Visual Branding for Small Businesses and Authors

Visual Branding Pic

  • When you see a large brown delivery truck, does UPS come to mind?
  • Do you recognize the Mercedes symbol when you see it?
  • Which brands of shoes can you identify when you see people wearing them, even when the brand name and logo aren’t visible?
  • Have you ever been on a road trip hoping to see a pair of golden arches in the shape of an M?

These are businesses that have succeeded in visual branding.

And even though these are huge companies, they didn’t achieve their visual branding through advertisements. Sure, you’ve seen their commercials. But the commercials aren’t the reason that your mind has been stamped with these visual brands:

  • There are thousands of UPS delivery trucks. They are all the same color, and it’s a unique color so it stands out from all of the other trucks making deliveries every day.
  • Every time you drive, you see other cars. Even if you just go for a walk outside, you see them. This is why you recognize many car brands by their logos.
  • If you’re really into shoes, you can distinguish between different brands that have similar styles, even if the brand names and logos are removed. You have partly been branded by your own interest in them, and by each manufacturer adopting a sense of style that defines their brand.
  • If you drive through the US, you see those yellow M’s all over the place. It’s simple and you see them frequently.

The point is that smaller businesses and artists, including writers, can also achieve similar visual branding. And they can do it without advertising.

For small businesses who may be able to afford advertising, following are a few examples of visual branding that you may be familiar with:

  • Do you recognize any insurance or real estate agents whom you’ve never met? It may be because you’ve repeatedly seen their faces on billboards or in brochures.
  • Have you ever seen a car fully decorated to match the theme of the business? A dog grooming service might have a car that looks very much like a dog, or a flower delivery truck might have flowers painted all over its surface. Such vehicles grab your attention and clearly reveal the nature of their business.
  • Can you think of any local businesses where the employees wear very distinctive uniforms?
  • Would you recognize the logos from any local businesses?

Here are a few examples of visual branding among books:

  • Can you tell that a book is part of the Dummies series when you catch a glimpse from a distance?
  • Do you recognize Waldo from the Where’s Waldo? books?
  • Would you know if a book is part of the Dr. Seuss collection if the title and author were covered up? The cat is distinctive.

Visual branding occurs even in the world of self-publishing:

  • If you’re not already familiar with them, check out Aaron Shepard’s books. He features a similar drawing of himself on every cover. Not everyone is fond of holding a book with that image, but it works: You see that picture and immediately recognize it as one of his books. He may not have been famous when he did that with his first book, but this consistent branding and unique style have helped create fame.
  • Search for Fifty Shades of Gray at Amazon and look at the covers. The style is distinctive and it’s carried over into other books in the series.

Whether you have a small business or you’re an artist or writer, here are the keys to visual branding:

  • Frequency. You need people to see your visual brand repeatedly. Not several times per day, but here and there over weeks and months; you want the message to be pleasing and the frequency not to be annoying (or your image will be branded the wrong way). Marketing isn’t just about what you say; it’s also very much about what you show. If people forget what you said or wrote, they might remember what they saw.
  • Consistency. Show the same image consistently; don’t show different images in each marketing effort. Choose your visual brand wisely from the beginning and stick with it. Select one image that you want people to remember.
  • Distinctive. If brown delivery trucks were common, would you associate this color with UPS? If every author had their picture on their cover, would you recognize Aaron Shepard?
  • Unity. Sending a unified message may be more important than being distinctive when it comes to visual branding memory. When the image relates to the nature of the business, this makes it easier to remember. A car decorated to look like a dog helps people remember if the business relates to dogs. Those golden arches that make the M are French fries, fitting for a restaurant.
  • Appealing. The image should attract the target audience. It needs to look good, else the audience thinks, “Ugh,” every time it is seen.
  • Deliver. The product or service needs some feature that stands out to associate with the visual branding. It might be luxury, or it could be cheap. It could be fast, or it could be quality. Visual branding is enhanced when the brand has some aspect that makes it worth remembering.

Authors have a choice of what image to brand. How do you want to be remembered? What will be distinctive for you? Pick one image and have it visible in all of your marketing efforts. Potential customers may see your image on your book covers, social media banners, online profiles, author pages, author blogs and websites, business cards, bookmarks, etc. The more your target audience sees the same image, the better. Here is what can be branded visually:

  • A logo for a publishing imprint.
  • A style consistent throughout a series.
  • A protagonist (like James Bond) or a children’s character (like Winnie the Pooh).
  • An author’s photo.
  • A distinctive visual feature common to all of the author’s books. It could be a distinctive font that the author developed that really stands out and grabs attention. It could be a unique way of arranging objects on the cover. It could be a design layout used on every color. It could be a particular image.
  • Even a blog can be branded visually by having a consistent style for the main image used with each post. Do you ever see posts in your reader and immediately recognize the blogger from the image? Those bloggers have succeeded in creating visual brands for their blogs.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Hy-phen-a-tion: How a Teeny Weeny Line Can Make a Huge Impact

Almost all traditionally published books and eBooks are justified – i.e. a computer program varies the width of the spaces between the words such that the right and left edges of the text are aligned. Books that are instead aligned left are said to be “ragged right” because they are not aligned at the right.

Left-aligned books often give an impression that the work is amateurish. Many new writers do this intentionally because they don’t like the gaps that they see between words when the text is justified (others do this accidentally, simply using Word’s default settings). On the other hand, setting the alignment to left doesn’t remove the gaps – it simply puts the spaces at the end of the line instead of spreading them out between the words. Book designers and editors prefer the look of justified text.

Large spaces in justified text do pose a formatting problem. There is, however, a simple way to reduce them: hyphenation.

Manually hyphenating a word at the end of a line where the gaps are large reduces the gaps. Don’t hyphenate manually until the manuscript is complete, edited, revised, and perfected. Otherwise, after revisions to the text, words that had been hyphenated may no longer appear at the end of a line, and new lines may need to be hyphenated. Consult a dictionary to find the natural breaks between the syllables.

Watch out for Word’s AutoCorrect tool: If this tool is on, one or both fragments of the word may automatically be respelled when the hyphen is inserted. For example, if a hyphen is inserted in the word “invented” to make “inven-ted,” Word will change this to “invent-ted.” Why? Because Word sees this as two separate words, “inven” and “ted.” Word automatically corrects (so it thinks!) the spelling of “inven” to make “invent.”

It isn’t actually necessary to hyphenate manually. Microsoft Word, for example, has an automatic hyphenation feature that can be activated. In Word 2010, find this on the Page Layout tab.

When using Word’s hyphenation tool, go into Hyphenation Options and increase the Hyphenation Zone to about 0.3” to 0.4”. Otherwise, there will be hyphens all over the place (including headings that span multiple lines).

Those who have used WordPerfect and Word may be aware that WordPerfect’s hyphenation is aesthetically a little more appealing. But it’s not necessary to buy WordPerfect: Word actually has an option to hyphenate like WordPerfect. In Word 2010, go to the File tab, scroll down below Help to find Options, select Advanced, click Layout Options at the bottom of the list, and search for the line that starts, “Do full justification…”

Note that Word won’t hyphenate words that its dictionary doesn’t recognize. It’s necessary to search for lines where it may be possible to hyphenate a word at the end of a line for which Word doesn’t have a hyphenation key.

Also making an eBook? If so, it’s necessary to make a different edition of the file without hyphenation. Therefore, any manually hyphenated words must have their hyphens removed. Some eReaders actually hyphenate words for the reader, but not the Kindle. Since an eReader can have a large font and a small screen, the gaps on justified text are nicely reduced on the screen when the device automatically hyphenates it for the reader.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Blogging Style

Checking out one another’s blogs, we see that we have unique blogging styles. Some bloggers have a very clear blogging brand. Do you recognize some bloggers just from a glimpse of the heading and picture, without having to check out the photo or name to see who posted it? These bloggers have already established a recurring theme, such that all of their posts look similar.

Have you ever visited a blog where a quick inspection of the homepage tells you precisely what the blogger does besides blogging? Sometimes, it’s obvious that a blogger has a hobby of photographing landscapes or that the blogger loves to write children’s books, yet there is no advertisement. These bloggers have developed themes that clearly match their passions.

Are there any bloggers where you know in advance what to expect from their posts? Maybe they always post poems, quotes, jokes, or essays. These bloggers have achieved a brand through consistency.

Do you know any bloggers who show variety in their posts and often surprise you? Their creativity might arouse your curiosity.

With every award nomination, bloggers post a list of other blogs that they like. I would like to thank those of you who have nominated my humble blog. Awards might not be my thing, but I was thinking, I can still share some blogs that I like. It shouldn’t take an award to get us to acknowledge some other blogs and what we like about them, right?

There are many blogs that I like, and thousands of good ones that I have yet to discover. Please allow me to highlight a few that exemplify a variety of blogging styles (since that is that theme of this post), and please don’t be offended if I didn’t mention your blog. Chances are that I really like your blog, too, even if it’s not on this list (and if I’m a follower or occasionally like your posts, that is, in fact, the case – because I only like and follow when I truly like the blog).

There are also a few blogs that look very nice, but which I don’t choose to like or follow because they primarily involve a topic, sometimes controversial or adult-oriented, which I generally don’t read. It’s not because I dislike these blogs, they just don’t happen to coincide with my interests. I hope you understand. I always check out the blog of anyone who checks out my blog.

Again, this is not a contest where I’m ranking my favorite blogs. I picked a few blogs that happen to represent varied styles. If your blog isn’t on this list, it’s not because I don’t enjoy it very much and it’s not because it’s not among my favorites.

(1) I recently discovered Ashley Bollinger’s blog. Check out the consistency in the style of headings that she uses on her homepage. One of her recent posts includes tips for better blogging.

http://ashleybollinger.wordpress.com/

(2) Robert’s blog consistently features some cool geometric objects.

http://robertlovespi.wordpress.com/

(3) There are several poetry blogs that I follow where the artwork and poetry are both amazing (in my humble opinion). For example, look for one of the poems posted on Keli’s blog to see powerful emotions correlated between the image and the poem.

http://kelihasablog.wordpress.com/

(4) Julie Farrell has a very positive blog. The internet and world can certainly benefit from more people spreading positivity like this.

http://youaresunshine.wordpress.com/

(5) Nhan-Fiction often posts little motivational statements that can help provide some needed inspiration.

http://nhanfiction.com/

(6) Natalia Marks features nice photography. She often has a picture of the day.

http://nataliamaks.wordpress.com/

(7) Mandy Eve Barnett usually starts out with a definition, which gives her style a little signature.

http://mandyevebarnett.com/

There are many other blogs that I regularly enjoy, too. Remember, my goal was to show some variety, not to list all of my favorites.

Grammar Style (Short ‘n’ Fun)

End a sentence with a preposition if you want to.

Commas, use them, frequently, if you like.

Don’t be afraid to use a semicolon; write without fear.

Occasionally, use an -ly adverb when carefully constructing sentences, even though you’re generally supposed to avoid using them unnecessarily.

Is it a hospital or an hospital? a R.S.V.P. or an R.S.V.P.? a @ sign or an @ sign?

I left him lying next to her pronoun because it was you that expected us to confuse them this way.

The object of this sentence is the subject, but that’s okay because the verb “to be” doesn’t take an object.

It is I, not me. Now use me, not I.

Tom looked at Bob. He winked. Tom wasn’t sure if Tom or Bob was supposed to wink. They went to the screenwriter for clarification.

Fragments. Useful. Sometimes.

This sentence was becoming very interesting until (a parenthetical remark appeared out of nowhere).

Hy-phen-ate – add a dash.

Punctuate (your) sentences “most ‘properly’”: Otherwise, your readership will complain; or worse – they might…

Mind your %$&# language!

SCREAM AND SHOUT WITH CAPS!

Squeezeitalltogetherbyremovingthespaces.

mIxInG iT uP: wHaT’s WrOnG wItH tHaT?

Don’t reck’n ’twas s’posed t’nclude s’many ’postrophes ‘n’ c’ntr’ct’ns.

Matter order not does.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 coming in mid-April)

(P“u‘n,c;t.u?a!t-i–o”n)

Go go go go, slow, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w, slow, fastfastfast; break away, slow, pause, stop. Go go go (aside) go go go – tangent – go go go stop.

State. Exclaim! SHOUT! whisper. Question? “Quote, ‘Quote within unquote,’ unquote,” end.

justletthewordsflow

Those Silly Short Lines

A hyphen or a dash. Short dash, long dash. Those silly short lines.

We all know that the hyphen (-) is used to hy-phen-ate, and we all know that the short line is used to do this, so it should be easy to remember that the short line is a hyphen and the long line is a dash. Yet we sometimes forget. (It really doesn’t help that there are two types of dashes, each different from a hyphen.)

The keyboard just has a hyphen. No dash. You can easily make a dash in Microsoft Word. With Word’s AutoFormat as you type feature turned on, type two hyphens consecutively mid-sentence, like this – and they turn into a dash.

The better way to make the dash is to hold down the Alt button while typing 0150. Why does it matter? If you publish an e-book that you typed in Word, it might make a difference.

The downloadable Kindle previewer (said to be more reliable than the online previewer) with Device set to e-Ink device and Kindle Selected, for example, might show a box in place of a dash made from Word’s AutoFormat feature. Use the Alt method to produce the symbol without AutoFormat. (That’s for those of us who cling to the convenience of Word. The safer way is to learn how to properly modify the HTML.)

The en dash (–) is just one of two common dashes. The other is the em dash (—). Hold down Alt and type 0151 to make the em dash. It’s said to be good form to choose one dash or the other and be consistent.

Well, be as consistent as English allows. Use the en dash for a sequence, as in 42–81 (this time without the space). Give credit to the source of a quote with the em dash, as in the following (this time with the space).

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. — Cyril Connolly

Here, the em dash indicates a quote (in lieu of quotation marks) and also indicates the author to whom the quote is attributed. (If you want to use a horizontal bar instead of the em dash, you know too much for your own good. Or, at least, for my own good.)

We know that the letter ‘n’ is shorter than the letter ‘m,’ so this should help to remind us that the en dash is shorter than the em dash. We still sometimes forget.

The en dash is used with spaces – like so. The em dash is used without spaces—like this.

When reading e-books, we sometimes see the hyphen used in place of the dash. Was it a mistake? Or was the author playing it safe, worried that an e-reader might not recognize the dash? Or did the author see a box in place of the dash when carefully checking the previewer?

En–ie em—ie miney moe,

Pick a dash by its toe!

If it hyphen-ates,

Let it go!

This blog was brought to you by the following punctuation marks:

Hy-phen

en–dash

em—dash

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (and Formatting Pages for Publishing on Amazon with CreateSpace – coming soon)