Brand Belief

Bestselling books often aren’t.

brand-beliefFor decades the New York Times (NYT) Best Seller list was the acid test of a good read. But while helping a client with his book project, we explored what it takes to get on that list, and it isn’t pretty. In short, you need to sell about 9,000 copies of a book in a given week. Based on this information, a number of companies slithered out of the marketing muck to arrange “book buy-downs” – buying many books through channels to make a book appear to be popular. An author who wants to forever be known as a NYT bestseller simply pays one of these companies to buy books through minions around the country, then store those books in a warehouse somewhere.

Sleazy. Even the NYT has tried (and failed) to flag bulk buys as potential rank rigging, though this misidentifies some legitimate bulk buys (such as institutional or association purchases).

It is interesting that the NYT bestseller list is still the gold standard, despite recurring instances of one-week-winners – books that hit best seller volumes for a single week, then fade to nothing. Because the NYT was (past tense appropriate) the newspaper of record and a cornerstone for the literary elite, a belief system developed around their bestseller list. Gaining entry to the NYT top ten list was considered proof of popularity for a publication. This belief system persists despite everyone in the industry knowing the game is rigged as a matter of practice.

Belief systems persist even after they are depreciated (you can find practicing Zoroastrist today). Amazon’s tracking of online sales is likely more accurate than the NYT weekly polling of bookstores, but the Gray Lady is stubborn with her cachet. Therein is the power of branding, which when you crawl under its skin is more about belief than fact. To create a really strong brand you must create a really strong belief system.

Ask yourself what you believe and why. Often you will struggle to understand why you believe what you do. Most people believe the religion they were raised with, but have no rational basis for their beliefs. Others hold dear to a political party that no longer reflects their views. Beliefs and brands are strong when they are formed by being:

Repeatable: Repetition from many sources creates belief. The more often one is presented with a belief or a brand, and through many channels, and via many friends, the more it is believed.

Reliable: Beliefs and bands must be reasonably consistent and enduring. A brand that vacillates cannot be believed. This is why most politicians have poor personal brands.

Valuable: A belief or a brand must be perceived as valuable, or nobody will care. Life after death and a guaranteed good read are both valuable, and thus garner believers.

If you are crafting a brand, start from the bottom and work your way up. There is no use in whipping your organization to present a consistent brand if that brand has no value. And there is no benefit in promoting a brand everywhere and through every channel if it is wantonly presented. Most of all, don’t believe your own hype … marketers need to release their own belief systems in order to see when they have become as invalid as the NYT bestseller list.


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