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Now that you have established your brand’s beliefs and values, or the emotional, spiritual and cultural values addressed by your brand, it’s time to consider your brand’s benefits and attributes. And good news: step 2 is easier than step 1. Why? Because your beliefs and values are largely internal and sometimes difficult for your audience to ‘see.’ Benefits and attributes, however, are much easier to identify. They are the first things that your audience can perceive about you, and help form the audience’s original preference to ‘buy’ or identify with your brand.
Remember, the point of even having a brand is that you’re selling something. Whether it’s your value as a top-notch writer, your believability as an authority figure, or your strength as a starting pitcher, your brand will help — or harm — your sales pitch to your audience. So what are you selling?
Your Brand’s Benefits: the functional or emotional benefits that your brand delivers to your audience.
Your Brand’s Attributes: the features of your brand that are clearly demonstrable to your audience.
Your brand’s benefits can best be described as the ‘feel-good’ quality of your brand. What is it about working with you, buying your book, or listening to your advice that helps your audience to feel good? Many times these are perceptions rather than facts. In branding, however, perception often equals fact. Examples include:
–everybody likes her.
–she’s always right.
–everybody always laughs or smiles around her.
–people listen to her.
–she’s dependable. I’ve never seen her crumble at crunch time.
For example, a new reader goes to the bookstore. She sees your book on the bestseller rack. She picks up your book, and reads the words ‘New York Times Bestselling author’ on the cover. She buys your book, based in part on her belief that she will be reading an author who is a ‘proven success’ — therefore, she is a wise, savvy buyer.
What about you? What are the benefits does your brand bring to your audience? If you have difficulty with this one, ask a few close friends what they most like about being around you. Pay close attention to where their answers overlap. It could be you’re considered entertaining, or fun, or joyfuland your friends feel happier when you’re around. You could be considered thoughtful or intellectual and your friends (coworkers, students, colleagues) feel like they can engage in serious conversation when you’re on the scene. You could be considered caring or nurturing and your friends feel like you will take care of them when they have a problem. This remains true even when you feel under the weather or grouchy and it explains why your ‘Super-Mom’ brand will come back to haunt you on the day when you come down with the flu. No one expects you to falter, even when you’re spiking a fever–because that’s not your brand.
This is the easiest part of branding, which is a good thing. It is also the easiest to copy, which is not so good.
Your brand attributes are the basic features that your brand always demonstrates to your audience. If you’re a world-class model, it could be your long, lean legs and high cheekbones–beautiful on the runway, but the next leggy model who comes down the catwalk could unseat you if that’s all you have going for your brand. If you’re a writer of ‘fun, contemporary fiction,’ this will get you on the radar of readers in that they can classify you quickly and easily. But if you don’t offer emotional benefits (i.e., ‘she always makes me laugh’) and values (i.e., ‘she focuses on important subjects in a straightforward, caring but humorous way’) to really cement you in their minds, you’re in trouble. Your readers will move onto the next fun, contemporary fiction author as soon as they finish your book, rather than searching for your backlist, looking up your website, or pining for your next book.
Brand attributes for a published author can include the quality of her covers (even if she has no control over that), the tone of her work, her promotional materials, and even the types of publishers who publish her work. Brand attributes for an unpublished author can include the quality of her manuscript submissions, her appearance during pitches, her tone and writing style, and her persistence in getting in front of editors.
To recap, it may seem that I’ve gone from the most difficult (Brand Beliefs and Values) to the easiest (Brand Attributes), but to successfully brand yourself, that’s the path you should take. Anyone can wake up one morning and decide that she’s going to write like (insert multi-published author here)and proceed to copy the tone, dialogue style and pacing of their chosen author. But that won’t be ultimately successful, because there is no unique ‘brand’ for the copycat author. To have a meaningful brand, you must move from the inside-out, determining first the emotional, spiritual or cultural values addressed by your brand then moving to the emotional or functional benefits your brand provides to your audience, then focusing on one or two attributes (out of the many that your brand features) that really can sell your brand and your work.
In a later article, we’ll continue the Brand Promise concept and discuss how to leverage your promise for branding success. And of course, if you have any specific questions, please don’t hesitate to email me.