E-marketing Strategy: Does Your Brand Mean Anything to Anyone?
Publishers have been blessed with the gift of invisibility. For the last several decades of modern book publishing, the industry's "top-down" distribution model has allowed publishers to stand behind the scenes—working tirelessly, but not publicly—to make sure high-quality and important content found its way to the world's stage. This shroud of invisibility has long protected publishers from suffering the worst effects of their worst failures, and it has granted them certain freedoms to take the risks required of a publisher—on new authors, on new topics, on new ideas, etc. Colossal failures during these years may have tarnished the author in the readers' minds, and the booksellers who recommended their steaming pile of a book, but not the largely invisible publisher—who lived to publish another day.
It was a great model—and, many would argue, necessary for many years and in many cases. But it's over. The piercing gaze of the Internet has removed invisibility from the world of information. Search engines outed the publishers, and now we're all coming online in droves.
However, all is not well. The decades of invisibility have left publishers at a real and distinct disadvantage in the modern landscape. Nearly every other company—in every other industry—has spent those same decades working tirelessly to make sure every person on Earth was aware of their name, logo and products. The Nike swoosh "means" something: quality, fitness, health. The Apple logo "means" something: quality, beauty, power. The New York Times logo "means" something: quality, investigation, information. All of these companies have fought to make sure their brand was synonymous with quality… and a few other things.
To date, very few publishers have been able to successfully create a brand that "means" anything to readers. Most publishers have never spent much time on brand-building beyond stamping their logo on a book's spine, and therefore their names and logos connote nothing to their products' end users other than, perhaps, "book." Right now—during this digital avalanche of self-published content that's falling on our heads—is when readers most need to see established symbols of expert, edited, quality content. Readers are looking for clues that will help them to separate wheat from chaff—both online and on the shelves. Publishers have an opportunity, now, to build brands that fill that need.