Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A Branding Nightmare

Branding was one of those buzzwords that circulated through 1990s marketing-speak with greater virulence than a cab driver's body odor in a NYC taxi. The effects of both were often equally offensive. The fact of the matter is that brand identity has been around since Caveman A knew to go to Caveman B for extra sticks and stones because he knew the other cavemen had lousy wares. Since then, anyone deft in the art of business has tried to associate their brand with being trustworthy and reliable in order to maximize repeat-patronage and word-of-mouth endorsements from faithful consumers.

Skip forward several (thousand) years, and you see that branding has become something closer to iconography than reputation-building. These days so much value has been placed on slick logos and easily identifiable, repeat marketing campaigns that it's almost an after-thought to build brand identity from the ground up by establishing a product with a core group of consumers that will advocate on behalf of the company and/or product by virtue of its quality. The later of these two approaches requires more persistence, patience, and hard work, which is, I suppose, why the former has become so popular - you only need to spend money in order to get an eye-catching logo and a snappy advertising campaign.

That said, my company (Vintage Books) has done a pretty good job at building its reputation on the quality of the books we publish. Without getting into specifics, the list of titles and authors we published is unparalleled (proof of which can be found by browsing the Vintage catalog). However when it comes to branding, Vintage has found itself in something of a schizophrenic nightmare due in large part to the fact that it has no universal image or logo that consumers can identify when browsing in a book store.

We have the Vintage Sun logo, which is the basic Vintage brand; the Vintage International logo, which is does not mean "foreign" as much as it means "world-renown;" the Vintage Contemporaries logo, which tends to means next to nothing as plenty of contemporaries are published under the Sun logo and the International logo; the Vintage Classics logo, which is ostensibly more "vintage" than Vintage; the Vintage Crime/Black Lizard logo, which is the mystery & crime group obviously; the Vintage Espanol logo for Spanish-language books; followed by a few less common logos, such as the Vintage Departures logo for travel books, the Vintage Civil War logo, and the Vintage Spiritual Classics logo. Ironically, we publish a whole line of Sci-Fi books, too, but they don't have a unique logo.

By my count that's nines logos and only a few of them look even remotely similar. Now, short of completely over-turning the apple cart and starting afresh with one universal logo, how does one go about branding such a multi-faced product?

It's an interesting dilemma because the Vintage brand is actually a very meaningful one. According to our website:
Vintage Books was founded in 1954 by Alfred A. Knopf as a trade paperback home
for its authors. Its publishing list includes a wide range, from the most influential works of world literature to cutting edge contemporary fiction and distinguished non-fiction. With a list that includes such important writers as William Faulkner, Vladimir Nabokov, Albert Camus, Ralph Ellison, Raymond Chandler, William Styron, A.S. Byatt, Philip Roth, Richard Ford, Cormac McCarthy, Alice Munro, V. S. Naipaul, Haruki Murakami, David Guterson, and Richard Russo, it is today's foremost trade paperback publisher.
In addition to that list, Vintage is home to James Baldwin, John Cheever, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Langston Huges, Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, Willa Cather, Truman Capote, and W. Somerset Maugham. We certainly stand to benefit from brand identification when it comes to these writers, which is also to say something quite remarkable about the living authors we are publishing today. The name itself, Vintage, implies something of lasting quality in the books we publish, and I think the sun (at least) is symbolic of a lasting, reliable source of renewal and life - but what about the other eight logos?

It's as if we've done all of the excruciatingly long and hard work of building an impressively reputable product line, but then shot ourselves in the foot with what should be the most simple finishing touch, the universal thing that ties it all in together for the consumer: the recognizable image!


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