How To Strategically Build A Brand Experience By Guest @Charli_Mills

Before I rode off into the sunset to pursue literary art in 2012, I used to ride for an outfit, herding their brand. As the person in charge of the marketing communications department for a growing natural food enterprise, I multi-tasked in key areas. My team’s most important responsibility was to manage the organization’s brand experience. Like authors with multiple books, we owned multiple brands. We depended upon a customer base to interact with those brands to give them full expression.

The takeaway: you might own your brand, but your customers share the experience of it with you. Even if you don’t think you have a brand, those who interact with your business or read your books develop an understanding of what you offer or write, and that defines who they think you are. From the moment you begin to cultivate public interaction, you build a brand experience. Don’t you think you should own your brand? That’s what strategic branding is all about.

Don’t you think you should own your own brand?

That’s what strategic branding is all about.

Back Up to the Basics

Even if you think you know branding, don’t skip the basics. All good learning builds on a foundation of knowledge. The stronger your grasp of the basics, the more solid your footing will be. First, let’s clarify a few terms.

A brand is the conscious application of performance of product, performance of service, image, and an emotional connection with others.

Think of performance of product as quality, as in the quality of your writing skills or the quality of design for your book cover. When experienced authors tell those looking to publish that you need to hire at least one editor (consider that there are typically three types of professional editors required for print publications: developmental, line editing, and proofreading), they are advising newcomers to the level of quality that readers expect in books for sale. Quality is a huge chunk of an author’s brand.

Performance of service relates to customer service. We’ve all experienced those call centers that make us want to stomp and yell because they ignore our problem or bury the solution in a vast menu of numbers to press. We think less of a brand when customer service sucks. While authors don’t have call centers, they do interact with peers, readers, and fans through social media. How you behave and what you say or share in this public space is part of your performance of service as an author. Be mindful.

Image is what you project visually, and whether you believe it or not, your visual cues — such as color, font type and size, use of white space, choice of name, and logo – all tell the story of your brand. Each signal you give your customers or readers, whether intentional or not, becomes part of how they define you and understand what you offer or write. If we let mood dictate our choices for how our websites look, we are merely communicating an emotional state. Is that what you want? A website that’s like a giant emoticon? Instead, we should think about how we want others to see us. For an author, that begins with a name, legal or nom de plume.

Emotional connection joins quality, service, and image and differs from mood. Emotional connection is all about relationship building and compelling others to read what you write or buy what you sell. Emotional connection takes what we know in our brains to the heart level and expresses it to the heart of another, so they can then ponder what it is they feel. If you connect, you have hit your target. The better you can relate to readers at this level, the better your chances are of cultivating your target audience.

[pullquote align=”normal”]A thoughtful brand creates physical and emotional triggers in the mind of customers and readers.[/pullquote]

Branding becomes the strategic actions we take with our brand elements to create these triggered responses. When we are thoughtful, persistent, and mindful of our brand, our branding gains us loyal followers, readers, and customers. Good branding equates to meaningful sales.

Who Owns the Brand and Controls the Branding?

Philosopher René Descartes once proposed, “I think, therefore I am.” It sums up the idea of who is in control of your brand – whoever is thinking about it. You exist on the social media plane, you write, you sell books. You say, “I don’t have a brand.” You do, but you haven’t thought about what it means or matched up brand elements to any branding. This disconnect leaves your customers and readers in control of your brand.

On the other hand, you can be deliberate – you choose cosmic purple as a color to enhance your array of science fiction novels or use delicate primroses to decorate your western romance publishing logo. But maybe that steel-gray you thought represented your detective protagonist looks too cold and uninviting to readers. Maybe your colors are not triggering the responses you wanted. Part of building a strategic brand is engaging in a conversation with those who experience it.

First, you need to asses your brand. Like self-awareness, defining your brand can feel awkward. Some might have better intuition. Some might overdo cutesy and come across as childish. If you are a children’s book author childish nears the mark. But if you are a professional, writing about European travels, childish might not resonate with potential readers.

A brand auditor can help you define your brand through an interview process. Throughout my career, I’ve audited many storefronts and digital platforms. Reading a brand comes across like reading palms. It can be a fun party trick to look at someone’s business card, website, and interaction to define that person’s brand as if I predicted love and longevity from a palm. But the lines between brand elements connect important dots. They form a picture of one’s brand.

Yet, a snapshot of your brand is not enough. It’s equally important to have periodic polls, surveys and (if you are ever doing a large platform or business overhaul, a focus group). All this feedback comes from those who experience your brand. What are their insights? How do they attribute meaning to your brand elements? Or, if you want to introduce new elements, ask your most loyal customers or readers to help you choose a cover, logo, banner or ad.

A partnership with those who experience your brand gives you valuable insights. You can make the branding more meaningful without losing control.

Consistency is the Key

You don’t have to have the best-designed logo or the latest trend of colors to have a powerful brand. Remember, you want to agree with your customers and readers about what your brand means. Once you meet on the common ground of your brand experience, you want to maintain consistency. Sometimes, we can get bored using the same logo, font, and colors. But if you are feeling that way, most likely your target audience is only beginning to recognize your brand. Remain consistent.

When it comes to advertising, an adage of marketing upholds the idea that it takes one person to hear a business or author name 22 times before they hear the associated message. Branding relies on consistency to deliver messages. Think of the “golden arches.” I can say that one phrase and most of you will recognize the fast-food chain’s iconic symbol (if not, get a happy meal and think about it). McDonald’s has consistently used the golden arches in their branding since their first store opened.

For authors, consistency means your name because it’s your biggest brand element and most prominent visual cue. The quality of your writing and the way you interact in social places contribute to the emotional connections readers develop toward your name. Even the slightest tinker – adding or deleting an initial – can upset the brand experience.

Often, future authors ask, “which name” to use. Like design, it’s not important to pick the best; it’s best to pick one and stick with it. If you are a new writer with goals to publish and sell books, you can tinker and explore. For some, it’s the first time having one’s name in the spotlight, which can be alarming. Many react by hiding behind a nom de plume. For some, what they write may conflict with a day career, and a pen name creates distance. For others, creating author aliases is as much fun as writing across genres.

You have some wiggle room to decide, get comfortable and test your name out on peers or blog readers. But once you begin to build a strategic brand, you must make concrete decisions regarding your name (or names). If you hide too long behind a pen name and publish blog posts, e-books or anthologies with it, you could risk losing connectivity with early readers who know you by that name only. Be thoughtful and ask your peers for feedback and experience. Then, be consistent.

Enjoy the Ride!

Unlike western cattle roundups, branding doesn’t burn. You want to build a strategic brand that begins with understanding the elements, includes informed decisions, and ends with consistent application. Create an author brand style guide to communicate your brand from your blog to your social media to your promotional campaigns. Engage with peers and readers and stay open to feedback. Even negative feedback is an opportunity to understand how your brand elements can be fine-tuned. Keep it all corralled so your brand becomes identifiable and meaningful.

Sit in the saddle of your brand and enjoy the ride. If you don’t brand your work, your author identity might get rustled. Instead, gather up your elements, think about where your trail leads, and be the one to drive your brand.


Day 31 Giveaway

Charli is giving away three author brand style guides, which are individually created to represent the brand elements of an author platform.

Below, comment, you must!

Charli Mills…

How To Strategically Build A Brand Experience By Guest @Charli_Mills via @BadRedheadMedia and @NaNoProMo

Charli Mills, writer and lead buckaroo at Carrot Ranch Literary Community, received a BA in creative writing in 1998 and began telling business brand-stories thereafter. By 2010 she earned the Master Cooperative Communicators designation, recognizing career achievements. She won multiple national awards for writing, publishing, and her presentation, “Telling a Compelling Story.” In 2018, she published her literary community’s, “The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology, Vol 1,” which earned a 5-star review from Readers ’Favorite. Branding remains a cornerstone of Charli’s career success. She conducts brand audits for authors to build strategic platforms to reach target readers.


  1. Lexi on May 31, 2018 at 4:22 am

    Love the rigour of this approach, but tricky as I am doing kids fiction and adult non-fiction!

  2. Alex Kourvo on May 31, 2018 at 4:40 am

    Lots of insights here. It’s interesting to note that by the time the author is bored with her branding, readers are just now starting to notice it. I have to constantly remind myself to think like a reader, and not like a writer and this was a good reminder.

  3. Jessica on May 31, 2018 at 4:49 am

    Writing comes reletively easy for me. Branding…not so much. I think I have a good foundation, but it’s the implementation that always throws me. I get so worried about “ruining” my brand, I agonize over my posts, likes, and comments.

    Just gotta keep learning, I guess!

  4. Daphne on May 31, 2018 at 5:52 am

    So many great tips here!

  5. Dena Garson on May 31, 2018 at 6:32 am

    The marketing aspect of the author biz is what is difficult for me. Even with a business degree and a few basic marketing classes under my belt.
    Thanks for these tips!

  6. Felicia Denise on May 31, 2018 at 7:19 am

    Great info/tips on an author’s brand simply put! THANK YOU!

  7. Greg Smith on May 31, 2018 at 7:53 am

    I’m finding the posts regarding branding, etc exceptionally insightful. My issue is how to apply the pointers to my situation when I’ve written across various genres: erotic thriller, action crime crossover, and (currently) historical fiction. I’d appreciate some feedback from you as to how I can brand myself considering my range of books.

  8. Dana Lemaster on May 31, 2018 at 8:07 am

    Thanks, Rachel and Charli, for an article I really needed to see. I’m in the process of setting up an author website, and branding is definitely on my mind these days. Still working through the best way to brand a comedy screenwriter who had a film review blog but has just written a distinctly non-comedic novel. The tips in your article are going to be a big help. Rachel, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the posts for #NaNoProMo. That must have taken a lot of work on your part. Thanks so much!

  9. KJ Waters on May 31, 2018 at 9:04 am

    This is a great blog on branding. It is hard for many to get this concept and you’ve done a fabulous job making it clear. I need to work on the consistency, it’s always a struggle but this makes it hit home on why it is so important. Thank you!

  10. Raiscara Avalon on May 31, 2018 at 9:09 am

    This was so helpful. I really need to focus on my brand more, without taking the time away from my writing.

  11. Lisa A. Listwa on May 31, 2018 at 10:09 am

    Oh man, I NEED those branding guides. I struggle with the branding because I’m currently working on both a kids’ series and adult sci-fi. Confusing. Charli Mills truly is fab and I’m not surprised there is so much great info packed in here. Thanks for a great post, Rachel and Charli!

  12. Gail on May 31, 2018 at 10:32 am

    Charli, Thanks for great blog on branding. You made things clearer to me. Best, Gail Priest

  13. McKenna Dean on May 31, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    It’s always fascinating to me to get insights into things I never even considered might go into branding. Excellent post, thank you!

  14. D.Avery on May 31, 2018 at 2:45 pm

    This is a real fine article that distills and clarifies the notion of branding very well.

  15. D.Avery on May 31, 2018 at 5:04 pm

    Putting It Out There

    “Hey Kid. Set a spell.”
    “Thanks, Shorty, I’d ruther stand.”
    “Ok. Whatcha been up to?”
    “Been workin’ on ma brand.”
    “You do listen! An author’s brand!”
    “More like a tattoo; didn’t have the mettle fer a actual brand.”
    “Uh huh… what’s it say?”
    “Picture of a book, says, ‘Read mine’.”
    “Kin I see it?”
    “I’d ruther you not.”
    “Kid, branding and marketing are about exposure, how you show yerself to yer reading audience. Come on, let’s see yer tattoo.”
    “It’s on my rump.”
    “Oh. Cheeky. Not the kinda exposure I meant Kid. S‘pectin’ a large followin’?”
    “Kinda hopin’ not.”

  16. Iola on June 1, 2018 at 2:39 am

    I’m hoping this is an example of excellent branding, not bad parenting, but the first letter my daughter learned to read was M … for McDonalds. (Second was C, for Coca-Cola.)

    If only I could achieve the same with my author brand! Thanks for the tips 🙂

  17. Jess on June 1, 2018 at 11:08 am

    I am thankful you mention how a brand can make you comfortable and more productive,a lot of people see it as limiting.

  18. Zoe Asher on June 2, 2018 at 7:04 am

    Thank you for a great article! Interesting points, some easier to action than others.
    I get that establishing one’s brand and sticking with it is important. As I will write across genres tying it together is a challenge.

  19. Gabriella L. Garlock on June 3, 2018 at 6:57 pm

    Colors, fonts? Pictures? So strange to think of myself as a logo. Played around on Canva once for the blog and felt a little silly. Need to get serious soon.

  20. […] and networking. Brian Jud erects the 4 pillars of successful book marketing, Charli Mills explores how to strategically build a brand experience, and Donna Galanti has 11 ways to find and connect with other authors in your […]

  21. edg singapore on October 9, 2019 at 8:12 pm

    I really learned a lot from your article. Good job

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