Yeah!!! Michelle Newcome is back with her fabulous post on Branding… Check it out!!!
Are You Good At Math?
Can you sum up yourself? Me, I’m terrible at math – I much prefer words. I’m good at math until about third grade, then I fall apart and have to pass the children off to their father. Recently I was helping my first grader with his math homework. He had a big sheet of paper and his assignment was to fill it with as many different ways as he could think of to arrive at the number 6. Right off the bat (because I’m quick on the uptake) I said, “four plus two” then, really zinging along, I added “two plus two plus two.” I sat back in the kitchen chair, feeling as though I’d really helped – the homework was done and we could move on to writing a poem or a story – something with words!
For the next half-hour my son filled that paper with more ways to arrive at 6 than I would ever have dreamed up. My favorite was seven minus one.
Summation is a skill set entirely unto itself. How do you reduce something to the absolute essence of itself? Then, how do you communicate that essence clearly and evocatively? (You know I’m going to link this to branding in some crazy way, right? And you’re patient enough to hang out until I do, right?) Taking a set of expectations (you can get the numeral six in many different ways) and then tweaking them by adding, subtracting and dividing is pure alchemical magic to me. Mostly because I can’t do it. I have a “block” about math – so my husband claims. I could be a summation master if only I’d allow myself to be. Right. Whenever he pulls that poppycock on me I tell him to sit down and write a poem. Can’t? Must have a block!
So, I can’t sum. But what I can do is imagine. I have an MFA in Poetry (perhaps the most useless degree in the history of academics) which means I spent five years cranking out poem after poem after poem. And what fuels poetry?
The mother of all sums – the hunt for the one perfect image. The distillation of human experience. What picture can words make that will ultimately yield the core of truth? The essence of humanity? Two roads diverged? A red wheelbarrow? A plum? A bell jar? A lock of hair?
But how to arrive at the summary moment? And why should you, an unpublished writer, be attempting this alchemy on yourself?
Because we humans are driven to sum and driven by sums. What is the ONE perfect answer? The ONE perfect truth? The ONE thing that will speak what an entire volume cannot? We express this drive through the use of symbols. A symbol is merely an image given 800x zoom ability. These visual cues surround us – driving us to make associations, derive answers, change directions, decide between options. Most of the time we don’t even realize how much our behavior is influenced by the perfected art of summation. Green means go. Red means stop.
Ad agencies do nothing more than manipulate images and symbols to influence our decision making. The Nike swoosh, the Target bulls eye, the McDonalds arch – these are images taken to the highest level of expression. They are what branding is all about. The symbol is added to the product and the summation is that the two are forever locked together. Much multiplication of profit ensues.
So, again – why should you worry about your “brand” as an unpublished writer? Because you have added up two plus two enough times to equal around 100,000 words. That means you had something to say. But, who are you saying it to? What kind of person is going to want to read those 100,000 words? You have a product – like it or not you must start thinking of yourself as the producer of a product and not merely the divine scribe sent morsels of verbiage from heaven. Put your hard nose on and see yourself as a business about to launch.
When I went through this process for myself I was lucky enough to have an ad agency guru to help me, but you can do it for yourself if that’s not an option for you. Start with the kind of stories you write. Picture your ideal reader – what kind of milk does she buy? What is she thinking as she reaches into the case? Where did she have lunch today? Who would she be lunching with if given the choice? What kind of shoes would she wear if bunions were not an obstacle? Think through all the images and symbols that give you pause – what draws you in? What draws your reader in?
With all this swirling in your head, visit the websites of your favorite authors. Notice how they use images to tell you instantly who they are – what they sum up to. Let’s look at the Queen Goddess of mainstream fiction – Nora Roberts. She’s reached a point in her career where her face IS her image and brand. She doesn’t need more than that. Her website is really very straightforward. Her book covers are really all very similar in the elements and colors used. Maybe you’ll get there someday. However, Target did not start out with that little red bull’s eye inextricably linked to their brand. The Nike swoosh had to build to gain power as a symbol.
You still have multiplication and addition to do before you can achieve that kind of divine simplicity. So, what is your brand? Who are you going to sell your product to? What is your image? Can you sum yourself up?