What is a brand?
Many authors and entrepreneurs think a product is the same as a brand. Each businessperson starts pushing out products as soon as they have one available. But they’ve already committed a heinous crime in marketing: they should have launched a brand months before they had a product ready to hit the market.
Branding and you.
Think about the everyday items you use. Take an imaginative walk through the grocery store aisles. You need a toothpaste, which do you choose? Do you go for the name brand even though it costs more, or do you grab any old thing off the shelf?
If you said, you grab anything then you are among the minority. Many consumers are more likely to purchase the brand name item vs the generic item because, over time, that brand has built a perception of quality and trust. In many instances, a specific brand can evoke emotions or specific memories associated with quality. ReThinkTank Report
What we’ve seen.
We’ve all seen companies that boast original products before they have established brands and consumer loyalty. Remember Zune? What happened to that product which was just an innovative as the iPod? Beat by the associated loyalty that consumers of Apple had cultivated over years of demonstrating quality products. When an “original” product hits the market, it isn’t long until the sharks are circling with a better/faster/cheaper version of the same thing, and that original product is left like chum in the water – bloody and adrift.
What matters most is the brand association consumers have of you. Any product you release will gain the transference of that loyalty and trust, if you’ve developed it correctly.
How should you develop your brand?
Humans are social-emotional creatures. We are instinctively drawn to any message or brand that evokes an emotion or feeling in us: nostalgia, whimsy, sorrow, power, adventure, love…etc. So rather than get tripped up on the particulars of your product, take the time before your product’s release to think about your messaging, the story, you want to convey to your audience. While doing that, consider the following five reasons to keep your brand in mind and not your product/s:
1. Peace of mind.
People are not risk takers by nature. Unless I’m mistaken, people make up the majority of your purchasing audience. Unless, you’ve somehow developed a way to actually communicate directly with animals, which I don’t think you have…have you?
If people come to expect a certain experience from you, such as informed messaging or exceptional content knowledge, then no matter what product you produce later, whether in that field or not, they will associate that quality with you. To those consumers you are trustworthy, and that gives them a certain peace of mind when you have a new product on the market. Peace of mind and comfort keeps people returning to a product time and time again.
2. Added value.
Like most people, I will pay an extra two or three dollars on the brand toilet paper vs the generic product. Why? Because experience has taught me that the generic toilet papers don’t meet the quality I expect. Is my experience recent? Maybe not. The fact of the matter is that one particular brand toilet paper proved their ad motto of quality and another didn’t. That means that that successfully branded product just made more money than their competitor. Why? Because I know I can trust that brand of toilet paper. At least until they screw up.
3. Habit is key.
Having a brand that is trusted and known becomes habit-forming for consumers. Let’s go back to that imaginary grocery store, shall we? How long does it take you to do your shopping? There are dozens, if not hundreds, of products lining the aisles in any given area. What makes you pick up the one product over another? Do you take the time to pick up each product and compare the labels, read the nutrients, etc? Most often, consumers find themselves subconsciously reaching for what they know – the brand – even if the product isn’t well known to them.
4. Sharing is caring.
Remember how I mentioned that humans are social-emotional creatures? Well, in that same vein, we really like to share. Especially our opinions. As authors, we hope to produce multiple books spanning over an entire career. At least, I’m pretty sure we’re all in this for the long game or else why would you be reading this and concerned about branding? In the long game, we’re likely to produce dozens or (hopefully) hundreds of books/short stories/flash fictions etc. It would be impossible for an average consumer, even a dedicated one, to remember every product we’ve ever produced. But they are likely to remember you, the brand, because you’ve made an impact on them. Think about the last good book, movie, or meal you had. I bet you shared that experience with someone. When it comes to your brand, the associated impact you’ve made is your brand.
4. Express yourself.
Not the Madonna song, but similar. I bet you know what brand of car you drive, the brand of phone you own. But can you tell me the exact model of your car, the exact of model of your phone? Some say yes, but many say no. Let’s face it, our minds have limited data retention when it comes to extraneous information. We cast it aside. But we keep anchor data in place such as brands. Many times we even associate those brands with who we are or who we wish we could be. They give us a certain definition of self and, sometimes, self worth. I know that I, as a reader, pay attention to the authors I read as a means of maintaining a standards for quality. It’s human nature, and people fall into that nature by becoming attached to the brands they use and view as a part of themselves. Pop back up to Apple. They showed how people can easily self identify and define themselves based on a brand, not a product with their PC/Mac campaign from the early Aughts.
When should you develop your brand?
In my article How to Start Book Marketing Before You Launch, I go into more detail about the specifics involved in creating your brand and how to do it methodically (and so you don’t tear your hair out). The general consensus among marketing professionals is to start building your brand immediately. Once you even think you have a product to go to market with, start branding. In my aforementioned article, I go into detail at about the six month mark but you will have started creating your brand well before six months in order to ensure you have a brand, not just a product to promote.
Getting it wrong to get it right.
Personally, I did the whole marketing thing all wrong when I first started. Which is one of the reason why I help authors now. My failures and struggles have given me a lot of perspective and experience. They’ve also helped me develop some mad Google-Fu skills at professional and self development. So now I advise my clients to start brainstorming your brand no later than eighteen months before product launch and to start actually branding no less than one year before product launch. That way, when the six month mark rolls around to start pre-marketing your actual product, you will have an established brand in place.
Will some parts of your branding need tweaked along the way? Of course. My own branding started off on just how to be a better writer. As I learned more about marketing however, I began sharing that experience and insight. My brand has now become about marketing and writing. Since I’m an open person who is passionate about social issues, I’ve incorporated advocacy work into my brand as well (albeit lightly). However, my core brand has always remained the same: To instruct educate others through humor and simple instruction.
When do you feel an author should establish their brand? What are some of the key items you recommend an author consider when determining a brand? What successes/failures have you experienced with trying to build a brand?
BC Brown is the author of four novels and has participated in multiple short story anthologies. Having committed almost every ‘bad deed’ in the book of How To Be An Author, she now strives to educate others through humor and simple instruction, as well as use her celebrity to advocate for others.