This article, written by Mindy Klasky is from the July 2020 edition of Nink, the monthly newsletter of Novelists, Inc. (NINC). Nink, which is packed each month with informative articles for career novelists, is a benefit of NINC membership.
Hey! Author! What’s your brand?
In general, authors are increasingly sophisticated about branding. Many of us use slogans, taglines for our websites and emails. We have logos—general ones for our websites and specific ones for our series. We use trademarks such as series names to convey the source of our books. We use color schemes and fonts and designs of book covers and websites to make ourselves recognizable to our readers.
But few authors have conquered the next frontier in branding: becoming a lifestyle brand for their readers.
What is a lifestyle brand?
A lifestyle brand embodies the values of a specific culture or community for marketing purposes. While a simple trademark indicates the source, sponsorship, or origin of a product, a lifestyle brand goes further, inspiring and motivating consumers.
Nike is a classic lifestyle brand. Its familiar “swoosh” logo and its slogan Just Do It do more than connote the manufacturer of a T-shirt or a pair of shoes. Instead, Nike inspires its customers to compete, to rise above ordinary limitations and to achieve the impossible every day.
Similarly, Southwest Airlines embodies the notion of a lifestyle brand. Expanding on its start at Dallas’s Love Field airport, the low-cost, no-frills airline incorporates “love” into its marketing, from a heart logo on its planes to heart-shaped swizzle sticks for drinks. That “love” is further conveyed for customers through the airline’s forgiving cancellation fees and luggage checking fees. Even the in-flight magazine is filled with empathetic stories advancing the notion of Southwest as an airline that cares for its customers.
As a result of their extreme enthusiasm, lifestyle brand consumers are more likely to remain loyal, regardless of the price of their beloved goods. Therefore, most lifestyle brands convey a sense of luxury—or a thrifty aversion to luxury. In addition to Nike and Southwest, popular lifestyle brands include Apple, Lululemon, and Mrs. Meyer’s.
Lifestyle brands create such an emotional connection that their consumers are often described as members of a “cult.” For example, one of the most popular blogs about Apple products is online at cultofmac.com, and thousands of articles reference Apple products, Apple founder Steve Jobs, and cultish behavior.
Can people be a lifestyle?
Individual people can successfully market themselves as lifestyle brands. For example, Oprah Winfrey has a cult following, willing to follow her from television to movies and from magazines to bookstores. Similarly, Gwyneth Paltrow has crafted a lifestyle brand that transcends her career in film.
As with Nike and Southwest Airlines, these individuals promote a way of life. Oprah inspires her followers to realize their potential, repeatedly asking her viewers, readers, and followers to define their own dreams and develop plans for achieving them. Gwyneth fosters a more introspective inquiry, urging her followers to explore the mind-body connection. Both of these women guide their followers to a more complete, more satisfying life, with the not-so-incidental endorsing of products along the way.
Neil Gaiman is one of the few authors who has achieved this status. Gaiman writes in a wide range of genres, inspiring his dedicated followers to follow him from graphic novels to adult novels to middle-grade books to children’s picture books to retellings of Norse myth. His public appearances are mobbed by faithful readers who wait in line for up to ten hours for his signature. Avid fans permanently tattoo themselves with references to Gaiman’s books. For several years, he has sold out events styled as “An Evening with Neil Gaiman,” where entertainment takes the form of whatever interests him at the moment—songs, dramatic readings from his books for adults or children, or simply answering pre-submitted questions from the audience. Gaiman isn’t promoting a specific book; rather, he’s promoting himself.
Arguably, authors’ characters can become lifestyle brands as well. Ian Fleming’s MI6 agent, James Bond, has been portrayed by six different actors in two dozen movies. Regardless of the specific image on the screen, the suave character’s luxury tuxedo, martini, and high-end cars become aspirational for avid fans. That enthusiasm persists even though Bond himself does not exist.
Can a lifestyle brand be crafted?
Sadly, there’s no exact formula for developing a lifestyle brand. (If there were, of course, every trademark owner in the world would apply it, basking in the power and prestige of cultishly devoted fans.) There are, however, some marketing methods that make “lifestyle” status more likely:
- Focus on the reader. How can you, the author, make your readers’ lives better? Can your books or your online presence answer questions, meet their emotional needs, or otherwise solve their problems? What community can you build for your readers? Can you give them an online home, such as a Facebook group? What about a forum to communicate with you and with each other? What unique aspects of culture can you offer your reader? Can you develop a catch-phrase or slogan and offer it on merchandise? Can you foster inside jokes with a unique vocabulary in the places you share with your readers? Can you create merchandise for them to identify themselves and each other in public spaces?
- Keep it simple. At the same time that you’re building solutions for your readers, remember to keep your presence simple. Use a logo, but keep that design as straightforward as possible. (Think of Nike’s “swoosh” or Apple’s line-drawing of a bitten piece of fruit!) Use a distinctive font, but be certain it’s legible. You never want your fledgling community of fanatics to need to work hard to join you.
- Maintain consistency. Once you’ve identified your simple logos, fonts, and other trademarks, use them consistently. Maintain a uniform color scheme. Apply similar designs to all of your social media. Communicate frequently with your readers on a regular timetable—releasing books, sending newsletters, posting to social media, and reaching out in other regulated, predictable ways.
- Reach out to influencers. Every community has powerhouse members, people who enjoy an out-size effect on others. Some influencers can be courted with honest communication. Others are swayed by the offer of free books. Still others offer their influence for purchase, especially in the high-powered world of YouTube influencers. A high-powered influencer can be the difference between a merely successful brand and a powerhouse lifestyle brand.
Dangers of lifestyle branding
Building a lifestyle brand requires a substantial investment of time, to study readers’ behaviors and to develop solutions for their problems. It also requires a substantial investment in energy, to become consistently present in your readers’ lives. Most lifestyle brands also invest substantial money in reaching their audience, purchasing advertisements wherever their followers are likely to be found.
In interviewing authors for this article, I uncovered another potential danger to lifestyle branding: alienating readers who perceive authors as being too wealthy. Multiple authors reported a negative response among their readers when the authors displayed cars, shoes, or other purchases that were perceived as luxury goods. The authors were chastised for charging too much for their books or for wasting time playing when they could be writing. The affected authors noted that upset readers did not have a similar reaction to actors, athletes, or musicians sharing similar high-end acquisitions; there seemed to be a negative reaction unique to authors’ sharing.
(Of course, not all lifestyle brands connote wealth or luxury, and sharing one’s high-end purchases is only one way to build a devoted community. Anecdotes from a subset of authors are not hard data. Older authors such as Danielle Steel and Jackie Collins certainly built careers as “glitzy” authors, with a flamboyant style. But contemporary authors might choose caution if they’re building a luxury lifestyle brand.)
Building a lifestyle brand isn’t easy. But with a focus on existing readers, a simple, consistent message, and the amplifier of community influencers, authors can build communities of dedicated readers that might make the leap to true “lifestyle” status.
USA Today bestselling author Mindy Klasky learned to read when her parents shoved a book in her hands and told her she could travel anywhere through stories. As a writer, Mindy has traveled through various genres, including romantic comedy, hot contemporary romance, and traditional fantasy. In her spare time, Mindy knits, quilts, and tries to tame her to-be-read shelf.