May 28, 2015

Branding 101: What’s Your Brand’s Voice?

A sale tag with the word "NEW!" and the text: What's Our Marketing Style?

In the U.S., the traditional advice for keeping the peace with family or friends is to avoid talking about religion or politics. That “rule” goes back to at least the 1800s, when it was presented as an etiquette tip for genial conversation.

The idea was further popularized by the character of Linus in the Peanuts comic strip (which was later expanded into It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, an even more popular animated TV special that’s still broadcast annually before Halloween).

Linus says:

“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people…religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”

Yet on social media, people regularly break that “rule.” (At least as far as religion and politics. I haven’t seen any Great Pumpkin debates on Twitter yet. *smile*) So we might question whether that advice still applies.

As writers, that’s an important question, as the impression others have of us forms our brand, and our personal beliefs can certainly affect others’ opinions. So should our personal beliefs play a role in our brand or not?

That’s not an easy or straightforward question. And like so many things, the answer depends on who we are and what our goals are.

Understanding how we feel about this one issue of sharing our personal beliefs might also help us figure out the big picture of our brand and our brand’s voice. Are we quiet, or are we loud?

Despite some of the arguing on social media, one way is not “better” than the other. Those who choose one way over the other are not automatically stupid. The two approaches are simply different styles, and the style of our interactions might affect or inform many aspects of our brand.

Some Brands Are Quiet…

Just like the traditional advice, some believe that religion or politics should have no (or a very limited) place in our social media updates unless we’re writing religious or politically themed stories.

In real life, bringing up religion or politics can cause arguments, break up friendships, and affect the level of respect between parties. Online is much the same.

Some choose not to extensively express their personal beliefs online because:

  • They don’t want to deal with conflict.
  • They’re more introverted and keep their thoughts to themselves.
  • They think others are entitled to their own opinions and don’t have a goal of changing others’ beliefs.
  • Their beliefs are more complicated than black-or-white divisions, and they don’t want to be pigeonholed based on a single opinion.
  • They don’t want to alienate potential readers, etc.

None of that is wrong.

Those of us who fall into this category may think others are making a mistake when we see Twitter or Facebook rants about political causes or religious beliefs. We might not like in-your-face opinions and strive to avoid them—avoiding those with that style in the process.

The reluctance to be pushy may also carry over into discomfort with “louder” styles of promotion, those that come across as salesy or “listen to me because I’m awesome” approaches.

In other words, if we have a quiet style, that might affect every aspect of our brand, from how we share and interact with others to what types of promotion make us want to crawl out of our skin and take a cleansing shower.

…and Some Brands Are Loud

The Twitter feed or Facebook wall of some people is more likely to be filled with links to political or religious statements. It doesn’t matter to them whether they write political or religiously themed stories or not. To them, their personal beliefs are relevant to everything.

They recognize that sharing their beliefs might cause issues, but they often are so passionate about their beliefs that they’d feel they were being untrue to themselves to not express them. They might even feel that they were being a traitor to the cause to not attempt to influence others to have the same opinion.

Some choose to express their beliefs online because:

  • They don’t have a goal of avoiding conflict, or they figure the opportunity to change the world is worth the risk.
  • They’re eager to share their thoughts and opinions with others.
  • They want to change the world, and that goal permeates every aspect of their lives.
  • They want to be clear and upfront with their beliefs and figure to not worry about others’ reactions.
  • They don’t care about losing readers who disagree with them, or they believe those who disagree with them wouldn’t enjoy their books anyway, etc.

Again, none of that is wrong.

Those of us who fall into this category may think others are weak with their beliefs (or else they’d be shouting them loud-and-proud too). We might appreciate getting opinions into the open, where they can be discussed, debated, and judged.

This willingness to be pushy might carry over into an ability to tap into “horn tooting” promotion styles, where a sales approach is seen simply as a way to conduct business.

In other words, if we have a loud style, that might affect every aspect of our brand, from how we try to influence and interact with others to what types of advice strikes us as an insult to our beliefs.

Step One to Brand Sanity: Know Your Type

I’ve written before about the steps of building our brand. Much of determining our brand has to do with knowing ourselves:

Who do we want to be?

Under Step 1: Decide Who You Want to Be of that post, we can add the idea:

  • Think about what brand and marketing style feels more natural to us.

Are we naturally loud with our opinions? Are we willing to risk conflict to get others to agree with us? Do we want to expose our beliefs outright to make it clear where we stand? We might fit right in with the loud style.

Are we naturally reluctant to toot our own horn about our beliefs, accomplishments, or anything? Are we willing to hand people information and let them reach their own conclusion? Would we rather let our worldview and opinions creep into others’ thoughts through the subtext of our stories? We might fit better with the quiet style.

Step Two to Brand Sanity: Recognize the Other Style of Advice

A few months ago, a marketing article in a monthly writing magazine ran into trouble. The article’s advice included tips along the lines of “authors shouldn’t talk about politics or religion.”

This advice was not new. Heck, I’ve posted before about avoiding those topics unless it fits our brand.

Plenty of companies and brands don’t get involved in controversy of any type. We could find this advice repeated hundreds (if not thousands) of times throughout marketing and promotion articles over the last century or two.

However, for reasons that have more to do with the viral nature of outrage than with the advice itself, a firestorm erupted on Twitter over the article. Protests ensued, and jobs were threatened. Why?

When Loud-Style Brands Receive Quiet Advice

Those of the quiet style looked at the article and shrugged. Everyone had seen that advice before.

Those of the loud style took the advice as an insult to their worldview. They (understandably) don’t like to be told to be quiet with their opinions.

In fact, being told to be quiet about their opinions can feel like a disagreement about the opinions themselves and not just a disagreement in communication styles. In this particular case, some authors protested to the magazine that such advice was discriminatory to marginalized groups who need all the supportive voices they can get. That’s a legitimate issue that could result from following the standard advice in some situations.

When Quiet-Style Brands Receive Loud Advice

On the other side of the coin, much of the marketing and promotion advice has a very pushy and hype-oriented voice: “Your job is to convince potential customers that you’re the best thing since sliced bread!!!” “Get attention by promising to solve all their problems!” “Buy now because the price will never be this low—ever, ever again!”

Those of the quiet style despair of ever gaining attention against those with louder and more noticeable brands. The loud-style advice can make them feel that their only option is to become the slimy kind of a used-car salesperson.

Or if they know successful loud-style authors, they might feel envious of how easy the loud types make it look to have that unapologetic, energetic, or irreverent attitude. But unless they relied on clichés, the quiet types also know they couldn’t maintain a similar impression for long because that style doesn’t come naturally to them.

Step Three to Brand Sanity: Ignore the Other Style of Advice

Do you see the similarities in those two examples above? In either situation, we can feel as though we have to be untrue to ourselves, and that doesn’t make anyone happy or comfortable.

I pointed out a few weeks ago about how there are two kinds of encouragement advice: pushy and sympathetic. Depending on our situation, mindset, or our mental health, advice that might be helpful to one person might be harmful to us, or vice versa.

This brand-style issue is the same idea but focused on branding and marketing advice. Again, neither branding style is wrong, and neither kind of advice is wrong.

However, if we don’t recognize our strengths, weaknesses, personality style, or goals, we might be harmed by trying to follow the wrong-for-us kind of advice.

We might feel pressured to be someone we’re not, or we might feel that our opinions are disrespected. We might feel that we have to be fake, or that we have to become less private than we want.

When branding advice doesn’t work for us or feels off, that doesn’t necessarily mean the advice should be disparaged. (There is plenty of bad marketing advice out there, but there’s a difference between “bad” and “bad-for-me.”)

Instead of wasting our time arguing about advice that doesn’t apply to our style or situation, it’s far better to recognize what does work for us. Our brand—and our brand’s style—should feel authentic and genuine to us.

That might even mean that we’re loud about specific issues or in certain situations and quiet the rest of the time. We’re not required to be black-and-white in our thinking—or in our approach. *smile*

Discover What Works for Our Style

No matter which branding style fits us, there’s an audience of readers who will relate to—and prefer—our style. We’re going to be most genuine when we respect our readers, and that means we have to be true to ourselves when projecting our brand and creating others’ impression of us.

  • We want to be honest about who we are.
  • We want to respect our audience of readers.
  • We want to use authentic and genuine ways to relate to our readers.
  • We want to find promotion techniques and messages that work for us (tooting our own horn vs. sharing reviews from others, etc.).

With either style, we want to use the words, messages, and approaches that reflect who we are. That’s the only way we’ll be able to attract those who will appreciate our brand—and us—for who we are. *smile*

Have you noticed different branding and marketing styles before? Have you seen marketing advice that fits quiet brands better? Have you seen advice that fits loud brands better? Do you know what style fits you best, or does it depend on the specifics? How do you feel when faced with advice geared toward the opposite style?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Lara Gallin
Lara Gallin

I’ve yet to decide what approach I’ll take with this aspect of things. I know I’ve spoken online about religion/politics and things have got a little heated. I think if I did broach such subjects, I’d need to draw a line beyond which I don’t go. My problem is that in any debate I always feel that if I don’t have the last word, I’ve conceded and that’s a huge problem for me. Perhaps I should take notes from JK Rowling, the finesse with which she dealt with the Westboro Baptist Church was worthy of applause!

Emerald O'Brien
Emerald O'Brien

I have noticed the difference between loud and quiet in regards to branding, but I find most authors to fall closer to the middle of the spectrum. Speaking their minds about lighter subjects here and there, not so much arguing or engaging, but stating their point of view. Standing up for what they believe in, yet not getting into fights with others over it.
I think I’m naturally more loud in my every day life than I have presented myself as a brand because I want to be seen for what I create. I want that to be the focus. Oh, and this from your post: “Their beliefs are more complicated than black-or-white divisions, and they don’t want to be pigeonholed based on a single opinion.” Too much misinterpretation over the internet.
I tend to believe that the books I put out there are my art/expression, and I like that people can have any opinion they want on it, and will see it different ways. Aside from people who comment on others reviews, it’s a pretty cool way to voice an opinion and read the opinions of others without feeling like you have to defend your own perspective.

Jacquie Biggar

I know what you mean Jami, but at the same time I hate that I need to think about whether I can say “praying for you” when someone is hurt or there’s been a natural disaster such as the one in Houston right now. I think people need to lighten up. Just because you don’t agree with someone’s religious beliefs it’s not a reason to start a fight on SM over who is right and who is wrong.
In the book I’m writing now I dare to actually thank God when my heroine narrowly escapes a dastardly villain. I’d hate to think this could possibly lose me readers, but then again if it does they aren’t really getting me as a writer or a person.
I think you need to stick by your beliefs. It’s not necessary to ram something down people’s throats to get the point out.

Gloria Oliver

Great observations!

I am definitely in the quiet brand band wagon. Especially when it comes to pushing the books. Bookmarks, postcards, and tagline toppers do most of the speaking for me. I am all about the soft sale. (Though I have definitely wished for some blood transfusions from friends who can totally push and feel no shame in it!) 😛

Get me on a panel, though, and I can be quite loud. lol. Panels always feel more about sharing, communicating, and having fun than pushing the books. So I can let more of my inner self escape into the world and know people won’t be feeling pressured when I do. 🙂

Thanks for the great post!

Lee Summerall

Tempests in teapots, mountains out of molehills, fifteen seconds of fame. Maybe there’s just so much noise out there the notion that getting even louder has value to some. I thought that furor was adolescent, and my perfect example of the insecurity of major decision makers, a “I never inhaled!” kind of gutless mindset. Wouldn’t you just love to see somebody step up and say “Tough, get over yourself, this is too unimportant to put energy into.”? You can’t ever please everyone even part of the time, it just ain’t possible. Variety in all things is what we need, it’s what makes the world such an interesting place. An author I wish I’d discovered years ago, Timothy Hallinan, lets his politics peek out in his novels, which are so beautifully-written that I want to write like him when I grow up. The guy is superb craftsman, with edgy characters and sometimes very graphic situations, all of which he delivers with humor and humanity. He has at least two series I’m addicted to: Poke Rafferty (set in present-day Bangkok) and Junior Bender (LA). For me, how he handles his politics is how it ought to be done. Only the most rabid on the other end of the spectrum could find fault. And they’d have laughed so much they might not even have noticed. To me, that’s part of branding. The public branding on the social media sites, you’ll find your own place if, as Jamie says, you just be true to…  — Read More »

Davonne Burns

Well … since this is something I’m actively working on doing this came at a great time. I’m pretty much the epitome of the quiet brand. My friends have to nudge me to even mention I write much less have books out there. I’m just as introverted on the internet as I am in real life … which can be an issue. It’s gotten to the point I’ve even considered hiring someone to help me with my online presence.
What are your thoughts on having someone manage your social media for you? Do you think it creates a separation between author and reader that should be avoided? Or could some of us benefit from a buffer of sorts?


[…] Branding 101: What’s Your Brand’s Voice? by Jami Gold – great stuff to think about in this one. 🙂 […]


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