“Value of Voice to Branding”
“That’s Charli Mills, the country western singer,” my friend announced to the young man behind the desk at the Iroquois Hotel. We were in NYC to present at a marketing communications conference. I don’t sing.
Yet the young man looked at my name, began to nod as if he recognized it and said, “I have your CD.” As we walked away my friend smiled broadly and said, “You have the best name for a country western singer ever, Charli Mills.”
And she would know. Not because she’s in the music industry but because my friend is one of the top brand marketers in the nation — a published author on the subject and a successful launcher of store and product brands. She understands the importance of details, consistency and, of course, perception.
Our joke is based on the perception of my name. When we first met 15 years ago, she later confessed to me that she went home to her husband and insisted that with a name like Charli Mills, I had to be a country western singer!
While I don’t sing, I do know the power of voice.
In Decoding the Writer’s Platform: Part II, we discussed branding and how my own brand evolved around my name into a persona of a buckaroo writer. My story is simple — I went from riding horses to writing stories. It’s a catchy way to introduce my bio that might otherwise read like every other writer’s bio (education, career, publication). It also gives me a playful tagline: “Wrangling words for people, roping stories for novels,” and creates a fun way to build a literary community on a “ranch.”
However, my brand also has a voice. It’s playful, welcoming, encouraging and positive. The heart of my writer’s voice is a reflection of my personal journey to write into my truth. I seek to observe, understand, explore and imagine. How I arrange my words, punctuation and vocabulary selection is the expression of my voice. My voice infuses the stories I choose to tell.
A writer’s voice is unique. Think of it as the ingredients and mix of your cupcake — it’s what develops your unique flavor. Voice is also part of your craft. If you make sloppy cupcakes (careless misspellings, lack of punctuation style, heedless of story structure) your branding will reflect how readers perceive you. Yet if you are too rigid and always follow the exact recipe for common cupcakes (essays, posts, stories) you will not create anything distinct.
As a writer, voice is more important than having a cool logo or a fun image.
Therefore, you need to know your craft, yet cultivate your own voice. If you understand that you abandon specific rules of commas you have choices: learn the rules, hire an editor or accept that it’s part of your style. Only you can decide which is best, but know that it impacts your readers.
Let’s pause a moment for an example of how craft choices shape voice. I just wrote, “know that it impacts your readers.” I did not write, “know that it effects your readers.” Because of word confusion, I learned to substitute. I rarely ever think of effect anymore; impact has become entrenched in my lexicon. And countless editors have accepted my word substitution. It’s part of my voice, and is based on my understanding of my own use of language.
To know your voice is to know yourself. You are your brand. See how this connects?
When it comes to your brand, branding and voice, you will read this consistent principle over and over:
Authenticity is key to opening the door to a rock solid writer’s platform. It’s cliche in the sense that it is a common truth. This is one cliche you need to adhere to as a writer no matter what your goals are. It’s a guiding principle to all relationships. At any given component in the writer’s platform, a lack of authenticity can make readers distrust who you are (branding), shut down (community), cast doubt upon what you write (credibility) and diminish your readership (audience).
Be who you are or build the credible persona of you as a writer.
The latter does not mean create a false identity (that’s not authentic). Just as a person creates a professional identity as a lawyer, teacher, dentist or dog groomer, so can you create a writer’s identity. This is for the writer who wants to maintain a measure of privacy. You would decide which attributes about yourself to share. You could generalize personal information — share that you live in the Pacific Northwest rather than Elmira, Idaho.
In order to connect with others (branding, community, credibility and audience), you need to reveal enough of your authentic self to be a real person. Think about your favorite author. The more you liked your favorite’s books, most likely, the more you wanted to know about this author as a person. Every book has an author’s bio for this reason.
Your level of intimacy with your readers becomes a part of your voice. Remember that because if you are distant with your personal details and all of the sudden you begin posting about your messy divorce, readers will react to the change as if you began yelling. However, some writers do yell! It’s part of some writers’ voices. Know yours and use it consistently to portray who you are.
If you want to be in control of your brand, be in control of your voice. Branding becomes a shared experience with other people you interact with and they will come to expect an authentic experience.
What does “used across all media mean”? It means that you set up all your public places with the same shingle. Back to cupcakes. If you want to distinguish your cupcake from others, have a brand that others will recognize as your cupcake. Think of your public social media, your website, your author’s page (in your book or on Amazon, Goodreads or indie distribution points), your press releases, your guest-post bios, your book-signing posters, etc. as your retail space. If you are selling your cupcake, make sure you are recognized across all forms of media. This includes your voice.
A well-known writer will have a recognizable voice.
Even masters can’t replicate another writer’s voice. Robert Jordan set out to write a 12-book series called the Wheel of Time. His untimely death occurred after he published Book 11. He was a masterful story-teller and a NY Times Best-seller many times over. He left behind notes and unfinished scenes for Book 12. His wife and editor hired another master and NY Times Best-seller, Brandon Sanderson, to complete the series. He actually turned Book 12 into a trilogy and he wrote to Robert Jordan’s readers:
“I cannot replace Robert Jordan. Nobody could write this book as well as he could have. That is a simple fact…I have not tried to imitate Mr. Jordan’s style. Instead, I’ve adapted my style to be appropriate to the Wheel of Time.”
Only a writer who knows his own voice could have accomplished what Brandon Sanderson did. He knew he could never copy Robert Jordan, but he could adapt. As a reader, Book 12 is noticeably different. However, the plot and characters continue and it’s a better alternative than to never knowing the end of a story that size!
Voice is an important consideration as you build your brand or apply your branding. Here are some useful questions to ask yourself as you examine your branding or build it:
- Do you have a writer’s bio?
- Do you consistently use your writer’s bio across all media?
- Where do you practice your voice?
- What is unique about your writing and can you describe it?
- How do others describe your writing voice?
While we are not yet to the application part of this series (which is marketing, or expanding your writer’s platform) it can be helpful to consider your current state of branding. It is, after all, the bedrock of your platform. Without an identity, how can you engage community, build credibility and attract audience?
Some writers are uncertain about naming a website or blog. Should it be your name? It can be. If all you want to do is build name recognition, use your name as you want it identified. My name is Annette Marie Mills. No kidding. My nicknames include Netsie, Nan and Charli. And I have a maiden name. Holy buckets, how did I ever pick a name from that jumble? I went with what I’m most comfortable with and I’ve consistently used one name, no initials, for over 15 years.
But you are reading this at CarrotRanch.com, not CharliMills.com. Carrot Ranch was originally my business name and it evolved into a literary community. My name is a landing page on this website, and I own this digital real estate so I can apply different tactics to use that page according to my own goals.
My second active blog is Elmira Pond Spotter. It is named not for an author or a business, but as a publication. That blog has no pages; it is strictly my place to practice my voice through creative non-fiction. It is my brand of story-telling. However, my personal photo is the same one used here, as my gravatar, on my FB page, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and for my writer’ headshot. Same with my bio. Carrot Ranch doesn’t reach across all my media, but is linked to all my media, including my email signature. That’s branding in action
If you have a website through WordPress, Weebly, Wix, Blogger or others, then you have valuable real estate that you own. Social media is like renting. You rent a spot for your brand on G+, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and more. You can’t control your branding there beyond consistently applying your brand.
However, you can control your own website or blog. You own that space. Use it to build your brand.
- Is it a place for you to communicate or share your writing? Then treat it like a publication and give it a title.
- Is it a place to attract clients for your freelancing on the side? Then name it like a business.
- Is it your author’s platform to attract an agent or readers to your book? Then give it your name.
Your website pages are where you build your branding based on your brand. You can set up a landing page for different purposes. You can establish categories for your blog posts. Or, you can set up pages to house different categories of writing. It is flexible and you own it. Shape your website around who you are as a writer and what your goals are.
Let your voice be heard. Let your voice be your branding spokesperson.