brand definition--the single-most critical piece of your marketing effort--by using PR?
In a word: credibility.
That one pro outweighs all of the cons. You cannot buy credibility with any amount of branding or advertising and although the brand might be "translated" or "interpreted," it will be communicated and publicized. If your brand is defined in a clear enough and narrow enough or focused enough manner, no amount of "translation" or "interpretation" will lose the heart of your message.
Name your branding concept wisely. This is what will become associated with your Author Brand Name. As an Indie Author, your pen name is your Author Brand Name so be sure you associate the desired idea in the minds of the consumers even if it doesn't "sound" like your pen name. Remember, it's about the brand, not about you.
Next Monday I'll discuss more non-traditional ideas and so-called "alternative advertising."
Tomorrow, in my Tuesday Tip, I'll talk about the new Smashwords Direct beta method for using an ePub file, rather than an MS Word file, as a source file for the eBook distributor's upload method. I hope to see you then!