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Discover the most underrated communications tool of them all

People fall in love with them in childhood and that love can last forever. They're revered as sources of wisdom and great stories. People value them as gifts and rarely throw them away. They are stored in our living rooms and workspaces and looked at again and again for years and years. We are talking, of course, about books. With qualities like these, you'd think they would be the communications medium of choice. But companies rarely commission them. Are they missing out?

As you may or may not have been aware, April 23rd was World Book Day. An annual celebration of reading and publishing, it shows that despite mounting competition for our time and attention, there is still something about books that captivates us.

In fact, no other medium is revered in quite the same way. It’s probably a childhood thing. We’re almost pre-programmed to associate books with wonder, thoroughness and expertise. Therefore, when we pick up a book, we do so in a positive frame of mind. We expect to put it down a better person.

So, you would have thought that companies, with their many different communications needs, would be attracted to books. They are used to gather together reference, such as brand guidelines and company histories. But as persuasive tools or elements in campaigns, they are rather rare. Why so?

They mean business Put a book in an employee or client’s hands and they know you’ve taken the topic seriously. What’s more, it’s a great way of positioning yourself as an authority on the subject. And there’s certainly no better leave-behind material. What else feels so substantial and well thought through?

The length of a book is another bonus. The extra space allows companies to communicate complex messages without sacrificing valuable detail.

Books are also versatile. Companies don’t have to restrict themselves to non-fiction. Utilising established genres, such as romance, the thriller or comedy, can help companies bring their messages to life. And again, the medium has done much of the work for you. The audience enjoys these genres.

Prolonged presence It’s not just the words in books we love. They also look great. For companies, the book cover is the perfect space for communicating a memorable message. It’s like a poster – but with extra staying power. After all, people don’t just keep books; they keep them on display. We all have bookshelves. Whereas brochures and magazines... they usually find themselves in the bin.

Less expensive than you think So why are companies so reluctant to play author? The answer, I think, is primarily historical. Getting a book printed used to be expensive and you had to commit to a large run. Even though digital printing technology means it’s now remarkably cheap to produce a one-off, high quality book, our cost concerns don't seem to have changed.

What about the cost of all those words? Obviously, writing a book can't be done in day. But modern business books are often under 15,000 words. That doesn't take too long if you're clear about the style, genre, idea and content at the outset.

We’ve just written a 13,000-word book for a well-known financial institution. It used a contemporary parable to explain a pivotal cultural shift at the company. Utilising narrative techniques like characterisation and dramatic questions allowed us to make potentially dry, technical points memorable. And, by commissioning the book, the company gave the cultural shift the stature - let alone the detail - it required.

Far from being extravagant, a company book is a shrewd investment. No other medium is so welcomed. None can deliver such complex messages in such an entertaining way. It’s time companies started publishing.


Barnaby Benson


Date posted: 25/04/2013

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