I'm Not a Brand
I wrote this article a little while after signing my first book contract. About a year after it was published, a friend asked me if I regret writing the article. I can honestly say that I don't. As a matter of fact, I stand behind it even more now. Sure, I participate in marketing and think others should as well. But we should struggle with our methods, we shouldn't take ourselves too seriously, and we should always remember we are human beings and so are the people reading our books.
I'm bringing this all up because today's Mortification of Spin podcast got me thinking about it again. I certainly have a hard time admitting regrets. One thing that helps is to distinguish between brand and reputation. If I am being tempted and pulled into the branding ideas that the market spins, I will not want to admit regrets. It damages the brand. But if I am concerned about my reputation, particularly as an ambassador of Christ, then it is a no-brainer. People aren't brands.
It's also wonderful news because we can express regrets and say we are sorry, even when we fall for the hype. So after originally posting this on March 13, 2013, I am reminded again of it's truth today:
So I wrote a book. Amazingly, I found someone good who wants to publish it. But I’m finding that authors these days need to be a lot more than good writers. Some people say, “I don’t care if my book isn’t a ‘best seller.’ If it really helps one person to know the Lord better, it will be worth it.” That’s not me. I’ve spent way too much valuable time on this project to settle for one better life. My goals are bigger. I want women to get passionate about theology. A lot of women. I want to improve the quality of our conversations. I want to facilitate an avenue for mentoring to blossom in our churches from high school age all the way to 93-year-old Buella. I want to help equip women—more than one. Hopefully the Lord will bless my work.
If you want to get your book out there, marketing is essential. So I’ve recently began “following” a few people on Twitter that write about how authors can better use social media to communicate their work to a broader audience. They have blue checks next to their names, so they must be pretty important. Some of them have “difference maker” on their profile, or “NY Times best seller.” I have to tell you that some of their vocabulary creeps me out.
I’m sure their methods are beneficial. But after reading a handful of articles, I come away feeling cheapened. I mean, how would you feel as a reader of my blog if you knew that I read an article yesterday referring to my readers as my “tribe”? In one word, you’ve been reduced from a free-thinking, human being to someone to manipulate. Sure, I have my favorite authors, but I don’t want to be in anyone’s tribe.
Another article encouraged me to have a comprehensive brand strategy. All the sudden, I also feel less than a thinking human being with worth, and more like a victim of the infamous “hot” or “not” site. I’m not a pair of shoes, I’m an author. Sure, people are buying more than my book. When I buy a new workout DVD, the trainer’s personality makes a difference in my workout. Same with writers. But we still have to be careful about making the person the product. And then there’s the language about leadership. Many of my blog readers are also bloggers, writers, or leaders in their church. As leaders of different sorts, honesty is important. No one wants a huckster for a leader. So I was taken aback when I read these two sentences next to one another:
While leadership and marketing are both about influence, leadership is influence without self-interest. This is what makes leadership the most powerful kind of marketing possible.
How contradictory is that? The article ended with this question:
How do you see leadership changing in this new era?
According to this article, I would say it’s becoming a manipulative marketing tool instead of a positive influence. So when these social media advisors tell me to indiscriminately go fishing for Twitter followers and Facebook fans, not to bother moderating any comments on my blog, and treat my website as a writing lab, I don’t want to be in their tribe. It just makes me feel desperate. Especially when the same article ends with, “be authentic, they can smell a phony a mile away!” I do believe that last line. I don’t want to question the motives of these consultants, I just feel like social media may be confusing the people with the machine a bit. I think part of the answer is in the Jerry McGuire mission statement:
And now we get to the answer that Dicky Fox knew years ago. The answer is fewer clients. Less dancing. More truth. We must crack open the tightly clenched fist of commerce and give a little back for the greater good. Eventually revenues will be the same, and that goodness will be infectious. We will have taken our number oneness and turned it into something greater. And eventually smaller will become bigger, in every way, and especially in our hearts. Forget the dance. Focus. Learn who these people are. That is the stuff of your relationship. That is what will matter. It is inevitable, at our current size, to keep many athletes from leaving anyway. People always respond best to personal attention, it is the simplest and easiest truth to forget.
It also reminds me of a C.S. Lewis essay called "The Inner Ring." If we are striving to be in a certain ring, we are missing the point. But if we are passionately pursuing the ways to use our gifts and share them with others, we will find ourselves already in a circle with like-minded people. So we need to be discerning about what we are marketing and whom we are marketing to. I am a person, not a brand. I am marketing my book, even more so, the thoughts in my book. And my readers are also people whom I care about. I am serving them, not the other way around. You are more than a tribe. Circles form, but they are interactive. They organically move, expand and contract. But they don’t need to be fear-based. So I respectfully ask the marketing gurus to quit trying to draw the circle for us.