Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Brands of Wrath

by Robison Wells

LDS Publisher talked the other day about Branding, as it relates to books and authors. As branding is my forte, I thought that I’d talk a little bit about it as well. Consequently, this is one of those blogs that will be addressed just about solely to writers, and if you’re just a regular ol’ reader, well, sucks to be you. (However, even if you don't care about brands, there's a fun little link in the article for you.)

To join me in this branding quest, I invited none other than your old friend Annette Lyon. She was such an astute learner last time around (when we talked about positioning) I thought she’d be a real brand ace. However, she was so popular last time that now she’s charging huge speaking fees and asking for bowls of M&Ms with all the brown ones removed. She’s so like that.

So, unfortunately, we’re stuck with the old standby: John Crummy Steinbeck.


Rob: So, John, welcome.

Steinbeck: Thanks. I’m happy to be here. It’s really been a big wish of mine throughout my whole career.

Rob: If you can call it a career.

Steinbeck: I think you can technically call it a career.

Rob: I haven’t passed through fire and death to bandy words with a witless worm, John Steinbeck.

Steinbeck: My bad.

Rob: So, I hear you have a question about marketing?

Steinbeck: Sure do, Rob. I’ve been wondering about branding. I keep hearing about the stuff, but I don’t know what it is! I mean, am I supposed to have a logo? A theme song?

Rob: If you had a theme song, it would be "Suicide is Painless" from M*A*S*H.

Steinbeck: I think you’re getting a little side-tracked, Rob.

Rob: I certainly am. Mr. John Steinbeck, please tell me what a brand is:

Steinbeck: That’s easy. A brand is your logo and your jingle and your name and that kind of stuff. You know--all those symbols about you.

Rob: Denied, fat boy. Try again.

Steinbeck: Okay, is a brand the overall package: the book and the writing and you?

Rob: Close, but no cigar. Okay, listen up—I will say this only once.

Steinbeck: Hit me.

Rob: First, here is what a brand is NOT: it is not your symbols. It is not your books. It is not your covers or your bookmarks or your even your writing style.

Steinbeck: Then, if you’ll pardon my French, what the crap is it?

Rob: Your brand exists only in the minds of your customers. Let me repeat that and put it in bold: your brand exists only in the minds of your customers. A brand is a collection of all the perceptions that your customers have about you. It is the sum total of the impressions formed through every customer interaction.

Steinbeck: So, a brand isn’t what you do or say, it’s what I think about what you do or say?

Rob: Well done. As Ralph Waldo Emerson would say “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

Steinbeck: That Emerson is a good writer.

Rob: Maybe you should learn something, John.

Steinbeck: Why don’t you leave me alone?

Rob: Why don’t you ask me another question?

Steinbeck: Fine. What exactly does it mean by “every interaction”.

Rob:
Exactly what it says. It means “every interaction”.

Steinbeck: So, like, your books and… book signings?

Rob: You are so stupid, John Steinbeck.

Steinbeck: I won the Pulitzer.

Rob: The Pulitzer for “Stupidest Author Who Writes Stupid Books”.

Steinbeck: Well, yes.

Rob: By “every interaction”, I mean just that--EVERY interaction. How about: your website, your blogs, your books, your book signings, your ads, conferences, bookmarks, promotional materials, speaking engagements, conventions, fan mail, contests. Take a look at the chart below. There are a billion things that affect your brand.

Steinbeck: Why are they all pointing in different directions?

Rob: Every interaction changes customers' opinions. In this diagram, the interactions are very mixed up--customers are getting mixed messages, because the interactions all have a different focus.

Steinbeck: Weird.

Rob: I'll talk more about it in a minute. But remember: every single interaction affects your brand in some way.

Steinbeck: Even my website?

Rob: Especially your website, John Steinbeck. As a matter of fact, let’s take a good long look at websites. Every little bit of a website makes impressions on people who come: the graphics, the overall look, the links, the reliability.

Steinbeck: The links?

Rob: Totally the links. Let’s say, for example, that you have a link to NazisAreAwesome.com. Don’t you think that that will make a huge impression on your customers?

Steinbeck: I don’t have bad links like that. I have good links.

Rob: I’ve seen your links, Mr. Steinbeck. You’re linked to Planet Care Bears.

Steinbeck: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!

Rob: I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. I am not here to make normative judgments about your links. But what I am saying is that every little aspect of your website is going to affect your perception in the eyes of your customers.

Steinbeck: What about my blog?

Rob: Your blog TOTALLY affects your brand. Not just the quality of your writing, but the frequency of your posts, the reliability of your posts, and the topics of your posts. Again, it’s not about The Right Way To Blog vs. The Wrong Way To Blog—it’s about the impression that it creates in your customers’ minds.

Steinbeck: You keep saying this--it’s not about good or bad. If there’s no right or wrong way to do it, then why do we care?

Rob: Branding. Just because brands exist in the minds of your customers doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to shape them as best you can.

Steinbeck: But look at our link discussion a moment ago: I really like Care Bears. Some people will like them and some won’t. How am I supposed to control that?

Rob: First, you choose a brand message--you decide what you want your brand to mean--and then you align everything to fit that. The chart below illustrates this.


Steinbeck: Examples, por favor.

Rob: Well, let’s say that you’ve decided your brand message is that you’re a great literary novelist, serious and groundbreaking. Would your best move be to blog about American Idol? Or would you hand out photocopied bookmarks on hot pink paper?

Steinbeck: Probably not. Although I have no experience with great literary novels. Sorry.

Rob: Forgiven.

Steinbeck: Thanks.

Rob: However, if your brand is about youth and fun--maybe you write chick lit or humor or something like that--then it’d be just fine to blog about American Idol.

Steinbeck: You say “just fine”. Again, it sounds like your making normative judgments.

Rob: I never make normative judgments. I don’t care what you blog about. I’m merely saying that every single thing you do--blogs, speaking, everything--affects the way that people think about you. Your brand will be most effective if you focus your efforts toward your brand message.

Steinbeck: Which leaves me to think: who cares?

Rob: Who cares?

Steinbeck: Yeah. Who cares? Why do I care about a brand?

Rob: Good question. Which do you prefer, Coke or Pepsi?

Steinbeck: I’m a Coke man.

Rob: That’s the first rational thing you’ve said all day.

Steinbeck: I did win the Pulitzer.

Rob: I bet your wife gets sick of it, too. Anyway, what’s the deal with the Pepsi challenge?

Steinbeck: Well, a lot of Coke drinkers said they liked Pepsi better.

Rob: Yeah, but that’s just Pepsi’s side of the story. Academic research has been done on the topic and discovered the truth about the Pepsi Challenge.

Steinbeck: Which is?

Rob: That people simply can’t tell the difference. All those Coke drinkers weren’t choosing Pepsi because it was so much better--they were choosing it because they couldn’t figure out which is which. It was effectively random.

Steinbeck: What does this have to do with branding?

Rob: Thanks for keeping me on track. If only you could do the same with your books!

Steinbeck: I’m ashamed.

Rob: A recent study took several people and gave them PET scans. During the scans, they had the people drink from two unmarked cups—one containing Coke and the other containing Pepsi. And do you know what they found?

Steinbeck: Nothing?

Rob: Yep. Their brain activity responded to the two drinks in almost exactly the same way--nothing special.

Steinbeck: Which proves?

Rob: Wait for it… Then they gave the people a cup of Coke--and they told them it contained Coke. All of a sudden, their brain activity exploded with lights and streamers. The researchers referred to it as a firework show in the portion of the brain responsible for emotional memory.

Steinbeck: Meaning?

Rob: Meaning that people don't choose Coke over Pepsi because of the tangible product benefits. They choose Coke because of all the impressions of the brand they've stored away in their emotional memory.

Steinbeck: So, the moral of the story is: a good brand is even more important than a good product?

Rob: For the purposes of sales, absolutely. However, there is the caveat that product quality will also affect your brand, so it ought to be a good product as well. If you have a good brand, it will do far more for selling your books than any simple product benefits ever will.

Steinbeck: I find this all fascinating. Thanks, Rob! You’ve changed my whole outlook on authorship!

Rob: Sadly, for you, John Steinbeck, this comes too late. You’ll never amount to anything.

Steinbeck: I have a Pulitzer?

Rob: I have a headache.


16 Comments:

At 1/29/2008 10:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good stuff, Rob. And I would add that getting people to become invested in your brand are critical. And the best way to do that is provide ways for your readers to communicate with each other and with you.

That's everything from creating book group questions, activities and bonus content to blogging (and allowing comments on blog posts) to fan forums to contests, etc.

~Wm Morris

pssst, Frog: It's also good branding when your blog template works with Firefox.

 
At 1/29/2008 10:39 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

In case anyone misses it, I'd like to point you to John Steinbeck's website.

 
At 1/29/2008 11:28 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Rob, your warped genius knows no bounds.

Fascinating information about branding. I'd never thought about this before--and I see that I NEED to think about it!

 
At 1/29/2008 12:26 PM, Blogger Michele Holmes said...

Regretting my random post already today. Though I'll always prefer Pepsi. Great blog.

 
At 1/29/2008 3:09 PM, Blogger annahannah said...

pretty much my opinion of steinbeck

 
At 1/29/2008 3:21 PM, Anonymous mean aunt said...

Rob what is the matter with you? John Steinbeck is the best! His books were always waaaaaaaay shorter than anyone else's on the high school reading lists.

Less time reading boring assigned books is my kind of brand!

 
At 1/29/2008 4:24 PM, Blogger Marsha Ward said...

I went over to John Steinbeck's website, Rob, and you've set up a great site. Will it be updated, I ask myself, or will it stagnate now that you've finished blogging about brands with Mr. Steinbeck?

I can't wait until you can funnel all this creative energy into novels again.

 
At 1/29/2008 5:19 PM, Anonymous John "The manly author" Steinbeck said...

Let me just say that I was terribly misquoted by that Wells cad. Not to mention that I was contacted under false pretenses. I thought the interview was going to be about cattle branding, not some sissy arrows and diagrams. I’ll bet you’ve never even been to Cannery Row, you little wuss.

 
At 1/29/2008 6:26 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

Oh, you meant M&M's? My manager told me you were offering some kind of carob monstrosity.

I do have my chocolate standards, you know.

(Great blog!)

 
At 1/29/2008 6:59 PM, Blogger Luisa Perkins said...

That was beyond brilliant.

 
At 1/29/2008 7:40 PM, Blogger Evil HR Lady said...

Rob, can you please help me to build my brand? Please?

 
At 1/29/2008 11:25 PM, Blogger Nancy said...

Rob- very, very funny and useful. Made me think about several things I need to consider while rebuilding my website, which has been AWOL now for some time.

As for poor Steinbeck, my mother tainted my view of him before I ever even read him. She always maintained his stuff was, well, stupid. And I must say, as a high school kid, that last scene in Grapes of Wrath made me dry heave.

She doesn't much like Fitzgerald, either. Gatsby was, for her, a real wallbanger.

Very witty blog!!
Nancy Allen

 
At 1/30/2008 10:53 PM, Blogger Josi said...

Excellent blog, Rob, and I agree with the dry heaver--super creepy.

So, I have a question for ya--do your books have to 'alike' in order to fulfill your brand? I ask because I mostly write romantic suspensy type stuff but I've also done family drama romancy stuff then I wrote a pure suspensy one and now I'm worried about going back to the romantic suspensy stuff. I was all kinds of creative because I didn't know about branding, now that I do I worry that I'm going to have to pigeonhole myself into one 'type' of book--which seriously throws off my groove. From your post I'm sensing more liberalism in genre so long as style and voice are similar and directed toward a common theme--which for me could be summed up as family, since all my books revolve around that and my blogs and other things are centered too--but that's a very general 'brand' if I can call it that.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

 
At 1/31/2008 2:40 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Hey Josi, I realized yesterday that my blog really only said that brands and branding were important--but it didn't give any practical advice about how to accomplish either. Consequently, next week is going to be a more in-depth discussion on the same subject. I think I'm actually going to take an open look at my own personal brand and branding, and use me as an example (of both good and bad). I think that will answer some of your questions. I hope.

 
At 1/31/2008 3:18 PM, Blogger Josi said...

I only have to hold my breath for a week? Done. :-)

 
At 1/31/2008 4:02 PM, Blogger Alice said...

Genius!

I have just finished reading the Grapes of Wrath in my English class. *shiver* I honestly think that this adolescent mind of mine has been permanently scarred by it.

Thank you John Steinbeck. And of course good ol' Mrs. C----. She loves that book with a burning pashion (?).

And I really didn't much care for The Pearl either. Not as bad, but still - in true Steinbeck style-life-wasting.

 

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