A Branding Exercise for Your Business: Write a Book

By Steve McKee

It’s easy to poke fun at the thousands of mediocre business books churned out annually. But planning a business book – regardless of whether it makes it to store shelves – is a useful exercise for business owners seeking to define their brand better and stimulate demand for their product or service.

Determining the book’s title is a good start. After all, focus is at the root of branding, and if you can’t describe the essence of your brand in a single, simple turn of phrase, it’s probably an area in need of improvement. Working on the title should prompt you to answer crucial questions about the story you want to tell your customers: What’s the common thread? What thesis helps connect the dots? What is the overarching point?

Fifteen years ago, legendary Chief Executive Herb Kelleher wrote a book chronicling the secrets of success at Southwest Airlines. The title was as simple as it gets: Nuts. That, in a word, not only reflected Kelleher’s easygoing, lighthearted approach to business, but the humorous culture and efficiency of his airline.

More recently, Tony Hsieh, Zappos’s popular CEO, published Delivering Happiness. It, too, captured the essence of both his business philosophy and company mission. While Hsieh was much younger than Kelleher, and his company is in a very different industry, his commitment to customer satisfaction made the title of the book almost obvious. Perhaps that’s why, in 2009, Hsieh was able to sell the then 10-year-old venture to Amazon for about $1 billion.

A handful of other business leaders have had a similar literary vision. Loews Hotels’ Jonathan Tisch wrote Chocolates on the Pillow Aren’t Enough, reflecting the company’s premise that great products and services need to deliver “experiences that are unique, memorable, and deeply rewarding.” Starbucks’ Howard Schultz wrote Pour Your Heart Into It to share the values by which he built his coffee empire. And Bill Gates’s Business at the Speed of Thought made the case that a computer on every desk was only the beginning.

The discipline of organizing their thoughts into a book compelled each of these business leaders to examine what their companies stood for. And their books reinforced the elements they attributed to their success, suggesting the volumes belonged on the shelves of each of their employees as well as the local Barnes & Noble. A well-written business biography is as much a manual for corporate culture as it is good reading.

Again, I’m not suggesting that you invest the time in writing a book about your company (at least not yet). I’m recommending you work on its title. Think of it as a two-story elevator speech: short and sweet. Is the core of your brand’s appeal rooted in responsive service? Technological prowess? Premium pricing? A unique corporate culture? Whatever the case, reducing its essence to a few well-chosen words or a distinct turn of phrase will underscore your brand’s reason for being and what your fundamental focus should be.

Avoid the temptation to use clichés that any company could use, such as “Quality Matters” or “Because We Care.” Work to come up with something that’s clearly distinct. It might be descriptive like “Delivering Happiness,” suggestive like “Chocolates on the Pillow Aren’t Enough,” metaphorical like “Pour Your Heart Into It,” or reflective of your unique attributes and culture, like “Nuts.” There’s no one way to go about naming a book, and it may be instructive if you come up with multiple titles—particularly if they fundamentally differ. It might be worth including your team.

By going through the process of determining the essential idea by which your company is (or should be) known, you’ll gain appreciation for what your brand is all about. And you might find it doesn’t stand for much, which in itself would be a valuable discovery. Everyone knows you can’t judge a book by its cover. But if the title isn’t even compelling, nobody will bother to pick it up.

Originally published on Bloomberg Businessweek

Steve McKee

Co-founder and author, Steve specializes in addressing the most meaningful problems. Call Steve when you want to change the world. He’ll have a thought (and some research) on that.

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