I. A Rose by Any Other Name
What is Branding?
Branding is something we humans have been doing to show ownership forever. Some of the earliest depictions of humans branding livestock were carved into a tomb wall in Egypt four thousand years ago.
In the days of the old American West, a rancher would burn the same mark onto the hides of all his cattle. This brand mark, usually a symbol, letter, character or number, served as a simple means of identifying the cattle as belonging to the rancher, and discouraged others from taking and using the animal for their own purposes.
Today we don't use red hot irons to stamp our mark on our belongings -- we have label-making tape, Sharpies, and the heart-shaped tattoo for that -- but the brand lives on, and has become the keystone of successful modern marketing.
According to the American Marketing Association, a brand is a "name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers."
Two phrases here are the keys to effective branding: "to identify the goods and services" and "to differentiate them from those of other sellers." Or, in other words, define what you've got, and how it's different from what everyone else has.
II. Hello, I Love You, Won't You Tell Me Your Name?
To create a brand, you need a brand name that instantly identifies you to the consumer. The brand can be your name or pseudonym, the title of a book or series, or something closely related to you and/or the work you do.
Acronyms, or words formed from the initial letters of a group of words, can be effective brands. ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), IBM (International Business Machines), PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), and RWA (Romance Writers of America) are all well-recognized acronym brands.
When you have a lengthy brand name, or a name not likely to be remembered, a clever acronym may be the way to go (which is why I've used PBW as both a personal and blog brand; it's easier to remember and to use than Paperback Writer, or all 486 of my pseudonyms.)
Abbreviated, coined and recombined words also make excellent brands. Microsoft (microcomputer software), FedEx (Federal Express), iPod (internet podium, I think), and Mac (MacIntosh computer). The uniqueness of this type of brand has differentiation built into it, which is why I like them a lot -- StarDoc and Darkyn, two of my coined series names, have been my most successful brands.
III. What Makes You So Hot?
Everyone and their brother writes vampire fiction these days, but few stand out in my mind. Why? No branding. Having a great title is not enough; there are at least fifty other authors with great titles hitting the shelf at the same time as your books. A vampire fiction writer needs something that makes their book stand out from all the others being thrown at the reader. It should be a brand that will jog the readers' memory when the next novel is released, so there has to be some common connection, too.
Look at some of the brand names that are already out there on the market:
Black Dagger Brotherhood (J.R. Ward)
The Carpathians (Christine Feehan)
The Vampire Chronicles (Anne Rice)
Vampyricon (Douglas Clegg)
What do we all have in common? Unique brand names that 1) define our series, 2) connect our books, and 3) don't sound interchangeable. When you put together a brand name, you want to create something that becomes as synonymous with your vampire fiction as "Buffy" is with the television series.
Start by making lists of single words that relate to you, your work, the type of story you tell, your voice, and anything else you feel sets you apart from other writers and can be strongly defined. Use an online thesaurus to pull in synonyms, or search old poetry, song lyrics and prose for phrase inspiration. Play with the words you find and see what you can come up with.
IV. Only a Harley is a Harley
I am not a marketing guru; I only play one here at the blog. But I have (informally) studied marketing for years, and I've watched what works. The right word or phrase can make all the difference. And a strong, creative brand name is like having a personal publicist who never sleeps.
One final thought on how a brand can impact many things, including customer expectations:
The impact of brands can be powerful, signaling positive or negative value to customers and other constituencies. All else being equal, a strong brand enables a company to command a premium price for a product or have higher market share when charging the same price as a competitor. In other words, brands have the power to "shift demand." For example, Harley-Davidson, which is an extremely strong brand in the motorcycle market, can charge up to three times the price of a competitor's product for a motorcycle with essentially the same engineering quality and performance characteristics as imitations. Moreover, Harley customers are willing to wait for months for a motorcycle, simplifying the company's inventory management. Only a Harley is a Harley. -- The Ultimate Intangible: Measuring and Managing Brands as Strategic Assets by Kenneth Roberts and Eric Almquist
Search for acronyms and abbreviations at Abbreviations.com.
BrandChannel.com, "the world's only online exchange about branding."
Creating a Unique Brand Name by Martin Jelsema
Snopes.com debunks the myth behind the three most valuable brand names on Earth.
The Reality of Brands: Toward an Ontology of Marketing by Wolfgang Grassl