September 24, 2013

Branding 101: What Is Your Brand?

Crowd picture with focus on one man with text: How Do You Show Who You Are?

Yeah, yeah, I can hear it now. “Ugh. Not more branding stuff. What if I don’t want to be a brand?”

I hate to break it to you, but you already have a brand. So does your kid’s soccer coach, your next-door neighbor, and possibly your pet. *smile*

How is that possible? It’s because our brand is simply what other people think of us.

If your neighbor never cleans up the garbage in their front yard, their “brand” in your neighborhood community is that they’re a lazy slob. If you post pictures of your dog or cat doing something cute or disgusting or whatnot, your pet’s “brand” among your social media followers is that they’re cute or disgusting (or possibly both).

Similarly, our author brand is just others’ impression of our stories, of our writing, or of us as a person or an author. Because of this, we can (and probably should) make conscious decisions about who we want to be, both in real life and in our brand.

Okay, let’s say we’ve figured out what impression we want others to have. What then? How do we get that information across?

Our Brand Is Not

When we think of the word brand, we often think of corporate logos, slogans, jingles, or other aspects. We could recognize a Coca-Cola ad vs. a Pepsi ad—even if it didn’t show the product—because they use different colors and type faces.

But those things are really just triggers for the brand. They’re pieces and parts that act as a shortcut to make us realize, “Hey, this is a Coke commercial.”

Coca-Cola is not computer-animated polar bears. They are, however, a company that wants you to associate “fun and entertaining” with their product.

Likewise, author brands are not the look of their website or their avatar. However, using the same avatar or background across platforms acts as a shortcut for others to connect the “Jami Gold” they see on Twitter as being the same person as the “Jami Gold” they see on Facebook or Google+ or Pinterest.

The Science of Brain-Mapping and Branding

Research has found that we remember new items better if we can “attach” those new memories to existing memories. Think about running into someone at the grocery store that we recognize but can’t place.

Without context, the memory of their face is an orphan. We can’t remember their name, if they’re married, or even if we dislike them. However, if we have the context of how we know them, suddenly we remember everything else.

Context—how brain connections relate to each other—is huge when it comes to branding. One impression creates a hook in our brain used to connect later impressions. The impressions add together to create a sense of the brand.

Let’s take a publishing example. We hear on Twitter about a great new book. Impression #1. Then our friend tells us over lunch about this new book they loved.

If we remember that we’ve already heard about the book, our friend’s recommendation will connect to that first impression and become Impression #2. However, if we don’t remember that we’ve already heard about the book, our friend’s recommendation will stand alone as a new Impression #1.

Which recommendation will stick better in our memory? The connected impressions. Those two impressions will multiply their impact and be stronger than two unconnected impressions.

That’s why companies use shortcuts to trigger memory. That’s why in most cases, authors should use consistent avatars and our books should use consistent covers, tag lines, or blurbs. They’re shortcuts to making sure any impressions about us or our books are connected. However, those items alone are not our brand.

Our Brand Is

What things really make up others’ impression of us—as people or authors? It’s made up of the things that form our impression of anyone, author or not.

When we’re deciding if a new neighbor might become our best new buddy, we’d notice their mood, their attitude, their actions, the things they seem to like or dislike. The same goes for authors.

Our brand—the impression behind those shortcuts—is made up of our voice, both in our blog posts or casual interactions and in our stories. What tone do we use? How do we explain things? How do we make others feel?

In other words, our brand is how we and our stories relate to others. Or more accurately, it’s how others relate to us and our stories.

Do our stories make our readers feel good or frustrated, enlightened or disappointed? Do our social media updates make us seem friendly or whiny, helpful or self-absorbed? Do our blog posts make us seem informal or formal, amusingly crazy or crazy-crazy?

Our brand is the ultimate in “show, don’t tell.” If we want people to think we’re X or our stories are Y, we have to actually be those things.

Our brand isn’t about us, and it’s certainly not about our type fonts or colors. Our brand is about our readers, what they think and feel about us. Who we are—our attitude and our worldview—comes through in everything we do, and once we understand that, we’ll realize that we don’t have to build a brand. The only thing we have to do is show who we are. *smile*

Registration is currently open for my workshop on how to do just enough story development to write faster, while not giving our pantsing muse hives. Interested? Sign up for “Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writers Guide to Plotting a Story.” (Blog readers: Use Promo Code “savethepants” to save $15 on registration.)

What do you think of when you hear the term “brand”? Do you have other examples for how “connected memories” creates stronger impressions? What other shortcuts can authors use to trigger those connections? What do you think your brand is? How have you tried to create that impression?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Davonne Burns

This concept is something I’ve struggled with over the years so I really appreciate this post. Sometimes it’s difficult to take a step back and look at how we are presenting ourselves to our readers. I do see the need and the value of having something our readers can associate with us and our books. It seems I’ve got some work to do.

Tamara LeBlanc

I think branding is incredibly important and I often hear writers asking, what is it?
Well the easiest way to explain it is to send them to this post. You did a remarkable job of breaking it down and making it understandable.
I try my best to put my brand out there, but I’m going to try harder, especially when it comes to reference, like you mentioned.
Have a great week, Jami!!

Beverly Diehl

Great stuff here, Jami. Sharing in a couple different places.

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

On Facebook, I used to basically only post positive, idealistic outlooks on life statuses, and I liked the impression I was creating of being a perpetually optimistic and idealistic person. This wasn’t lying either, as optimism and idealism are indeed core parts of my personality. Yet, I later felt like posting negative things too, like railing against social injustices, or any injustices, or expressing my annoyance at certain things (e.g. too much homework and study stress ). So I don’t look so completely positive anymore, but I actually like this impression better, because it makes my image look more realistic, as even optimistic people can be pessimistic and complaining sometimes. I think it made me look more “human”, lol. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to convey a uniform, consistent impression of yourself, of course, but I just personally find it more interesting and satisfying to show a more balanced and realistic image of myself nowadays. On story writing, I wanted to give the impression that I was always a sympathetic (to the characters) writer, and took care to maintain the compassionate tone in my writing. But later, as I told you, I suddenly turned somewhat satirical, and it didn’t feel as bad as I thought it would, and I thought: Why not? You can’t expect an author to stay the same forever. People change. Life is dynamic. That’s what makes people and life interesting. The change doesn’t have to be for the worse either. They could be something…  — Read More »


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Daphne Shadows

Okay, this is awesome. This post just cleared up EVERY issue I had about branding. You know you get the foggy idea of something but you can’t quite pin it down in exactness or figure out how to have it make sense for you? Yeah, that was my issue with branding.
THANK YOU for breaking it down!


[…] Branding 101: What is Your Brand? by Jami Gold. Man, she’s been busting out some good stuff this week! Woot! […]

Angela Ackerman

REALLY great explanation, Jami! I know brand confuses a lot of people, and there are many misconceptions. This is a really clear breakdown of what it is and isn’t!

Sarah Glenn

Okay, now I’m associating you with “Save the Pants”. 🙂

Joel D Canfield

Newslettering this! (That’s a new verb I’ve made up.)

Writers seem to struggle with concepts like “voice” and “branding” and they essentially boil down to what you’re saying: be yourself, clear and bright so people can see it and have a reason to remember you and talk about you.

It’s one reason I tell my authors to develop fans of *you* rather than fans of one of your books. Keep your book branding within your professional author branding, and it’s all one.


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[…] Branding? Don’t worry. Our brand is simply what others think of us, so we all have a brand—automatically. (Even our pets might have a brand. […]

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