Saturday, March 26, 2011

What's your Brand?

Branding. The not-so-new buzz. The term seems to be dropping into every conversation these days like a pesky mosquito on a sweltering summer night.

I understand, of course, the concept of branding, which is not at all new. The idea of stamping oneself or one's product with a recognizable symbol goes back to the caveman's club.

Childhood memories of Mr. Whiffle (representing a particular brand of T-paper, as my granny delicately called it), Ronald McDonald and Minnie Pearl's price tag dangling from her straw hat bear evidence of the effectiveness of branding. If promotion has been successful, you see the symbol and you instantly think of the product or person it represents.

I can't look at a boob pop without thinking of Dolly Parton, so effective are her Dolly Lollies in Pigeon Forge.

It's not so easy for writers to brand themselves. Well, maybe not Stephen King or J.K.Rowling, who are successfully branded in their respective genres. But what about us lesser mortals? Especially those like me who dabble in different genres? What is my brand? What could possibly set me apart from other writers to make me instantly recognizable?

Surprisingly enough, I found out last week at a writers meeting.

About fifteen of us were seated at tables forming a square in a large room when a new writer walked in. Having never met any of us before, she looked around shyly as she took her seat and I noticed her glance settle on me. She continued to stare (in a friendly sort of way), and when, a few minutes later, she was asked by the leader to introduce herself, she blurted out, "You're Debora Coty, aren't you?"

"How did you know that?" I asked with a creeping suspicion that the IRS was sinking to new levels with their spying.

"It's the hat," she replied, nodding at the black floppy hat adorning my head. "I've read you for years and in your pictures, you always seem to be wearing a hat."

Well blow me over with a feather. My hats? I've worn hats for decades, mostly because they're kicky and fun and I don't like to wash my hair every day. The fact that they weren't cool or trendy never bothered me. My kids grew up rolling their eyes over my hats and begging me not to wear them when their friends were around. Why, I have stacks and stacks of hats cluttering my closet. It looks like the Cat in the Hat exploded in there.

But somehow it never occurred to me that people might actually associate me with my hats. I guess since I couldn't see them atop my head, I figured nobody else was all that aware of them either. Funny how we never really see ourselves as others see us.

Anyway, I started paying more attention to how many pictures there are on my website and book covers and business cards of me in hats. Quite a few, to my surprise.

So are hats part of my brand? What do you think?  I'd love to hear if you (my other three readers) consider hats part of my persona as a writer - like Alfred Hitchcock's round belly or Clark Gable's mustache.

Or maybe just symbolic of the goofy, lazy girl who doesn't invest in shampoo.  


Kat Heckenbach said...

Honestly, I've never noticed the hats. But I associate you with a big, beautiful smile :). You always seem so upbeat and energetic, and you are always smiling, even when you're flustered about something that's bothering you. It's your positive spin on life and your energy that brands you. Maybe the hats are a side-effect of that ;).