I'm going to go out on a limb and just write a definition here. I'm probably paraphrasing someone, somewhere, so you've probably seen this before. I make no claims to originality (nor have I plagiarized). I've run my own business and written marketing materials (and created brands) for small businesses. This is what I know. Truth is truth.
Branding is when a customer (prospect) immediately associates a product (what you're selling) with a provider (you or your company if you're doing it right). A brand's power lies in its ability to influence a purchasing decision.
Strong branding is when your name, product or company is consistently the first thought associated with a prospect's needs.
Weak branding is when your product is associated with another provider (prospect thinks of your product but thinks the competition is selling it).
Branding is more than a logo, certainly, but a look and feel or a well-known slogan is definitely a good first step towards building a brand in your advertising materials. Think about it. Do you recognize all of the famous brands at this site without the words? Probably, you do.
An example of strong branding, negative though it might be, is this poster making fun of a problem.
Microsoft is globally associated with the phenomenon called "The Blue Screen of Death." This is when a Windows-based computer has a catastrophic failure and must be rebooted (usually, with a CheckDisk to follow). It may not be what Microsoft wants; however, La Muerta sure does seem to follow Microsoft's operating systems around and just mentioning the Blue Screen of Death tells most people who and what you're referring to without anymore explanation required.
In fact, Microsoft's "brand" is now the very idea of an unreliable computer operating system. This is not a great thing but don't discount the fact that the name Microsoft is immediately known to be a maker of computer operating systems. No one wonders what Microsoft is or what they do. Unfortunately. (*smirk*)
To me, branding for an Indie Author means your "voice" is the "sound" a book lover is craving at that moment, and they will seek out your books to get their fill of that need. The recognizeable cover art might speed up their search but they are hopefully looking for the content, not the cover
(Okay, Donna Kaufmann's cover for The Great Scot is an exception--and she knows it! I keep a copy of that paperback around just to have the cover catch my eye at random moments and take my breath away. I'm even having two characters refer to it in the Lacey / Rainey Story, knowing anyone reading my book will recognize which cover I mean because it's one of the best-known, much-loved covers in the industry. Gotta admit, it's also a great book that I've read about five times and loved everytime. Thank you, Donna! That cover doesn't "brand" Donna Kaufmann but she is branded as writing some of the best RomComs with Hot Scots ever.)
Branding is a Marketing Strategy
You can't really talk about branding without talking about marketing. Personally, I can't talk about marketing without referring to Al Ries somewhere. I doubt there's anyone on Earth who understands the concept better than Al Ries. He pretty much created the term "branding" decades ago and his book The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding (c. 1998) was the de facto bible on the topic for a long time. Maybe it still is.
I highly recommend it despite the fact some of its material may be a bit dated. His follow-on The 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding (c. 2000) was lovely--for about a year, then it became horribly obsolete. Ah, the speed of the internet catches up even the great Al Ries. I don't recommend this one, but Al Ries has written dozens of books. Let me tell you about my favorite one. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing (c. 1993 I think).
The fundamental concepts of marketing haven't really changed. Together, these two guys turned out some of the most valuable information the industry of "selling" has ever seen. The material in The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing's not even "dated" in 2011! This is classicly good stuff here, folks from people who could sell PT Barnum snake oil. Trust me. These guys didn't just write dozens of books. They wrote the books. They've been at it a while.
Way back in 1981, Ries and Jack Trout wrote a book called Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. This is what started it all. They wrote (paraphrased, not a direct quote but close):
Positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect to make them buy the product. That is, you position (place) the product in their mind linked to the idea that they have a need for the product, one which only this product can fully meet.This is what turned into branding. Now comes the big surprise of today's blog discussion.
You are the Company You Keep
That is, you're going to be identified--as a Company known as an Indie Author--based on the kinds of things you keep saying and doing. As well as the colleagues you do (or don't) keep around you. The books you write will play a part, but your branding and marketing activities will actually define your Company almost independently from the content of your books. Almost. If you write humor and never tell a joke in public, people are going to be a little skeptical about your ability to write humor books.
Choose Your Brand. Don't Let Your Brand Choose You.
Case in point: I never tell jokes in public. I don't think I tell them well. I have, however, written some hilarious passages. I don't market or try to brand myself as a comedy writer, despite the fact my writing has actually spurred a fan or three to ask me to do just that. I know what I write. Romantic Suspense (maybe with a little gallows humor) and SF Technothrillers (again, with dark humor and a little geekspeak thrown in for good measure).
You need to decide what kinds of books you want to write. Likewise, decide what kinds of readers you want to attract and just what kind of business you want to run. You can't brand yourself if you don't know yourself. In marketing, however, perception is everything, so once you figure out who you want your Company to be, stick to it. Maintain your brand in every public communication you have.
Don't be Afraid Not to "Like" Every One and Every Thing
I happen to find Dean Wesley Smith and his wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch interesting reading--but there's no way I'd swear by these folks. They're sharp, no question, but their approach to marketing is to blast the internet. Or so it seems to me. That's just not my style. I can't buy what they're "selling" without giving up who my Company is.
For those who follow this blog, you know that one of my regular activities is helping others. It's not that I'm oh-so-altruistic. I wish I were such a wonderful person as to not have any kind of self-interest in doing Good Things. I'm paying it forward.
I've been so grateful for the tiny tidbits of advice offered by successful authors that I swore to myself, I wanted to be known as one of them. Among my peers, that is, among other Indie Authors, I wanted to be a "source" of help and advice and information on how to succeed. I guess I figure if I have to figure it out so I can explain it, then I'll have to figure it out and do it. For all that I never stop talking, I also don't like yelling and screaming for attention. I don't and won't ever just blast the internet. It's not me--or not how I want Webbiegrrl Writer to branded. ^_^
Here's an amusing video on what can happen when you blast the internet with the rest of the crowd. Big thanks to Mark Coker (@markcoker), founder of Smashwords for retweeting it this morning. Even bigger thanks to Melissa Conway (@melissaconway1 ) for making this timeless bit of satire. Warning: You won't be able to stop humming the jingle after you listen to this. LOL, great branding, Melissa!
I don't think that's the kind of Indie Author I want to be. I don't want to be associated with people who like this kind of blast-the-net marketing. I call it SPAM.
I do, however, click on the "like" button a lot of times when I read Kris's Rusch Report or an installment of DWS's series, Think Like a Publisher and Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. I actually have their links in my browser's auto-complete because I visit there often enough. I don't have to agree with them to like (or "like") what they have to say.
I'll go one further. I highly recommend making a habit of reading things you don't agree with so as to force yourself to make an educated choice, not a reflexive or reactive one. Don't just follow the crowd. You are definitely the company you keep in that sense of the term.
Be the Company. Keep the Company.
As I said above, I made certain promises to myself about who I wanted to be as Webbiegrrl Writer. It's part of my brand, it's part of my Company and it's something I try hard to keep in mind when I make choices in public--forex, whenever I tweet or post to Facebook, whether on my own fan page or anywhere else. Damn Facebook for messing up what Pages can do though! They are totally ruining my branding efforts *smirk*
When I started today's article on branding, I immediately noticed there were at least two schools of thought on the concept of branding and how it applies to Indie Authors. Some articles insisted that branding was all about cover art and fonts. Some insisted, like DWS/Rusch Report advises, it's all about blasting your message as far and as wide as you can reach--or broadening your reach by adding more followers (LOL) Some insisted that branding was about more than any of that, more like the Old School taught by the Al Ries/Jack Trout's of the world.
Guess where I am? Yeah, I fall into the latter category. Sadly, I discovered, most of the Indie Authors I know (at least those I met on Authonomy which is the bulk of those I know/have contact with daily) are of the DWS/Rusch Report School and a few stragglers believe branding is just having themed book covers and writing books in a series.
I don't recommend being an island. Find like-minded people and brainstorm with them (or just follow them on Twitter and the blogosphere) to keep abreast of what's working and what's not. One thing all the camps of Indie Authors are agreed upon is that the Publishing industry--whether eBooks or POD, Indie or traditional--is a-changing. Daily. I don't partake of the Kindleboards chatter (way too much noise:signal for me!) but I hear about it from my tweeps. That's also how I found other islands of like-minded Old Schoolers (not necessarily old-timers though experience does have its merits at a time like this).
Webbiegrrl's Like-Minded Company
I've recently come across Joel Friedlander (@jfbookman) of The Book Designer blog. He's a content expert for the CreateSpace community and he had these interesting things to say about Branding (about a year ago. Still sounds good today).
He's had a lot of interesting things to say. I've been reading his current posts and slowly wading my way through his archival blog content. I find myself nodding a lot when I read his articles. I know he's a good writer but I don't think he's just selling me his personal brand of snake oil. I think he's done a bit of research and is speaking from a place of experience. I recognize in his posts the voice of the businessman who's had to do care and feeding of clients on a daily basis, in some past life if not currently. I recognize business scenarios I, myself, had to encounter in the five years I spent caring and feeding for web design and internet consulting clients.
Quoted in Joel's blog on branding was Joanna Penn (@thecreativepenn) of The Creative Penn blog. Now here was a coincidence with real synchronicity. I'd recently come across her on my own by following a link from a tweep I don't know but follow on Twitter. I was delighted to find the circle closing in around us all. Not so much of a lonely little island out there anymore, am I? The company you keep can help you make the Company you'll keep.
By the way, I loved using the little Google Keywords External Tool as Joanna suggested. I really love the way my "webbiegrrl" brand shows up. I seem to have accomplished much of what I'd set out to do here without any deliberate effort. To me, that says I've kept myself focused despite many tempting distractions along the way. In case you didn't know, I started building the "webbiegrrl" brand almost eight years ago. Yes, eight (8). Yes, years. Quietly, but I've been out there as "webbiegrrl" and have just "been myself" (or at least, as "webbiegrrl" would be). Read Joanna's article on branding and give the tool a try to see yourself as others see you.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I also follow Brian and Sonia of the Copyblogger somewhat regularly and I really buy into the same school of thought as them. They talk about branding a lot, even when they call it something else. Like, you know, marketing. We speak the same language. They are part of the company I want to keep as the Company that "webbiegrrl" has become. They are building and keeping the kind of Company I want Webbiegrrl Writer to evolve into one day--a well-branded, financially-successful but still-authentic Company that sells a lot of books and gives away a lot of free information.
In fact, I discussed the difference (to me) between between authentic and being a little on the sleazy salesman side before. See my earlier post introducting the concept of Third Tribe Marketing (a term coined by the Copybloggers a ways back). I think the decision about how to approach branding is of a part and parcel to this same discussion.
I'm currently branded as "webbiegrrl" as a professional (always a good thing). I'm coming up as a content expert for "how to write a book" or "how to market an indie book" or oddly enough, "how to get started on twitter." That's...interesting. Given that I'm still trying to wrap my brain around how to really use and exploit all that is the twitterverse, I'm not sure I buy into that last one just yet, but I liked seeing the first two show up on my Google keywords explorations. I liked being "branded" with "writing and marketing" as Sarah, the Webbiegrrl Writer. Now I just have to work on branding my other various personalities. LOL.
Ironic as it sounds, given what I just said, tomorrow I'm going to attempt a new entry on hashtagging in my ongoing Twitter Series. I plan to put on my Efficiency Expert hat and see what tips I can come up with for making your Twitter success less work and more play. See you then!