Jim Rubart

Since 1994, Jim Rubart has worked with clients such as AT&T/Cingular, RE/MAX, ABC and Clear Channel radio though his company Jr2 Marketing, but his passion is writing fiction. He's also a photographer, guitarist, professional speaker, golfer, and semi-pro magician. He lives in the Northwest with the world's most perfect wife and his two almost-perfect sons. No, he doesn't sleep much. You can reach him at jlrudini[at]comcast.net

Branding: Searing It In

branding ironBranding: Taking a single uniqueness, which the public wants, and promoting it consistently.

Want to confuse yourself? Ask ten friends 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 article.

Branding has been a hot buzzword for at least ten years, so it’s not new. But it’s far older 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. Then he changed the circles to ovals. 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.

Frequency:anchor 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:

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. Chip MacGregor is bright (other than the fact he likes the Oregon Ducks). He knew what he was doing. 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?

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 the ’07 ACFW conference, 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!”

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.

Next month: Web site mistakes most authors make.