Branding – Good or Bad?

I recently took a survey from a big box store about branding. It was a word I’ve heard bandied about a lot lately but never gave much consideration; in fact, I wasn’t entirely sure I knew what they meant by it in its current use. From what I learned by taking the survey, it sounded like a way to homogenize our society. Instead of stressing originality and individualism, branding seemed to want everyone and everything (and every store) to be just like something that already existed, or at least that was the impression I got. And if that is what it means, I fear for the future. Branding smacked of pigeon-holing and close-mindedness. If we don’t recognize something as being like something we’re already familiar with, we’re supposed to eschew it? Original ideas are to be ignored? We should continue doing things in the same old manner or never try anything new because we don’t want to rock the boat? Is that the kind of world you want to live in?

Branding, as in brand-name recognition, can be a good thing. If I’m going to the grocery store, or going to buy some appliance, large or small, I like buying a product whose name I recognize as having a good reputation. I feel more assured that I’ll get a quality product for my money. And back in the days of the Wild, Wild West, branding your cattle was a good thing, too, as it kept those dirty varmints from stealing your livestock.

But what they mean by branding now (unless I have completely misunderstood it) is something I want to avoid.

Does branding have any relevance to indie authors? I think it does, but the choice of giving in to it or not is ours.

When you first start writing, you’re learning your craft and exploring genres and styles. Do you want the very first book you write to ‘brand’ you so that from then on, you’re expected to write only mysteries or sci fi, or whatever genre your first book was? Maybe you do; maybe whatever you wrote is your niche and you want to stay with it. That’s fine, as long as it’s your choice. If your first book was sci fi and your second historical fiction and your third about a serial killer, do you want to be criticized because your books went off brand? Shouldn’t the writing be the important part, the story that grabs the reader and keeps his/her attention, not that all books you write match some predetermined expectation? As indie writers, I think we’re lucky in that we don’t have an editor or a publishing house dictating what we should write (it shocked me when I learned that many editors assign books to their writers; what happened to using your own imagination?). We indies still get to choose for ourselves — as long as branding doesn’t completely entrench our society.

Think about the fall of the Roman Empire. As it started its decline, in an effort to remain strong, their leaders declared every man had to hold the same job that his father had held. It was their way of keeping things under control. Or was it an early form of branding?

Stand strong, don’t be pigeon-holed, and most of all, enjoy what you’re writing!

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