Ahead of BLOGGERCONF in Dublin this weekend, following my first experience as a vendor at a public event, and with a friend launching his own tech company, I’ve been increasingly focused on branding and networking. Over the space of this week, I’ll be taking a pointed look at some of areas of note that I’ve learned a thing or two about over the years. Even by the end of the week, I’ll only be scratching the surface, but for now: why bother focusing on branding and networking? That, as well as personal values and personal identity, will be the focus of today’s post.
But first, here I am:
That photo, taken by Stephen McNulty of the USS Cuchulainn, captures my brand and identity. It features my books, it features my prints, it captures my business cards, and it shows off what I was wearing on the day of the Geek-Mart on May 7th. I’ve got a Shadowhunters necklace on, a Supernatural t-shirt, a flash badge pinned to my shirt. I’ve even got a Marvel suitcase, in which I carried my books to the event. Between my attire and the subject of my books, everything should be clear: my writing life, when it comes to fiction, is all about embracing my geekiness. That’s my brand. The event itself was, then, a networking opportunity, made all the easier by the apparent nature of my branding choices, and the easy accessibility of my business cards on the table beside the books.
We’ll approach more of the how to brand later in the week. For now, we’ll discuss the value of branding, and how effective branding requires a full sense of your own identity. There are many benefits to branding, but three important points have always stood out to me.
1. Your audience knows what to expect. Like my nerdy clothing and use of a Celtic font, people could make an educated guess at what I was all about. It also helped to think about where was selling: a market dedicated to everything nerdy and geeky. If you wear your brand, people know what your brand stands for, and what to expect from you in the future. This goes beyond what you wear; it extends to how you talk to people, how you address customer service, how you deal with competition. Everything you do in the public eye affects your brand.
2. You have a guideline for how you interact with others. Have you ever wondered if posting something is a good idea or not? Here’s a simple tip: if your brand is all about sports nutrition, posting a Game of Thrones meme about how much you hate a certain crossbow-wielding king, you’re not in-keeping with your brand. Now, there are some important distinctions to make between personal and public accounts, but when dealing with your “business” or “professional” social media – or attending events IRL – you need to remember which version of “you” is being put forward. Use your brand as a guideline to how you talk to people, and what you talk to them about.
3. Anyone who sees you knows who you are, wherever they see you. Anyone who saw me at the Geek-Mart, who really looked at what I was wearing, would have seen the truth of my brand in one nerdy swoop. At the last BLOGGERCONF, I was 80% Professional Adult, 20% Nerd – a Flash messenger bag and a Mario belt made up the difference. Why that ratio? Because while I sought to network with people, and to put my best self forward, I didn’t want there to be any nasty surprises for them in store later if they found out the truth. The reality, of course, is that I am a professional at what I do (at least on a value/integrity level, if not on a monetary-gain level). I read and write about business and marketing a fair amount. I discuss them with friends in my spare time. I have a consistent, non-nerdy brand spread across my social media. Anyone who sees me online can get the full picture pretty quickly, and that’s entirely beneficial to me.
Identity and Your Brand
Without getting into the existential nightmare of having you ask “Who Am I?”, we’re going to address your personal identity. If you’re thinking of branding in a business sense, think of the business as you. Treat it like a person. Ready? Think about the sort of person you want your audience/market to see you as. I don’t mean a fabrication. The person you want people to see should be you, but it should be the most accessible version of you there is. You want there to be no doubt what it is you believe in and stand for, what your values are.
Value is where this whole thing centres around. What are your personal values? What values does your brand stand for? That’s the nexus of your brand identity, and it’s what distinguishes you from the others around you. If you value precise, beautiful work, make it clear from the offset. If you value an eco-friendly work environment, make sure people can see that, too. (Pro-tip: a simple way of doing this is by including a notice for people to not necessarily print an email you send them. Many businesses include these in the footer of an email. The irony, of course, is that the text takes up so much space when people do print the emails, that they end up using more paper than they otherwise would have.)
For fiction writers, your values could relate to your genre. (Hence all the nerdy clothing and accessories.) For musicians, the sort of music you play and and type of instrument you use to play it. For artists, the style in which you draw or paint says a lot about your work, whether you want life-like imagery, or something that pops with fantastical character. How a business treats its staff says a lot about its values and its brand.
When you’ve understood your brand identity and values – and there are literally dozens of books and articles on the subject if you want more reading – then you need to think about other vital elements of maintaining your brand. Over the next few days, we’ll be looking brand consistency, networking, and social media. Until then,your thoughts, opinions, and recommended readings are welcome in the comments below.