Monday, June 21, 2010

More on Branding

Last week I talked about how the second you put yourself out in the tinterweb, you're pretty much branding yourself. I gave a list of pointers on what to do or not (like don't represent yourself with pictures of dead armadillos).

I wanted to expand on this topic because Tahereh asked what I thought of Maureen Johnson's branding manifesto, on which she got 254 comments (as of this writing) all saying "Yes I love you and agree with you." (In fairness, I would have said that too.) To sum up the post, Maureen was passionate that social media for authors is a two-way conversation, and not about one person selling a book to another. And in this, she is absolutely right.

What is brand, again?
Maureen's example in her discussion was a woman at a conference who insisted that we all brand ourselves and sell, sell, sell. The woman is incorrect that this is what a brand is for. I suspect the woman doesn't quite know what a brand is, because she missed the boat on the online interaction that is so crucial to our world now. And also because she emphasized that you need to get out and sell or die. Branding is actually a set of consistent visual cues that define a certain sensibility for a person, company, or product.

If that is too rigid, think of this: a brand is a set of colors, or a logo, or a certain way of writing, or a habit that embodies you or your message. By this definition, branding isn't really related to sell sell sell, although it can be. Or you can use it to represent yourself. Maureen said that a brand is a package of yourself so that consumers know what to buy. This is true, but that limits the definition to purchasing.

Riiigght, so what does branding mean to authors?
It means that when you present yourself professionally and consistently, or in a way that embodies who you are, you're branding yourself. And my whole point in this discussion was that the second you step on the tinterweb and start pressing send on things, you're branding yourself because you're sending out representative material.

And if you're a writer aspiring to be published, you'll probably want to make sure you don't come across as a nut case. If you're already published, you'll probably want to convey what you write through color, fonts, and the style of your posts. (Psssst. That's a brand.) And guess what: your brand also includes how much you make yourself accessible to readers or others reaching out to you.

So let's see some examples.
Maureen's brand, as far as I can tell, is her iconic picture that she uses on Twitter. And a certain way of writing her tweets, including putting us into a jar. And while book covers will change between editions and print runs, her book covers are currently all consistent in the font they use-- a scripty type that fits in with YA. Coolio. I think Allison Winn Scotch's brand is wrapped up a consistent set of colors used throughout her communications: aqua and brown, and has also consistently been clear about wanting to help out aspiring authors through her blog. I think Tawna Fenske, quite apart from her high-quality monkey toes brand, has branded herself as a purveyor of humor by the type of posts she writes on her blog, and the effort she puts into amusing us on a regular basis through those posts. It wasn't a surprise to learn that she writes humorous romance.

What's my brand? Cripes. As far as I have tried, it's the visuals of the red scheme, my red photocopied-esque picture, and my font in my name up there. As far as I have tried with content, it's clear, concise information (I try) with lots of white space and headings. Since I write what I like to think of as humorous women's fiction, I hope my posts are somewhat funny (as in, laughing with me, right?). I'll stop there, because if I say I'm funny, then I fear coming across as someone with a very high opinion of herself. Or else a saddo who thinks herself is funny when no one else does.

Does it work? In the above cases, yes. In my case, um...I haven't got any books to sell yet, so only time will tell. If I ask you if you would buy my book based on what's on this blog, then you would be forced to say yes, and my head would be cleared for lift-off again.

Andddddd....why do we care again?
I did point out in my prior post that having a color scheme or a logo or a catch phrase might not be important for you. And you don't have to have those things. It's okay to have an ambiguous brand. Again, so long as you're consistent, and professional. People get along just fine without full branding guideline manuals. But you should, in my opinion, think about the way you come across to others and behave accordingly. That, to me, is the essence of branding.

I'd like to continue this discussion. What are your thoughts on this? Agree? Disagree?


Gemma Noon said...

I think people are more comfortable with using the word "image" when it comes to branding individuals. Sure it means exact the same thing, but words are power, right?

Look at it this way; my personal blog is all black but with pretty colours at the top. I was aiming for girlie yet dark, since the two genres i write in are (female dominated) romance and (male dominated) science fiction. This is only a temporary blog until i get around to designing up my own, but a lot more thought went into that choice than it probably looks. I wanted to appeal to the sci fi crowd without turning off the romance crowd, and vice versa. I'll let you know how it works out.

On the other side, the template for The Literary Project, which was also a free-to-download design, I hope plays a much more neutral line and appeals to the image of a "writer" - ie, the coffee cup, note book, etc, and as such crosses all genres.

Now, both of these are me, but the pitch is slightly different in respect to the audience. Having said that, in both I'm aiming for "I am a professional, I care about what I do, please sign me up."

Some call it image, some call it branding. To me, it is about raising your game in an increasingly competitive field.

Anne R. Allen said...

This is a great explanation of branding and very useful for writers who have finished a few novels and are close to getting published.

But I think it's important to remind newbie writers to keep themselves flexible. There's a lot of horse-before-cart activity going on these days and it may make new writers unduly anxious.

Agents at both Donald Maass and Dystel and Goderich have written recently of the importance of exploring different voices and genres when you're starting out (with a reminder that building a "professional" website before you've finished a first draft is kind of cringe-making.)

Also, a book's graphics and marketing pitch are out of an author's hands once the marketing department takes charge, so they may "re-brand" you.

Social Networking can help a lot to sell product, but before you have anything to sell, it should be about learning the business and making friends with other authors and readers in all the genres you like.

Uh-oh. I'm going on and on here. Maybe I should do a post about this on my own blog.

It's great info, Sierra, as always! I just wanted to give an aside to the fledgling writers out there who might be overwhelmed by all this.

Tawna Fenske said...

Terrific post! I know you and I both come from a Marketing & Corporate Communications background, so it's interesting to take that knowledge and apply it to our writing careers. I agree 110% that for writers, it's more about two-way communication than it is in any other field. Consistency is key, as is approachability.

Great post here, and thanks for the mention!


Simon C. Larter said...

My branding is all unintentional. Although, I may have inadvertently branded myself as a snarky alcoholic writer prone to fits of terrifying silliness and occasional emo ramblings.

So to be clear: I'm not an alcoholic; I just play one on my blog. (And on Twitter.)

And I disagree with you. On principle. Since that's what nemeses do. Yes.

KLM said...

Yes, this is all well and good, but let me warn you of this, fair readers. If you have too appealing a brand, people will try to steal it.

That happened to me. I had such an appealing brand, Ralph Lauren copped it. It was back in the early 80s. I was the one who came up with all that polo-playing, yacht-sailing, modern preppy crap. ME. That's right. Madras shorts, turned up collar, and a sweater tied around the neck? That was ALL ME. Now I have to settle for being some suburban schlub hack writer.

Oh, but yeah. Good post, Sierra.

Linda G. said...

Excellent post! I absolutely agree, especially about the two-way communication, and not making it all about trying to sell something. I'm newly on submission, so I don't really have anything out there to sell yet, but I'm having a ball getting to know all sorts of people in the writing and reading online community.

Julie Dao said...

Terrific post! I am not quite sure what my brand is but I hope it's "me." I second the two-way communication. It's all about connecting with people and letting them know you in addition to your writing. J.K. Rowling once said that love comes before money and I'd much rather adopt her mentality than be out to sell, sell, sell before I even begin.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

Great info to ponder. Hmm, still not sure what my brand is. I've taken a kind of come-learn-along-with-me slant on my blog--not really on purpose, that's just what it turned into. But hopefully, as a person I come across as friendly and professional (and I hope sometimes people are laughing with me and not just at me.) :)

Sierra Godfrey said...

Great comments guys!

Gemma, yeah image is a good word. And I think you did it right with the consideration you put into your themes.

Anne, you make some terrific points about genre and covers.

Tawna, the only disadvangate of coming from marcom is that we (well, I) tend to be more rigid when it comes to brand and design. The trick is opening up.

Nemesis, I'll take all of that as agreement then.

Kristen -- LOL, your brand of humor is always rapier sharp.

Linda, you're doing it well!

Julie, yes I can say your brand is "you."

Roni, You definitely do. You're fine as you are.

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