Thursday, February 23, 2012

How to Brand Yourself (and Take Over the World)

First off, I know that personal branding is a topic that will probably turn many writers off. For one thing, many writers (including myself) like to think of themselves as unique creative talents. For another thing, isn't branding reserved for businesses (not writers)?

Good branding should not only make a person stop; it should
also effectively communicate why they have stopped.

Shocker: If you're a writer who's interested in getting published and making an income (whether supplemental or full) from your writing, then you're in the business of writing. If you are some kind of unique creative talent, then you're a perfect candidate for personal branding.


What is branding?

Many people make the mistake of thinking that a brand is the reach a company has. Like the stronger brand between Pepsi and Coca-Cola would be determined by which one sells the most soda pops. However, branding is not about who's bigger, but how well you communicate your core identity.

One of the products I work on as an editor is The brand is not its sales figures. Rather, the brand is built around the idea: Get Published and Get Paid for Your Writing. If writers identify the site with getting published, then we're doing a good job of branding. If they think it's a site for buying bubble gum, then we're failing.

What about personal branding?

As a writer, you are basically trying to accomplish the same thing when you are carving out your niche. Maybe you write science fiction novels, or specialize in medical writing. Don't let yourself just be a writer. Try to pick a few keywords to define who you are as a writer.

For instance, I don't expect people to see the name Robert Lee Brewer and think romance novelist. Instead, I'd hope most people think things like editor, poet, blogger, speaker, father, husband, and helpful person. That's who I am, who I strive to be every day.

Why is building a brand important?

Your brand defines who you are to the outside world. Carving out a niche as an editor who understands the publishing industry has afforded me several opportunities that other editors have not received. Likewise, branding myself as a poet with a popular blog has led me to be named Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere, be invited as a National Feature Poet to the 2011 Austin International Poetry Festival, and sit on a panel at the upcoming AWP Conference (where I'm referred to as "poet" in the panel description--along with a professor, journalist, and novelist).

Brand identity is what helps you get to the point that clients are seeking you out, instead of the other way around.

How to build a brand

Building a brand is easy on paper, but it requires rolling up your sleeves in real life.
  1. Make a list of who you are as a person. Are you nice? Are you helpful? Are you outrageous? Are you funny? Are you authoritative? Try not to answer yes to every question you ask yourself.
  2. Make a list of who you are as a writer. Same types of questions. Hopefully, the answers align with step 1.
  3. Define how you'd like others to view you. Again, it would be nice if this aligned with steps 1 and 2.
  4. List your writing specialties and successes up to this point. It's okay if you don't have a long list. Maybe you've just finished stories that are hidden in a closet.
  5. List what you'd like to do with your writing in the short-term. Then, begin working toward these goals while keeping in mind how these goals align with steps 1-3 and/or build off step 4.
  6. List what you'd like to do with your writing in the long-term. In a perfect world, this will build off step 5.
The main thing you're trying to accomplish in this exercise is to identify who you are and who you want to be. Then, everything you do should be an extension of this identity. I would strongly advise against dramatically changing who you are to try and find success. Instead, build upon who you are by emphasizing your strengths and working on your weaknesses.

World domination

Don't worry. World domination will come, but it often takes time. If you're consistent in your approach and identity, success will rush in upon you when you least expect it. And often in ways that you'd never expect. After all, I would've never imagined being a featured poet or poet laureate of anything just a few years ago. Those honors came as a result of me working on my identity as a poet.


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Unknown said...

" However, branding is not about who's bigger, but how well you communicate your core identity."
That defined it for me-finally. Thanks for an enlightening post.

April Plummer said...

Good post! It's always good to get a refresher course on branding as an author.

Mingy Long said...

This is a great post. I write a lot about transportation and I find that calling myself a transportation journalist has been very helpful in communicating with clients.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

great post--definitely retweeting. writers need all the help we can get when coming up w/brands. i liked the way you "branded" yourself.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Thanks, everyone, for the nice comments!

And Mingy, thanks for sharing how adding "transportation" to "journalist" helps clients identify with your strengths.

Jen Reyneri said...

Great post. DO you know about my friend Jeff at
You two should connect...

Jen Reyneri said...

OOPS- Typo in my link.

Di Eats the Elephant said...

Would love to know more questions to ask myself - and laughed when you said, "Don't answer all of them 'yes'" - to get to the core of who I am and where I want to go as a writer. Thanks for addressing this. I would love to see some more posts, more in-depth or different views on how others have approached this analytically. I find writing my bio to be much more difficult - because it's branding me - than writing a 20-page resume of my life's work.

Catherine Johnson said...

Great post. I'm doing Kristen Lamb's blogging course so I've been thinking a lot about key words that define me. I've accidentally pushed out the poetry parts on my blog though so I need to make room for those again. Thanks Robert!

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Hey Jen, I'm aware of Jeff, though we don't "know" each other yet. Maybe sometime in the future. Thanks for your comment!

Di, I don't mind following this post up with more questions in the future. Or even featuring some interviews with others who discuss this topic. Thanks!

Definitely don't cut the poetry out, Catherine, especially if it's part of who you are.

Buttaflibabee said...

I love this post, I'll be working on branding this weekend. Even though I have a pretty well established brand I believe that this well help me get more indepth with my inner workings as a writer. Thank you for such an amazing post!

Unknown said...

Nice post and great tips Robert.

I have an observation and maybe a pragmatic viewpoint on this post.

As it pertains to writing and writers, wouldn’t branding be “voice” and the personality you’ve worked hard to develop as a writer?

Most of us tend to associate branding with a physical or visual element, but as writers, we’re in a unique and somewhat enviable position to develop a brand by crafting an identity through the voice we write with.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Thanks for the comment, Buttaflibabee!

Michael, I think "voice" can help with developing your brand, but people have to read your work a bit to understand the nuances of your voice. If you're presented with a bunch of strangers, you can't just say, "Well, I've got a distinctive voice."

However, you might say, "I write humorous stories about parenting from the perspective of a step-parent," or, "I write in-your-face motivational advice for health magazines."

Simone said...

you're my new favorite super hero! thanks for all you share for fun and for free.

Unknown said...

Great post! I needed to read this. I've been trying to establish myself in the writing and blogging world, and I know this will help. Many thanks! :)

Zada Kent said...

Thank you so much Robert for another informational post! Your website has been invaluable to me as I construct my own website and begin my writing career.
And thanks for commenting on voice vs. branding. That makes complete sense to me now.