Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

The Kleenex of publishing: Kindle and brand recognition


Source: Naypong /

While I was having lunch the other day, I couldn’t stop myself from eavesdropping on a conversation taking place a couple of tables down as soon as I heard a few operative words like “Kindle,” “Barnes & Noble,” and “iPad.” (I mean really, can you blame me?)

One of the women at the table confessed to her friends that she hadn’t been to a Barnes & Noble store in quite some time and had been surprised—and yes, disappointed—to see “a room full of Kindles” on her most recent visit.

I started laughing at the visual, since we all know that Barnes & Noble will start stocking Kindle products just as soon as pigs sprout wings. Noticing the perplexed expression on my dining companion’s face, I said, “I’ll tell you later,” and regained my composure while resisting the urge to inject myself into someone else’s conversation.

In all seriousness though, I was intrigued because the individuals at this table were not out of touch with technology; in fact, it seemed to me they were most likely a group of college students reuniting with hometown friends over winter break. They were clearly well versed in the effects of technology on publishing, and yet the generic use of the trademarked Kindle just proves the ubiquity and strength of Amazon’s branding efforts.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this happen, of course, and I’m sure you’ve heard it too. Maybe you’ve been guilty of it yourself. I confess, even as a Nook user, I have said “Kindle” when what I really meant was “ereader” on a few occasions. (Shame on me. I know.)

As you may recall from a few weeks ago, my fellow Appazoogler, Jen, observed the changes in Barnes and Noble’s advertising strategy in order to effectively compete with Amazon. Hearing someone refer to Kindle the same way one might generalize Kleenex, Xerox, and of course, Google, leads me to believe that companies like Barnes & Noble have to do something to make sure their brand gets noticed.

Back in 2009, Farhad Manjoo analyzed what it would take to beat Amazon’s Kindle, observing that “the Kindle has become synonymous with eBook readers, overshadowing every competitor—the Kleenex of its industry.”

Pointing to a classic history repeats itself scenario, Manjoo compared the ereader war to the music industry. To effectively beat Amazon’s Kindle, he argued, one should study the strategies adopted by iPod competitors—and take care not to follow in their footsteps.

Straightforward, yes. Easy, no.

In the ereader world, Amazon has taken the lead—at least in terms of brand recognition—and it will be a battle for others to claim their niche in the competitive ereader market with a unique strategy that rivals, rather than duplicates, Amazon’s.

To play devil’s advocate, brand recognition can also be a double-edged sword—something Kimberly-Clark knows all too well with their Kleenex brand. Though Kleenex is a trademark, people still refer to Puffs facial tissue as “Kleenex;” like Kleenex, many-a-brand have been transformed into the generic due to widespread use.

However, Kindle is far from becoming a victim of this, and brand recognition and awareness certainly works in Amazon’s favor at this point.

Take a few minutes today to conduct your own social experiment. Turn to someone you know and play the word association game. “When I say ereader, you say…?”

How many will say “Nook”? How many will say “Kobo”?

When people think about ereaders, particularly when it’s time to make a purchase, how many are recalling the Barnes and Noble/Jane Lynch advertising campaign? Or are they thinking of Kindle? With Amazon’s firm hold on the ereader market, what does that mean for books—and publishers—at large?


This entry was posted on January 13, 2012 by in Business and tagged , , .

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