Marketing 101: First, Establish Your Brand

For twenty years, I was a marketing executive. Today, I teach marketing. The first principle remains the same: Who are you? In market-speak: What‘s your brand identity. Your message will be clearly understood only when it is wrapped in a brand.

What is brand? Expressed in a simple, focused statement – no more than three or four words – it is the sum of attributes, or unique selling points. Brand defines a product‘s personality; it establishes the product‘s credibility; it signals a set of buyer expectations the product will meet. In short, brand is a promise to be kept.

As a person, you are many things. As a writer, you are a product. And, from today forward, think of your writing self as your brand.

Let‘s look at some popular romance writers and what they stand for:

  • Nora Roberts Fast-paced passion in special settings
  • Jayne Ann Krentz Sizzling mysteries with a twist
  • Karen Rose Chilling, sexy modern suspense
  • Debbie Macomber Sweet, community-based, mature

Each of these writers is commercially successful, in large measure, because she has established a trusted brand. Readers know exactly what to expect when they pull a book off the shelf. When a branded writer violates an established brand promise, she often changes her name. Think of Nora Roberts writing sci-fi mysteries as JD Robb, or Jayne Anne Krentz, writing historicals as Amanda Quick.

So who are you? What‘s your brand promise? Let‘s look at a few brand dimensions in romance (See the Table Below):

GENRE Category Single Title Suspense Comedy Paranormal
PERIOD Chick Lit Contemp. Historical – Regency Historical – All Else Future
SETTING Other-world Rural Suburban Urban Glamour
TONE Light – Comic Light – Not Comic Medium – Good Girl Medium – Sharp/ Biting Dark
PACE (Ratio -Dialogue: Narrative) Classic: Up to 50% 50 – 64% 65 – 74% 75 – 84% Thriller: 85 – 95%
HEAT Inspirational Sweet Sensual Sexy Erotic
TARGET Young Adult Millennials – college Gen Y: 25 – 34 Gen X: 35 – 46 Boomers +

Pick one attribute from each row and you have the basics of your brand. It will look something like this: “Moderately paced, good girl contemporaries with rural country roots and sensual elements, targeting Gen X”. That fits Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Contrast that with Laurell K. Hamilton: “Fast-paced, dark and sexy contemporary urban paranormals targeting millennials.”

Your brand map is good start. Here‘s the secret to making it great. Add your differentiator? Hundreds of writers share your matrix. Your “voice” makes you stand out. A composite of factors – attitudes, moral values, thought patterns, language, rhythm – a writer‘s voice comes across in print and is unique as a fingerprint. Ask a friend or critique partner to describe your voice, then add its dimensions to your brand map.

Can you create a “tagline” from what you have? The shorter the better – Campbell‘s Soup: “mmm-mmm good”; M&M‘s: “melt in your mouth, not in your hand”. Play around with this until you have something you like. Market-test it on strangers and listen to their reactions. Once you‘ve got your tagline, you‘ll never stumble through the answer to, “What‘s your work like?”

In marketing, choosing a name comes after the brand identity is established. What‘s your name? Does the name you write under convey your brand attributes? For personal or professional reasons, do you need to adopt an alternative?

If you do, make sure you love it and it‘s a good brand-fit. You want to see this in print Since I‘m superstitious, I checked several options with a numerologist before settling on mine, but feel free to fly solo.

In the words of a fine agent, Jessica Faust of Bookends, use your name – always – and make it your pen name. Mention this name whenever you meet a stranger and repeat it during your conversation. Hand the person your business card.

You don‘t have one? Drop what you‘re doing and click on over to www.vistaprint.com or www.123print.com. You can have 100 beautiful cards delivered by next week for less than $10. Customize them with your own photo or logo, or choose from hundreds of design options.

Your next basic step is an email address with your pen name. If you‘re using another – and I‘m embarrassed to admit I am – set up a new one now and route your professional writing mail to it. Change your email signature line to include:

  • your pen name
  • any other name people know – at least until they get used to the change
  • any relevant degrees and awards: MFA, RITA finalist, national columnist
  • your carefully-crafted tagline
  • your blogspot, if you have one
  • your latest publication, if you have one

How do you do this?

On Outlook: Look under Tools at Mail Options

On Yahoo: From Options on the main mail page, Mail Options – Signature.

Congratulations! You are now a professional writer with a clear sense of direction. In future columns on marketing, I‘ll talk about the web and social networking, in-person networking and public relations, tools and tchotchkes, and expanding your brand.

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Leuca Stone is a long-time writer, first-time novelist whose new book is TIMBER FALLS about a beautiful scientist and a shape-shifting wolf.

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