Business Musings: Brand Loyalty 2 (Branding/Discoverability)
Last week’s blog on Brand Loyalty started to go long. Rather than force you to read 6,000 words on marketing, I decided to split the post in half.
I’m not going to recap what I said in Part One, except to define brand loyalty again. If you have not read that post, please go do so now. This part won’t make as much sense if you come to it cold.
Brand loyalty is a pattern of consumer behavior where consumers become committed to brands and make repeat purchases from the same brands over time. Loyal customers consistently purchase products from their preferred brands, regardless of convenience or price.
That last sentence is the most important part of all this. The brand-loyal customer will go out of their way to purchase a brand they like, and will often pay a premium to do so. That doesn’t mean you should overcharge your most loyal readers, nor should you undercharge them to keep them reading.
Brand loyalty is earned. It cannot be bought.
Marketing firms, economics departments in universities, and many high-end retailers spend a lot of time thinking about how to build brand loyalty. As I researched this piece, I found articles that promised 11 ways to build brand loyalty! 15 ways to build brand loyalty! 5 ways to build brand loyalty! And so on. Most of these ways are completely different from each other, and have little to do with each. Most of the people writing about brand loyalty online are doing so to get you to hire them to build your brand. Ignore all that. I’m going to.
Instead, I’m going to focus on a few ways that show up in all of the articles, and then I’ll tailor those ways to writers.
Remember, folks, writers are the brand here. Your byline is the brand. Not your publisher, not your cover. The name you write under is the brand you are building.
That’s important to what comes next.
According to the American Marketing Association, brand loyalty is about the experience a customer has with a brand, not the price the customer pays or what they save.
Remember the ecosystem comments about Apple from the previous post. Apple provides an all-around experience for its customers. It doesn’t just provide a product.
This is a place where writers can excel. More on that below.
Brand Loyalty In General
Let’s continue with general brand loyalty for a moment. Here are the things that show up on almost every list (in no particular order):
- Focus On What You Do Best
- Provide Value/Quality
- Be Authentic
- Be Unique
- Make Sure Your Brand is Consistent
- Focus on Customer Service/Make The Consumer Experience Pleasant
- Engage With Your Customers
- Segment And Reward Loyalty Levels
Or, let’s look at it in a different way: Brand loyalty is about trust. The consumer trusts the brand to fulfill some need, some promise. One marketer, James Kane, believes that brand loyalty comes about with a “yes” answer to these three questions:
- Do you make my life safer?
- Do you make my life easier?
- Do you make my life better?
Overwhelming and confusing, I know. It’s worse if you look at all the websites. A lot of them confuse customer loyalty with brand loyalty, brand image with brand identity, product with company.
I’m going to try to clarify all of this stuff for writers, now.
For the sake of this next section, we’re going to consider the writer herself as the brand, not the writer’s series. Just the byline.
Brand Loyalty For Writers
Let’s start with those three questions, and the word “trust.”
To have brand loyalty, the reader needs to trust the writer will provide a great experience. But does that experience make a person’s life safer, easier, and better?
Some nonfiction does, automatically. But on this blog, we deal with fiction. Does fiction make a reader’s life safer, easier, and better?
Absolutely. Fiction gives a reader time to relax, to go elsewhere, to think about other things. In doing so, fiction makes a reader’s life easier, and often, by giving just a bit of entertainment, it makes a reader’s life better.
Does fiction make a reader’s life safer?
Of course. Fiction teaches empathy, for one thing, opens new worlds and new ideas to a reader, and most importantly, makes a reader feel like he’s not alone. All of those things—and many more—can make a reader feel safer.
A great author can provide all three to the reader without thinking about it. The writer has no idea how she connects with her readers. The only way she can do so is…
1. Be The Best Writer Possible
Write at the top of your game with every project. Continue to learn and grow. Try new things. Constantly improve. Become the best storyteller you can. Only write things you’re passionate about, and that will make you the best writer you can possibly be.
- Provide Value/Quality
Don’t put out a half-assed project. Make sure your books are copyedited, your covers are good, and your stories as important to you as possible. Don’t write something because someone told you it will sell. Write something because you love it and you want to write about it.
If you write what you love, readers will respond.
- Be Authentic
Write what’s important to you, not to anyone else. Write from the heart. Even if your writing is in some way flawed, anything that comes from your heart will be one hundred times better than writing that comes from some intellectual “I should write like this because someone told me to” place.
- Be Unique
Lee Child dealt with this in the Forbes article I listed last week. He said this about the way he created Jack Reacher:
I ignored all the other series. If you start with a laundry list of things then the book won’t be organic.
If you want to write something that has been done to death because you love that idea, then write it, but make it yours. If you want to write something that no one else is writing, and you have no idea how to market it (or what it even is), write it, and then figure out how to communicate it to your readers.
- Be Consistent
This can mean that you write the same series, genre, or character, if that is what you want to do. But it doesn’t mean you have to.
You need to be consistent in the above 4 points. Your work should always be the best it can be. Make your product branding recognizable—something that screams this is a book by you. (If you’ll note, on my novels, the last name Rusch is usually a focal point.)
If you are continually writing what you love, then you will write from a part of you that is uniquely you. That alone will keep your work consistent. Your perspective is yours alone, and impossible to replicate in any way.
Trust the writing process. Trust your work. And trust your readers. They will find what’s consistent about your work, even if you can’t see it.
- Make It Easy For Your Readers To Find Your Work
We writers don’t do normal customer service things. We don’t have retail stores (or most of us don’t, anyway). We market through other retailers. We are introverts, and we don’t like spending hours interacting with people. Many writers don’t even like social media or blogging online.
So how do writers provide a good customer experience and/or customer service?
Simple. This is actually what we excel at. The good customer experience happens inside the stories we tell, the worlds we create, the entertainment we provide.
Customer service, though, is a different thing. Make it easy for your readers to find another book of yours. Make sure that you have the opening chapter to another novel at the end of your current novel. If you have a newsletter that you use to update your readers on the next project, put that in your books as well.
Have a static website with easily accessible information on the books/series. (This is where I fail, because I built mine wrong—at least under Rusch. For Nelscott and Grayson, and for my Diving and Retrieval Artist series, I do just fine.)
Figure out what questions your readers usually ask, and set up a FAQ so that those questions get answered easily.
And think about this: if you want something from a writer as a reader, chances are your readers want that from you. Provide it, whatever “it” might be.
- Engage With Your Readers
This does not mean you have to spend hours on social media or send out weekly newsletters. Nor does it mean you need to answer every question on Wattpad or do an online Q&A.
Figure out how you want to interact with your readers. I give my readers free stuff, but not in the obvious way. I don’t put my books on a retail site for free.
Instead, I run a free piece of fiction—in its entirety—every Monday, and have done so every week since 2011. I post this blog for free every Thursday and have done so, except for a six-month hiatus while I finished a big book project, every week since 2009.
I also do a monthly recommended reading list, based on what I read each month. I had stopped doing that for lack of time, but my readers asked me to bring it back. I had thought that no one was reading it, but the moment I stopped, I got letter after letter after letter asking for its return. I now make the recommended reading list one of my major priorities.
Am I constantly writing, talking to, dealing with my readers one-on-one in a public or social media setting? No. But I do give them ways to interact with my work, which is what I care about. I love sharing my stories, my reading choices, and my thoughts on the industry, and people seem to love reading those things.
This is how I chose to engage with my readers, and they seem to enjoy it, if my email and comments are any indication.
You can find a similar way to engage your readers as well. It might be different from mine, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is what works best for you.
- Segment And Reward Loyalty Levels
I am leaving that language from the original brand loyalty posts here, because I don’t know how to say it better. What the above phrase means is that you reward readers based on their level of engagement.
I provide a lot of free material on this website because, quite frankly, I was really, really, really poor once. I know how important it is for a reader with no money to have access to something good to read. Sometimes those readers end up in better circumstances and will eventually pay to read my work. Most often, though, they won’t. But they will be the biggest cheerleaders of my work. They will point out to others that my work is available for free; they will spread word of mouth about the quality of the product, because they’re reading it each and every week.
I learned long ago, though, that some people will pay a great deal for something they value. In addition to the free end of the spectrum, it’s important to provide the limited edition/expensive end of the spectrum. There are people who love having an exclusive or one-of-a-kind item, and if you can provide it as a writer, do so.
I did a lot more of that years ago, and am coming back to it. The nice thing about that product is that it makes a great giveaway to a loyal reader who cannot afford something that expensive.
Patreon and other platforms provide a different way to segment engagement—people pay for what they want or pay to support whatever they are interested in. Kickstarter has shown that a handful of hardcore fans can fund up everything from movies to music to novels.
You shouldn’t just focus on the people who can afford your work. Nor should you focus solely on those who need low, low prices because they’re bargain hunters.
Make sure you provide something for everyone. And give those somethings some thought.
- Develop an ecosystem
J.K. Rowling is doing that very well with Pottermore. Pottermore is more than a beautiful website. It’s a place to interact with other J.K. Rowling fans, to enter the “wizarding world,” to find things to buy, to talk about the books, characters, and ideas in her work. It is an interactive place that brings fans together.
She doesn’t run the site personally, but she does oversee it, and it was her idea.
You can do something similar, if you so chose, or you can figure out other ways to create an ecosystem. Sometimes simply releasing story bibles or ephemera or cut scenes will fill this same gap.
The Biggest Key To Brand Loyalty
Acknowledge that you are a brand. Build it one reader at a time. Know that your readers are people not numbers on your newsletter.
And remember this lovely statistic, courtesy of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University:
Up to 15% of a business’s most loyal customers account for 55-70% of its total sales.
It’s not how many people buy your books that’s important. What’s important is how many of those people read and like your books. What’s even more important than that is how many of those readers return to your next book, and your next, and your next.
Stop chasing big numbers of downloads or newsletter sign-ups. Start thinking about providing value to your readers.
Then you need to value each reader—even if you only have ten of them. Some day, those ten readers will become twenty, those twenty readers will become 100, those 100 readers will become 1,000.
To put it in retail terms, you want repeat customers. You want to be a destination writer, just like our retail stores in a tiny tourist town are destination stops for people on their annual vacation.
If you think of your readers as people, if you remain grateful for their willingness to spend their hardearned time and dollars on you, you’re on the road to building a brand that will inspire loyalty.
Just remember: one reader at a time.
When I started this blog in 2009, I figured no one would read it. I’d be talking to myself. Readers showed up, a few dozen at first, then a few hundred, and then a few thousand. I have no idea how many people read the blog every week, but I knew even the older blogs get hundreds of readers each week.
I am still stunned and amazed that all of you want to watch me grapple with the changes in publishing. I’m learning from you. And sometimes, putting things down on the blog helps me realize what I need to do in my own career.
So thank you!
I do have a Patreon page, so if you feel like supporting the blog financially on an on-going basis, then please head there.
If you liked this post or the short series I’m doing right now, and want to show your one-time appreciation, the place to do that is PayPal. If you go that route, please include your email address in the notes section, so I can say thank you.
Which I am going to say right now. Thank you!
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“Business Musings: Brand Loyalty 2,” copyright © 2017 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2017 by —-