It’s not news that a strong brand can be your biggest asset. That’s one of the main points Michael Thompson made in his Merchants of Culture (which I blogged about here). When gatekeepers and consumers know who you are, what you stand for and what they are guaranteed to get from you, your work as a publisher becomes much easier—and very likely more profitable.
What is less often noted is that a strong brand can also be your biggest limitation.
Every time you communicate clearly who you are, you are implicitly or explicitly also communicating who you are not. If you are known for producing consumer-friendly, well-illustrated, large-format how-to books, you may have a hard time branching out into graphic novels. If you are known for producing expensive, sophisticated, architecturally oriented coffee-table books, then starting a line of affordable cookbooks might not be the right recipe.
If you happen to have bucketloads of excess cash lying around, suddenly big changes away from your current brand become much easier. Some years ago Target pushed out a huge campaign to position itself as a more upscale alternative WalMart. Millions of dollars and more than a decade later, that’s proven to be a winning move. And even that wasn’t a huge shift of brand image, just a clarification. But without the major investment of time and money, one wonders if that campaign would have missed the mark.
Those without a warehouse full of money will need to find other strategies. And other strategies are essential. Because nothing is ever static, and the publishing world is less static now than ever, there is always the need to change, to try something different, to move into new areas. But this needs to be done with your brand fully in view. Venture too far from your brand, and success is less likely. If you want your customers to recognize, appreciate and even celebrate when you sail into new channels or run new products up the mast, reassure them at every point that though the scenery seems to be changing, the brand remains the same.