I know you've heard pr people mention the word "brand" and thought, "what is she talking about?" Well, here's a quick and easy discussion of what an author brand is,how it works, why you need it and what to do with it.
WHAT IS A BRAND?
The marketing term or concept grew out of a need to identify products and developed into a serious approach to why consumers were attracted to a specific product and how they made their purchasing choices. Author branding is an extension of that effort.
WHAT IS AN AUTHOR BRAND?
HOW IT WORKS
STEP ONE (emotional Velcro) is achieved because they love her stories and are moved by them. This in turn leads readers to believe that they have formed a relationship of some type with that author and understand him or her. Because of this emotional attachment, they are willing to purchase a book written by this author simply because her name is on it.
STEP TWO (perception of higher quality) is achieved because this author brand has received accolades from every sector of the industry in the form of awards and top placement on the New York Times list. The author has garnered numerous RITA awards and is usually considered synonymous with romance, in fact being dubbed by media "the queen of romance". All of this contributes to the consumer's perception of higher quality of this material. If the writer wasn't good, she wouldn't be getting all this attention, right? (Not necessarily folks...but we'll talk about that a bit later in the lecture.)
STEP THREE (a little something special or distinction) is achieved via the author's voice. Now this is unique to fiction as a product because in other product fields certain attributes of your product can be ripped off or copied by rivals. In fiction it's a totally different ball game. No one is going to write exactly the way you do. It's what's called your author's voice. It's the thing that will make a reader read to the end of your book in the middle of the night even though they know they have to get up early the next morning for an important meeting.
Wrapped altogether, a brand is an implied promise to the consumer that they'll be receiving a particular thing consistently from an author. That's part of the reason that publisher's don't like author's to change their writing style too much or hop from one sub-genre to the next because it might upset the consumer who feels that the brand hasn't delivered.
BRAND BUILDING FIRST, BRAND AWARENESS SECOND
Because branding at it's roots is based first on establishing an emotional connection, publicity often works better than advertising to get your foot in the door. It is used to help you make a connection with people, create word-of-mouth through reviews, interviews, chats and workshops at conferences. If you can communicate CLEARLY AND CONSISTENTLY your brand, you will go a long way toward developing that emotional Velcro with your consumer. It's about creating distinction in the marketplace.
This is why I encourage beginning authors to get out there and get involved. By having your brand pop up all over the place online, at conferences, etc., you are getting people talking. This is also where media interviews come into play and using your message points. Remember when we first talked about message points one of the things I asked you to focus in on was what made you different. This is why. It comes down to building your unique brand.
Ask yourself this. What good is it going to do if I see a commercial about a brand new soap that I've never heard of? There's very little chance I'm going to go race out and buy it especially if I like my old soap just fine, thank you very much.
Now rewind yourself to before sitting down and seeing that commercial. What if I've heard about it from some of my friends? What if I'd just seen the name of the soap in an article in a women's magazine about great new products? What if I got a sample and liked the smell? Now imagine that I see that commercial again for the first time with all of this experience behind me. I am far more motivated to find out what all the fuss is about and possible take a chance on the new soap even if I'm still attached to my old soap. Does this make more sense?
Now you understand why advertising is one of the main tools you will use to help you create brand awareness, but isn't the foundation piece for building a brand. You need to create the emotional drive and connection first, then the perception of higher quality and finally make your point for why you are unique.
At this point I have to stick in a word about author quotes. Author quotes in this industry are what we call Brand Equity. This means that whoever you are quoting has a certain worth in your consumer's mind. By having this author vouch for your work, you are in essence telling the consumer that this new product has the same or better worth than the product they are used to. This is why your publisher and consumer will get more excited by a cover quote from Nora Roberts than Samantha Smith. They know Nora, they love Nora, and they will for an instant transfer a teensy bit of that love to you, long enough to buy your book, with a cover quote from her.
Since most of us aren't going to get that, a cover quote from a well-respected person who writes similarly to you will do. Don't be afraid about asking for one, but do it professionally in writing and always let them know that you would like them to consider your book for a quote.
Remember when we talked earlier about how it takes between 7-10 impressions for people to recall your brand? This is the process of building brand awareness. By getting your name out there in reviews, interviews, ads, conference speaking opportunities, book signings and the like, you are going to be contributing to the development of your brand's awareness.
You might also recall that I said in publicity perception is everything. It's the same with your brand. Even if you develop a strong brand and build a great awareness for it, if you don't manage it correctly, it can flop. To manage your brand you have to decide how you want people to perceive you. You can use publicity and your message points to continue to shape and manage how your multiple publics perceive your brand to keep it healthy.
At this point you might be scratching your head and asking, "Why do I need an author brand anyway? I'm small right now."
The point is you want to grow big, right?
You can take a long, painful, expensive trip to get to from point A to point B without a road map or make it there for far less expense, time and effort with a map. All I am trying to get you to do it creating your brand is build your map first.
WHY DOES THE BRAND MATTER?
Think back to the Nora book. The publisher believes so strongly in the Nora brand that they didn't even put a cover blurb about the book on the back. It didn't matter what the book was about. It was Nora. That was enough. THAT is where you want to focus to getting to. When your brand is that strong, you too will have a high rate of success. That is where we'd all like to be.
BUILDING A STRONG AUTHOR BRAND
STEP THREE: Grab their emotions. Your message points are at the heart
of your branding because they should reach in and squeeze an emotional
reaction out of your consumers.
STEP FOUR: Build all aspects of your brand equally. Your brand has visual
elements (what your website and letterhead looks like, what your professional
photos look like), verbal elements (your message points that you should
use in all your written and spoken communication and interviews) and kinetic
or action oriented elements (how you physically act around your consumers
at a book signing, being approachable after a workshop, and acting like
a professional at conferences).
STEP FIVE: Be consistent in marketing your brand. All aspects of your
brand need to communicate with one solid core of messages. Your image
and how you act needs to back those messages up. In public you are your
brand. When you are interviewed you are not you, the author, you are the
brand. It has to be in everything you do. That's why it's so important
that it come from who you are and what you want people to remember.
STEP SIX: Deliver on the brand. Consumers are fickle. You disappoint
them, you'll loose them. Whatever your brand image, make sure that you
stick to it. This is the reason that many publishers will require you
to take on a new pseudonym if you are doing something different. (ie.
Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb). The brands are different.
STEP SEVEN: Always continue to evaluate, build and refine your brand. The only way you'll know you're doing it right is by the success you achieve. Look at other author brands. Analyze them and see what makes them tick. Your brand's value will constantly change as society and your consumers change. Make it your business to keep your brand evolving to keep up with your changing career. When the image you have in the marketplace is not consistent with your brand, you need to refine the brand and adjust it to make it fit. This is a continuous process.
When your brand really begins to take off, it will be the brand, not your book that the publisher is paying for. That is why New York Times Bestsellers make so much more than other writers. Their brand as a bestseller is worth bucks to a publisher.
I'm not saying your brand will achieve success overnight. But if you have the map, you will get there.