What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, "hooray for our side"

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Manifestos and Misunderstandings

As linked to everywhere, Maureen Johnson writes a manifesto.

First, I come to praise Maureen. Yes. What she said. No, I'm not going to repost it here, go read it and give Maureen the page view love she deserves for this. What she writes in her manifesto statement is true, true, true.

Except for her last statement. And here I come to bury Maureen Johnson. Well, no, not really. But I do mean to correct her.

See, "branding" which creates "brands" is not what she thinks it is (or what the people she's encountered think it is). Product is not brand. Let me say that again, your product is not your brand. And brand is very important. Especially if you do have something to sell. And it's worth saying again, your product is not your brand.

The confusion here comes from outdated terminology. Most people know "brand names" and then equate that with "brand." These days they aren't referred to "brand names." They are called "trade names." Names that you trade your brand on. Names you can trademark.

So, since she used the example in her post, what is Coke's brand? Coke's brand is not brown, fizzy, sugar water. It's "refreshing." If it was just BFSW, you would have New Coke and that's it. Coke sells a multitude of products, including clear fizzy sugar water and just plain water. Plus, Pepsi sells BFSW. If that was their brand it would get awfully confusing in the market place. Also, Pepsi's brand is "Youthfulness."

If Toyota's brand was "Corrolla", this past half year would be nothing. Change "Corrolla" to "Sirus" and be done. However, Toyota's brand actually is "reliability and safety." That is why this past year's recalls are such a big thing.

What is Axe's brand? It isn't personal care products. It's "You'll get the girl." And this is why their latest advertising for their new product (underarm antiperspirant) isn't working (the agency got confused from their hair care products campaign). In the new commercial, the guy doesn't get the girl. AdFAIL.

So, as writers, what is our brand? Our brand is our industry, entertainment. If being entertaining isn't part of your brand as a writer, you're possibly doomed. However, many writers have expanded brands.

Stephen King is "entertaining gothic horror set in the modern world."

John Scalzi is "entertaining, accessibly written space opera" (which is why The God Engines is working for him, while I haven't read the full book, the abstract he posted reads like space opera with the SF part supplied by magic (fantasy)).

Steven Brust is "entertaining word play." This is how he can get away with such different works under his same name (including the Dumas riffs). It's also why I didn't toss his books aside when Vlad left Cawti. Also, the tone of the Vlad books has changed, drastically, but I still keep buying them.

Jim Hines just modified his brand and did it successfully. And if you read his blog you could see him struggle with it as he wrote Stepsister Scheme.

What Maureen is railing against are hucksters. And I agree, you shouldn't act that way. As Wil Weaton says, "Don't be a dick." Be entertaining, be accessible, be genuine, and be yourself. If people like you, they'll hopefully like what you produce. Battering them about the head and shoulders with it isn't the way to make sales or build your brand.


Dr. Phil (Physics) said...

My favorite single line:
"And I’m not saying the other woman IMMEDAITELY (sic) went off and clubbed a baby seal, but I have no evidence to the contrary, so let’s say no more about it."

Dr. Phil

Steve Buchheit said...

That was a good one, Dr. Phil. The sarcasm part of her describing the panel is delicious.

Elizabeth said...

Yep. Maureen does have a brand - it comes across in the tone of her posts, her bio, and presumably the style of her books.

But I agree with her on how not to promote one's brand. Yuck.

Steve Buchheit said...

You hit the post on the head, Elizabeth. That's the Catch-22 of branding. By stating, "I am not a brand," she had branded herself that way. What she really meant to say is, "I am not my book." But that again is the confusion some people have between brand and product. They can't seem to separate the emotion/impression (what is the "brand") from the product. And that's why advertisers make so much money.