Thursday, April 12, 2012

Branding: An (Almost) Simple Explanation with Jim Rubart

Had the chance to meet Jim Rubart at ACFW 2011!

Want to confuse yourself? Ask ten friends—or marketing people— to define branding. I predict eight to ten different answers.

My mission—which I’ve obviously chosen to accept—is to give a brief definition of branding you can keep in your head after you’ve read this post.

Branding has been a hot buzzword in the publishing world for at least ten years, but I want to go back farther than that. In 1904 Ivan Pavlov won the Noble prize for his research into branding. You’ve heard about his dogs. That’s branding. Ring the bell, give the dogs meat. Do it enough and the dogs salivate without the beef.

Psychologists call this planting an associative memory.

“I’m Tom Bodett for _______ and we’ll leave the light on for ya.” Most of you instantly inserted Motel 6 into the blank. Some of you even hear the folksy music in your head and are thinking about a “clean comfortable room” and “the lowest price of any national chain.”

Mention Stephen King and we think horror. Nicholas Sparks equals romance (and tears).

How do we plant an associative memory into the mind of a reader, agent, or editor?

Consistency, frequency, and anchoring.

Consistency: Give people the same message every time. Did you know Pavlov did his experiment again with circles? Show dogs the circles then give them the meat. It worked. Then he changed the circles to ovals. It stopped working. The consistency wasn’t there. This is why it’s tough—but not impossible—to brand yourself as a nonfiction writer and a fiction writer at the same time. Or to switch genres. Once you get into the mind with a strong associate memory, it’s difficult to change it, or even add to it. For example, when you hear Harry Houdini, you think magician. But who can remember that he was the first person to fly an airplane in Australia? Even most Australians don’t know that. Why? He already was in there mind with a different brand.

Frequency: This is easy. Keep your message out there. Often.

Anchoring: This is the tough one. Many people think by throwing together some potent colors and coming up with a catchy tagline they’ve branded themselves. Huh uh. Anchoring is divided into three parts:

Book of Days
1.      Anchor to something no one else has anchored to. You must be unique. Telling people you’re the “Passionate author who shares the deep love of Jesus” will not be remembered. Showing up in your kilt at the ACFW awards dinner will. I’m serious. Agent Chip MacGregor knows what he’s doing when he goes each year in his kilt. Who is he promoting/branding himself to? Editors and writers. Do you think he makes an impact when he wears his kilt? Is it memorable? Unique? Yea verily.

2. Anchor to something the public wants. Picking on Chip again, people want entertainment, they want to be surprised. Are they, when he steps out in his MacGregor tartan? Of course. They love it. Randy Ingermanson has branded himself as the Snowflake guy to writers and editors. At an ACFW conference a few years back I smiled as I saw his branding had become so successful it was parodied from the stage during the opening session.

3. Anchor to something you already are. Anchor to something you already are. No, that wasn’t a typo. It bears repeating because this is where more authors stumble. Many try to create a brand out of nothing:

“Suspense that sucks you in and won’t let you go! Never! Ever! Really!”

“Making you hyperventilate after every chapter!”

“Romance that makes you a mush cake every time!”

The Chair
This is not branding. You can’t create or make up a brand. You can only discover and promote what already is. I worked with an author recently who claimed she didn’t have a brand, and there was no coherent theme connecting her three novels. She was wrong. She has a powerful brand/theme, one with universal appeal. She was thrilled after I showed her what it was. But I didn’t create her brand, I simply pointed out what was already there.

Branding is taking the unique elements about you and your writing that already exist and exposing them to the world. Your brand is there; your job is to uncover it.

Yes, it’s a challenge pinpointing what your brand is. Often we’re too close. Most people have trouble reading the outside of the bottle when they’re standing inside. So ask people close to you to describe your uniqueness. Brainstorm with other authors about what sets you apart. Ask your editor, spouse, kids, agent, and others.

Yeah, I know, we’ve only scratched the surface. That’s why Amazon is packed with books on branding. And why marketing people like me have jobs.

I  love God, my wife, my sons, writing, speaking,
 playing guitar and golf, in that order.
And I dabble in photography.
(and yes that's me in the ski shot above)  
Now does that not make your brain stretch and swell just a little bit? But such helpful info for the beginning author, because NOW is the time to be figuring and discovering and finding our brand. I know from personal experience, taking the bit of time each day or week to learn something about marketing myself is a great way of getting the learning curve and overwhelming amount of "stuff" out there to do, out of the way now will better prepare me for the time when I do get to have a book on the shelves.

What do you think? Does Jim's comments open up a new understanding...and hopefully less daunting amount of info to consider while you do the preliminary marketing?


Lisa Jordan said...

I'm one of those authors who created a tagline because I can't see what's so unique about me.

Jim, you presented great points, especially about consistency. In order to embed something in readers' minds, they need to see it often.

Very good post. Thanks for sharing!

Joanne Sher said...

This is VERY helpful! I think I might actually get it now. I have an idea of my brand, but not absolutely clear - and it just might be too broad. Will be reading this post over again, I'm sure.

Casey said...

LISA, I know what you mean. I have a tagline for right now, for my mission mainly with my blog, but for something specific for my writing? Still getting there. ;-)

JOANNE, Jim is a great teacher. I have especially loved his conference recordings. He shows it really well. Sounds like I need a refresher course...

Mary Vee Writer said...

I think we often feel like the fall leaf swooshing left and right in the wind. Oh that the leaf would land. :)

Jeanne T said...

Casey, thanks for sharing this post today. It was very helpful. I don't even have a tagline yet!:) So, as I write, I will take Jim's advice and get some feedback from those who know me best. I learned a ton today, thanks, Casey!

Casey said...

MARY, it's easy to go with what everyone else is saying, isn't it Mary? I hear ya.

JEANNE, I always learn a lot from Jim too! Which is what makes him so good at what he does. ;-)

Julia M. Reffner said...

I don't have a tagline, either. Wrestling with thoughts on this and a million other things floating through my brain. These thoughts were very helpful. I really struggle with wanting to not be cliched yet not wanting to brand myself with something too specific that it limits me.

Sarah Forgrave said...

What an excellent post. I've been hesitant to stamp myself with a tagline for this very reason. I thought it was indecisiveness; now I realize it's branding brilliance. :)

Thank you, Jim, for sharing these thoughts today. And thanks, Casey for hosting. :)

Casey said...

JULIA, I know what you mean. I'm not terribly worried about "branding" me right now. I'm more concerned with learning the concept and how it applies to me, not me applying to it. So I'm learning to be myself and letting people get to know the real me. :)

SARAH, now doesn't that make you feel better? ;)

Ashley Clark said...

Great interview! Jim's always got something valuable to say. I particularly appreciated the part about anchoring... so true, yet something we don't usually think about!

Angie Dicken said...

Wow! I understand it so much better now...but have to process it a bunch for my own "branding"! :)
Good post!

Beth K. Vogt said...

A most excellent post -- as to be expected from Jim. I'm still tossing the word "broca" around after hearing Jim speaking at the MBT Scrimmage workshop last year before the ACFW conference last year. The guy just changes the way you think about things.

Pepper said...

Fabulous post!
It's made me stop and really consider what my 'brand' is from what I already do.
Love it!
But it's my Jim, so really no surprise there ;-)

Thanks for having him on, Case!

Cara Lynn James said...

Jim, this is a really helpful post! Thanks. I'll keep this post and read it again. I need to think about branding more often!