by James L. Rubart
Want to confuse yourself? Ask ten friends to define branding. I predict 8-10 different answers.
My mission—which I’ve obviously chosen to accept—is to give a brief definition of branding you can keep in your head after you’re done with this article.
Branding has been a hot buzzword in publishing for at least ten years, so it’s not new. But it’s far older than that. In 1904 Ivan Pavlov won the Noble prize for his research into branding. You’ve heard about his dogs. That’s branding. Ring the bill, give the dogs meat. Do it enough and the dogs salivate without the beef.
Psychologists call this planting an associative memory.
“I’m Tom Bodett for _____ __ and we’ll leave the light on for ya.” Most of you instantly inserted Motel 6 into the blank. Some of you even hear the folksy music in your head and are thinking about a “clean comfortable room” and “the lowest price of any national chain.”
Mention Stephen King and we think horror. Nicholas Sparks = Romance (and tears).
How do we plant an associative memory into the mind of a reader, agent, or editor?
Consistency, frequency, and anchoring.
Consistency: Give people the same message every time. Did you know Pavlov did his experiment a second time with circles? Show dogs the circles then give them the meat. Then he changed the circles to ovals. Stopped working. The consistency wasn’t there. This is why it’s tough—but not impossible—to brand yourself as a non-fiction writer and a fiction writer at the same time. Or to switch genres. Once you get into the mind with a strong associate memory, it’s difficult to change it, or even add to it. (Most people think magician when Harry Houdini is mentioned. Very few think first person to fly an airplane in Australia—even people in Australia.)
Frequency: This is easy. Keep your message out there. Often.
Anchoring: This is the tough one. Many people think by throwing together some potent colors and coming up with a catchy tag line they’ve branded themselves. Huh uh. There are three parts to anchoring:
1. Anchor to something no one else has anchored to.
You must be unique. Telling people you’re the “Passionate author who shares the deep love of Jesus.” will not be remembered. Showing up in your kilt at the ACFW awards dinner will. I’m serious. Chip MacGregor is bright (other than the fact he likes the Oregon ducks). He knows what he’s doing. Who is he promoting/branding himself to? Editors and writers. Do you think he makes an impact when he wears his kilt? Is it memorable? Unique?
2. Anchor to something the public wants.
Randy Ingermanson has branded himself as the Snowflake guy to writers and editors (based on a fiction writing method he invented). Does the public want a proven tool to help them write their stories. Of course. At the ACFW conference a few years back I smiled as I saw his branding had become so successful it was parodied from the stage during the opening session.
3. Anchor to something you already are.
Anchor to something you already are. No, that wasn’t a typo. It bears repeating because this is where more authors stumble. Many try to create a brand out of nothing:
“Suspense that sucks you in and won’t let you go! Never! Ever! Really!”
“Making you hyperventilate after every chapter!”
“Romance that makes you a mush cake every time!”
This is not branding. You can’t create or make up a brand. You can only discover and promote what already is inside you. I worked with an author recently who claimed she didn’t have a brand, and there was no coherent theme connecting her three novels. She was wrong. She has a powerful brand/theme, one with universal appeal. She was thrilled after I showed her what it was. But I didn’t create her brand, I simply pointed out what was already there.
Branding is taking the unique elements about you and your writing that already exist and exposing them to the world. Your brand is there; your job is to uncover it.
Yes, it’s a challenge pinpointing what your brand is. Often we’re too close. It’s almost impossible to read the label when you’re standing inside the bottle. So ask people close to you to describe your uniqueness. Brainstorm with other authors about what sets you apart. Ask your editor, spouse, kids, agent, etc.
Yeah, I know, we’ve only scratched the surface. That’s why Amazon is packed with books on branding. And why marketing people like me have jobs.
Branding: Taking a uniqueness, that the public wants, and promoting it consistently.
James L. Rubart is the best-selling and Christy award winning author of six novels. He’s also a professional speaker, and marketer who helps businesses and authors make more coin of the realm. In his free time he dirt bikes, hikes, golfs, takes photos, and occasionally does sleight of hand. No, he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and two sons in the Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at http://jameslrubart.com/. And check out his great podcast, Novel Marketing.