Build a Powerful Platform with a Simple Brand Audit
by Tanya Hall
Fundamentally, a book is a consumer product; and, as we well know in our industry, having a standout product is no guarantee of success. Book sales are predominantly author-driven.
According to Verso Digital’s 2009 Survey of Book-Buying Behaviors, author reputation is the most important factor in a book-purchase decision, followed by personal recommendation and price. This is why we hear so much talk about the author platform.
An author’s platform provides a book’s brand power, and while some platforms are built through a series of happy accidents, most are quite carefully planned.
The good news is that any publisher and any author can lay the groundwork for a strategically built platform through a simple brand audit.
Companies of many kinds use brand audits to analyze the effectiveness of their branding and marketing efforts, to identify brand goals to pursue, to expose gaps between how a company sees its brand and how consumers see it, and to get everyone on the same proverbial page about messaging.
Quite a lot goes into a corporate brand audit—brand SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), analysis, business plans, creative briefs, ad materials, press releases, analyst reports, and more. Without going quite that far, authors and publishers can benefit from a basic, objective brand audit.
What’s in the Audit
Here are some standard brand audit components that you can use to your advantage.
Brand identity. As it impacts publishers, brand identity is made up of four elements that a consumer may notice and associate with a brand, and all of them are under your control. Some will be specific to the author, while others pertain more to the author’s product. Over time, consistent brand identity increases brand awareness.
Take inventory of these four elements and document them so they can be easily shared with anyone working on your brand.
1. Positioning statement. What does the writer offer readers? You’ve heard this called “the promise.” The positioning statement will generally fall into the information category or the entertainment category. Maybe the author’s work offers actionable tools small businesses can use to increase profits fast (information). Or maybe it’s compelling science fiction rooted in well-researched facts (entertainment).
Successfully branded writers are strongly differentiated and generally stay true to the same basic promise across all works.
2. Tagline. The tagline is usually a very short, memorable phrase that reinforces an important aspect of the brand. It can be descriptive or expressive. For example, CNN is “The most trusted name in news” (descriptive). The expressive tagline of McDonald’s is “I’m lovin’ it.” Note that it’s easier to pull off an expressive tagline if a brand is already well known.
3. Logo. A publishing company will typically have an imprint logo as the symbol that identifies its brand. An individual author probably doesn’t need to develop a logo. Any person or company that does have a logo should stick to it.
4. Type style/colors. In the book world, type style and colors can be powerful branding tools, especially for a series. Search Rich Dad, Poor Dad online and notice the consistent use of purple and gold. The Twilight series uses a distinctive typeface and a strong black, white, and red palette.
Brand image. While brand identity pertains to who you are, brand image speaks to how you are perceived, how you’re seen through consumers’ eyes.
To bolster brand identity, you might display language that positions an author as a social media/Web 2.0 expert on your Web site. But what image of the author will consumers have if the author’s site or section of the site also displays weak social media profiles, low follower numbers, and dated design?
For published authors, an easy way to begin evaluating brand image is by checking published book reviews and mentions in the press. If the author’s brand identity paints a creator of a breakthrough system for achieving happiness but reviews dismiss the author’s book as done-before drivel, you have a brand image problem.
Set up Google Alerts for author name and book title to keep on top of feedback and mentions. Don’t be overly concerned about an occasional negative review—you’re looking for commonalities in the feedback, not focusing on one-off observations. A severe gap between brand identity and brand image can be turned around, but it will take time and commitment (and probably the help of a marketing or PR firm).
Brand strategy. Once you’ve taken stock of your brand identity and have a sense of your brand image, you can build out a brand strategy—a plan to develop the perceived value of your brand.
Take a long-term view and break it down into short-term goals. For a vegan cookbook author with aspirations to host a television show, for instance, you’ll need to plot out milestones for press mentions, increased social media influence, speaking appearances, product development, and so on.
Marketing/branding staff competency. While large companies have many, many people dedicated to marketing and branding, they still outsource certain tasks. It’s uncommon for an author or publisher to have a full suite of branding skills in-house, and even more unusual for authors to take a truly objective look at their existing brand.
Some aspects of marketing and branding can be tackled with limited resources, but it’s important to plan for outsourcing key components that others may be better at handling. Remember that it’s much easier to build on positive brand goodwill than it is to correct a branding misstep.
When you’re evaluating potential partners, it’s critical to choose one that demonstrates a deep understanding of the readers for a particular work or body of work, and a sincere interest in your project.
And when it comes to platform and brand development, research and planning are all-important. Conducting a brand audit early in a book’s development process will help ensure that the author’s platform will be built safely on a solid foundation.
Tanya Hall is director, marketing and business development, at Greenleaf Book Group, an independent publisher and distributor that also offers platform development services. To learn more: greenleafbookgroup.com; @tanyahall.