Brand Is Not Evil: Learning to be our ‘authentic’ selves

I hear a lot of conversations on the blogosphere and in the Twitterverse about author brand. This is an ongoing dialogue and a topic that won’t go away anytime soon. Maybe in the post-apocalyptic world, we won’t be worried about things like “author brand.” We’ll be too busy pillaging for ammo and trying to take out as many zombies as we can with a single blast from a sawed-off shotgun. But alas, here we are, zombie-free—for now…

I’m currently taking a workshop with the talented and entertaining Kristen Lamb called “Blogging to Build Your Author Brand.” It’s meant to take the fear out of blogging and social media for writers. And you know what? It’s working. Workshop participants are opening up to each other, asking questions and sharing stories and advice. We’re making mistakes, learning, laughing, and creating, just as we do as writers. We’re not learning sales techniques or gimmicks. We’re just being who we are. What we’re learning is how to communicate that more naturally when using technology. We’re learning how to join the conversation.

At my day job, I work in public relations for a large research university. On a daily basis, I weave the university’s brand into my work. I rarely write marketing copy; I mainly write feature articles–narrative journalism. In short, I tell stories.

Now, wait. I know that brand for writers is different than brand for organizations. But at its core, it remains the same. The technique is different, but what brand is doesn’t really change. It changes its shape, but not its essence.

Take, for example, a university. It might have 10,000 students, 100,000 alumni, 1,000 faculty and staff members. It might have sports fans and donors and prospective students and parents of students. And you know what? All of those people have a story. They have a tie–for many of them, a very emotional one–to that school.  And those ties can be powerful things. So what’s a brand? A brand is the common thread that runs through those stories. A brand is the university’s strengths, what it has to offer, what people can expect of it, what it consistently delivers.

People tend to vilify brand or over-complicate it. We think brand is something corporations use to lure in buyers and stay in the black. And maybe sometimes brands are used that way. But that doesn’t mean that’s the only way–or, quite frankly, the right way–to use a brand. The best brands work because they are authentic.

I would argue that a brand is more than just a name + product. At the end of the day, Starbucks isn’t just about coffee, it’s about community. Yasmine Galenorn’s books aren’t just paranormal romance novels, they’re stories about healing, belonging, courage, and seeking meaning and connection in life. They’re about sisterhood and friendship as much as they’re about romantic love. And I love to read her blog because she seems so genuine. She comes off as a very open-minded and compassionate person, but also one who says exactly what’s on her mind.

There are lots of writers out there. But say you write paranormal romance. Well, there are lots of paranormal romance writers out there. So what can we expect of you? Who are you? What do you have to offer? Will you make me laugh? I had to stop reading Jeaniene Frost’s books at night because my laughter roused my husband from a sound sleep. Are you so red-hot we have to take an ice-cold shower after we read your books? Are your books sweet and uplifting? Will you make us cry and then put our hearts back together in the end?

Kait Nolan gave a commenter on her blog some great advice—advice that helped me too, because, while I work with brand for organizations at my day job, applying brand to myself as an author is a different ballgame. She said:

“YOU are the brand. No matter what you write, YOU and your name are the thing that needs branding. That’s what you have when you don’t have books out. You have YOU and the reputation and relationships you build. Which is really what social media is for. … What blogging and social media does is SELL YOU.”

(Check out Kait’s blog post about “Social media Ennui,” which spurred some really great conversations.)

Can we go from hermit crab to butterfly?

Since we’re writers, we are by nature thinkers. Many of us run the risk of over-thinking. Thanks to Kristen and Team WANA1011, I’m starting to come out of my hermit crab shell and be more of my authentic self. It’s impossible to connect and be yourself when you’re hiding away in your hermit crab cage.

Before we vilify brand, maybe we should think of it this way: At its best, brand is genuinely, authentically, and purely us. What draws us to the page? What do we love? What are we passionate about? If we write what we love, brand should come naturally.

No, you are not just a brand. You are a complicated person. We’re all complicated. But you have a brand, whether you realize it or not.

What do you think? Am I wrong? Am I right? Am I just another PR gal, full of crap? Did I drink the Kool Aid? Seriously, I want to know.

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27 thoughts on “Brand Is Not Evil: Learning to be our ‘authentic’ selves

  1. Fantastic post, Janelle! I particularly love this: “Before we vilify brand, maybe we should think of it this way: At its best, brand is genuinely, authentically, and purely us.” I couldn’t agree more.

  2. Love this point: We’re learning how to communicate more naturally with technology. It really is like learning a foreign language and not being self-conscious when we try it out (I’m still working on this!)

  3. Great post, Janelle! You not only said it all, but you inspired me and helped me better understand some of the things Kristen has said.

    • You’re welcome, Emma. Yes, I try to remember that brand is sort of gateway or an organizing concept, because it is really easy to get caught up in brand itself. Like Kristen says, content is still No. 1.

  4. Excellent post 🙂 You’ve summed up nicely I think what we’ve been learning in class.

    One of the biggest benefits I think of being in Kristen’s class is that we have this supportive group around us as we learn to be authentic in public (a very scary thing if you’re shy the way I am). Since our future readers will expect that authenticity, it’s better we learn it now, eh?

    • Thanks, Marcy! 🙂

      I’m also a very shy person. I think that for people who are more extroverted, brand comes more naturally. For those of us who are very introverted, brand can help us to be less nervous, if only we know how to use it properly. Yep, definitely better to learn it now rather than later!

  5. Great post Janelle!

    What an interesting background you have. And I couldn’t agree more. Through our writer’s voice we build our brand. If people are attracted to what we say and who we are, we connect. We’re making friends! Lot’s of new friends. A community of friends.

    What a support team, huh?

  6. Pingback: Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to Darth Vader’s Love Life « Angela Quarles

  7. I agree with everyone else here, you nailed this one. Each one of us individually is our own brand. Like you I am learning to come out of my shell in our amazing WANA class. Of course, throwing myself out there blogging all the time helps too. Scary stuff. LOL Great post Janelle!

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