Branding is Tricky

During a recent writer’s conference I attended a branding workshop. This subject is a vague misty spot around which I struggle to wrap my mind. Figuring that others might also experience the ambiguous cloud, or perhaps could offer helpful insight, here is today’s topic.
The instructor offered two exercises which I found useful.

The first task compared two recognizable brands of ice cream about which participants ascribed values, attitudes and themes. Collectively we summarized the sort of person who would purchase each and why they appealed to different groups.
Hmm. That made sense.
Marching along in step up to this point, I gleefully mused: I’m getting it.
Hah.
Then there was the ten minute time period of which I have no recollection whatsoever. I’m sure the secrets to branding, world peace and the origins of the universe were expounded upon, and I missed it because I got distracted writing down an idea for a story. Sorry…it happens. When I climbed out of reverie the class had moved along to a second task.
Keeping in mind Kristen Lamb’s suggestion that we (as multiple-hat-wearing people) are our brand, the next part was rather fun: answer questions by exploring who would buy “me” as a brand. The questions were basic, the same sort of thing you ask a potential partner on a first date when you’re at the sorting stage. The basics like what’s your favorite food and drink choices. What kinds of music do you enjoy? If you could spend a day in any kind of weather, what would it be? The regular questions about hobbies, sports and positions…okay that last one, maybe not on the first date.

Ultimately what you’re trying to decide is: am I going on a second date with this guy or sprinting for the door? Everyone has a checklist. I start with the basics.1. Does he have teeth?
(yes is what we’re going for here) And are they his own? (bonus!)

2. Has he ever been married or in a serious relationship?
(If no, why not? warning! warning!)

3. Is he open to trying new things?
(sushi, bungee jumping, owl&plank – establish his limits now)

4. How high does the televised sports monitor beep?
(this determines future availability)

5. Any offspring? Potential for? Not want?
(take care of this one now to avoid issues later) 

6. Is he familiar with ANY music produced after his high school graduation?
(No? That’s a deal breaker)

You get the idea…narrowing down the identity of the clique you think you’re writing best appeals to, can help you figure out the brand you’re developing. Well what a good idea!

I may be paraphrasing too broadly here, but that’s how my brain processed all the components into the neural filing cabinet. Yet I continue to wrestle with the idea of branding. I called upon the wisdom of a friend, someone I’ve known almost 30 years. I posed my questions and asked if the ideas made sense. With an immediate shushing noise, she said: you write for people who love red wine, eat dark chocolate, indulge their fantasies, and tell naysayers to bugger off.

Laughable. She’d basically described herself, but it helped and maybe isn’t even too far off the mark. At any rate, ideas about my brand are percolating.

Got any helpful analogies? How about an exercise or a cautionary tale? What success have you experienced in wrapping grey matter around the brand?

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  1. #1 by Cheryel Hutton on August 15, 2011 - 5:42 pm

    Good analogy. Now if I could figure out how to apply it to readers of paranormal romance and romantic suspense. Branding Hard!

  2. #2 by Kristal Lee on August 15, 2011 - 10:20 pm

    I like how you've summarized branding. I'm having a hard time with it too. But, I'm beginning to see how looking at what the target audience wants and meshing those things with facets of my personality may actually be the building blocks for a brand. Thanks!

  3. #3 by Lesann Berry on August 15, 2011 - 10:58 pm

    I agree that branding is difficult – and when it works well it looks easy. It seems that trying to link who you are with what you write, and who reads your writing and connects it to who you are in complicated. How's that for a dumbass sentence? (fly the flag!)Anyhow…I know what I meant.Thanks for conversing with me.

  4. #4 by Natalie on August 15, 2011 - 11:00 pm

    I really enjoyed this post – thank you for sharing. I’ve been struggling to define my target audience for my blog. Without a WIP yet, I can’t say if I am going to be writing fiction, romance, YA etc. So who do I target my blog for? I guess I was figuring I’d just try to explore and define my blog voice and see who it appealed to. How unfocused. I love your analogy of finding your target audience being similar to dating. That absolutely helped me see how I could do a simple self-branding exercise that would help me focus my voice, tone, topics, and style to a more specific group and with a lot more consistency. Like Kristal said, my personality could be the building blocks for a brand. THANK YOU!!!

  5. #5 by Lesann Berry on August 16, 2011 - 1:58 am

    Thanks Natalie! I'm glad it's helpful. I think it's helpful to think about who we "think" we're targeting (market profile?) but if we just concentrate on talking about the things that matter to us, we draw in people with similar interests – at least that seems feasible. I think if we all keep bouncing these ideas around, and off each other, we'll grasp hold of something concrete. I'm so glad it helped you, you're welcome!And remember that teeth are important when looking for a potential partner, even if they don't figure at the top of the list. Just saying.

  6. #6 by Tameri Etherton on August 16, 2011 - 2:44 am

    Yes, yes, this is fabulous, but what if I'm writing in more than one genre? I'm brandophrenic?Does he have teeth. That just slays me. Okay, back to the comment… so yeah, I'm with all of you and struggling to understand the brand thing. The best I've come up with is, I'm a positive, fun loving kind of gal and I want people to like me as a person so that they won't care if I write fantasy and historical fiction. That answer sucks. I know it does, but it's the best I can do. It's Monday – I wasn't prepared for a pop quiz.

  7. #7 by Jennifer Tanner on August 16, 2011 - 2:52 am

    Hi Leslie…Decent table manners is a must. For me, branding has been an interesting experiment. I've seen some strange search terms on my blog stats lately. Like most folks, I've got opinions and lots of different interests. There should be no limit to the things I can blog about. However, the key for me is present it in a way so I people don't think I'm a nut job. Terrific post!Jen

  8. #8 by Lesann Berry on August 16, 2011 - 4:21 pm

    Tameri – I think you've got it. Write who you are and people care. Write with authenticity and genuine intent and people care. If a subject interests you, people want to know why (even if they don't care about the topic).Jennifer has a really excellent point – if we come across as complete whackjobbers, there goes that sense of connection. Unless…you're trying to connect with the unstable elements of society, in which case you might have greater concerns than branding.Manners are always a plus.

  9. #9 by Angela Orlowski-Peart on August 17, 2011 - 5:24 am

    Wonderful post, Lesann!Narrowing down who my audience is should be easy (I write YA paranormal), although it's not so. I'm thinking realistically: people's taste in books changes – it takes time to publish a book – by the time my book is published my audience has changed – I need to concentrate on staying true to myself and the rest should follow.

  10. #10 by Lesann Berry on August 22, 2011 - 3:49 pm

    I think you've got a really good point Angela – tastes and interests can change quickly. Being authentic and genuine is important because those things don't change and are what draw people back to read more.

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