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.

 

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34 Comments

[...] relates to Christianity

[...] relates to Christianity or even readers in general, I get uncomfortable. I have written about this before, as well as the branding that goes along with [...]

Thank you, Steve. Your blog

Thank you, Steve. Your blog has been a great help to me in this process, I appreciate the advice you guys give over there.
I am indebted to Starr Meade's book on teaching the catechism to your kids.

That's very kind, Eric, but

That's very kind, Eric, but no apology needed. And I thought your tone was gracious.

Thanks for the

Thanks for the response.

Honestly, I only read your post once before posting that reply, and upon reading it again, I understood your point more clearly.

I apologize for the ungracious tone of my first reply too. I get fired up about how kingdom building and best practices in business are compatible.

If you get a chance, you should check out Michael Hyatt's site. He has a lot of good material (from a Christian perspective) on how to build a publishing platform.

Eric, a careful reading of

Eric, a careful reading of Aimee's piece shows she nowhere said marketing is inherently bad. Not sure where you got that. She did say that there is a tension between appropriate promotion and inappropriate promotion. And she did it quite well, too.

Blessings,
Tim

Exactly, Steve. And by the

Exactly, Steve. And by the way, I have really benefitted as a reader of your blog. Thanks for all the writing and publishing advice!
Starr Meade's books have been much appreciated in our household (love the one that helps us do the Catechism devotionals!).

Thanks for your thoughts,

Thanks for your thoughts, Eric. This is good dialogue. Perhaps I didn't communicate well enough that I am in no way against marketing and promotion. I certainly intend to market and promote my book. They are neither bad nor good, but I am wrestling with some of the methods. Method does carry a message with it. Some of the language used in these strategies reveals what we may think about the reader. I find it a bit dehumanizing. As I am needing to think about these issues more, I'm kind of wrestling out loud to you guys.
I appreciate the push back, though. I think we are on the same page.

Excellent thoughts. This is

Excellent thoughts. This is one of the biggest challenges for our agency's clients.

I often answer with the unoriginal statement "Branding is for cattle."

Looks like your book may be in the same P&R catalog with our client Starr Meade. Congratulations!

Great! I look forward to

Great! I look forward to reading it.

I'm glad to see that your

I'm glad to see that your kingdom-building book will be published. I disagree with the general perspective of this post though.

By focusing on the connotations of words such as "brand strategy", "tribes" and "marketing" versus their actual meanings in practice, you miss how those concepts and ideas can be purposefully and graciously utilized.

As a Christian writer and business person myself, I do understand why there is a backlash against marketing, "corporate best practices", and what have you. In America, megacorporations have been exerting tremendous and usually poisonous influence over people for far too long and everyone knows it.

However, to imply, such as in this post, that "marketing" -- and in this case marketing in today's inter-connected cyber world -- is inherently bad fails to recognize that it's the *message* (or the product) and not the marketing that should be judged.

For example, I honestly believe that your book contains a powerful, godly message that people will be encouraged and trained by. So, that being the case, wouldn't you *want* people to have access to the message since it's something good?

Let's replace the word "marketing" with "sharing the message". Let's replace "comprehensive brand strategy" with "how to tell this story." Let's replace "tribe" with "my ministry field."

The methods for distributing an idea that have evolved with the internet are not inherently bad. I think it's a shame when authors dismiss them -- sometimes because they don't think they work and sometimes because they believe it makes them look more genuine and less hungry for sales. Again though, if you believe people will benefit from your idea, then wouldn't you want to promote it?

At the end of the day, praise God for your gift of writing and may He continue to work through it!

Jim, I think you are pointing

Jim, I think you are pointing out an important question that every author needs to consider. What am I willing to do to get my book out there, and what am I not willing to do? This question comes with sacrifice on both ends of the decision.

Thanks, Matt. It's really a

Thanks, Matt. It's really a challenge for the author, because with the passion and work that you have put into your book, you definitely want to make it known. You wrote it for people to read it. But you make a good point that self-promotion can just come off as annoying and distasteful. And it can be just as manipulating to se authors teaming up and promoting one another.
Responding to your comment has given me an idea for another post. I'll try to have it up for Monday.

Great post, really great. The

Great post, really great. The things people are trying to do with twitter as pertains to their books and writing and marketing themselves are in some cases borderline insanity. I would rather have a small but growing group of people who have actually read my book and are persuaded in their conscience about the key ideas than millions of people tricked into being influenced by some strange marketing trick. Thanks!

I really like this post. So

I really like this post. So much of "building a platform," etc., seems self-promoting (and annoying). I suppose some of that is necessary, but it's still pretty distasteful to me most of the time.

Good point about not wanting

Good point about not wanting to be type cast as an author, Amber. I agree. My passion is theology for the lay person, but I don't want to be limited by a label.

Thank you, Sarah. I am so

Thank you, Sarah. I am so pleased to hear how other writers are struggling and dealing with these issues as well. I do want to give the "gurus" credit for all the leg work and advice they give. I have learned some valuable info. from them. And yet, we can't just take every word they say out of fear of missing out. Discernment!

Thank you for this post! I am

Thank you for this post! I am a writer and I struggle with this greatly. It's perhaps why I haven't taken my writing "career" to the next level. I've published three books, but haven't become the brand a publisher would want me to. The problem I experience with being a "brand" is that none of us are as one-dimensional as the marketing gurus would hope us to be. I wrote a book on a Christian response to poverty, so it would be smart for me to market myself as that woman who writes on poverty. But I just can't do it. I also have a passion for women's issues and cooking and fashion and the Bible. Those don't fit nicely into a tribe on poverty, and I haven't been wiling to give in to the game of marketing myself as this person or that person when it wouldn't be genuine. So, yes, this is a struggle for me, a struggle I have not found a solution to. (Sorry, I don't think this is a helpful comment at all, this was just me sighing along with you.)

Hi Aimee, I am so taken with

Hi Aimee, I am so taken with your post - grateful for your insight and directness. (Congrats on the publisher by the way. That's a feat and a blessing.) It also helps me to check myself, continually to work to find the balance between sincere sharing and putting forward my book.
Navigating the world of social networking is difficult enough without voices telling us precisely what will and will not work. I like to think of this whole thing as one-to-one with an audience. Being authentic, transparent, shameless but for the purpose of growing familiar with one another.... yet knowing a world of others may be tuned into the 'station' as well.
About a year ago I began blogging and fb/twitter for the sake of promoting my book. I find now that people are far more 'real' than I ever expected and I love it! At the same time I don't like self promotion. So, what occurs to me is to partner up with another someone who likes my work and I theirs and we can support one another. Too simplistic I suppose, but ideally that'd be perfect for me.
Again, thanks for your insights. Sometimes I feel like 'being a brand' is easier - a concept as well as a person - to convey. Other times I wish I could simply bless and much as I'm blessed by others.

"... a tightrope of

"... a tightrope of terror."

As a dad of a daughter who just left her teens, I can totally relate!

It is a gift, indeed! And

It is a gift, indeed!

And thank you for your sweet words, but I'm no expert in that arena. I cringe every time I post, because I don't want anyone to think I am. You know, mothering a teenage girl can be a tightrope of terror!

AMEN!!!!!!

AMEN!!!!!!

That is such a gift, Melissa.

That is such a gift, Melissa. And you need to write a "fighting for your girls" book.

Oooh, great last line!

Oooh, great last line!

"if we are passionately

"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."

Aahh! It has taken me a long time to reach this point. I started blogging with the sole purpose of wanting to "reach women" and having a "big ministry" (sad, but true). I was not wise in my blogging for the first 3 years (well, not AS wise...though I hardly consider myself wise now!) Still, as the Lord has change my life over the past 3 years, He has also changed the way I blog. I have since found a circle of like-minded women that has been far more beneficial to me than if I'd become a published author or sought-after speaker.

Wonderful post. I'm familiar

Wonderful post. I'm familiar with the writers and marketers that you refer to and stopped following them a few months ago. Around that time I also wrote a post talking about being true to the work God gives you to do rather than trying to do what the experts say will work to gain "followers." (Yes, I know I just promoted myself...and it makes me feel a little weird)

I think there are more of us than we realize-people who don't want to be a "brand" or have a "tribe" or (worse) "peeps." If God calls us to do something that is, by necessity, public, I do think we have to keep reading what the experts say. There are still a few people I follow, but I take what they say and filter it through what I know God calls me to do. If the two dovetail, fine, but if not, God's call trumps chasing a Google-ranking every time.

Thanks, Tim, and that's a

Thanks, Tim, and that's a great line. There's been skepticism about whether the internet provides true community. While I certainly couldn't borrow a cup of sugar from you guys, or offer you a meal when your family is sick, I think that we do respond to a sense of friendship and service in a different way. Sharpening one another's minds, pointing to Christ, sharing ideas and resources...valuable stuff.
One thing that led me to write my book was that I was lacking "best conversation" in the new community of friends that I made when we moved. I thought a discipleship tool would be helpful. And I have found that I also have this community of readers and thinkers close at hand as the gems of cyberspace.

Marketing doesn't bother me.

Marketing doesn't bother me. I write for a lot of reasons: honoring God, getting my thought out coherently so I know better what I think, helping others to see God in their lives and the world around them, etc. But I also know, as you've said here Aimee, that getting the word out about the writing is part of all the reasons I'm writing on a blog. If I didn't have anything to say, I'd have a box full of journals that no one would ever read.

On the "tribe" thing, that word has grated on me from the first time I read it in the publishing/blogging context. I don't want to build a tribe at my place. I want to provide a place where people feel they can drop by and set a spell. I like community. I don't feel much like trying to lead a tribe of anything. Just some good conversation, please. In fact, Jane Austen described what I'd love to see develop on my blog, when she wrote this discussion between Anne Elliot and her cousin:

"My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company."

"You are mistaken," said he gently; "that is not good company; that is the best."

Happily, that's exactly what I find whenever I visit here at HWT, Aimee.

Tim

Speaking of Gloria Furman,

Speaking of Gloria Furman, she's got a guest post going up at my place tomorrow. Do I feel blessed or what!

Kendra, yes I was there.

Kendra, yes I was there. Gloria noted that in the line of books we are writing, that we need to think of it as God that we are promoting...
That is certainly true; that's what led me to write my book after all. But I am also promoting myself as an author. There are plenty of books out there that aim to glorify God. Why is mine worth buying and reading?
I do believe there is a place for marketing and promoting--a necessary one. I love promoting other people's stuff that I would endorse, but am very uncomfortable promoting my own. I agree with Jessalyn that it is a fine line to balance.
I'm not really sure how to pull it off well, so I'm just being honest. I think I will stumble here and there. One thing that has been a delightful surprise to me is the wonderful community of people online--I think we can help encourage one another and hold each other accountable in this way. If I start coming off as a huckster, let me know!!! My girlfriends had a line when someone was being slimy, "Get out the salt!"

I really appreciated this.

I really appreciated this. I've struggled watching some bloggers I follow get writing deals and then turn into shameless self-promoters, all the while knowing that if I had the opportunity, I could easily fall into the same trap. I would love to hear more of your thoughts on how it can be done well - can it? Any sort of self-promotion seems counter-Biblical, but then we live in a world where everything is about marketing and social networking. I struggled with this when I was self-employed, and continue to wonder how to appropriately use things like blogging, facebook and twitter to the glory of God and not to the glory of Kendra.

I remember Gloria Furman being asked a question along these lines at a breakout at the TGC Women's conference, but I missed her answer because I had to step out with a fussy baby. :) Did you attend that session?

On another note, I am really looking forward to your book and hoping it will be a resource within my specific community. Blessings to you!

I like how you put that,

I like how you put that, Kathryn--relational-driven. I am excited about the women in our presbytery connecting more in this way!

Hi Aimee: This post made me

Hi Aimee: This post made me think of our recent coversations about women's ministry, both within our own churches and at the presbytery level. I am passionately pursuing my desire to see authentic, intimate relationships build and grow among and between women. I recognize that my desire is God-given and that He providentially directed my steps to find and interact with you - another person who shares a similar desire. By God's grace I strive (and am learning) to be relational driven - not task driven; I think we then experience peace and satisfaction with what we find, rather than bitterness and disappointment.

Thank you, Jessalyn. You make

Thank you, Jessalyn. You make some good points--it is very much a struggle and one that we need to wrestle with in prayer.

Oh man, I love this post. It

Oh man, I love this post. It is so true. In the end I think you can tell through content and social media interactions what the writer/blogger is trying to do: get their message out or build a product. I also think that there is fine line between using social media well and getting caught in the self-worship trap and simply seeking "followers." It is a difficult wire to balance on when it seems like social media breeds this kind of mentality because you are by the very nature of social media saying that your words are worthy to be heard... Anyway, this is something that I want to be on guard against and fervently pray that the Holy Spirit leads me to seek his glory and not my own. Thanks for the encouragement and for being and example of someone who is seeking to write and interact on the web with integrity. Also-congratulations on the book deal! That is awesome. I look forward to reading it.