Those of you who have known me for a while may be smirking that I’m blogging about branding. My friends are asking (using the distinctive voice of Beverly Hills Cop’s Chief Hubbard):
- Is this the writer who pitched ideas from four genres on a single one sheet?
- Is this the writer who argued the point of branding with a best-selling author during a mentoring session?
- Is this the writer who rolls her eyes whenever a branding question is discussed during a conference’s proverbial editor/agent panel?
- Is this the writer who has more categories on her personal blog than she has posts?
Apologies for referencing a 25-year-old film, but yep, that’s me. Only today, I’ve repented from my former ways. I even plan to revise my website to reflect my new-found brand: Online Marketing Consultant. (If that last statement left you scratching your head, wondering what “On Blogging Well” has to do with marketing — wonder no more. You are your product and your blog is your main promotion tool, so yes, this blog is actually the cornerstone for constructing my personal brand.)
I’ve been blogging since 2004, and even though some five-year-olds are barely out of pull-ups in the real world, if you look at blog statistics, being five (almost six now) puts me among the blue-hairs. Here’s the two key things I’ve learned about blogging:
- Your readers have questions, and they read your blog to find answers.
- You can’t answer every question about every topic. Thus the need to specialize — a.k.a. “brand” yourself.
My blog — the one that needs revised over at lindafulkerson.com — is mostly a collection of pointless babblings of mine throughout the years. Yes, there’s some meat there, but if you only feed your readers sporadically and inconsistently, they’ll go somewhere else to eat. Even though I was blogging fairly regularly, I was adrift — an unbranded cow. And because no market “owned” me, no one claimed me.
It didn’t take me the entire five years to figure that out (well, almost), but it did take me a while to choose which brand I wanted to wear. Once I truly decided, the road has been easy. This blog has taken off, and it’s been exciting and easy for me to position myself as a blogging coach, because it’s something I love to do and am knowledgeable about. Those items are keys to consider when selecting your personal brand.
If you get nothing else from this post, remember this: The purpose of your brand is to fulfill your reader’s expectations.
Example: John Grisham. I feel a slight connection with John. I’ve met his cousin Dr. Vaughn Grisham on several occasions when I served on a community development steering committee. A great southern gentlemen with an engaging personality. I’ve also read many of John’s books. Legal thrillers, mostly. I even once lived in Lepanto, Arkansas, (yeah, I’d never heard of it either until we moved there), where the film from his novel, “A Painted House,” was filmed.
When Grisham wrote that book, you could almost hear the collective, “Huh?” from his readers. It’s a great book, well written. But, he broke his brand. The slow-growing story about the struggles of life in the cotton was a total about-face from the fast-paced page-turners his readers were accustomed to. His to-heck-with-description-don’t-put-the-book-down style even set a new trend — the Grishamization of fiction. That trend carried over into nearly every genre of fiction, too, not just thrillers. A very strong brand, John Grisham built.
So, I’m pitching to an agent and he asks what I write, and I can’t give the 25-words-or-less “elevator speech” because my writing resume looks like a plate of spaghetti, I know it’s because I had no brand. I mention this during a one-on-one session with an author whom I respect and who is one of the strongest branding advocates I know, and I blurt out, “Well, John Grisham did it!”
Yes, she explained, he did. But it hurt him. A Painted House was a great book, but it took a while for his career to bounce back after it. And few people could pull off something like that — only the John Grishams of the publishing world can get away with that. “Besdies,” she said, “you are not John Grisham.”
So, where does that leave the rest of us? In line, bellowing and shuffling with the herd, awaiting our turn to let the hot iron to sear the flesh of our careers. Will it be painful? For some it will. But it’ll only hurt for a little while.
Just make sure you pick the right iron — because that mark will stick with you your entire career. And if you stray away from your herd, your readers will soon corral you back where you belong.