May 21, 2019

Branding 101: Defining Our Brand

View of neon ads on Times Square at night with text: How Can We Define Our Brand?

When we look at the writing-related skills and insights we need to learn, we often find it easier to understand lessons about the tangible aspects of our career. For example, craft skills about grammar or plot events can seem more straightforward to learn than skills about theme or voice.

Developing our skills for elements like theme, voice, motifs, style, mood, character likeability, etc. often feels more intangible. The “rules” or guidelines that might help us know what to do are less clear—or missing entirely—and practice alone is less likely to be enough for us to get things right.

Understanding what branding means for writers is similarly intangible. We don’t necessarily fully grasp what branding is at all, much less what our brand is or how to develop our brand.

I’ve written several posts about branding already, including:

But today, we’re going to talk about how to define our brand. What fits our brand and what doesn’t? (And don’t worry if you’re not a fan of branding stuff—this will be fun. Promise! *smile*)

Branding 101 Recap: What Is a Brand?

While we often think of our brand as logos, colors, products, and other tangible things, a brand can actually be thought of in broader and less tangible terms. Our brand is simply the impression others have of us:

“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?”

Or as Maya Angelou said:

“People will forget what you said.
People will forget what you did.
But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

In other words, our brand is how we relate to others, how they relate to us, and/or how we make them feel. Long after the specifics of our words, characters, plots, stories, websites, avatars, color themes, etc. fade, people will remember how we made them feel. That’s the impression that matters.

Building a Brand: Making the Intangible Tangible

However all of that relating and feeling is still rather intangible. But there are ways to turn that aspect into something more tangible.

Check out these videos by @authorharpmill to learn more about branding... Click To TweetOver the past year, the RWA has been sharing Two-Minute Tip videos on YouTube with advice from members. Topics for these videos include conference tips, Scrivener information, pacing advice, etc.

Author Harper Miller shared a great 4-part series on Branding for Beginners. In just 10 minutes, her series gives a fast rundown on what branding means—along with specific steps to determine how we can project our brand.

I loved Harper’s videos because they’re so quick and to the point with a few steps we can use to come up with our brand. Take a look…

Part 1: Personalizing Your Message

What assessments can authors make to determine their brand’s core message?

“(Branding) is how you establish trust.”

RWA Two-Minute Tip: Branding for Beginners 1: Personalizing Your Message

Part 2: Personality & Tone

How can authors brainstorm their brand’s personality and tone?

“Your personality is what you genuinely represent.”

RWA Two-Minute Tip: Branding for Beginners 2: Personality & Tone

Part 3: Taglines

How can we create a quick and descriptive tagline for our author brand?

“(Our tagline) allows the reader to immediately conjure up an image…as to the types of stories (we) would tell.”

RWA Two-Minute Tip: Branding for Beginners 3: Taglines

Part 4: RWA Two-Minute Tip: Visual Branding

How can authors visually express their brand’s personality?

“Think about colors that…represent you as well as your personality.”

RWA Two-Minute Tip: Branding for Beginners 4: Visual Branding

Branding: Defining What Fits and What Doesn’t

As Harper says in Part 4, no matter what we do with our branding, we want to keep our brand based in truth. The promise we make to readers—what they expect from our stories—needs to be fulfilled, so honesty is the best policy.

But how can we define our brand well enough that we know what fits and what doesn’t?

Case Study: Celebrity Brands

A few months ago, our local newspaper ran a story about an Arizona conman—and former mafia hitman now in the Federal Witness Protection Program—who ran the plans for a chain of restaurants based on the country band Rascal Flatts into the ground. A few years ago, he also destroyed the plans for a different chain of restaurants based on country singer Toby Keith.

Okay, the mafia hitman and Witness Protection thing is interesting, but what does that have to do with branding? Well, these stories got me thinking about another way to look at our brand.

How can thinking like celebrities help us define our brand? Click To TweetI don’t listen to country music, so I’m not familiar with either Toby Keith’s or Rascall Flatts’s songs, but the country music aspect is like our writing genres, so we might be able to see parallels between music and publishing. More importantly to my point, despite my lack of country familiarity, I still could picture what these theme restaurants would likely be like.

Celebrities often lend their name—their brand—to completely unrelated projects and products. Actresses, models, and singers put their name to perfume. Athletes give their name to athletic shoes. Celebrities participate in commercials for drinks, cars, services, etc.

Depending how desperate for money they are, they decide which products are a good fit for their image (or they limit their less fitting advertising to outside the U.S.). On the other side, companies try to get celebrities they think will enhance their product’s image.

What Would Fit Our Brand?

An actor’s brand is about far more than just their acting ability. It includes the movie or TV projects they choose to spend their time on, their appearance, how they spend their “free” time (trendy parties vs. charity work, etc.), their behavior to others, their social media presence, and so on. Plus, as mentioned above, part of their image is also based in what they lend their name to.

What would your branding “empire” be? The answers can help define our brand... Click To TweetEven though we obviously don’t have the same type of celebrity empire, a similar variety applies for understanding the breadth of our image. Our brand isn’t just our writing ability but everything that leads others to form an impression of us.

Our author brand includes our genre, the types of elements we include in our stories, our public appearances like book signings, our behavior and social media presence, etc. And although we’re extremely unlikely to get any endorsement deals, we can still use our imagination to see what non-book endorsements would fit our brand.

Imagine Our “Empire” to Get a Clearer Picture

Just as we can’t always see the forest for the trees when we’re too close to a problem, we might similarly need to step back to know what fits or doesn’t fit our brand. In other words, we might get a better understanding of our brand if we think about aspects other than books.

For example, we can think of what would work with our image in other ways…

  • If we released a perfume or cologne under our brand, what would it smell like? Would the scent combination include notes that are flowery, citrusy, earthy, spicy, fruity, etc.? What would marketing for our scent look like? What imagery or taglines?
  • If we had a restaurant based on our brand, what type of restaurant would it be? What would the decorating be like? Music selection? Menu, etc.? Would the focus be on the food, service, mood, theme, or something else?
  • If we designed shoes with our brand name on them, what type of shoes would they be? Athletic, dressy, sandals, etc. What style would they embrace: practical, fun, classy, etc.? What would the target market be?
  • What other types of products or services would we be willing to put our brand name to? Cars, hotels, food, cell phones, apps, alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, etc. Then drill down into each item we picked—not just “food” but breakfast cereal vs. burger chain vs. chips vs. steakhouse, etc.

How Does Each Element in Our “Empire” Make Others Feel?

How we decide to answer those imagination questions above can come down to several perspectives:

  • How would each choice affect other’s impression of us? (good vs. unprofessional, etc.)
  • How would they affect other’s sense of their relationship to us? (friendly vs. standoffish, etc.)
  • How would they make others feel? (successful/happy vs. insecure, etc.)

In other words, our choices regarding all those non-book-related possibilities can help us define our priorities when it comes to our author brand, such as how we want to relate to others or what feelings we want to leave them with. They can help illuminate what sort of image we want to have. And they can help us discover the personality Harper Miller mentioned in her videos that we want to share with others.

While we could go for the silly—”I’d release pajamas with my brand since I write in them often”—we’ll likely learn more about our brand if we limit ourselves to things that will help our image. (And maybe pajamas would be helpful, I don’t know. *grin*)

Knowing what doesn’t fit can also help us figure out what our social media presence should look like. In our stories, we don’t always share everything we know about our characters, and the same applies in our real life. We can choose what to share depending on the relationship we want to have with others, the image we want them to have, and how we want to make others feel.

Once we have our choices for our imaginary empire, we can think about how the things we picked fit our brand. How would they resonate with and define our image? If we can understand what fits and what doesn’t, we’ll have a better—and maybe slightly more tangible—view of our brand. *smile*

Do you have a hard time defining your brand? Do you know what fits and what doesn’t fit with your brand? Have you seen celebrities endorse things that don’t fit their brand? Do you think taking a step back to look at non-book things might help us get a clearer picture of our brand? Can you think of other non-book empire-building thought experiments we can try?

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Nicole Grabner

This was wonderful to read! I had no idea that the RWA had these short videos on YouTube and I will be checking them out. Thanks for showing another way to consider “our brand.” It is something that I constantly struggle with and loved your insights!


This article, whilst sending some interesting insights on personal branding, also defines the essentials of corporate branding. Essentials like Personalising Your Message which in official terms means Targetting; portraying your Personality and Tone; Taglines that are catchy and relevant; and last but not the least, Visual Branding. Fascinating take backs for a Branding agency to ponder upon.

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