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