Most companies never reach the final step of creating a breakthrough brand.
In the first three steps, we covered the following:
- Step 1 – Look in the Mirror (Who am I?)
- Step 2 – Look at Your Readers (Who are my readers?)
- Step 3 – Look Through Your Readers (What do my readers say about me?)
High-level brands take it one step further and ask, “What does my brand let my tribe say about themselves?” It creates a sense of belonging amongst the fans of the brand.
Not all author brands have the potential to get to this level, and most authors never get there. But creating a brand that allows people to feel like they belong to the tribe is the next level.
Step 4: Look in Your Reader’s Mirror
What does my brand let my readers say about themselves? What does my brand say about my readers if they’re part of my tribe?
Clothing brands often achieve this level because wearing a certain clothing brand allows people to feel as though they’re making a statement about themselves.
People who wear Nike shoes are different from people who wear Reebok shoes. When they go into a store, they’re not deciding between Nike and Reebok because the two brands are different kinds of fashions.
What does this brand let people say about themselves?
Ultimately, people want to have an identity. They want to know where they fit in and what tribe they belong to. Creating a brand people want to identify with gives people a sense of identity and belonging.
Someone who wears Nike shoes or clothing probably views themselves as a just-do-it kind of athlete.
What tribe does this brand give people access to?
Not all author brands have the potential to get to this level. If you’re writing romance, you’re unlikely to create a brand around your romance novel. I can’t think of a romance author who created a brand that allowed readers to identify as a member of the tribe. If you know of one, please email me.
But some books do achieve this level of providing identity.
Example 1: The Bible
The Bible is the bestselling book of all time. You would think marketing experts would talk about it more. After all, the printing press was invented to print the Bible.
The Bible creates a sense of identity and a community. Certain people love and read the Bible every day. Bible readers are very passionate, and they have very clearly defined themselves as part of a tribe.
Other people do not love or read the Bible, and under no circumstance will they buy it. They have decided they aren’t that kind of person.
Maybe the Bible isn’t a great example because it is a religious book. But other books have demonstrated the capacity to offer readers an identity.
Example 2: Twilight
Whether you loved it or hated it, the Twilight books attracted a tribe of fans who were willing to drive to the gloomiest places in the country that get the least amount of sunlight. They gathered in person to talk about the book and dress up like the characters.
If you’re not part of that tribe, you probably won’t love the gloomiest parts of the Washington coast, which just shows that if your tribe is for everyone, then no one will feel at home.
A tribe identifies itself by defining its insiders and outsiders.
Example 3: Lord of the Rings
Fans of the Lord of the Rings also gather in person and identify themselves based on their fondness for the Lord of the Rings. In the ‘70s, fans would spray paint graffiti in the New York City subways that said, “Frodo Lives.”
I’m not advocating fan graffiti and vandalism, but that kind of activity indicates the tribe’s passion.
Example 4: Hunger Games
Insiders passionately love Hunger Games and its characters, while outsiders dislike it with just as much passion.
And most authors are too inclusive to get to this fourth level of branding, and you don’t have to reach this fourth level to have a successful book.
Example 5: Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson has done a phenomenal job creating a brand around himself as the author. Most of his books are in his Cosmere, and that Cosmere has a brand with passionate fans who gather, discuss, dress up at conferences, and wear t-shirts with his branding.
Example 6: Getting Things Done
Getting Things Done is not an epic like the other books we mentioned. However, the core message resonates so deeply with people that they want to gather with other readers who say, “I get this book. This book has changed my life.” They resonate with teach other because they understand one another when they reference the book.
The book even has evangelists. Enthusiastic readers preach the gospel of Getting Things Done to everyone around them. Whenever they interact with someone who is inefficient or wasting time, they can’t help but recommend the book.
Fans meet in person all over the country to discuss Getting Things Done. If you’re having trouble getting stuff done, you should read the book. It will help.
I read it twice, and I consider myself a GTD person because I try to practice Getting Things Done whenever possible. I enjoy hanging out with those kinds of people. I’m not a core insider because I’m not attending their meet-up groups, but I’m also not an outsider.
Tests to Prove a Brand Has Reached Step 4
Would someone wear a shirt with your logo (or book imagery) on it?
If you created a t-shirt with your logo, book cover, or imagery from your book, would anyone wear it? Would people pay for it?
You’ve probably seen people walking around with a Hunger Games Mockingjay logo. They might even be wearing the pin from the movie. That’s an indication that Hunger Games has reached this highest level of branding.
Very few authors have imagery that could be used on a shirt, but you also don’t see a lot of authors creating imagery for that purpose.
I suspect we don’t see this technique much in the author world because so few authors think to try it. Since these techniques work in other industries, why wouldn’t they work for authors?
Ted Dekker had a trilogy called The Circle Series. The books were titled Red, White, and Black, so he created red, white, and black wooden pendants and sold them on Etsy. Fans bought them and wore them as jewelry.
Dekker’s ingenuity could inspire you to imagine how you could implement this technique for your author brand.
Bumper Sticker Test
Would someone put your logo on their bumper?
Apple is a great example of a company that has reached this level. Before Apple became mainstream, people used to put Apple stickers on their vehicles. Everyone who bought an Apple computer received a bumper sticker. Not everyone put that sticker on their cars, but if you had a sticker on your car, everyone knew you had an Apple computer. It was an exclusive club, and stickers were scarce.
Now that Apple is bigger, you see fewer cars with the Apple logo on the back. It used to cost you $2,000 to join the Apple tribe because they only sold computers. These days, if you buy an iPod, iPhone, or iPad, you can join the tribe for far less.
That lower barrier to entry has reduced the value of the tribe. People are less willing to identify with the Apple tribe via bumper sticker because it’s too easy to get in. It doesn’t feel exclusive anymore.
Scarcity and barriers to entry can actually help build your tribe and increase brand enthusiasm among your members.
Is someone willing to tattoo your brand on their body?
That might sound crazy but think of brands like Harley-Davidson, Disney, and even Apple.
Harley-Davidson has a passionate following that other motorcycle companies don’t. It’s not that Harley-Davidson motorcycles are infinitely better than other motorcycles. They don’t go twice as fast as a Yamaha, and they’re not twice as comfortable. But Harley-Davidson has done a great job creating opportunities for their fans to gather with each other.
How can you reach this fourth tier of branding?
If you want to achieve this fourth level of branding, I have two tips.
Define Outsiders and Insiders
Create a way for members to identify themselves as part of your tribe. You might create a t-shirt, bumper sticker, or a piece of jewelry. Think of ways that allow people to know that they belong. How do they identify themselves as part of the tribe so that other tribe members can recognize them?
Create Opportunities to Gather in Person
To reach this level of branding, you should create opportunities for your fans to interact with each other, ideally in real-life, but online meetings are also growing in popularity.
Fantasy and science fiction books and authors reach this level because they create opportunities for their fans to gather with each other and talk about science fiction. Science fictions fans are active with comic book conventions and gaming conventions, so they’re accustomed to getting together.
If you do those two things, you may find that you can emerge as a fourth-tier brand which will be incredibly powerful for your career and your book sales.
If you can’t or don’t want to aim for this level, it doesn’t preclude you from being successful. To Kill a Mockingbird, the greatest book of the 20th century in my opinion, sold 20 million copies without creating a tribe.
You don’t have to have a tribe to be successful, but if you can form one, it will change your career.