Author branding: What really drives you?

Give yourself a royal branding: The worksheet, part 2

Romanian_crown_7-11Picking up where we left off with last week’s post, I was walking you through the essential steps of my author/personal branding worksheet. (See the Royal Branding series here.) We started out by defining your primary audience and selecting the core values that define you and your brand. Now we take on the next four elements of the worksheet, including:

CORE BRAND DRIVER
VISION
MISSION
POSITIONING

BRAND DRIVER

What is that, exactly? Basically, it is what gets you out of bed in the morning and what gets you through the day. It’s that kernel of passion about what you do, stated in a concise and easy-to-remember way so that you and your associates or employees (if you have them) can buy into it and live it. I found the following quote from the book Brand Simple that explains it well:

You need a “brand driver” for external and internal use; the short phrase that captures the essence of your idea. For example, take GE: “imagination at work.” This is important so employees know how to make decisions that align with the brand. FedEx is great example…what’s their promise to customers and to themselves? On-time delivery by 10:30 am. If you ever watched Castaway, remember the way that brand promise unified everything for everyone in the early scenes? And that last scene where he delivered the package: that’s delivering on the brand promise.

So you can see, it is not a tagline, although it may sound like one and look like one, and your tagline may be derived from it. And you may think, “Hey, what I do is difficult and complex, and can’t all be captured in a simple phrase.” That’s probably true, and reducing all that complexity to its essence is no easy task. But think of it as a rallying point, a war cry. It may also be your unique selling proposition. What is the one thing about your work that, if you didn’t do it, the world could not become a better place?

To come up with my own brand driver, I worked down to my basic personal belief that we are all part of a continuum of the spirit, that what is accomplished or not accomplished in one generation affects other generations both before and after. Maybe my telling of a specific story satisfies an unfulfilled need from long ago, and has the power to change a perspective even just a little bit. What we do, what we accomplish, and how we use our gifts is of great importance. I am an author of historical fiction. Therefore my brand driver is: Illuminate the past to inspire the present.

You can state your brand driver any number of ways, but I like it stated as a challenge, kind of like Nike’s “Just Do It.”

VISION

Now, doesn’t it make you happy to have your brand driver in place? It is like discovering your purpose in life. The next step is thinking through your brand driver to the best possible conclusion. What would the world look like if you are wildly successful? For me, maybe the world would be a literate place where we would learn from and not repeat the mistakes of the past, so that things like greed-driven wars and preventable famines would not take place, etc.

Let your imagination go on this one. Try to capture your perfect world in a sentence or two. But it is your vision, so if it takes a paragraph or a page, let the words flow. This is really about why your new-found purpose in life matters, and it does.

MISSION

You have defined your universe. Now let’s bring it down to boots on the ground. Your mission statement is about what you do every day in service of your brand driver towards achieving your new world vision. You are an author? Well then you write, of course. But think in terms of a business statement. A business exists to make money, and to make money you must have a product or service to deliver. Do you have long-term goals and projected outcomes? Your mission statement is partly definitive, partly aspirational. And don’t worry about getting it perfect. Just write something you are comfortable with based on what you have worked on so far. Your mission statement can change. Many businesses tweak their mission statement regularly to reflect current business conditions.

In the 2014 annual report, the CEO of General Electric stated the company mission this way:

GE’S MISSION IS TO INVENT THE NEXT INDUSTRIAL ERA,
TO BUILD, 
MOVE, POWER AND CURE THE WORLD.

GE imagines things others don’t, builds things others can’t and delivers outcomes that make the world work better. GE brings together the physical and digital worlds in ways no other company can. In its labs and factories and on the ground with customers, GE is inventing the next industrial era to move, power, build and cure the world.

See how that might inspire customers? Easy, right? Now write yours exactly like that only different. (JUST KIDDING!) Your aspirations may not be quite that lofty, but your mission statement should include a reference to your vision and how what you do will help achieve it. Note GE’s reference to labs, factories and customer contact.

Still need inspiration? Here’s a blog post that lists 50 mission statements for non-profits, and a few more from another site that show longer statements and a variety of business types.

Keep in mind your mission statement is something you might post on your website to tell your customers in a general way who you are and what you do, so think about it from the reader perspective and go for clarity over cleverness.

POSITIONING

Elizabeth_I_(Armada_Portrait)To develop your positioning statement, I refer you back to my Royal Branding series, part 4 on Queen Elizabeth.

Elizabeth’s life was at stake so it is understandable that she would need strong positioning in the minds of her subjects, but why do you need a positioning statement? If you are an author, just go to a bookstore like Barnes and Noble and look around. If you are like me you will quickly be overwhelmed with the vast number of books out there and wonder why you even bother writing at all. Then get out of there fast and remember your brand driver and your mission. You are one of a kind. No one else has the same story and no one else can tell it the way you do. But where do you fit in the marketplace, and how will you explain it quickly to the literary agent or the customer standing next to you in the elevator?

To create a good positioning statement you should (1) define your target audience, (2) include the category or genre in which you operate, (3) articulate the benefit or unique qualities being offered and (4) give customers a reason to believe you will deliver on your promise.

You’ve already done most of the footwork on this one. What we are doing now is packaging it in a way that brings in your marketing strategy and how you want your audience/customers to perceive your brand in relation to all the others.

There is no sense in me reinventing the wheel here: This blog post from Cornell University gives you all you need to write a good positioning statement, including guidelines, a simplified template, examples, and even a free “statement generator.”

As you work through these steps I encourage you to

  • Take your time
  • Be creative
  • Allow for flexibility so you can live comfortably within your own brand constraints
  • HAVE SOME FUN

Whew! That is a lot to think about already. Since this post is now getting a bit long, I will come back next week to finish this series with Taglines, Marks and Colors.

And after all that brain work, maybe it’s time for some escape reading? Sharavogue is an award-SharavogueCoverwinning novel of 17th century Ireland and the West Indies. It is both historical fiction and fast-paced adventure. You can purchase Sharavogue at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and most online booksellers. Visit my website at www.sharavogue.com for more information.

And please follow this blog for research updates and announcements. I’ll be posting a new series soon about my on-the-ground research in Ireland for my upcoming book, a prequel to Sharavogue.

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Author branding: The work sheet

Steps on the path to your royal brand

In last week’s post I summarized lessons learned from royalty—the first personal branders—covered in my 7-part series analyzing their techniques. This post gives you the steps I’ve laid out in my “personal branding worksheet.” I will cover how to complete the worksheet in two posts because it will get too long otherwise.

Irish runners, Woodcut by Albert Durer

Irish runners, Woodcut by Albert Durer

As noted previously, there are many ways to go about personal branding, and you could spend years and thousands of dollars perfecting it if you choose. But I believe for an individual, and specifically for authors, this method is a simplified and effective way to create a workable brand that will represent you and guide you for years to come. Which reminds me to remind you: Branding, like book marketing, is a marathon, not a sprint. Be sure you can love and live with what you create because it should last for many years.

BEFORE WE BEGIN

In any kind of communications activity, the first thing you need to know is who you are talking to, and what they need. Who is your audience? Depending on your work and the types of writing you do, you may have one audience, or you may have several.

  • Are they distinct or do they overlap?
  • What do they need from you?
  • How do they get their information?
  • What do they expect, both from you as an author, and from you as communicator?

Think of one or two, or maybe a handful of individuals from your primary audience. What are they like? As an example, I write historical fiction, and my stories tend toward the hero’s journey and social milieu, and not so much toward battles and blood (although those are not completely absent). My readers are both male and female but a slightly higher percentage female. They love to read, like history and strong female characters. They want to be immersed in time and place, but also learn while they read. They are busy, smart and social.

I must always have this target audience in mind when thinking about my brand, and it helps me decide how best to express it, where and when. You can go into much greater detail than this, and define subgroups as needed if you write in more than one and very different genres.

How can you learn about your audience?

  • Watch comments in social media
  • Read reviews of other authors in your genre
  • Talk to them in bookstores or at book festivals
  • Ask friends who read your genre

And relax. It is not a perfect science no matter what the professional marketers say. In my case, I learned that some historical fiction readers were tired of the Tudor period and the proliferation of books on that era when so many other periods in history are not well covered. Also, I knew some readers are hesitant to invest an 800+ page novel. Who has time? I had heard complaints abut authors who overplay their research and include every detail instead of just what is important to move the story forward.

So, I targeted those readers by setting my story in a different time period, making sure it was fast paced, under 300 pages, and selective in detail. The result was successful and effective, but now some of my readers tell me they love the story, but maybe it moves too fast and they don’t want it to end. They want it longer. They love learning about a period in time they have not read about before, but normally would not have looked for it when shopping for a book.

Perhaps I created a higher barrier to overcome in that readers aren’t familiar with the period I’ve chosen or why they might want to read about it. But that’s okay, I know it is an exciting era, and highlighting this has become my challenge and my mission.

GETTING STARTED

With your audience in mind, let’s go. First, open a word document and copy and paste the list below. You may want to leave space between as we will be filling in under each one:

VALUES
CORE BRAND DRIVER
VISION
MISSION
POSITIONING
TAGLINE
MARKS
COLOR PALETTE

VALUES

Your brand is not really about what you do. It’s about why you do it. Steve Jobs said Apple’s brand was not about a company that makes computers. It’s about a company that values innovation, passion, aspiration and simplicity. Apple’s products support people who have those same values. You write books? Great – a lot of people write books. Your readers are interested in WHY you write them, what you believe in that makes you tell the stories you tell. The values that are most important to you are the building blocks of your brand.

There are so many values, a good way to start narrowing down is to pick from a list. Some companies ask their customers to pick values from a list that they believe describes the company, then they use those words in their brand materials. Sometimes they’ll choose different words to help highlight different values they want their audiences to recognize. I found a link listing more than 400 values, but you’ll find many similar lists if you type “values list” into your search engine.

Look through and pick out the things that are most important to you, then narrow that list down to 10 or 20 words that you think define you as a person and as an author. Be honest. As we learned from Napoleon, it doesn’t pay to pretend to be something you are not, and it will be difficult to maintain a false façade.

With your short list, narrow it down again to those five or six values that define you but are also important to your audience. These are areas where you may be able to connect with them on a personal level. Values like Leadership and Generosity might be areas where your audience can relate to you. Hygiene and Poise are good values, but these may not be things you want to define your brand and, unless they are the topics of your books they may not rise to the top level of your brand values.

Once you have your values defined, you may want to sit with them a day or two to make sure you are happy with your choices, and feel confident they capture those parts of you that you want to project to your target audience. Then put them on your worksheet.

Next week we’ll pick up where we left off, using values to define your Core Brand Driver.

SharavogueCoverAnd in the meantime, embark on an adventure in Irish history! Sharavogue is the award-winning story of a peasant girl who vows to destroy Oliver Cromwell during his march of destruction across Ireland in the 17th century, and her struggle for survival on a West Indies sugar plantation. Winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award for historical fiction, it is available from online booksellers including amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

Author branding: Lessons learned from royalty

As a follow-up to my series on author branding (A Royal Undertaking), this post focuses on applying the lessons learned from the first personal branders – kings and queens throughout history.

Henry_face_youngThese were the people who first learned and demonstrated the power of a strong and consistent personal brand. Kings and queens needed their people to obey them, to respect them, and of course to pay taxes without storming the castle. Their personal brands could be communicated to all the places they could not go physically, to generate the acceptance they required to lead.

So what can authors, and truly anyone who needs a personal brand, really use from the royalty discussed in my series? First and foremost, remember that we are all the kings and queens of our own brand. BE A TYRANT. I remember hearing a story about Paul McCartney’s road crew complaining that he was difficult to work for because of his controlling and demanding management style. McCartney’s response? Hey, it’s my name on the marquee at every show, not yours.

From the Egyptian queen Hatshepsut we learned the basics to establish your personal brand:

  • Definition. Values are the basis of your brand and guide what you will and won’t do in your business and in your life. Values are what you want people to know about you, and get to the core of who you are. Hatshepsut’s primary values were leadership and legacy. Remember, in personal branding, you are promoting yourself, not your book. Readers want to engage with authors who are real people.
  • Opportunity. You can’t be all things to all people. Find a niche that will allow you to shine, and has subject areas that speak to you and can keep you interested. Branding is a long-term relationship. As pharaoh, Hatshepsut had the opportunity to build things, so she focused on art and architecture to create her legacy.
  • Focus. Hatshepsut focused specifically on a few main things that addressed her values. Don’t participate in every book event or every charity, choose one or two that fit your brand values and dig in. Many authors support literacy, for example, because what would we be without readers? And don’t run yourself ragged trying to be on every social media platform. Choose the ones that really serve you and fit who you are.
  • Endurance. A strong consistent brand can endure. Note that Hatshepsut’s has been around for nearly 3,500 years. Make sure your brand is authentic and something you can always support and protect.

Henry VIII: The key to King Henry’s personal brand is his persona. The powerful, charming, larger-than-life, man’s man image he created was something the citizens of his time already wanted, expected and respected in their king. He didn’t create something he wasn’t, but he did project and highlight those features that would please his audience. The virile king in shining armor beating his opponents in a jousting tournament, for example.

Authors, like royalty, can create a persona in the minds of their audiences and the general public, to thereby be remembered. What aspects of your personality define you? What interesting facts about your personal or professional background make you stand out, and are those aspects important to readers of your genre?

Elizabeth_I_Rainbow_PortraitQueen Elizabeth I took the next step by positioning herself in the minds of her audience. This was important because of the turmoil of her times, to distinguish herself from her sister – Bloody Mary – who ruled before her, and from her mother Anne Boleyn who had been executed for treason. Elizabeth distanced herself from these negative images by claiming her descendancy from the Trojans, King Arthur and Henry VIII, her divine right to rule, emphasizing her values of peace, religious unity, international trade and naval dominance, and her purpose to maintain the well-being, security and prosperity of her people.

  • Your positioning statement should establish you firmly in the minds of your audience.
  • Once developed, positioning can guide your marketing strategy and tactics to serve you for the long-term.
  • The colors, imagery and messaging you use should support your positioning and persona, be thoughtful and consistent, and repeated again and again.
  • Your persona must support your positioning statement and vice versa.

Louis XIV was the first royal I know of who, having defined values over fashion to drive his brand, insisted on written guidelines to maintain the brand’s consistency and therefore its power. A good written strategy helps ensure the brand is made visible and relevant to its target audiences.

DelarocheNapoleonLessons learned from Napoleon are more cautionary. To support a personal brand you must align your actions with your persona, and lean toward transparency rather than duplicity. When what you exhibit or say differs from what you actually do, you break down the trust that is essential to any brand. In today’s world of social media, we are all just an Instagram away from a trashed brand if we do not live our values. Napoleon also teaches us to listen to trusted advisors. Just as every writer needs an editor, every person needs to be open to other perspectives.

And from our American presidents Lincoln and Kennedy, we learn the value of harnessing the technology of the day to communicate most effectively with our audiences. Most definitely, today that is social media, but there are so many channels of communication available, so what is the most direct route from you to your audience, and how can you use it best? (Remember, content is king!)

Next week my post will walk you through the steps in a personal branding worksheet I first presented at the Amelia Island Book Festival in February. Sure, you could spend a year or two creating a personal brand. Or, with this worksheet and some soul searching, have your basic brand framed out in a matter of days.

SharavogueCoverEmbark on an adventure in Irish history with the novel Sharavogue, winner of the 2014 Royal Palm Literary Award. Now available from online booksellers. Author Nancy Blanton will be exhibiting at the South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia, SC, May 16-17, 2015. You may also connect with her on Facebook.