Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Do Writers Need Brands?

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.


J. R Wagner said...

Well done!

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Great post. I have struggled with the idea of branding in my work, but realized that in broad terms my work is about being inspiring and fun or both. So I'll see where I go from here.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

I couldn't agree with this post more. I might add that branding without "spiritual alignment" is not branding at all, nor is marketing solely to sell marketing, publicity solely to get seen publicity. Without underlying ethics of a great profession, all is for naught. Just like any other great professions...medicine, law, journalism.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Excited about the new edition (expanded! updated! even more helpful for writers!) of The Frugal Book Promoter, now a USA Book News award-winner in its own right (www.budurl.com/FrugalBkPromo)

Fani Nicheva said...

Thank you, J.R.

Fani Nicheva
Bigfish Smallpond Design

Fani Nicheva said...

Yes, braod terms is great. Then you can dive into specifics and maybe even find a story archetype for yourself.

Fani Nicheva

Fani Nicheva said...

yes, so true. And so easily disregarded in our modern times.

elysabeth said...

Great posting. We all struggle with this topic, especially new writers. The thing about branding is that you have to really have enough work out there to develope your brand so it all does go hand in hand and is something we need to strive to accomplish. Thanks for posting. E :)

Elysabeth Eldering
Author of Finally Home, a YA paranormal mystery
"The Porposal", a humorous romance ebook
"The Tulip Kiss", a paranormal romance ebook
"Bride-and-Seek", a paranormal romance ebook

Fani Nicheva said...


it does get tough and a little bit of a vicious cycle when you need paid projects and try to establish your identity. Nothing wrong with taking whatever comes to your door in the first few years. That way you learn best WHAT you want to offer and to who.

Fani Nicheva
Bigfish Smallpond Design

Karen Cioffi said...

How true. I think all us writers struggle to brand ourselves, especially correctly. And, sometimes our projected image changes as we go along, then you have to work to realign yourself.

Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

Heidiwriter said...

Quite interesting. That has always been a mind-boggling topic for me and I think for most writers. Thanks for sharing your take on it.

Unknown said...

Wow! Great article and spot on. My hubby is an Adv exec and has told me the same thing since I began this quest. I've branded myself as the Yellow Hat Writer after a photo of me that turned out great and which I use as my author shot. I also wear hats, esp yellow, to conventions, speaking engagements, wherever I might meet readers. And it works! People have walked up to me and said, "I recognized you from your picture on Twitter/Facebook/Blog."

Magdalena Ball said...

This is a brilliant article Fani (and I noticed it on the Storyfix blog as well). Branding is something that many of us are just now coming to grips with and although it doesn't always sit easily (marketing and 'creative work' aren't always aligned), you're so right that it's all about 'story' and that, for writers, telling the story of ourselves is something we need to do, and that we, as storytellers, shouldn't be frightened of. It's not only critical to marketing our work, it's an important part of self-discovery.

Fani Nicheva said...

Karen, you are absolutely right. We evolve all the time. And that's why branding isn't a one time campaign. It's an ongoing process. Many even perpetual

Fani Nicheva said...

Rebecca, how so brave and magnificent to build your identity by way of visuals. This is what excites me most as a graphic designer. I don't know if you know this, but yellow captures some of the more subtle and sophisticated sins in the Western imagination :)

Fani Nicheva said...

Thank you, Magdalena. Branding never sits easily, because it's a bit of an abstraction. Just like language. It's supposed to be a convention, but it means different things to different people.

widdershins said...

Agree with all the above ass well as thin ... Whatever your brand, it has to be authentic, or it, and you, won't go the distance.

widdershins said...

Oops ... not 'ass well as thin', but 'as well as this' ... heh, heh

Shirley Corder said...

Thanks Fani. When I attended the Florida Christian Writers Conference last year (huge trip from S.Africa!) I attended a series of workshops on this subject by Laura Christianson (The Blogging Bistro). Because I have two "niches" I struggled to work out how to bring them together. After I got home I worked through the material again and put together the brand of "Writing to Inspire". On my writing website I have the tagline "to inspire and encourage writers" and on the other "to inspire and encourage those in the cancer valley. I don't know if this works though. I've never had feedback.

Fani Nicheva said...

Shirley, thank you for sharing your story. I will definitely check out your sites. Taking on two niches is an enormous endeavor, but sometimes our calling urges us to do that.
You have to remember to take it slow.

Writers: 3 Must-Have Tips

Here's a sample of what you can do with Canva How can we writers come across information to make our lives easier? First stop, organizat...