I've been thinking a lot about branding lately. Specifically whether I am doing a good job of creating, solidifying and promoting my brand.
I am not a marketing expert, don't know the tricks of the trade, how to excel at social marketing, how to choose and use internet data providers, or even, really, how to create, build and maintain a brand. Still, in order to succeed, I know it is something I have to figure out and, within my ability, become good at - until, at least, I can expand my employee pool beyond one and hire someone who really understands this stuff.
Because it is something I know is important to the success of building my business, I've spent a good deal of time researching how to build a brand. THAT was an experience I could happily have avoided. Why? Because there are a million online "gurus" who were more than willing to help me out and, while I found much of their information interesting and valid, so much of the information conflicted with other gurus' information, or was obviously re-hashed blurbs cobbled together from a mish-mash of sites, that I was quickly overwhelmed and befuddled.
So I did what I often do when I'm in a business quandary - I turned to my favorite experts - some of those who have gone before me in the industry who have figured out a thing or two.
I went to the blogs/websites of Egg Press, 1 Canoe 2, Farewell Paperie, Hammerpress, Sycamore Street Press, Julie Ann Art, and, of course, the incomparable Emily McDowell (to name a few). While there, I tried to figure out just what made each company a brand. Finally, I decided that it is a little like art - you don't know how to describe it, but you know it when you see it.
You know it when you see it.
I guess the stand out with each of these brands is that after familiarizing yourself with each, you start to recognize them on sight. They're products are cohesive and complementary. Their styles are singular and recognizable.
Years ago I had an Etsy shop that, after a while, started to feel too garage-sale-y to me. Not in a bad way. Not in a hoarder kind of way. Just in a "these things don't all play well together" kind of way. It was because I work in a few different mediums and my subject matter varied by medium.
To make everything look better, I divided the shop into three distinct shops - each that featured specific styles, media and themes. That worked for a while. And quickly became overwhelming.
Running three shops - catering to three distinct audiences - did not work out. Each shop did well, but each could do better if I could only find a way to concentrate.
In the end, there just wasn't enough time in the day to do so. I made the smart - though a bit sad - decision to shut down all three shops and open a new one dedicated to just one product line. I chose greeting cards - and off-shoot products of those cards - because they allow me to both write and illustrate.
As I began building my new shop and stocking it, I hit another problem - I had so many different products, in so many different styles, that they did not call to mind a singular brand. They did, however, call to mind a number of brands. So I decided to sort through them and see if I could make up distinct collections that would all fit into my larger brand.
As a note, I considered Rifle Paper Comany and Ohh, Deer, two companies that market various brands by a number of different designers. Yes, I wasn't planning to rep other designers, but I was not yet ready to dump so many of my own designs, either.
The bottom line? I was just getting started, and I already had to purge. But, with the idea of ordering my products into distinct collections, maybe I wouldn't have to purge so much.
At the end of the day, I had to set guidelines for what I could keep:
1 - Each card had to fit into a named "collection" that would make it distinct from my other collections,
2 - Each collection had to have its own unique brand - image, design, theme, style, etc.
3 - Each collection had to have at least 40 cards in it - or be easily be scaled to 40.
Why 40? Because that seems to be the minimum number of cards that stores and reps require in order to take you seriously.
4 - Each collection had to be distinct from the others - it had to have its own theme, its own style, its own "story." I wanted to be able to contact shops and recommend specific collections for them, ones that I felt would fit into their specific shop's style.
Those were my starting guidelines and then I read a blog post by Emily McDowell about branding. Here is what she recommends:
(paraphrasing here): Choose three adjectives for your brand. Three descriptive word. And then keep the products that those words describe and get rid of the others.
Her advice made a lot of sense, however, so I added it to my list.
5 - Define each collection by three adjectives and keep only what fits and get rid of what doesn't.
At first, I thought that this would feel limiting. And then, as I began to figure out my adjectives, I realized that it made branding immensely easy.
For instance, I had (have) a collection of cards called "Alli's Fair" (in love and divorce). It is about a divorced mom getting back into the world of dating. Over the years, I've written out countless card ideas for the line. But I've only illustrated four so far.
Because I know how long it takes to illustrate an "Alli's Fair" card (a long time) and that I needed more than 30 more to make a collection, I decided to take the 4 cards I did have down. Maybe one day I'll have the time to illustrate the others.
Likewise, I have a collection called "Medical Slogans", but I haven't yet figured out how to illustrate them. So I took the "Coming Soon" placeholder down from my website. It won't go back up until I figure out that part.
I also have quite a few political cartoon cards (an easy one in this election year), but I found that just the first few I put together were putting me in a bad mood and it would be a race between my anger and my ability to come out with 40. I dropped that collection entirely, turned off the news, and now I feel better about everything.
After a lot of work, I winnowed my products down to a few distinct, recognizable collections, each with 40 cards - or that will have 40 cards within a couple of months time - each with a unique illustrative and design style, each describable by 3 unique adjectives, and each something I feel good about putting my company name and logo on the back of. They are:
Taken Literally - Story Cards that imagine a world where idioms come to life. Its words (I needed more than adjectives) are "story", "smart" and "funny."
Let's Pretend (it didn't happen) - Story Cards about the unforgettable things people do and say that they wish everyone would forget. It's words are: "story", "funny" and "disastrous."
Complications - Because relationships are complicated. It's words are: "relate-able", "relationship-oriented", and "emotion-based."
Greeting You - Greeting cards for all life's moments. It's words are: "colorful", "funny" and "quirky."
Lazy Greetings (TM) - this is a subset of "Greeting You" in postcard form. Not all the Greeting You cards will make it here.
Word - Words with Meaning - These are altered dictionary definitions. Its defining words are "meaningful", "insightful" and "quirky."
Art Cards - These are art cards because sometimes an image is enough. This is the only line I'm not yet sure I'll keep.
I know this was a long post. If you've made it this far, thank you. The bottom line is that creating a unique brand is hard work. At least it has been so for me. And I'm still working on it. Still, my brand has come a long way since January 4, 2016, when I officially closed my other shops and began creating Kat Mariaca Studio.
My next step is to get the brand out there.
What about you? Do you have a brand? Can you easily describe it? Would strangers know it on site? Would breaking it down into my five guidelines help? I'd love to hear about it.
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