One path to branding is:
attributes -> points of difference (PODs) -> sustainable competitive distinctiveness.
...with generous amounts of narrative and myth-making thrown in.
This series of posts reviewed a number of attributes of u presses:
• Arm’s length = tied to research institutions but not beholden to them
• Ameliorative = increasing the communicative power (impact) of texts
• Multidisciplinary = rendering arguments across the disciplines
• Premium (and Open) Access = impact-driven; market-facing
• Active in the marketplace = impact-driven; market-facing
Let's add two to these that may seem obvious, aspirational or historic:
• Future-facing = being the source of forthcoming, original work
• Not for profit = non-commercial
• Hosting the academic discussion = res ipsa loquitur; however, less loudly than res used to
Let's also add a salient, unique asset that is nearly a corollary of some attributes above:
• University and faculty-facing = on a collegial basis with most scholarly authors and their institutions
Choosing from among these attributes or adding to them further to make up a list of leverage-able points of difference (PODs) -- on which to position or brand -- can be complicated. You'd have to decide which strategic Other (category of competitor) was the most important to position against; PODs might change for each, and if you choose more than one strategic Other, you'd have to select varying attributes for different reasons.
A) To position against Commercial publishing houses, u presses could stress/leverage their Not-for-profit status and their being on a collegial basis with most scholarly authors and their institutions, University and faculty-facing.
B) To position against (or as complementary to) Libraries, u presses should stress/leverage their being Future-facing and Active in the marketplace (public facing).
C) To position against Amazon/Google, u presses should stress/leverage their being on a collegial basis with most scholarly authors and their institutions, University and faculty-facing and further stress and leverage their Not-for-profit status.
D) To position against (or as complementary to) Authors, u presses might stress/leverage their being Multidisciplinary and their Hosting the academic discussion.
Who should u presses position against (or seek to complement) in the changing landscape? Commercial publishing houses? Amazon/Google? Libraries? Authors? Each of these strategic Others has increasing publishing resources at its disposal and together (in aggregate, not conspiracy) they can and will wipe out large swaths of demand for publishing services, unless u presses can assert a brand with sustainable competitive distinctiveness -- in the eyes of the beholder.
The answer, of course, is: E ) All of the above.
The best play for the u press network will be to brand on all of the attributes and assets listed in competitive examples A through D: they need to leverage their Not-for-profit status and their being on a collegial basis with most scholarly authors and their institutions or University and faculty-facing; their being Future-facing and Active in the marketplace (public facing); and their being Multidisciplinary and their Hosting the academic discussion to strategically align with Authors and Libraries and even Google/Amazon and position against Commercial publishing houses.
Many of these potential brand attributes go without saying; e.g., Not-for-profit and Multidisciplinary . However, they are strategically moribund; they provide strategic upsides that could be leveraged to significant and lasting advantage.
The most important attributes for u presses to successfully project going forward (i.e., the things that u presses will benefit most from being seen as unimpeachably owning in the eyes of the beholder in the next few decades) will be Future-facing and Hosting the academic discussion -- i.e., what's happening now everywhere, rather than what has happened here and there of note. The u press network's ownership of these characteristics (operational license) is often questioned. If the network can shore up its collective brand in these two key areas, it will improve/secure its sustainable competitive distinctiveness into the future and therefore the lot of all u presses.