Wednesday, September 9, 2009

30-Day Branding Challenge: Using querying to refine your brand

Jen Miller said something great in our Q&A last week: "I feel that pitching articles, too, is a form of branding."

I love this idea, as it brings together two things I'm passionate about: Marketing and branding.

I wondered if she could explain more of what she meant, and here was her response:
Sometimes I send letters of introduction instead, and then follow up with a pitch or two. I want them to see me as the expert so that if they have a shore idea, they'll think of me.
That last sentence is the essence of branding: You live in your client's head as the perfect person for X, Y, or Z story.

And it's an interesting thing for us to consider as writers: Do our brands reflect what we're querying? If not, it's a good opportunity to refine our brands, or better direct our marketing. Here's how:

Refining Your Brand

If your stated brand is that you write upbeat service stories and love helping people, but you're constantly pitching and interested in long-form narrative fiction, then maybe your brand has outlived its usefulness. So take an inventory:

Go back through the last month and look at the queries you've pitched. Rather than asking yourself what the subject matter was--health, real estate, business, etc.--ask yourself what type of story it is:
  • Is it an upbeat inspirational story?
  • Is it a serious piece of investigative journalism?
  • Is it a profile driven by your source's quirky personality?
  • Is it a snarky short?
  • Is it a service piece?
Now, tally it: Is there a pattern here? Do you constantly pitch quirky profiles? Do you always pitch service pieces?

Ask why:
  • Why do you pitch service pieces? Is it because they sell more easily than in-depth features? Or are they your passion?
  • Why do you gravitate to profiles?
  • What is it about short, snarky pieces you love?
Once you have the answers to these questions, take a look at your stated brand. If your stated brand, like mine, is to focus on inspiring regular people (thus my tagline "Writing with a human face"), compare that to what you're pitching.

You may find that your pitching is right in line with that: Person-centered stories of overcoming challenges. Or you may find that you prefer to pitch service pieces.

If that's the case, it's a chance to tweak your brand. You don't have to abandon what you have. You can simply clarify it--for yourself and your clients. Maybe your love of person-centered writing extends to the reader. Maybe the reader is the person you draw inspiration from and therefore you want to help with service pieces.

How do you express that on your Web site? How do you express that in your queries? In your "why I should write this story" paragraph of your query, do you have one cogent sentence that explains that you "specialize in stories that..." Fill in the blank. You should have one sentence in there that clarifies and highlights your strengths and interested. It's part of your brand, so editors have an easy time matching you with stories you'll be best at. That's what Jen has done, and it's worked really well for her. Every time they think of the Jersey Shore, they think of her.

What do you want editors to associate with you? Make that part of your brand. Tomorrow, we'll talk about how to market that.

Photo by striatic.

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