Branding is a marketing buzzword in indie publishing these days.
On the surface it makes a lot of sense. If you can find something that encapsulates your work and can be manipulated so that whenever people see it, they think about your work, even on some subterranean level, the possibility that they will at some point down the line actually buy your books becomes more likely.
So: a good thing – in theory.
In practice though, not quite so simple.
There are some writers who seem to be trying this, but are trying it in such a way as to completely defeat the purpose.
Branding is mainly thought of in visual terms, and I suppose that’s reasonable, because we are very much a visual culture, so it stands to reason that we’ll come to associate a certain “look” with a product/writer output. So, okay: a logo, a style, a consistency of form: it makes sense.
But problematically, a few writers have decided to use some incredibly substandard but popular visual looks to “brand” their work.
There is a site someplace (don’t ask me, I never went there) where you could pick some cartoony-esque drawings and add captions and then throw them up on social media to – I don’t know , make some kind of statement or point or observation or something.
It was madly popular for about a month and then thankfully dropped into an abyss somewhere.
But on my Twitterfeed, there are a couple/four writers who have decided that this is the very thing that will get them where they want to go, branding-wise, and use these cartoon images to post updates on them, their books, their process, their philosophy of writing.
Now, there are a few things wrong with this.
One is that unless the “branding style” actually matches your books on some deeper level (ie – dovetails with your cover art or adequately conveys the sense of your books’ tone, intent and content) it might defeat the purpose entirely. If a reader goes looking to buy based on the idea that your brand is “cartoon”, and you actually write dark, disturbed tales of woe and dystopia, they might buy something, sure, but they will never, ever trust you again.
But the other thing is that these cartoons are really awful.
The art is pedestrian, dull, and uninspired. It’s bad art. It’s not bad art in the sense that things don’t look like what they should. It’s bad art because it is unfailingly bland. It speaks of the timid – it suggests that the brand you might be selling is “Don’t rock the boat.”
It’s also kind of ugly, in a wholly unobjectionable way. Cartoonists have made some terrific strips using what might, in other contexts, be considered incredibly ugly art, but manage to merge it all seamlessly with the content in ways that work so brilliantly that one cannot imagine any other art paired with that content.
Using a boring and tasteless branding style that is not in any way unique; that is, in fact, almost fascistically “average”, and so generic as to make Kellogg’s Cornflakes appear in the light of the exotic and spicy, seems a really poor advertisement for your creative skills.
Moreover, using a branding style that a) was briefly on every Facebook wall from here to Ethiopia and b) smacks of pre-teen, flash-in-the-pan trendiness, seems unlikely to gain readers. The adults who had a modicum of taste were bored by the trend the first time one of those cartoons appeared, and the preteens and mindless fashion zombies who were addicted to it for a mere four weeks before moving on now see the whole thing as antiquated, behind the times and “so last week”.
Branding is supposed to set you apart from the herd. In a good way. Indelibly marking yourself as not only unable to generate ideas for yourself, but as hopelessly behind the times, does not strike me as a brand most readers are looking for. The reader might not want the groundbreaking, the on-the-edge, the uncomfortable – but they like to pretend to themselves and their friends that that is what they are there for.
It’s a rare reader who admits outright that what they want is potato chips for their mind. They at least want to believe that what they read is original, striking, one-of-a-kind, even if they are reading a simple, life-affirming, flinch-free romance where the conflict centres solely on just when the hero will ask the heroine to set a date for the inevitable wedding.
They want the illusion of new and different, even when they know full well they are reading the same book over and over, with the names and the hair colours changed.
Branding via a publicly open and widely used mock-up cartoon site that any of your readers could access themselves – one that several authors are already doing this exact same thing with, all over the ‘net – well, the brand you might be selling is “I cannot be arsed to even try”.
Not the brand I would want to be associated with.