5 Lessons Authors Can Learn From Big Brands
On the surface, you might believe there’s nothing an author could learn from goliath businesses like Nike or American Airlines. After all, they aren’t lone creators; they’re huge, faceless corporations that command thousands of workers. Their infrastructures and resources annex whole continents, so vast that any changes they make affect thousands of lives. What’s more, they don’t even operate in the book publishing industry, so have nothing to teach us.
Amateur authors who are yet to learn how to monetise their writing often think this way. The truth, though, is that we can learn a lot from global brands. Successful indies who have turned their hobby into a lucrative business understand this better than most. This is because they see their pen name as brands and their writing as a production line with dependable outcomes. While they enjoy their work, to them, their books are intellectual property assets they can repurpose in the same way McDonald’s can blend menu items or Warner Bros. can repackage Harry Potter concepts.
You may be reluctant to adopt this capitalist mindset as a creator but, whether you write introspective poetry, middle grade fantasy or steamy romance, if you sell your work, you do run a business. And while the link between our companies and those dominating the world might not be obvious, there are lessons we can draw from them. In today’s article, we’ll break down five such lessons, drawing actionable steps you can take to replicate the steps taken to build an equally impressive brand loved by millions.
Harry Selfridge, founder of the Selfridge empire, once said, “The customer is always right.” And while this statement will irk anyone who’s worked in retail, his words carry merit. Indeed, companies that internalise this mantra consistently overdeliver to happy customers and soothe disgruntled ones. Their obsession nurtures effective word-of-mouth marketing and encourages repeat business, maximising profits. Just look at Amazon as an example. It isn’t perfect, but it has made online shopping easier than any of its competitors. As Jeff Bezos has stated, “The best customer service is if the customer doesn’t need to call you, doesn’t need to talk to you. It just works.” That is why Amazon dominates e-commerce.
You might not think helping shoppers applies to the average author business model. However, you don’t need to own a store to provide great customer service. One way you can shine without one is to respond your readers with patience and enthusiasm whenever they do contact you directly. Replying to thank a superfan for a compliment, for instance, can make their day. Sending a disgruntled reader a free ebook, even if you didn’t cause their problem, meanwhile, could sweeten a sour reading experience and lead to a favourable review. This behaviour, while often overlooked, can build you a reputation for being an author readers love – and one they love to recommend.
Transparency has become a watchword among some of the world’s most successful companies. According to The Org, Buffer now publishes all employee salaries and Fitbit is open about the exact data points they collect and how they use them to create a better product. Both do this to nurture an ethical culture which the media praises and stakeholders appreciate. And they’re not alone. Social media has changed the wider business landscape, exposing shady practices and highlighting virtuous players. As a result, many company executives now strive to craft a reputation for transparency, knowing it encourages guilt-free customer spending.
Consumers hold creators, like YouTubers and musicians, to a similar standard and prefer to support those they deem transparent. This is an area in book publishing in which indie authors are leading the charge. Empowered by their control over production and marketing, Caroline Peckham is killing it on TikTok, L.J. Shen has a devoted advance-reader team and Mark Dawson has nurtured a powerful Facebook community. All readily discuss their plans, successes and even mistakes. If you want similar results, you need to match their transparency as well as their writing quality. That means not sharing customer data, explaining your business decisions and admitting to any lapses in judgement. Readers will be more likely to support you if they feel like they know, like and trust you.
Attention to Detail
When someone mentions The Ritz, Rolls-Royce or Rolex, which words come to mind? Expensive? High quality? Thoroughness? That’s deliberate as the bosses of these brands work hard to promote their attention to detail, knowing they can sell their products or services at an inflated price as a result. Take Rolls-Royce, for instance; on their official YouTube channel, they discuss their car production process, claiming to “hand-polish the bodywork for up to 5 hours.” They explain that each five-meter coach line is hand-painted and exactly 3 mm across, taking 3 hours to produce. It’s this extra effort that, many customers believe, justifies their price.
There are lessons we can draw from this case study as authors, primarily that people will pay more for products they believe require an above-average effort to produce. Hence, if you want to charge higher prices for your books, you need to craft a similar reputation. How could you improve your production quality to make that happen? Could you do more research? Hire a top-notch editor? Use two proofreaders? How about increasing the margin and font size of paperbacks to improve the reading experience, or using paper that smells like old bookshops? Would colour illustrations help? You too can charge higher prices off the back of having a reputation for going the extra mile on details that other authors wouldn’t even consider.
Stay at high-end hotels or fly with luxury airlines and you may eventually notice experiences that are spookily tailored to your personality or features that remind you a little too much of home. Given a good experience, most guests don’t question these. It’s useful to know, though, that these memorable touches aren’t always coincidental. In many cases, they are facilitated by social media. Hotels personalise customer experiences, for instance, by checking guests’ public profiles. You like sport? They might offer you complementary tickets to a football match. Identify as a foodie? How about a fine dining experience? Some hotels even log customer requests to arrange rooms to match their taste on their next stay without them having to ask.
Managing limited resources, you probably don’t have the time or budget to give every reader this sort of treatment. However, you can tailor the reading experience to make it more memorable. For example, consider your superfans. They’re often easy to spot. Perhaps they discuss your “fandom” at length over email or they’re often the first to comment on your Facebook page. How about offering them a signed paperback, unprompted? Write a personalised message in it to show you notice and appreciate them. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but many readers see authors as celebrities and couldn’t imagine being recognised. If you want to make an even bigger splash, you could even dedicate your next book to a few of your most passionate readers.
Founders of massive companies often understand the power of community and that’s why they delegate. The more people get involved, the more they can achieve in a short space of time. Just look at AirBnB. They’ve grown rapidly compared to traditional hotel brands by leveraging a community of property owners to do much of the promotion and legwork for them. Amazon, Apple and Kobo have tapped into the author community in a similar way. And, according to Harvard Business Review, Harley-Davidson once saved its dying brand by nurturing a brand community – a group they explain to be “ardent consumers organized around the lifestyle, activities, and ethos of the brand.” When customers or clients unite around your brand, momentum builds, even without you.
You won’t have die-hard fans when you’re new to writing books, but it’s easier to get some than many authors believe. To start, all it takes is great books and supplementary content readers love. Gather your early readers in an online place where they can talk to each other. Then drip feed them consistent content to get them talking. Many popular indies working today have created communities using this strategy that have since developed lives of their own. Do this well and your readers will view your community as a social hub of people who share their interests. They’ll gush over your books first but will soon make friends. Given time, your community could even run independently and create a buzz around your books that crackles 24 hours a day.
Big businesses get a lot of flak for being “greedy” corporations, but they aren’t all about purchasing power and anti-competition strategies. Many are successful because of all the good things they’ve done. They’re institutions built on reputations that have given them ever-increasing resources. Learn by their example and you too could turn your author brand into a perennial presence, loved by millions of readers.
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