Good morning and welcome to the first installment of our series on branding. We all hear about branding, but how many of us sit back and wonder what the term means? If you are one of those people, you are in luck because Jeannie Ruesch of Will Design for Chocolate is here with a great lecture on this topic.
Each one of these companies has a brand you recognize, one you identify and have an opinion about. (In some cases, not a good one.) In these terms, recognizing the brand is simple because it’s already been established and because you’ve formed an opinion about it. And every time you interact with that brand, your opinion furthers or diverts, based on what you get from it.
Where Does It Come From?
Branding has been around a long time, probably longer than you think. In fact, one of the earliest mentions of branding comes from Ancient Roman times. Firmalampen, or “factory lamps,” were one of the first mass-produced goods in Roman times. They were oil lamps made of molded terracotta clay and signed on the bottom with the name of the factory that made them. Without even knowing what one was, they were given a brand.
These lamps were decorated with images of gladiators, animals, gods and more. Fortis was the most successful of these brands in the first and second centuries AD. In fact, so successful that its stamp was copied and reproduced throughout the empire.
The name Fortis likely doesn’t connote much more than a casual historical reference to you, but how about when I mention that some articles called Fortis the “Gucci” or “Armani” of ancient oil lamps? That probably helps you assign a context, a value to them, based on the fact that Gucci and Armani are brands you know. Brands you have formed an opinion on.
Fortis, like any other company name, became something more than a name. The name itself became equated with a value, a reputation and a decided opinion (on the part of the customer) about quality.
What is a brand?
Let’s talk Little Black Dresses. You know exactly the ones I’m talking about – every woman in the world has one in her closet, every man in the world thinks one thing when they hear that phrase: Sexy. The little black dress has a reputation, it definitely arouses emotions, and we know exactly what we’ll get when we wear it.
It has a brand. It doesn’t matter what name is on the label, it doesn’t matter who is wearing it (or since we’re romance writers, who is taking it off…)
When women put on that little black dress, they are saying “I feel strong, I feel sexy and I feel ready to take on the world.” In fact, Barbie recently released their “Barbie Basics: The Little Black Dress” line to celebrate what the little black dress means to women. The little black dress promises every woman that she’ll feel sexy, sassy and ready to take on the world. We know the LBD meets this promise because we’ve worn them. And we choose to wear that dress when that’s the image we want to convey.
A brand is a combination of elements: a value, a reputation and a decision about quality. A brand is everything you extend outward and is only truly complete when someone forms an opinion about what you’ve offered.
Your Brand is Your Promise. It is also their Perception.
In order to fully establish your brand in a reader’s mind, you have to remember what you are asking for: their trust. You are asking them to trust you with their money and time, and if they trust you, you are promising to deliver a certain experience.
The final experience comes from your book – so writing a damn good story is paramount. But most of the time, you’ve put yourself out there before they ever read a page. From the design of your website to the tone of your book trailer to the smile on your face at a book signing, your readers are forming their opinions about who and what you are.
Do’s And Don’ts in Building Your Brand
It’s important to remember that brand can be good or bad. It is something you only have partial control over, because the final factors are in the opinions of human beings. There are things you can do well, or badly, to form that opinion.
Building Your Branding
An easy way to look at the elements of branding is to think back to that Little Black Dress. The dress itself is a starting point. It’s basic and it’s black. Yet, every woman who wears the LBD looks uniquely herself, because of the differences she layers on top of it. Some stay simple, some dress it up with flashy jewelry. They wear their hair up or down. These are all steps to building a “look.” Building your brand requires the same steps. Your writing is the basic black dress – you are naked without it. The dress makes the outfit, and your writing makes your brand. But all the other stuff gives hints about the personality within.
Your LBD (the Writer’s Voice)
Your writing voice– and voice, for the most basic definition, is the personality of your writing. As a writer, you need to know what that is before you ever start the process of building a brand. Are you funny? Serious? Fast paced? Emotional? This isn’t about genre, this is about personality. Read your work with an honest eye and jot down a list of words that come to mind. As many as you can. All the written elements of your branding should match your tone, so the more specific you can be, the better.
Some time ago, I watched a book video that I loved. It was truly funny and engaging, and when I finished, I knew exactly what sort of book I would get from the author. I expected the personality of the book video would match the writing. It didn’t. It was a let down. The trust I’d extended to the author was shaken. Uncertainty has become a part of her brand—from my opinion– because I don’t know what to expect. One could argue that the book trailer did its job, because I bought the book. But trust is tenuous, with any relationship. Imagine if you were on a date with your reader and you promised to call… then you don’t meet the promise. How many times can you do that before they give up?
The style of your marketing efforts should match the personality of your books. Drill down to the most important elements of your style and every word in your marketing efforts, every design, the colors, etc, should match accordingly. Part of building this trust is answering the question men hate most: Where is this relationship going? Your readers need to know what they’ll get.
The Jewelry (Genre)
Having an effective brand doesn’t mean sticking to one genre, but it is a decision you have to make before you start accessorizing. There’s a lot of work involved in building your brand – time investment and money, so you need to consider your career goals and long term plans. Do you love your genre and don’t ever want to write something else? Do you love them all and want to try everything? Either one is workable; you just need to plan accordingly.
If writing one genre is all you want to do, then absolutely make that promise to your readers. If you plan to venture out, you don’t want to build your brand around the paranormal series about vampires. The minute you stop writing paranormal and switch to romantic comedy, you’ve begun to lose a vital part of your brand.
However, if from the beginning, you know that you’re a multi-genre writer, you can accommodate this with all the accessories: design of your website, your bookmarks, your tagline, ads, and any other reader-facing element – all of these can be focused more on the elements of your writing personality. For instance, you can be a funny, quirky writer who happens to write historicals, paranormals and romantic comedy. The personality becomes the brand, not the genre.
If ever in doubt about your branding decisions, ask yourself this question: Does this meet my promise to my readers?
The Shoes (Your Website)
I am likely prejudiced here, but I sort of think of your website as the Manolo Blahniks of your outfit. It’s likely the one thing you spent the most of your marketing budget on, it’s unique and it makes a statement.
But is that statement the right one?
Imagine if you are a writer who hates dogs and adores cats. Every one of your books features cats. But your website, for some ungodly reason, has a dog on it. This is a really obvious example, but the point is that every website is that obvious to the person who arrives looking for clues to who you are. They want to know what to expect, and the design you wrap yourself in is the first clue. If they see a dog, they’ll assume you like dogs.
Look closely at the design elements on your website. Are you a light-hearted historical writer with a website done in dark, gothic colors? Or do you write on-the-edge contemporary suspense, but your website is almost cartoonish or sweet? We go back to the question at hand: Does this meet my promise to my readers?
All of your marketing elements, from the website to your business cards to promo items, should meet the promise. If you’re uncertain of how to match visual aspects to your style, look at books that are similar. Look at the covers – they are the best visual study to help you understand what your readers will learn to expect by whatever design factors are in your marketing. The book covers have trained readers well. And if all else fails you, that’s what the professionals are for. J
The Handbag (Or Everything else)
The handbag carries all the elements of keeping up to date, freshening yourself up throughout the night, showing your identity, and staying connected. These are all important elements of your brand as well.
Every where you go, you are an advocate for your brand. Every post on facebook, every conversation in loops, and every tweet. Networking is a part of building your brand. The best way to network is to make friends. The best way to make enemies is to network badly.
People remember you for how you make THEM feel. It’s true in every relationship, and it’s definitely true with readers. How you make them feel, from beginning to end, is the end game of your brand. T. Scott Gross of Microbranding says: “Brands are defined by the customer. They exist as a feeling that extends beyond the product itself.”
The little black dress you put on makes you feel sexy and powerful. But without someone to see you and appreciate it, what good would it do?
Should You Choose To Accept…
Your Marketing Assignment for the day: Imagine you’re writing a personals ad on MatchMeToAReader.com — What would you write? What would you tell them about you (the author, the writer, the style) that would make them write back? What promise would you make?
RU Crew, here’s your chance to ask a marketing professional all those burning branding questions. Go to it!
Special thanks to Jeannie for being here. Jeannie will be back with another post on May 20, so mark your calendars. Join us tomorrow when Margie Lawson will be here discussing jealousy among writers.
Jeannie’s Bio: It was a Saturday afternoon when Jeannie Ruesch gave up her illustrious, hours-long ambition of becoming a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader (after seeing the made for TV movie). That day, she sat to write her very first story and when she was finished, she knew that pen ..or rather, pencil and collegiate-lined paper was the path for her. She was six. She finished her first two books in 7th grade—handwritten on 150 legal size pages and complete with hearts dotting the I’s, of course.
As an adult, however, she discovered the need to…well, pay for things. In her words, she “paid a lot of money to go to school, get a degree and go beg for work.” She began her career in marketing and design and continues to this day, with her graphic design and marketing business, Will Design for Chocolate. She considers herself fortunate that her passion of writing and her other love go hand in hand so nicely.
In 2008, she sold her first completed novel (as an adult and written on a computer this time) to The Wild Rose Press– a historical romance that has been a labor of love from the start. “It’s been through four or five revisions, including one complete scrap-it-and-start-over, and has been a wonderful tool for learning how to be a better writer.”
She is also the creator of the WIP Notebook, a writer’s tool to help stay organized while you write.
Now with a few more tools in her author’s tool belt, her first published book, and a drawer full of emergency chocolate, she has a lot more stories to tell. She lives in Northern California with her husband (who is likely tired of having his brain picked on the ‘male perspective’), their son and her brother, who she thanks every day (since he cooks and she hates to.)
- Building Your Brand
- Unified Theory of Branding
- Going Pro: When To Let the Professionals Step In
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for April 19-23: Marjorie M. Liu, Kelsey Browning, Jeannie Ruesch & Margie Lawson
- Do I Really Need a Website?