How personal branding helps authors, artists and business owners

2STRIPED_schooloffish_edited-1Branding is a powerful way of defining yourself that distinguishes you from a sea of others. It helps you to create a lasting impression in the minds of your audiences, and ultimately builds trust. Authors, artists and business owners who want to build customer relationships and sell books and other products can benefit greatly by creating a strong personal brand.

But how can you create a personal brand and use it to advantage?

Start by defining who you are and what you are all about. What do you love? Why do you do what you do? What aspects of your personality are most prominent? What interesting facts about your personal or professional background stand out, and how can you use those aspects to connect with your audience?

As an author of historical fiction who also has a background in corporate branding, I’ve studied the strategies used by some of the first personal branders, kings and queens. For centuries, the world’s monarchs created personal brands for the same reasons corporations use branding today—mainly to be memorable and likable to their people, and to differentiate themselves from their predecessors or pretenders to their thrones. You may be surprised to learn that today’s corporations still use those centuries-old strategies and tactics — because they work.

Elizabeth_I_Rainbow_Portrait

The Rainbow Portrait, Elizabeth I, public domain image

Think of one of the most famous queens of England, Elizabeth I, for example. At a disadvantage from the beginning because she was female, Protestant, and the daughter of the executed Anne Boleyn, she was also coming into power after the death of her half-sister Mary, aka “Bloody Mary.” Elizabeth needed to establish a firm base of power that her people could respect and accept. In her case, because she faced the likelihood of Catholic assassins, a strong personal brand was truly a matter of life or death.

Elizabeth knew what she wanted: increased world trade, supreme naval power, religious unity, and economic prosperity. To those ends, she positioned herself as a strong and just ruler, a most noble and formidable king in a gentle woman’s body. She based her claim to the throne on history, descending from the Trojans, linking to King Arthur and Henry VIII. This history became the background to her many symbolic portraits, and to these she added color choices, iconography, and especially consistency.

In spite of many difficulties during her reign, Elizabeth remained popular with the majority of her subjects, and was praised as the ruler of a golden age.

I call this personal branding, because even though she was the figurehead of a powerful government much like a corporation, her image was built around a single person whose actions could make or break the success of the brand.

The structure of personal branding is much the same as corporate branding. A strong identity is created to represent the entity, and to suggest the value in products or activities of that entity. If the entity commits to that value and consistently delivers it, customers learn to recognize and trust the entity. Over time, the symbol of the entity can by itself trigger a feeling of trust. And trust, in turn, generates more business.

But there are also significant differences between corporate and personal branding.

Corporations typically generate many products and may have whole families of brands that fall under one overarching brand, like Microsoft or Kraft. Managers of these brands struggle to create a personal connection with customers in hopes of building brand loyalty, but often fail because they focus on the products.

As an author, artist or business owner, you also may be selling multiple products, but you are always selling yourself—who you are. You are the face of the brand.

Using authors as an example, readers are attracted to your own values and personality, and the qualities you bring to your work. On this basis many readers may try one of your books, and then look for anything published in your name to continue reading your voice, your style and your command of storytelling. It’s the consistency of quality that will keep them coming back, because they trust that you will deliver. When readers approach you at a book signing or book festival, they won’t ask about your book so much as they will ask about you. Maybe it is your background that interests them, your work style, the settings you choose, your inspiration or heritage, or your quirky personality. They are looking for a personal connection.

How can a personal brand help you?

Selling books, artwork and other products is not easy for independents. You need to reach a lot of people. As much as you might want to or try to, you can’t physically meet all of your potential customers and talk to them directly, right? Personal branding helps you communicate who you are more quickly, broadly and efficiently to the people you do meet, and then makes it possible for your brand to go places you cannot, such as a poster in a window, an ad in a magazine, your business card, your website and all across the various social media accounts.

The goal is always to be likable and memorable,
and the key is in the consistency of what you present.

Personal branding does not mean that you sit down and design a logo for yourself. A well-made logo is the great workhorse of branding, because in a single symbol it can communicate the brand and the business. And designing a logo seems like the fun, easy part of branding. But believe me, good logo design is not easy. What makes a logo effective is all the meaning that is embedded in it, and the design comes only after the meanings are clearly defined, understood and supported.

The imagery of your brand should be based on serious soul searching and groundwork. Once that is done, the rest of the elements of your brand fall into place more easily and naturally because you have a basis on which to make solid decisions and follow them consistently. Then you don’t have to reinvent your look and feel every time you need a new promotional product. Your brand strengthens your presence and creates efficiency for you.

And in truth, for an author or artist, your name is your logo. You may choose a pen name, and you may choose a special typeface to consistently show your name in a recognizable way, but remember, it is always yourself you are selling.

What is your brand? Who are you?

Some people define a brand as a concise and compelling statement about what you do and how your products are better than any others. And that is one way of doing it. But the strongest and most enduring brands in the world go deeper. Their brands are based on values. Instead of telling customers what you do (they already know that), tell them what drives you. What is that belief deep in your core that stokes your passion and makes you work so hard? From that will flow your vision, mission, position, persona, tagline, colors, communications plan, content, and all the things that go into creating your personal brand platform.

The big thing to remember is to maintain consistency across all media. I know that every time I go to a Starbucks and order a mocha, with few exceptions I will get exactly what I expect and, therefore, I trust Starbucks. I look for the green mermaid, and even though it is expensive I go there. Stay true to the elements of your brand. Use the same words over and over even if you are tired of them. If your persona identifies your interests as horseback riding and cooking, don’t confuse your audience by blogging or tweeting about golf and scuba diving. Be authentic, be consistent, and you will, over time, build trust.

BrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_cropMy award-winning handbook, Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps, will guide you through the process of creating your own personal brand, taking advantage of lessons learned through the ages. I also provide workshops, presentations and consulting.

Please sign up for my newsletter for notices of upcoming events and publications.

Find all of my books on my website, nancyblanton.com

Author branding à la française: The Sun King

Part 5 in series on personal branding

Louis_XIV_of_France

The king’s coronation robes are embroidered with fleurs-de-lis and lined with ermine. His sword is Charlemagne’s.

It should come as no surprise that when it comes to personal branding, the French take it to a higher level. The Sun King, Louis XIV, is the most outstanding in a long line of Louis who had impressive nicknames: Louis the Young, Louis the Lion, Louis the Saint. These guys had the right idea of personal brand. And then, there were a few who kind of botched it: Louis the Quarreler, and Louis the Prudent, the Cunning, the Universal Spider (this one deserves further exploration in another post!).

But The Sun King has transcended the centuries, reigning longer than any other monarch of a major European country (more than 72 years, 1643-1715). He is memorable for centralizing government, for his lavish Palace of Versailles, for his his grand poses (and shapely legs), and of course for his fashion sense.

Taking back control of his country from the Catholic cardinals, Louis XIV believed in rule by divine right. He valued fiscal and military reform, law and order, the arts, and thriving French industries that could be effectively taxed. To move forward with his goals, he had to start by eliminating the mammoth corruption and embezzlement by some of his advisors.

He gained the respect of the populace by focusing first on law an order, and relied on his new government ministers reporting directly to him to help establish and maintain his public image. King Louis understood that the display of magnificence and splendor created part of a king’s power. He also knew the value of repetition. His portraits were numerous, and his images were distributed far and wide to reach as many of his subjects as possible.

According to Peter Burke, author of The Fabrication of Louis XIV, “Louis saw himself everywhere, even on the ceiling.”

His personal symbol, or logo, was the sun, and anything that bore his standard — his bed and his dinner table even if he was not present — was to be respected as if he himself were there.

Brand guidelines

To maintain a consistency of image and message in all of this repetition, there had to be rules, and Louis understood this as well. In all its forms, his public representation had to convince the audience of his greatness. Louis identified with admired historical figures such as Clovis, the first Christian king of France, and Charlemagne. So, the artists, musicians and writers drew from such powerful images as a Roman triumph, an equestrian statue with the horse stomping some evil. In state portraits he was:

  • Larger than life, his eyes higher than the viewer

    Rigaud_Hyacinthe_-_Louis_XIV,_roi_de_France

    King Louis XIV in shining armor, high wig and heels, and ribbons.

  • Dressed in armor symbolizing valor, and/or clothing showing his high status (In the 17th century, elaborate wigs and high heels became the custom, and served to enlarge the king’s impressive stature.)
  • Surrounded by powerful props such as globes, scepters, the sword of justice, thunderbolts and laurels
  • Wearing the expression and posture of dignity and grandeur

“As for the expression on the royal visage, it tends to vary between ardent courage and dignified affability. A smile is apparently considered inappropriate for the King of France,” Burke wrote.

In addition to portraits, sermons, sonnets, poems, literature, plays, coins and tapestries all had to present the king in this idealized light.

Brand strategy

To help implement his brand, King Louis had Jean-Baptiste Colbert who devised and documented a strategy whereby the king would be glorified as a patron of the arts. This “communications plan” included a list of all the various media where the king could not only invest but be depicted, as well as a list of individuals, their strengths and weaknesses, who could be called upon for the work.

“The plan was put into place in the next decade,” wrote Burke, “when we can observe the ‘organisation of culture’ in the sense of the construction of a system of official organizations which mobilized artists, writers and scholars in the service of the king.”

Like the sun, King Louis rose with the work of his reign and the help of his brand advisors, but in later years experienced a “royal sunset” when expensive wars, fragmented politics and a shortage of talent contributed to the decline of his popularity. There would be two more Louis to rule France before the French Revolution of 1789, but none to reach so high a zenith.

The takeaways

What can we learn from the personal brand of the Sun King?

  • Again, that values rather than fashion must be the brand driver.
  • That guidelines are necessary to maintain the brand’s consistency and thus its power.
  • And, that a good written strategy helps ensure the brand is made visible and relevant to its target audiences.

Next week, part 6 of the series will focus on Napoleon.

SharavogueCoverSharavogue recently won first place for historical fiction in the Florida Writers Association Royal Palm Literary Awards! You can purchase a copy from online booksellers and at the Book Loft on Amelia Island, FL. I will be presenting at the Amelia Island Book Festival Feb. 20-21.