In Lesson One, I put forth the premise that ‘you are the brand.’ That lesson may seem a little amorphous, so I feel its appropriate to provide context and give ‘concrete examples of people being the brand.’ Interestingly, after I penned that entry, I was chatting online in Facebook with a friend of mine, who I thought would make a perfect case study for this first principle.
The person I was chatting with was Denene Millner, who I’ve known for about 10 years. I met Denene and her husband Nick Chiles, through my wife, Chanel, who’s best friend, Angelou, is Nick’s younger sister. Denene and Nick are both award-winning authors, who have written at least ten books between them. Originally New York City reporters who met in Room 9, the legendary press room at City Hall, Denene and Nick are both Atlanta -based full-time writers, and the embodiment of being the brand.
Denene and Nick are constantly writing and promoting their published works. Each book-signing or announcement is done in a signature fashion. One of their book signings, for The Vow: A Novel (written with co-authors Mitzi Miller and Angela Burt-Murray) was at Harry Winston in their Fifth Avenue designer showroom. It was the most glamorous book signing I had ever attended. Despite the fact that Denene is barely taller than 5 feet, she commanded the room with a presence that rivaled the numerous diamonds and gemstones on display.
Denene and Nick are keenly aware of the need to promote themselves, as well as their books, in whatever they do. I recently received an email blast from Denene, upon the release of her latest book, Hotlanta, in which she implored all of her friends to not only ‘support a sistah’ but also to tell our friends to do the same. She was shameless in her appeal, reminding us that she had helped all of us out at various points in time and that she was cashing in her chips.
For anyone who has ever shopped at a Barnes and Noble or visited the Strand, there are countless titles from countless authors competing for our attention (and our dollars). Very few of those books ever see the ‘best seller’ list or get any of the ‘prime retail’ space reserved for hot authors or Oprah’s “book of the month’ selection. Needless to say, competition among authors is fierce (albeit passive).
What makes Denene and Nick remarkable (and why I chose to use them as my example for Lesson One) is their approach to writing. First, they are collaborative writers. Almost all of their books were written together or with other co-authors. Their ‘What Brothers Think, What Sistahs Know” series of books, offer gender-based opinion on issues ranging from sex and relationships to money and politics. Their novels explore the depths and complexities of male/female relationships, covering topics including fidelity and earning and income disparities.
Second, they know that a large part of the appeal of their books is them. The subject matter they write about, while always interesting and presented in a fresh (and Afro-centric) way, is still rather pedestrian and can be found in any number of books. But the fact that Denene and Nick are the authors imbues their work with something special that makes their books ‘must haves.’ More accurately, the fact that Denene and Nick announce themselves as the authors of their books, makes it clear that you’re not just buying a book, you’re buying into their celebrity.
Denene and Nick know that they are the brand, and they make it a point to keep that message at the forefront of everything they do. They started a marketing and communications firm called Odyssey Media, which publishes Odyssey Couleur and offers a full range of boutique leisure services to a discerning clientèle. Once again, the value of their personal brand has allowed them to expand into other areas.
‘You are the brand’ means that when it comes to promoting anything, the value that people attach to whatever it is you’re pitching, starts with the value they attach to you. Therefore, the more you cultivate your personal appeal, the greater an impact you will have when pitching yourself or any extension of yourself.
Until next time, class dismissed.