January 18, 2018

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

"Buy Now!" tag with text: What's Our Marketing Style?

In my posts, I often try to point out nuances and exceptions that might get missed in our “you must do X” and “you should do Y” world. We can probably all think of advice we’ve heard that assumed a black-and-white situation that didn’t work in the face of reality, such as “write every day.”

One of those posts a few years back explored how there’s no always right approach to our brand and marketing voice. Given the current highly politicized environment, I figured it might be a good time to update that post so we can reexamine our options. *smile*

In the U.S., the traditional advice for keeping the peace with family or friends has always been 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, especially with the energy and awareness behind so many political and civil rights issues, 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 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, or they want to offer a sea of calm in a divisive world.
  • They don’t want to experience feelings of betrayal or disappointment when others don’t agree.
  • They’re more introverted and keep their thoughts to themselves.
  • They’re still learning about various issues, so they’re more interested in lurking and listening to others.
  • They don’t want to shout over more knowledgeable or experienced voices.
  • 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.

Or we might admire those who are loud but don’t think we have anything worthwhile to add to the conversation or figure other voices are more important. In that case, when we feel strongly about an issue, we might share or retweet others’ points (especially when they’re expressed in a less-strident way) in a compromise of support.

The reluctance to be pushy may also carry over into discomfort with “louder” styles of promotion, such as 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 worry about avoiding conflict (or figure that others make conflict for them regardless of their approach).
  • They don’t want to feel like they’re censoring themselves, or they’re eager to share perspectives others might not have considered.
  • They’ve decided the cause is important enough—potentially even life and death—to take the risk.
  • They want to be a good ally by expanding the conversation and raising awareness about issues to broader audiences.
  • 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, preferring to know where others stand rather than sweeping differences under the rug.
  • They don’t care about losing readers who disagree with them, figuring a strong position might attract just as many potential readers as it might turn away.
  • They believe those who disagree with them wouldn’t enjoy their books anyway, etc.

Again, none of that is wrong.

In a divisive world, does the advice to avoid politics apply to our brand? Click To TweetThose 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 years 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.

Change usually happens when a critical mass makes demands. That takes lots of allies, so advice to self-censor helps only those in power.

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 (or because it would cause stress-induced health issues from all the conflict).

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 years ago 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 another 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, censor ourselves, or that we have to become less private than we want.

Branding advice comes in different styles, so ignore the tips that don't match our brand. Click To TweetWhen 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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Bran Ayres

We might feel that we have to be fake, censor ourselves, or that we have to become less private than we want.

As an ‘own voices’ author, I do find that I divulge information about myself and my situation that I normally never would. Part of my ‘brand’ is being a neurodivergent queer and writing queer characters, but in making that part of my brand, I lose any privacy. I suppose it’s a small price to pay. ^^

Anna Erishkigal

People are tired of the always-on controversy of politics. It showed big-time this past weekend at the usually 4,500 person convention that I volunteer for which is radically far far liberal left and has authors screeching politics from the rafters at a lot of panels … as well as highly politicized panels that politicize mundane fan-topics such as the Marvel Universe. —Membership was down to just under 4,000 people this year, the lowest count since the early 2000’s. —Panels that had politicized name-titles (such as “WTF Marvel – the end of diversity”) had extremely low attendance — these panels seemed to consistently draw the same 21 people who left long, raving positive reviews in the feedback box so it might at first-glance seem like people want it, but attendance numbers don’t lie. We ran over 200 panels and events all weekend and track attendance data from year-to-year, so this was true across the board. —My “writing track” panels, which were deliberately NOT political and even had a few “softly right” topics such as “How to Write Faith Into Your Sci-Fantasy Novel” were consistently packed with 60+ people… a lot of the attendees weren’t even authors … they were simply fans who’d bought their tickets to the convention and were desperately looking for non-political topics so they’d walk into the “How to Write Villains” panel hoping to get at least -some- interesting discussion of their favorite villains. —Every time an author started to rant about politics, a large swarth of people…  — Read More »

Clare O\'Beara
Clare O\'Beara

The shouty version of marketing could include those authors who, if I sign up to their newsletter, send me ads for their books and their pay-to-fund campaign and their facebook and twitter and anything else they can think of, every week and again on special days like St Valentine’s Day.
Sadly all this does is make me unsubscribe. If I want ads I’ll turn on TV.

Clare O\'Beara
Clare O\'Beara

If a character in your book expresses a strong opinion it’s usually good to have another character express a different strong opinion, maybe one being quiet and the other being shouty but both with good viewpoints.
For personal comment on social media, your opinions are your own – but remember your posts can be read ten years from now and ‘held against you’. You might want to apply for a job and employers look at your social pages, then Google you. If you would not stand up in a bus and shout it, why put it on a site?
As for owning our voices, every author puts something of their personal experience into their work. One way to stop it looking too personal is to write a principal character of the opposite sex. Maybe that even makes the character more interesting, a female ringmaster or silversmith, a male editor of a home and fashion magazine. My writing a female tree surgeon sleuth doesn’t take that path, as I am a female tree surgeon.
(Jami! Very hard to spellcheck mid-grey on light grey!)

Sieran Lane
Sieran Lane

Hey, I’ve been wondering about something for a while now: Do topics in social justice count as “politics”? I think most people would agree that racism and sexism are wrong; and many, though not all, people would agree that homophobia and transphobia are wrong too. It may also just be my social circle, but I get the impression that most people are at least somewhat supportive of animal rights, and against animal cruelty.   So…for issues like racism, sexism, etc. that are relatively popular stances already, I don’t really see them as “political”… And for instance, I’m a transgender person, so obviously I wouldn’t advocate transphobic views. To me, something more “political” would involve issues with a more equal “people who agree: people who disagree” ratio, for instance, what one thinks of euthanasia, abortion, or the death penalty. Some may see these example issues as religious, though.   As for whether I’m loud or quiet, I’m probably somewhere in between? I’m very vocal when it comes to LGBT+ rights (partly because I’m LGBTQ myself), but I use a custom filter on Facebook so that only people who are LGBT-friendly or accepting will see those posts. I do express my pro-LGBT+ views publically when it comes to Goodreads reviews, though. But that’s not a surprise, because if I’m reading a gay romance, wouldn’t you expect me to be queer-friendly? People who are homophobic and/ or transphobic are also unlikely to check out those LGBT+ books that I’ve reviewed in the first…  — Read More »

Sieran Lane
Sieran Lane

Hey Jami, my comment seems to have lost all of its paragraph line breaks. D:

Jennifer Jensen

Brilliant post, Jami! I struggle with how much pushing I should be doing, which is only compounded by the fact that not knowing what to say makes me not do it at all. And I have a friend who is confused about the whole thing. Recognizing our own loud/quiet style is key, and something I’ve not thought of before.

Would you consider doing a post focused on effective marketing of the quiet type? Not only what, but how much, how often? (for fiction) Or point me in the right direction if I”ve missed it. And maybe include samples of Amazon/Facebook ads that are quiet vs. loud.

Thanks for all your insights!


[…] Worried about brand and platform? Porter Anderson writes about platform redux: after the fire and fury, while Jami Gold asks what’s the voice of your brand? […]

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