What is your Brand?
By Joe Moore
Why are people motivated to purchase one book over another? Or one particular author over another? Is it the cover art? The cover blurbs? The title? The synopsis on the back or inside liner? All of the above are factors. But I believe one of the biggest factors is “brand” or lack of it in the case of not making the purchase.
Why brand? Readers want consistency. Think of food for instance. Everyone reading this knows exactly what a Burger King Whopper tastes like. I’ve had one in Singapore and London. They tasted the same as the ones I’ve eaten in my Florida hometown. That’s consistency. That’s the Burger King brand at work, and it’s one of the major reasons for their global success—find something that people like and make more of the same. I can walk into a Burger King anywhere on the planet and I know what to expect. The same goes for McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, KFC, and hundreds of other well-established brands. If I crave a Big Mac, there’s only one place to get it. And I believe that in some cases, consumers are buying the brand over the product.
The same holds true for books. I can pick up a copy of a James Paterson, Nora Roberts or Clive Cussler novel and I know what to expect. They have established a consistency in their product that has become their brand. In fact, their names ARE their brands. All you must do is mention Patterson, Roberts or Cussler, and anyone who has experienced those brands knows what you’re talking about. Just like the Whopper. You don’t have to explain it to someone who’s already had one.
What is a brand? For starters, I think of it as a consistent level of expectancy. By that I mean that the customer/reader expects something to happen each time they make a purchase, and it does—every time. If there ever comes a time when it doesn’t, the customer/reader will abandon the product for a replacement.
Now I know what you’re thinking I’m a debut author. I have no brand. Or I only have a couple of books out. No time to establish a brand. Ask yourself this: how strong was James Patterson’s brand when he published Along Came A Spider in 1993? There are many writers who have multiple books published and have no brand. The point is that you should always be conscious of creating or sustaining your brand. And this goes way beyond story content, style, voice, and other writing elements. It involves your book covers, your website, your blog, your marketing paraphernalia, how you dress in public at signings and conferences, how your email signature is worded—in other words, your brand is your message working in tandem with your personal “packaging”.
So, how do we create our brand?
Start by keeping two things in mind: your message and your package. Your message is primarily the words that are contained in your books and the words used to describe them. The packaging is the “framing” of those words. If the message and the packaging are not synchronized, you will create confusion in the marketplace. You control your message by the content of your stories. And it’s vital that you work closely with the publicist and marketing department at your publisher to make sure the message they produce for your promotions matches your story message. If not, keep working with them until everyone feels that it does.
What about the packaging decision you can do yourself?
Start with your website. Your site is one of the most important parts of your personal packaging. And the good news is, you can control all aspects of its content and construction. Make sure it looks like your books. I know that sounds basic, but you’d be surprised that the only similarity between some authors’ websites and their books is that they show a picture of the cover. For best packaging results, the entire site should have the same feel as your cover(s). If you can’t create that yourself, pay a professional to do it right. Remember, it’s the TOTAL packaging that helps establish the brand.
Now think about the rest of your collateral material such as business cards, posters, bookmarks, newsletters, bulletins, etc. Do they carry your brand? Are they an extension of your book covers and website? Again, if you can’t achieve a professional, consistent personal package, find a professional designer that understands branding and packaging. The investment will pay for itself in the long run.
Understanding the “look” of the market: there is a look and feel to each market. For some markets it will be a consistency in color, messaging, or packaging, and for others, it’s just a “feeling.” For example, if you’re a thriller writer, websites for thrillers tend to be dark and foreboding. There may not be a consistent message but the feel is the same: scary. Getting to know your market is the #1 thing you should do when you’re thinking of developing your brand.
Identity crisis: who are you? So who are you, really? This isn’t meant to be a psychological exam, but rather an in-depth look at your brand, your market, your current focus, and future goals. There’s a saying that goes: “If you don’t know what road you’re on, no one else will, either.” The same is true for your brand and your career. Define where you want to go and then build to that message.
Brainstorm your brand: if necessary, get some outside help. Branding doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does have to be thorough. Understanding your brand and your message is important because if you don’t control it, your consumer will. I spoke to an author the other day who had been propelled on her journey by her brother’s suicide. From that, she learned, grew, and is now working to inspire others to overcome some of the most horrific challenges life can throw at you.
Platform building: building a strong brand is also about platform building. Understand that your platform can be a lot of things: the message and consistency of your blog, any book promotion you do, blogs you have a presence on. All of this is important, you want to become known in your market, and you want to lead with a strong and consistent message.
Delivering on a promise: whatever you promise, you must deliver. In fact, promise less and deliver more. If you have promised the reader a “thrill ride,” don’t give them a soft-peddled story. If your message doesn’t live up to its promise, you’ll lose your reader. Probably forever.
Building a strong brand is more important than ever. A brand not only shows consistency but it shows you’re serious about what you’re doing; and if you show you’re serious, your readers will take you seriously, too.