Developing a Brand

Rabbit - psychicHow drab does that sound?  Certainly not the most exciting part of the publishing industry, yet one of the most important when aiming for longevity.  The idea is that authors in today’s market needs to develop a ‘brand’ or recognisable identity, in order for readers to know what to expect from their next book.  Agents and publishers tend to encourage authors (at least initially) to write consistently within one genre in order to develop such a following.  Rachelle Gardner, an American literary agent, has been speaking about this concept over on her blog.  She says the following:

This is a marketing issue, first and foremost. If you want to publish books, attract a loyal readership, and have long-term success as an author, then you’ll need to pick a genre, do it well, and keep doing it over and over. Simple as that. All the arguing in the world and all the talent in the world is not going to change this reality.

This sounds easy enough, unless you’re like me (as I know many are).  My reading interests vary widely between humour and quite dark tales, and likewise, so does my writing.  Branding is something I’m going to have to consider very carefully if I get to the publication stage, choosing between fantasy, humour or straight fiction.  However illustration (in Australia) seems to be the opposite.  I’ve been advised that because it’s such a small market, in order to develop a career you need to be a jack-of-all-trades.  In other words – be able to illustrate anything from non-fiction to fiction and have multiple styles to draw from.

Of course, as with any good rule there are always exceptions.  As soon as an author becomes successful or wins a coveted award they can play around more within genres and age ranges, as Michael Bauer does.  Illustrators seem to go the opposite way – when they’re in demand they can develop a strong style that then becomes their brand, such as Pamela Allen.  If I could develop an illustration brand, it would certainly be ink, collage and watercolour.

So, what’s you brand?

7 Responses to “Developing a Brand”

  1. 1 Chris February 13, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    This is something that’s surprisingly quite near to my heart because, like most things you write about, there’s a parallel into music. Developing a band is, amongst other things, an exercise in developing a brand. Everything from the music, merch, web site, myspace, whatever, is all part of it, and although unlike most products and lines they can change quite drastically across the course of a career, you still need an emotional and social connection with your users, your public, your fans. You want that t-shirt of yours that you want them to buy to say something about them, you want to develop identities, ideas, concepts that you are identified with.

    Propagandhi for example, are playing at the Arena tonight. They’ve spent a career being actively political in their music and everything surrounding it, and punk tends to spill over into social areas quite a bit, so what you listen to can say a lot about you, and that’s why people buy the shirt. Buy the hat. Buying the CD, the actual product, is probably the only truly personal thing about participating in the music industry these days because it’s the only thing that no-one else gets to see (unless they raid your collection).

    Although I’m regretful of selling my RX-7, beautiful race car that it is, I hate to say it but there’s a lot of things that people associate with the kind of music I make, and being a street racer is not one of them. Not that I am, but that’s the connection people make. Rocking up to a show in a very shiny sports car isn’t something you want to do because as an acoustic musician you want to connect with people, get them to identify with you, grab their emotions and pull on them. Having them think you’re some kind of rich wanker with a fast car is synonymous with none of those things, and although I would never give up something I loved for the sake of marketing (there are a lot of reasons the car has to go) it is an added bonus that it will make me easier to sell.

    Music, like all things, is about so much more than just itself.

    • 2 Katherine Battersby February 13, 2009 at 6:19 pm

      That’s interesting, Chris. I suppose any industry where there’s a product and consumers, branding comes into play. And as strange as it sounds, on a base level, authors, musicians and bands are all products. Bands in particular, because a lot of the selling they do is standing up on stage in front of their consumers – everything from clothing, accent, and the way they interact speaks to the audience about the band and therefore the music. Authors can hide a bit more behind their books, but this is changing.

      The example of your car reminded me of a lady that came to talk to us in a design lecture at uni. She was a seller for Billabong clothing, but was dressed in hard-core gothic attire. I made a comment on the disparity to one of the girls in my class, and she got a little offended, thinking I was trying to ‘box’ the seller. But I wasn’t. I was merely commenting on branding. I was having trouble watching the seller present the very beachy artwork of Billabong with its summery colours. As a potential consumer, I wasn’t being eased into their product (as you mentioned), and I imagine anyone buying from her might have a similar reaction.

      Anyway, when it comes down to it, branding isn’t something people have to embrace. But it’s certainly a smart move if you’re planning to develop a career. Sounds like you’re quite in tune with your brand. I’m still developing and learning about my own!

  2. 3 Chris February 13, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    You’re right, there is a lot that’s very similar about all those artistic pursuits.

    You’re also on a very similar track with the Billabong rep – when you look at her, you’re presented with an idea counter-intuitive to the product she was trying to sell. I wouldn’t buy a computer off an Amish person, and I would probably be a little uneasy about buying coffee from a barista who didn’t drink coffee. When you go into, say, City Beach looking for parts for a skateboard, you want to talk to the guy who looks like he skates. After all, he’s most likely to know what he’s talking about. What some people call prejudice or pre-judgement, can really just be human nature – in marketing we want to find those things that people will jump to automatically and use them to make them want our product.

    I’m in a particularly interesting situation at the moment whereby I have two bands, both with all the same members. One band is a byproduct of all of us jamming together in a group writing situation, a real collaborative effort every step of the way. The other starts with me and a nylon-string acoustic guitar, then Dane writes a part, then we bring some drums in, then a bass guitar. The difference is phenomenal – all the same ingredients, applied in a different order. The difference is massive.
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    Crazy! I got sidetracked from my point somewhere in the middle there and never got back to it.

  3. 4 swatch March 10, 2009 at 5:07 am

    Nice conversation this! I have seen the effect of branding on local artists in South Africa – there are some guys who paint very average pictures but have done some good marketing so everyone wants a “blah” hanging in their house (They don’t need MORE marketing).

    I like the story of the gothic billabong lady. I think congruence is a real issue. I worked with a designer called Hagen, on my website for my consulting life. And he took me to task on all my ideas for logos and look and feel. And then, with some pain, I realised I was dragging my art world into my consulting world.

    Chris – your band story sounds interesting – that the same group can be a different group.

    Thanks for the insights.

  4. 5 Katherine Battersby March 11, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    That’s really interesting to hear your experiences with branding, Stephen, especially the difficulty of merging art into the business world.

  5. 6 Madeline Stephenson March 24, 2009 at 8:06 am

    I am still very much working on my brand. So much, in fact, that I don’t have much to add to this conversation about my own writing. However, to make the issue more complex, I do think there are times when branding can go against you if you don’t make it work for you.
    For example, I work for a publishing company for plays and musicals. Almost everything we publish falls into one of 3 categories: children’s, middle school drama, and melodrama. We are VERY good at these three things. However, branching out has proven to be a problem. Because the directors of middle school plays, for example, don’t go on to work in high school or college drama, we would have to start from scratch with marketing. Not to mention that we would also have to market ourselves differently to playwrights. Add in the costs of publishing lots of new plays so we are actually competitive in these markets, and the thought of branching out is effectively squashed. I believe that because the company totally ignored these other markets, it made expanding much more difficult.
    On the other side of that, there is one novelist who I really admire for bending the walls of her box: Karen Marie Moning. All of her books are classified as “romance”, but from the beginning also held an element of darkness, magic, and the Fae world. Until recently her books stuck with the traditional romance plotlines: girl meets guy, girl and guy are annoyed but fascinated by each other, badda-bing, badda-bang, they’re happily married, right? Well, her last three books have been a series (a series with the same characters, not a series with main characters drawn from the same family or group of friends) and no one has had sex yet (although there is still a sexual element to the book) and I am waiting with bated breath for the fourth installment to find out who the bad guy really is and which man is actually the hero. They still have all of the same elements and are still classified as “romance” but truly fit the fantasy genre better. These books have been fantastically popular and I am in awe of how she used her romance fame to bridge the gap into a new genre.
    That’s all…sorry for the long post. :)

  6. 7 Katherine Battersby March 26, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Branding is certainly very complex, Mady, and can work for and against you. With your example of your company trying to branch out – I think that’s often why authors who have for years written within one genre and decide to write a different book, will write the new one under a pen name. But that’s really interesting how Karen Marie Moning has managed to subtly switch genres and make her fan base work for her. That’s given me more to think about!

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About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

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