Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Are You Branded?


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I met Chris Tieri from the podium. She was in the audience. I’d finished my speech, and asked—Any questions? Expecting, you know, something about my writing process, or schedule, or adding fiction to my resume.  I recognized an eager hand—you can tell by the expression, an intelligent person with something she really wanted to know. I pointed to her, the well-dressed woman in the third row. “Yes?” I said.

She stood.  “I’m a Certified Brand Strategist and the owner of a brand and marketing agency, “ she said. “How has the Hank Phillippi Ryan brand helped you as a mystery novelist?”

Whoa. And whoa again. The…what?

This started a great conversation between us about the importance of a developing and managing your personal brand whether you’re an author, artist, athlete, leader, philanthropist—or whatever. And after I fumbled my way though the answer—didn’t she want to know where I got my ideas? I took her aside  and corralled her for Jungle Red. 

As you can see from her corporate photo, she's the big fish of her company. Or a good catch. Or you'll be hooked. Or…well, it's all something good, right? 

The importance of honing your personal brand as a writer

     By Chris Tieri

Some do it well, like Oprah, Derek Jeter and Seth Godin.   Other brands turn “bad,” (just as consumer brands do), Lindsay Lohan, Michael Vick, and the most recent example, Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News. His was a brand of honor, integrity, humility – and with the current allegations (whether they turn out to be true or false), his image has become damaged.

Of course you’d like to think your work speaks for itself, and largely it does. But, as professional writers, it’s imperative to develop and hone your entire brand. Everything from how you present yourself, to how you tell stories, to your hobbies, to the causes you support, rolls up into the readers perception of the entire package – not just your latest novel.

If you are a writer, consider whether your personal brand is aligned with the style, tone or theme of what you yourself are penning or how you’re presenting yourself to your readership.  While it may be a bit strange at first to think of yourself as a brand, these five exercises will ensure that your vision fully aligns with how you present yourself and the books you write.

Outline your goals for the future. What are you hoping to achieve as an author? Go nuts, list as many as you can think of. Then, prioritize them and pick the top three.

Figure out your “why.” What is your higher purpose for doing what you do? I love Simon Sineks book, Start with Why, and recommend finding the time to read it or to watch his famous Ted talk. Finish the sentence, “I get up every morning so that…” Then ask yourself why that is important, and ask it again. Ask why until you uncover your true purpose. Youll know it when you feel it.

Next, find your most unique attribute. What are your claims of distinction that make you different from everyone else? Similar to the goals exercise, write down all the unique attributes and experiences you might have that make you distinctive. Then, cross out the ones that you cant prove (Hanks investigative reporting background is a stellar distinction that makes her an authority in the mystery genre). You are shooting for three to four final words or phrases.

Understand who your audience is and know what it takes to delight them. Develop an audience persona by compiling any available data about your readers (demographic or anecdotal) and create name for them — you can even add stock photography so you have a visual image of your reader, or write a little bio or story about them. That way, when you are writing, speaking, marketing – you’ll be reminded of exactly who you are talking to.

Finally, write a brand statement that captures all of the above in three sentences or less.  Write it in the third person and include your purpose, your attributes, and your audience (leave your goals out). Try a couple of different versions to see what strikes you. The final version isnt something you need to use verbatim (in marketing or on your blog), but it should serve as a beacon for everything you do. Your brand statement should represent the experience you want your audience to take away when they interact with you, your books, or your communications materials. As a final step, bring out your goals and ask yourself – does it seem like this person (this brand) will be able to reach these goals?

Maribeth Kuzmeski, a colleague of mine and author of many business books including The Connectors, has built her consulting firm, Red Zone Marketing, and her personal brand around developing strategies that help companies win all the business they want. I imagine that Maribeth’s brand statement might go something like this: With a drive to coach others to success, Maribeth Kuzmeski combines her passion for football, winning, and story telling to engage and motivate her audience of CEOs, management, marketing, and sales teams. She practices, teaches, and supports leadership whether it’s developing strategies to help her audience win all the business they desire, or through her 501c3, Red Zone Leadership Foundation which helps advance leadership skills and support today’s youth toward becoming tomorrow’s successful leaders.

Whether youre creating marketing materials for a book signing, a blog, social media or speaking purposes, with your brand statement as your guide, you will ensure a unique, consistent, and authentic experience for your readers.

A special thanks to Hank Phillippi Ryan, who epitomizes a great brand herself, and for giving me the opportunity to share my branding expertise with a whole new audience!

HANK: Aw.  Okay, I know this sounds…difficult. But if you start thinking about it, it’s amazing. Like making a mission statement for yourself. Have you thought about branding at all? It’s also pretty fascinating—I know, for instance, when I go to a Rhys Bowen event, how she’ll look, and behave, and present herself. If she showed up in jeans and a poncho—we’d all think—whoa. Off brand.  

If I decided to write science fiction. Or hot sex. Off brand, right? (And impossible…)

And it could also help authors decide what events to participate in, right? How bookmarks should look? And author photos?

And meanwhile readers—what’s the most effective author brand you’ve ever seen? (Sandra Brown? Charlaine Harris? Lee Child? Nora Roberts?) Do you think it matters in author world? Does it matter to you?

Chris will be here today to answer questions…anyone?   

Christine Tieri is president and certified brand strategist of smith&jones idea agency located in Central New England. Her expertise in brand development and deployment is captured on her blog BrandStanza.com. Please visit. 


  1. As a reader, this whole "brand" thing is not something I've ever thought about but I find the concept to be rather intriguing.
    I'm not certain who I think does it "best," but it seems to me that James Patterson is awfully good at it.

  2. I'm sensing a theme here on the blog between last week and this week. Is someone going to start rebranding themselves before our very eyes.

    Even as a reviewer, I need to be thinking about this. It's an area I semi-fail in, especially on Twitter.

  3. Yes, Joan, and that's fascinating, right? Because you know it when you see it--but it's not supposed to be apparent. Just--real. The Brian WIlliams debacle is a good example, sadly.

    Mark, yes, a reviewer needs a brand-who are you, and how do you think. People need to know why they should go to your reviews--we know of course!

    Branding on Twitter, sigh. That's very meta for this early in the morning…:-)

  4. AND THE WINNER of the Hank book of choice (from yesterday) is:BONNIE FRANKS!

    Bonnie, email me via "contact" at my website to claim your prize! Put HANK PRIZE in the subject line, okay? Hurray!

  5. I stepped back here behind the curtain to mention James Patterson, too. He's diluted his "brand" with his many ghost co-authors, I think, but to those who don't know about that part of the brand, it's still effective.

    You could make the argument that many authors are branded. At this point I'm not sure Sue Grafton or Patricia Cornwell could sell outside their particular box/brand; they're so well known for what they do. Danielle Steele was that way, don't you think?

  6. Oh, that's interesting, Karen. If Danielle Steele wrote a deeply literary novel about the plight of the coal miners--what would we think?

    Is branding simply the word we use to describe the criteria for the decisions we make?

  7. I think old Hollywood was particularly good at branding actors--crafting an image to suit what they wanted their star to be--like Shirley Temple, Rock Hudson. It could be blatantly false or limiting, but the goal was to sell movies. Writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway--when 'brand' was something we thought of as reputation--larger than life, more than mere mortals could hope to be.

    This modern concept of branding seems to me to be a conscious attempt to sell your product--your writing, in this case, to create and control the image of yourself and your work that you'd like the world to know. Certainly it's better than having someone else create a persona for you.

  8. Yeah, how many romance novels did Steel write? Scores. Bet you had no idea she also wrote a bunch of children's books, right?

  9. This was so interesting--thanks Chris for visiting (and Hank for bringing her.) I love the idea of really describing the audience and figuring out what would delight them.

    In the arena of cozy mysteries, publishers are very concerned with brand. Not so much the individual author, as the genre. They want the title and cover and copy to scream cozy mystery. which leads me to the question of what happens if the author wants to write something a little different? or feels the brand is not allowing something unique to flourish?

  10. I've had a couple of obstacles recently to my brand, in the form of two publisher-required pen names, even though all my four series are traditional/cozy mysteries, even the historical one. I think I solved that by using a unifying graphic on my web site, business cards, note paper, and so on. The graphic is a gorgeous oil painting titled Edith's World by a local artist. The painting shows a version of me writing at a desk in the foreground with my imagination in the background: mountains, water, a fire. I absolutely love it, and it represents me as an author of all the series under all the names. And the original is on my office wall where I write every day!

  11. Excellent post. Branding is so very important, regardless of one's industry.

    Authors who get it right: Nora Roberts, Stephen King, James Patterson (regardless of your personal feelings for his methods), JK Rowling (look how smartly she used a pseudonym to protect the "Harry Potter" brand. The list could go on and would include the Jungle Reds themselves.

    As Mark says, even as a reviewer, I needed a brand going in. My eyeball logo was the start, along with my unique decision to only post positive reviews (and ignore the books I do no like). It's a large part of why I consider myself a book advocate rather than a book reviewer.

    As such, I am almost always trying to present a positive vibe - it's mostly who I am, so it's easy, but there are times when everyone has a bad day. But my followers know they are unlikely to hear any bad news, complaining, etc on the blog, Twitter or FB accounts connected to BOLO Books.

    Like with a Rhys or Hank event, folks know what they are going to get when I am part of something. I still have work to do on my brand (I don't think it ever ends) and today's post is going to help. But I think just thinking about yourself as a brand will lead one down the right path - remain true to who you are.

    Thanks again to the Jungle Reds for bringing up great guests and engaging topics.

  12. I have the same question that Roberta/Lucy raises: What if an author wants to write more than one kind of book? I enjoy writing cozy mystery series for the humor and the sense of community I can build across a series. I also like writing darker/edgier standalones for the different themes I can explore and the more literary tone I can use. Finally, I am embarking on book 3 of a YA dystopian trilogy and have loved the immediacy of writing in present tense and the world-building. Switching it up helps me stay fresh and grow as a writer; however, it presents series challenges to branding (which I do think about). Any thoughts?

  13. Great conversation – thanks so much to Hank and the other Jungle Red Writers for including my blog today!

    it is difficult at first to think of yourself as a brand, but once you look through that lens, you can easily see how your image really starts to come together.

    FChurch, I think the difference these days (especially compared to the Hollywood actors you mention) is instead of creating a persona, we are looking to hone an authentic image of ourselves, building off what is already true and wonderful.

    Lucy Burdette has a great question too, about branching out beyond your brand. When I consult with corporate brands, we always like to leave room for growth, and I think that's the case here. A brand needs to be flexible enough to evolve (make sure your goals are years out to account for that), On the flip side, if you are going completely off brand, to the point where it may degrade a strong reputation, it may be okay to form a sub-brand, division or in an author's case a ghost writing or alter ego brand.

  14. Great discussion. Is branding a form of type casting? I see the value of quick identification for readers, but what if you want to experiment?

    Yet another reason I admire JK Rowling, because she tried something different after great success, but of course, she has lots of power.

    I admire any writer who tries something new and tests his/her boundaries as an artist. Would a brand hold you back on this? Maybe there should be a follow-up post on breaking your brand?

  15. Count me in that "author who writes in multiple genres" because I've got middle-grade adventure/fantasy and police-procedural. I know it must be possible because hey, James Patterson does it. I think he even writes his children's stuff under his name. So how?

    Something else to drive me batty when I'm not worrying about holes in my latest plot. =)

  16. LauraDi, I was thinking about what Chris said about a consistent experience. And I wonder if the consistent experience for someone writing in three genres--is YOU. You're never going to be anything but the professional, smart, former intelligence officer. You're never going to show up in ratty jeans. You're never going to be off-color or inappropriate. Your goal is writing and presenting a human, important, and compelling story that builds community.

    And that works, right? Chris? Or what do you think?

  17. And so many do, Mary! For a successful suspense author, doing YAs is almost a constant.

    So maybe, Ramona, breaking your brand means having it be broad enough so it's not just about the one kind of book? MAybe? You're an author and an editor (a great one!) and that's not a problem, right? What you bring is skill, experience, imagination, clarity, focus. analysis…hmm.

  18. Good points Hank, the foundation starts with really discovering your "WHY." An author's "why" shouldn't be tied to a specific genre or style, it's more about your life's purpose. To paraphrase Simon Sinek, when we have clarity of WHY, and are disciplined about HOW we do things, and are consistent about WHAT we do…it's those three things that make us who we are. And ultimately make us most happy.

    As creators, I think we are always looking to push the boundaries, we find ourselves sometimes waking up each day with the impetus to reinvent. But the hard work happens when you dig deep to find what is true, and you keep exploring and creating around your promise.

    I think brands (corporate or personal) are multi-faceted and have depth. Don't look at your brand as confining as much as a platform from which to build more.

  19. Great comments, Hank and Chris. This has me thinking about the common thread (or theme, because I love theme!) in all that a person creates. The form may be different but the theme or thread is consistent. I write about ______.

  20. Chris, I think the platform image is the cornerstone to this idea of branding. If you stay true to yourself--then genre shouldn't confine you. In other fields, the same is true: think of the comics who are also actors (Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin, etc.), the actors who are also singers (Minnie Driver). I think for authors, the most useful approach in the past, at least, was the use of a pen name to separate or signal--hey, this is me, but now I'm writing romances, not suspense.

  21. Thank you, kind Hank. Sometimes it seems like it would have been much easier to write in the days when no one expected to ever meet an author, and the book stood more or less totally on its own. If you wanted to write something different--say, Hemingway wanted to pen a female-centered romance, hah!--you could adopt a pen name and not have to worry about promoting/marketing two identities across a plethora of media platforms. Ah, the good old days.

  22. Yeah, but think of all the people who would never have heard of us--no matter what the brand-- without social media!

    It also interferes with packing, right? Because of Facebook,you can't wear the same thing to every book event. But I know--that's a lovely problem.

    WAIT--I'm gonna make that my brand.That I wear the same thing all the time! Brilliant!

  23. Branding is something that I've been thinking a lot about over the past year. I have a reading blog, and I feel that it has much to offer other readers and even authors. However, my posts have been sporadic as I have become discouraged by the low membership numbers and lack of comments on posts. I do interviews with authors occasionally, and I'm gearing up to do more of that in the coming year. In fact, I'm ready to jump back in and get the blog rolling. My basic problem is branding. My blog is called The Reading Room, but in the past year there has appeared another larger, more professional site called The Reading Room. I'm thinking of changing the name of my blog, but when or if I do, I need to make sure that it's a name with which I can do some effective branding. Kristopher is my model for branding a blog. He's done a fantastic job with his logo and getting the word out on his blog. Your Be On the Look Out (BOLO) theme and focus is clever and focused. And, Mark, you have such a clear focus on your blog, too, with the cozy mysteries, which helps develop your niche.

    I, too, post positive items on my blog, and I like to address different topics, such as series reading, as well as reviews and posts about specific books. And, while I talk mostly about mystery books these days, I review and include general fiction, too. I think that I will benefit from the questions you pose, Chris. I'm not being egotistical when I say I feel I have something to offer the reading world. I'm finally being positive about myself and my abilities, and I've worked hard to establish connections and relationships with readers and authors. Receiving ARCs has been a major step forward in my ability to be of service to authors, to whom I'm always indebted. I also have a FB book page called Bookaholics (https://www.facebook.com/groups/5454740969/), which has been somewhat more successful with 557 members thus far.

    Chris, I am delighted that you mad an appearance on the Jungle Reds today, and your message is both timely and appreciated. My Reading Room blog at http://www.readingroom-readmore.com/ will be the better for your advice. Thank you.

  24. Oh, as for authors who do a great job of branding, I'll have to agree with the choice of James Patterson as one of the best. Branding for authors is another aspect of the reading world in which I'm interested. I'll look at a new author and wonder if they realize the importance of branding to sell their books. I enjoy spreading the word about exciting new authors, but their attention to branding can be a winning factor in their success.

  25. Chris and Hank, thanks so much for sparking a lively discussion!

    Oh, and Hank! Just back from Left Coast Crime in Portland and a trip to Seattle to launch and putting away the laundry. Thinking "but I always wear the same thing..."

  26. Yup, the laundry seems to grow, no matter what! Welcome home, Leslie!

    Kathy, I just visited The Reading Room! Very cool! Thanks for letting us know.

  27. Love hearing about the "positive" reviews--that element is very important, don't you think? That the whole image, not just for reviewer sites, is "positive"?

  28. Wonderful post. I write in various genres—mystery, romantic suspense, novels for kids. I'm about to bring out a YA horror, a new subgenera for me.
    How do I best publicize this book, which shares my overall attention to relationships and character growth, but in this book includes some horrific acts?

  29. With authors, I can see two equally plausible approaches.

    Plan One (Call it the Nora Roberts/ JD Robb approach). Your name has become the promise to the readers. You pick up my book and you can expect (fill in the blank: Roberts = romance). Then, if you want to write a crime series set in the future, you need to write under a different name, make sure to brand the series differently and (if it works out) link the two (Nora Roberts writing as JD Robb).

    Approach Two. One author name regardless of genre or target audience -- but different packaging, marketing, etc. to avoid crossover confusion. Patterson has done this.

    Publishers (as Edith Maxwell described for herself) often insist on an author following Approach One. And then it is up to the author to decide whether to try to link their various persona through their website and marketing or keep them separate.

    Life is easier if you can put them all together under one name (although Hank, if you had a doppelganger you could trade wardrobes).

    ~ Jim

  30. What a great post and discussion!

    I love the idea of branding. It goes hand in hand with building a platform and creating a promise to your readers.

    Thank you, Hank, for sharing this on the Guppy group. Otherwise I might have missed it!

  31. I'm so excited about all the insightful comments and enthusiastic conversation. Thanks everyone for sharing your challenges and your projects.

    You all have brought up some interesting points regarding not only your personal brands, but the brands of your book, or a series – and even the brands of the publishers! There are many layers in the author's world.

    When thinking about how various brand personalities work together, I think the key is alignment. Make sure that your personal brand aligns with that of your audience, your publisher, and most importantly the work you create. When you are really clear on what you stand for, something that is out of alignment will simply not feel right. And you can concentrate on what does feel right!

  32. Thank you for the kind words Kathy. For a blog, the logo really is key. It should be something that works well as a social media icon as well as in larger version for the website itself.

    I started with the concept of BOLO because I knew I was going to be focusing on crime fiction. From there, the "looking" portion lead me to the eyeball idea. (Don't even get me started on the debate of whether it is Look Out or Lookout - too long and complicated.)

    Originally, the eyeballs on the blog were bloodshot - to indicate reading long into the night - but feedback (too scary, creepy, etc.) led me to drop the bloodshot element and I am much happier with it now.

    The positive only decision came about simply because I just am not a mean or sarcastic person. I do still have to explain that this doesn't mean I give everything a good review, it means that I only review books I enjoy and can whole-heartly recommend. The only drawback to this is that many people think I didn't like something if I don't post about it, when in fact, often I just haven't gotten around to reading that particular book - yet.

    No matter what, blogs are slow builds and you shouldn't pay too much attention to statistics. Many blogs that boast extremely high numbers do so because they host contests that require registration to enter. These are not "real" numbers. What is more important is the quality of your visitors. Folks who come to BOLO Books are interested in hearing about the latest releases and from what I can tell they tend to buy the books that are recommended. That is more important than 1000s who enter for a chance to win a book and don't read or buy based on the blog content.

  33. Diane, you are QUEEN of branding! I'd love to know how you think.

    Jim,I think the cool part, as you bring up, is that everyone knows NR is JD. It's not pseudonym, it's right out there, more like a signal. That really works.

  34. Diane, you are QUEEN of branding! I'd love to know how you think.

    Jim,I think the cool part, as you bring up, is that everyone knows NR is JD. It's not pseudonym, it's right out there, more like a signal. That really works.

  35. CJ Lyons is who I think of when I think 'brand.' Her thrillers with a heart describe her books well and everything she puts out from a marketing standpoint supports her brand. Is branding important to a writer or a reader? Hum. Not sure. From a reader standpoint, I see some possibilities. You know the kind of book you are buying. From a writer standpoint. I acknowledge that I am working on my own 'brand.' I write South Florida mysteries. Most of what I put out there is a reflection of that. But I am still learning.

  36. So Chris, a number of inquiring minds would like to know about the fish in your photo:). Is this part of your brand?

  37. Ahh, Lucy, great question!! I would say that my personal brand is about solving business problems with creativity – and I like to see myself as a business leader with a creative streak. So the story behind the fish definitely has a creative twist.

    I was chosen by Worcester Business Journal as one of their 2013 Outstanding Women in Business, and their photographer/videograher Matt Volpini came out to do an interview of me. His eyes lit up when he saw the big fish hanging in our office – I actually won it in a yankee swap here at the agency (where we basically wrap up gag gifts from our basements that we want to get rid). We call him Gil, and we built an employee lounge around him – Gil's lounge.

    Anyway, Matt thought the whole vibe and story was a perfect reflection of the agency's (and my) personality. So he took this dramatic picture of me in front of Gil. We both thought it was hilarious (especially because I'm only 5' tall and not at all imposing). But, as I understand it, when the magazine lined up the photos of all other women in business honorees (lawyers in front of their legal tomes, executives in conference rooms) that Gil and I kind of seemed a little eccentric. So, they chose a different shot and Matt sent me the Gil photo and encouraged me to use it. Which I have...just about everywhere!

    So, although I'm no fisherman, the Gil photo represents something different, creative, humorous, and a little bit twisted, which (for good or for bad) kind of lines up with me!

    The full article (without fish) is here: http://www.wbjournal.com/article/20131028/PRINTEDITION/310269975

  38. Kristopher, I love your description of the role of a blog and the emphasis on quality and engagement, not stats.

    Kathy, I peeked at your blog -- love the imagery and hope you get the blog bug big time!

    Diane, I thought of you in Portland when we drove by a fabric shop called The Whole 9 Yards!

  39. Oh,so funny,Chris! As you saw in the intro today, I;d ascribed all kind of meaning to the fish.. Which I stand by, still, even thought it's totally made up! It makes sense. right?. Feel free to use it. :-)

  40. Hank – you totally got the spirit of the fish - that's the beauty of it;-) Everyone here calls it the Big Kahuna photo or captain...you can bring your own creative meaning to it! Works for me!!

    (And yes, I will be borrowing some of those phrases!!)

    I do want to say again, how much fun today has been. The Jungle Red Writers fans are fantastic and engaged and this has been such a pleasure!! I will continue to stay tuned tonight and into the future as it's been a blast to hang out with all of you.

  41. What an interesting post that has me thinking about what my brand is. I never thought if myself as a brand before. I guess I'll take some time listing the things Chris suggested.

  42. Oh,Gloria, cannot wait to hear what you come up with!

  43. Thank you, Chris! You are terrific..and have given us so much (fish) food for thought.

    Keep in touch, okay? And love to Gil and the gang.

  44. Interesting way of getting noticed, and seen as one wants to be seen, and a bit of "to thy own self be true." It may also be a way of cutting through the confusion of too much information in this internet age, a help to making satisfying selections.
    Two of my storytelling friends are doing a workshop on branding at Sharing the Fire. http://lanes.org

  45. Hank, Branding is easy! Just post a picture of your suitcase before you leave for a trip :)

    Leslie, I LOVE that you saw a fabric shop and thought of me!!

    (it's working! mumbles evil laughter while rubbing hands together)

  46. Love that, Diane! xoxo

    Checking out Sharing the Fire--great name.

    See you all tomorrow! xoxo