Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What is branding all about anyway?

These are questions I get often, "What is branding? What is a writer platform? Why should I care?"

I've covered the topic on here before, but that doesn't mean everyone reads every post--or that I do a good job of communicating my message in every post. So I'm going to tackle each of these questions in order.

What is branding?

The short and sweet answer is that branding is how someone communicates the image (and hopefully identity) of a product, service, or whatever. For instance, Kroger grocery stores have recently been branding themselves as a place that has shorter waiting times for customers at check out (image)--and they've been following it up (at least in Duluth, Georgia) by opening lanes on the spot to keep lines from forming (identity).

What sets you apart as a writer?

Writers might brand themselves as fast and affordable, but what sets many apart is their unique voices and/or subjects they handle. If I had to peg my own brand, I'd probably say that Robert Lee Brewer is an expert on the business of writing who also enjoys the art and craft of poetry. I might also take it a step further by claiming to be nice and helpful.

Branding is not about selling stuff as much as it is about effectively communicating who you are or what sets you apart from everyone else. In a way, I guess branding (whether for yourself, a book, or a webinar) is your USP (or unique selling point).

What is a writer platform?

A writer platform is a combination of tools that--when used effectively--help writers brand themselves. The writer platform is not used to sell specific products and services exactly; it's used to communicate who the writer is and build confidence in the writer's authority, whether the writer handles parenting topics or pens horror novels.

Recently, someone made a comment on one of the platform-related posts that a platform isn't useful unless you have a product to sell (a book, a webinar, a course), but I don't agree with that assessment completely. Sure, it's going to put more money in your pocket if you have something relevant and worthwhile to sell as you build your platform. But even that product would add to your writer platform; it's another part of your brand.

Writers start building a platform from day one by working on the craft of writing. Then, they build up the courage to communicate that they write when they're locked away from other people. Eventually, they start submitting their writing--and then, that writing starts getting published. All this adds to the momentum of the writer platform. Eventually, some writers find that their platforms are solid enough that people start coming to them with projects.

Why should I care?

Earlier today, I read an interesting article on Poynter about Forbes.com's contributed content model of publishing. It's having great results for Forbes, and it's changing the way journalists have to view their work and their way of earning a living. In the article, the author (Jeff Sonderman) writes, "If this is the future, journalists may need to prepare for living every day like a hustle — leaning on their personal brands and piecing together a multi-stream income. But then again, we were never in it for the money."

I've felt for a long time that the contributed content (or "entrepreneurial journalism") method is one of the most likely to succeed for publishing in the future. While I don't think every outlet will adopt this model, I think it's success with Forbes.com--in addition to the success of sites like Wikipedia--underscores how the traditional role of a "writer" is changing.

I think writers should care, because it will become increasingly dangerous and foolish for writers to build their brands around a book or a webinar or a course. Instead, writers would be wise to brand themselves as the product offering various services, whether that's writing an article, completing a book, leading a webinar, or speaking at an event.

Circling back to Kroger, the grocery store doesn't brand itself as a carton of eggs or a gallon of milk. Instead, Kroger is the helpful and reliable place you go to find eggs, milk, or a number of other things, and they'll get you checked out quickly.

If a writer has a strong brand, it won't matter if the future is in print publishing, e-publishing, traditional publishing, self-publishing, education, apps, or a combination of several products and services. What will matter is that customers (editors, agents, publishers, and readers) will know that you're the person to see about subjects x, y, and z.


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Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this. It's simpler and more linear than other posts I've read on the subject, making it easier to digest and hold inside my head. I especially liked where you said that platforming begins when you start to write and put pen to paper. I currently administrate and write for three separate blogs (two started out of a sense that, as a writer I must blog!), but I would say that the one I began last is the one closest to suiting the definition of a writer brand/platform...mostly because it took tremendous courage to start a blog and to create a brand around what really mattered to me--my writing and subject matter. I am going to share your post a couple of places because I believe, just like writing takes courage, platforming and branding can take just as much--if not more. So I think folks need to hear this. After all, we can write in private as long as we please. Anyway, thanks again!

Becky Doughty said...


I really appreciate you taking the time to re-explain this concept to us. Even though I've been working on my platform for a while, it's easy to get side-tracked, to get caught up with keeping up with the Jones', or just to get too focused on the platform and not on the reason for building it in the first place. It always benefits me to step back and evaluate my goals - you've motivated me to do that as I come to a new month.

LOVE the pic,

Bonnee Crawford said...

Yay for these three things! What you've said about them is true :)

Sasha A. Palmer said...

I think you're doing a great job teaching: a very clear explanation, brings it all home.

And the picture is beautiful.

Unknown said...

This is such a great post, Robert. Thank you for sharing this invaluable information. I've been trying to make sure I'm keeping my eyes on the prize (although I'm still working on what exactly the prize is!) with my site and "platform building efforts." Hopefully I keep myself squarely on track--articles like this really help!

Khara (http://www.kharahouse.com)

Jay Williams said...

Branding eh? Sort of like how we see Hemingway as a rugged, cigar smoking journalist? Hunter S. Thompson as a pill-swallowing commentator on side-street America? Yeah, I can see it, but I liked it better when we just called it image and reputation.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Thanks, everyone, for the kind words about the picture! Hannah will be turning one in a couple weeks.

Jay, the reputation you cultivate is branding. How you label it doesn't matter.

I thought Julianna Baggott made an interesting comment on Twitter that branding is like playing defense: "Let me tell you who I am before you get a chance to tell me who I am."

I employ the same strategy with my kids when they fall down while playing. If I start to overreact and say something like, "Oh my gosh! Are you OK?," they're bound to start crying--even if they're barely hurt. If I say something like, "Get back up; you're OK," most times they get back up and resume playing. A writing platform does the same thing for people who are trying to figure out a specific writer.

Sabra said...

Very helpful to have this summary. Thank you. I also live in Duluth. I'll have to check out the shorter lines in Kroger.

Marian O'Brien Paul said...

Thank you for a well explained, compelling rationale for branding.

John Yeoman said...

In my old days in PR, we'd call branding 'positioning'. It's the unique melange of benefits and perceptions that comprises the brand. Every 'name' author has a distinct brand. How does a new author achieve one?

My own theory is that one writes for a target reader who is very similar to oneself. Otherwise, one can never be authentic. Then the market comes to the author and fandom follows.

The hack approach is to court the market with the latest whimsy of the moment. It's no fun to write and, by the time the book's written, the market's whims have changed.

sproe said...

I wanted to say Thank You! for the webinar at http://www.writersmarket.com/2012wm.

I've definitely bookmarked that one. And I've built a list of must-do items I'm going to start working on today.

Sandra Proesch

Christina Garner said...

Had an epiphany while reading this about my own brand as an author. Thanks!

cbaustin said...

Thanks once again Robert for your concise and worthwhile advice

Unknown said...

Great post. You made branding really easy to understand while also highlighting the importance of branding yourself, or your company. Really enjoyed reading!

Unknown said...

Really great post! You simplified everything while also highlighting its importance. Thoroughly enjoyed reading!