Branding is everything.
Think about it. Have you ever tried to convince your kids that the generic version of their favorite cereal or clothing line is every bit as good as the one with the familiar logo they’re dying to buy? Ever try to convince yourself?
We trust in brands, at least as a means of identifying our likes and dislikes quickly. Our favorite sports teams, restaurant chains, and department stores all have icons with which we associate, often on a deep emotional level.
As a writer, it’s crucial that you set yourself apart from the rest of the market by distinguishing your work with a brand identity. Sounds mercenary? Maybe, but as guest blogger Claire Applewhite points out, the greatest entertainment legends of our time capitalized on this marketing technique to build more than a fanbase—a legacy.
It’s All About the Brand
By Claire Applewhite
The year was 1959.
Marilyn Monroe wowed us with her drop-dead white halter dress in Some Like It Hot. Elvis Presley shocked us with his sultry style, and I Love Lucy loved Lucille Ball, famous for slapstick comedy and her signature red hair. In 1964, the Beatles performed on the Ed Sullivan Show with “long” hair that barely grazed their collars.
These remarkable icons may be gone, but memories of their unique style endure. While the concept of the “brand” is not new, technological advances provide a fresh awareness that “brand” can create a timeless legacy. For the author with a well-defined brand, strategic opportunity awaits.
What is a “brand?” A brand represents the attributes that you present to your readers, and how your readers perceive you and your creative ability. Clearly, it is crucial to develop and deliver the right message. You must know yourself and your personal attributes before you formulate your message. To gain insight, some soul searching is unavoidable. Consider the following questions:
- Why do you want to create this brand? What is your ultimate goal?
- What do you believe in?
- What are your fondest dreams?
- Who, or what, do you love?
- How do you spend your free time?
- If you received an unexpected financial windfall, how would you spend it?
- If you could be someone else, who would it be?
- What do you consider an unforgivable mistake?
- What is the thing you do best?
- List some adjectives to describe yourself.
Now, assess your current image. Is it consistent with your answers? How does it compare to the image you want to present? What changes, if any, do you need to make to achieve consistency? This is the time to make them.
Do you want to focus on a particular niche within your brand? If you want to carve out a niche brand, work to become an expert in that area. Research the characteristics of that niche, so that you can anticipate customer expectations. Review the adjectives you used to describe yourself and compare them to the niche that you have considered. Are the two lists consistent with your brand?
I have always loved mystery and romantic suspense novels and movies, and found that I usually gravitated toward the “noir” style—a subgenre of the mystery genre that focus on themes such as hard luck, obsession, loneliness and despair. The criminal aspects of the plot and the protagonist are intertwined. The characters are usually doomed before we even meet them, but following their descent is somehow fun, as we observe their entanglement in a web of their own doom. Several of my books—the ’Nam Noir series, and Crazy For You—fit this niche nicely.
Speaking of your customers, how well do you know them? What is it about your work that they find unique? Ask them what they think you do best. Their answers may surprise you. Communicate with your readers on a regular basis. Advertise signings and appearances and use social media, or consider an online newsletter. Make your messages memorable, simple and clear. Always answer personal messages. Recently, I received an email from a student who got published. She thanked me for advice and encouragement, which meant a great deal to me. I really enjoy opportunities to get to know my readers, whether it’s a neighborhood book club, a book signing or a speaking opportunity.
Consider the acquisition of a logo. A logo is the bedrock, the very foundation of a brand, and represents what is unique about you and your work, in relation to the broader market. It communicates on a variety of levels to create a connection between you and your reader. The logo embodies the adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” It must be memorable, and elicit emotional response and brand loyalty from the consumer. If the medium is the message, the logo is the medium that communicates the message that defines your brand.
Marketing is complex, and is as crucial to your brand as your book. I am a St. Louis author and my books are set in St. Louis. St. Louis locales, expressions, and traditions are utilized whenever possible. Usually, there is a “giveaway” item with a book purchase. For example, to highlight the Coral Court Motel setting in St. Louis Hustle, a replica key chain accompanied each purchase.
I also use visual props and costumes. A cardboard version of Dr. Thomas Spezia, fresh from The Doctor’s Tale, joins Shelby Swain from Tennessee Plates and Bunny Dingwerth from Crazy For You. In addition to bookstores, schedule appearances in places that relate to your brand. I wrote the music and lyrics for my CD, Night Rain, to complement my books, and I have signed both in record stores.
Oh, and about that photo…
In my original photograph, I wore a suit. I thought I looked professional. In fact, I was told I looked like a banker, or as one man said, “You look like Meryl Streep in The Manchurian Candidate.” I concluded that my creative image might have a problem. I consulted a professional photographer, and tried a different approach. The new photo appears on my website beside my logo, and by the biography at the end of each of my books, as well as synopses from my other novels.
Engage social media to convey and grow your new brand. Your brand is a valuable asset, and ultimately, the customer determines its worth and life cycle. Remember to protect it with trademark and copyright laws.
Finally, ensure that all types of social media communicate the same attributes of your brand. In everything you do, be consistent. Like Marilyn and Elvis, be an “original.”
Claire Applewhite is a St. Louis mystery writer and Acquisitions Editor for Smoking Gun Publishing, LLC. A graduate of St. Louis University, her published books include The Wrong Side of Memphis, Crazy For You, St. Louis Hustle, Candy Cadillac, Tennessee Plates, and The Doctor’s Tale. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Applewhite has served as a Past President of the Missouri Writers Guild and Board member of the Midwest Chapter, Mystery Writers of America. Organizational memberships include the St. Louis Metropolitan Press Club, St. Louis Writers Guild, Sisters in Crime, Ozark Writers League and Active member, Mystery Writers of America. She can be reached at www.claireapplewhite.com, www.clairedunoir.com or www.smokinggunpublishing.com.
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