To brand or not to brand? That is the question.
If you are a writer, branding might seem to you like the most disturbing proposition.
After all, you are not a box of cereal residing on a shelf, fighting for consumer’s loyalty and attention.
Some time ago, when I was working in an ad agency, my creative director said to me “Products live on shelves; brands live in people’s minds.”
And this is where branding starts to get interesting for writers.
Brands live in people’s minds because they are nothing less than good stories.
Dear writers, it is time to for you to acknowledge that of all business professionals out there you possess the most rare and dangerous of talents – writing good stories.
Now, to go back to the “branding yourself” question – this is where branding starts to get challenging.
Yes, writers can design good brands (or write good stories) for other businesses, but can they do the same for themselves?
And most of all, do they need to?
The answer is it depends. It depends on how aware of yourself or rich and famous you want to be as a writer.
It is important to note here that branding can bring you more awareness of yourself without being rich and famous, but it won’t make you rich and famous without the awareness.
Personal branding has become quite the buzz word lately. Personal brands are similar to product brands in a sense that they undergo a process of simplification and systematization (which is why many authors abhor the “B” word as the antithesis to everything complex and meaningful).
However, personal brands differ from product brands on one fundamental level – spiritual alignment. Many large corporations suffer misalignment with their product brands for a variety of reasons – failed promises, poor management and customer service.
Solopreuners, on the other hand, have to be able to live the credo of their personal brands. You, as a writer, are not a product. But you can offer products. In fact, you get to define your products consciously, and carry out their messages with conviction and elegance on an everyday-basis.
Three years ago, the Financial Times published a study which showed that only 9% of professionals have a job in line with their personalities.
Personal branding will help you align your talents with your services.
Apart from elevating you to a place of high awareness, branding can work other wonders for you as well. It can make you more money. But remember, the order in which it works for personal brands is: awareness first, money next.
The reason why I stress personal awareness so much is because it will help you carry out the following commitments:
1/ Financial commitment:
In order for your brand to truly graduate to adulthood you will need to treat yourself as a business operation. If you as a writer are content to live from a project to project and take whatever job comes your way, then branding shouldn’t concern you as much. Many freelancers set up shop literally for free, in order to be flexible and “bail out” easily if needed. On the other hand, brands invest time and money into their operation and expect serious return on that investment. They also develop systems of marketing, bookkeeping, sales tracking, strategic planning and graphic design.
2/ Focus commitment:
If you want to be perceived as “THE ONE” in a certain area of writing style or expertise, then by all means, start thinking about a brand. That means one specific expertise, one audience. Do you want to be known as the ghost writing specialist, the “underdog” writer, the “high-brow intellectual” writer, the fresh opinion writer, the journalist? Yes, I am talking about a niche.
Because the modern marketplace is such a crowded room where nobody can hear each other, the simpler and focused you are, the easier for clients and audiences to find you and trust you.
Authors with a particular focus of work are Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Jodi Picoult, Malcolm Gladwell, Joan Didion, Seth Godin just to name a few.
These commitments could be very trying and stringent for creative people like writers indeed. Some of you simply won’t have the upfront capital to invest in business and personal branding. Some of you may have already started to invest, but have stopped because of depleted resources. Or you might think that applying the principle of one niche kills the creative instinct. Whatever you’re thinking, you’re right. Branding is a reductive, and therefore quite limiting in its choices endeavor.
But most businesses fail not because they didn’t undergo the rigorous schooling of branding, or because they didn’t hire an accountant, or an expensive graphic designer for that matter. They fail because they lack the awareness seed, the alignment with the product or services they offer.
So don’t sweat about the technicalities of branding. But do sweat about that story which you will center your brand and services around. If you have an idea about the story of your personal brand, then everything else will fall into place.
Ignite your passion of storytelling, your intimacy with the journey of the archetypal heroes that have been populating the human mind for centuries. Pick an archetype for yourself, try it on, and see if it fits. The Hero maybe, or the Sage, the Trickster, the Mentor, the Sapeshifter, the Threshold Guardian.
Switch them around. You can evolve as a personal brand just as often as any hero of the writer’s journey.
Recently a famed journalist writer with a distinguished brand, Gene Weingarten, wrote an article “How branding is ruining journalism.” In a curmudgeonly manner, which has become his signature, he denounces personal branding and likens it to marketing Cheez Doodles.
“Newspapers used to give readers what we thought they needed. Now, in desperation, we give readers what we think they want. And what we seem to think they want is happy, glitzy, ditzy stuff.”, he says.
As a graphic designer and a writer I had to disagree with him, until I read the last line:
“When I was a hungry young reporter in the 1970s, I thought of myself as a superman, an invincible crusader for truth and justice… My goals, however, were unambiguous, and heroic: 1) Get great stories that improve the world. 2) Get famous. Note the order. First came the work.”
I realized that what he fusses and wails about is not the creative act of brand-making. He revolts against the insidious results branding has on society when performed without spiritual alignment.
It also makes sense that Gene Weingarten didn’t have to fight for the spotlight of his brand back then. Back then the marketplace was a different beast.
But I dare to imagine that who he is today has to do less with any external circumstances, and more with that “superman” journey he adopted on the first place.
Fani Nicheva is a graphic designer and a writer. She co-founded Bigfish Smallpond Design studio with her partner in Santa Cruz, CA. Creative branding, typography, book design, comparative literature, mythology, storytelling, logos, websites, introspection and lollygagging are her favorite activities.