JK Rowling’s Terrible Branding Mistake (and What You Can Learn From it)

Jk Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter empire and arguably one of the most successful authors of our time, has committed a terrible mistake that drastically trashed, or at least severely tarnished, her reputation.

What she did ( mind you, she’s a billionaire, so it won’t hurt, at least not on the financial level) is a perfect lesson in what-you-should-NEVER-ever do with your brand.

And it’s vital reminder to you, a digital creative, especially if you’re not backed up bya billion dollar cushion.

Now enough with the teasing, here’s what happened :

After writing the insanely popular children book series Harry Potter ( over 450,000,000 copies sold worldwide. Picture that !), she thought it was time for a lil change.

So she went for the adult world, and must have thought, boy, let’s get REALLY ADULT here.

Her new book “The Casual Vacancy” is not just about adults dealing with adult themes.

It’s “filled with gritty, depressive, unlikeable characters, drugs, F-bombs and intense sex scenes” according to the reviews.

In short – it’s the COMPLETE opposite of what she’s written before. And here lies the problem:

It’s perfectly acceptable to try out new stuff, and it’s understandable that JK was probably sick to the stomach about writing that wand-wielding, four-eyed wizard boy.

BUT when you build a RAVING fan base around a certain style, in her case imaginative children storytelling in the magic world, you set up EXPECTATIONS.

And a brand is all about


Nike – unleashing the athlete warrior within you

or how about :

Disney – creating family-friendly entertainment

You set up expectations, and you fulfill them, that’s how you increase your fans base and keep ’em super-happy.

But JK complete went totally 180° on her brand, and blew every expectation people had of her.

If you look at her Amazon reviews for her new book, you see that she got most reviews in the 1 star (the worst grade) department. Here’s what some of her “former” fans have to say about the book:

“I read Harry Potter, but bought this with an open mind and not looking for an Adult Magical world, but what I go was garbage. I rarely share my opinion of books, but wanted to warn readers to not waste their money on this book. I was bored and the characters were flat and not written well. Just save your money and buy something else. I not only wish I could get my money back, but the time I wasted reading this. Rowlings is good at writing Young Adult wizard novels and needs to find a new wizard to write about.”

“Why? Did we do something wrong? Did we not love her and her books enough?”

“I am disappointed with the profanity and vulgar language in her book. A good author does not need to resort to foul language and explicit sex scenes to entertain adults”

“If you expect Harry Potter – DON’T buy !

I am so disappointed, mainly because I’ve been looking forward to this book for so long, and now it’s here it’s a stupid grown-up book!!! Says me, 50+, but still a child at heart”

“Too many swear words. I read for 15 minutes and encountered 3 swear words.”

And here’s by far my favorite :

“It was my 8 year old daughters birthday and I happened to be in my local book store. I saw this in a display and thought “…Wow, she wrote the Harry Potter series, my daughter Ophelia would love this”.

Anyway, I wrapped it up and gave it to her.

Next thing I knew she asked me questions about drugs and sex..she said they were in the book I bought for her birthday.

I feel that her childhood is gone now.

This book should be sold BEHIND the counter so people know its not for children.

How can we expect our children to grow up happy and healthy when filth is all around?”

Notice how the buyer didn’t even check the synopsis on the back of the book.

She didn’t know ONE thing about the book, because she linked JK Rowling to imaginative children storytelling, and that’s what she EXPECTED from her new book. Achieving this – making people buy your new products, even if they don’t know anything about it – is the incredible powerful effect of creating your reputation.

Listen, I don’t want to smash JK Rowling, she’s a wonderful author that changed the world with her Harry Potter series. But even legends screw up, and I want to show you what you can learn from her misstep:

How you can avoid the JK fail yourself

Let’s recap:

A (personal) brand is about  setting up EXPECTATIONS and fulfilling them.

If you become known for a style and attract fans that luv you for it, you create TRUST and set up

expectations. They buy your stuff because they believe what you believe.

When you release new work, your fans will be buy it based on the work you created before.

Be consistent with your message and presentation.

You can take liberties in your work, and you should to stay relevant, but be careful when you create something that’s the COMPLETE OPPOSITE SPECTRUM of what you’ve created before.

Imagine Disney creating a hardcore porn movie. Aside the outrage it would cause, it would also smash the brand’s imagge for a long long long time, as

you question EVERYTHING that brand ever created before (“Were those hearty children stories all coming from a sick & twisted mind ?”)

You’ll tarnish, or even worse, trash your entire reputation, and we know reputation takes YEARS to build and SECONDS to destroy.

At least in my opinion.

What’s your say ?

And please shares this article.

  • http://twitter.com/BenjaminOJenks Benjamin Jenks

    Always a fan, Mars…

    But I gotta say, Go JK!
    I want to give her some mucho love for risking and rockin’ what her heart was creating. I thought the story of the woman giving the book to the child was hilarious… sorry… but I just think some dirty sex is good for kids.

    Kids talk about it anyways.

    Go JK…

    But I’m just thinking about her as a person AND coming from a place that says… When a person is authentically themselves… even in utter failure… we all benefit.

    Brands are a great metaphor to extend our Truth to people… but what if our truth changes?

    I picture brands as clothing… needed, helpful, but only a tool.

    What if we grow?

    What if we have always been GOOD and we have a gnawing urge to be BAD?

    I’d be curious what you think JK could have done to be true to herself AND rock her brand.

    And how we can alter our brand… when we know we have to… for our True Beating Heart.

    Maybe she could have started a new artist name…?

    But I see this as a win for Truth.

    People who have childish imaginations can talk about crazy sex… maybe she is setting the path for a new norm in our culture where Truth is more accepted.

    People are open to the extremes of Light and Dark we all feel and need to express.

    Maybe JK is going somewhere and we should learn from her and follow…


    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      Hey Benjamin,

      of course we’re multi-dimensional beings with both light and darkness, we humans need to be. But If you’re super-reliable one day and then completely unreliable the next, you make it verrry difficult for people and they don’t know what to think of you.

      If there’s one series you become famous for, and you put out a specific message that rocks with a lot of people who think the same, and then you create a book that’s the complete opposite of what you wrote before, even negates your former message, then people don’t know what to think of you.

      That’s just how we humans work – and that’s why I made the example with Disney shooing a porn movie – it could make people question everything the company produced before that, and for what ?

      I think if you become famous & even powerful for something, you have a lot of responsibility (sneaking some Spiderman quote in here ;), and just cranking something out that tarnishes it for the hell of it has no value – neither for her nor for the people who follow her.

      They are so many options of what she could have done – create a “hybrid” book in-between that was mature but not as drastic, use a pen name, co-write with someone else etc.

      • http://twitter.com/BenjaminOJenks Benjamin Jenks

        Sick reply… I hear you about accepting the nature of Human beings.

        We judge. We box.

        It is evolutionary.

        I’m not against that…

        I’m saying… JK has a new brand. A new fan. And she could have many more.

        Our Brand must serve our Truth.

        If our Truth changes… ditch the Brand.

        Embrace the Failure. Hurt the fans.

        Live your Truth… and we all benefit (even if it hurts at first).

        Fans, money, fame… will all come from your Truth.

        If your Brand doesn’t represent who you really are… then you really lost me. I know you are a fraud. You are just about the dollar bills. Your book will suck because it will be halfway.

        But when you are passionate about your Truth… and build a new Brand… Then money, fame, and fans will come rollin in.

        Or at least you will live and die giving the Gift you as a person were meant to give.

        You will be You. :)

        • http://mindfull.co/ Good Guy Robert

          Well said!

    • Heather

      The little girl was only 8, and her mother’s an idiot not to check the back of the book, but I did not think that story was hilarious. I thought it was really upsetting and sad.

  • Sarah Bates

    I wouldn’t say that JK Rowling is a brand. Harry Potter was a brand. A tiny bit of research would have filled these people in that this isn’t a kids book. I think the problem perhaps is not in whether or not Rowling wrote the right book but in the way the people in charge of marketing promoted it.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      I agree, but we humans work on expectations and putting people into boxes, whether that’s good or bad. Since JK is only known for Harry Potter (unlike Stephen King for example, who’s not tied to a particular series), she pretty much IS Harry Potter – just mention her name in any conversation, and people who know her will think Harry Potter. When you’re that closely tied to something, you want to be careful with your next step.

      • Sarah Bates

        I agree that humans do put people into boxes as part of our nature, but it’s also a part of our nature to want to stretch the boxes people put us into. JK spent >years< writing a children's series. Like the actors who portrayed the characters in the movies, she wanted to try something completely different and stretch that box.

        Perhaps there are two different conversations here, though. I'm sure, looking at it through a branding POV it would be a terrible mistake. But as a creative person, it was the most natural thing to do. If JK was looking at this with the mindset of a branding expert she probably WOULD have created another children's book, or do what you would advice and try and ease into a new market. But JK isn't a branding expert, (nor I think does she want to be) she's a writer of fiction. If she didn't write what her heart wanted to write and forced out another children's book for the sake of marketing, it would've been (in my opinion) an even worse mistake than doing it for branding purposes.

        Right now this probably seems to be a terrible idea. But in however many years, when she's written a few more books of (possibly) varying genres, we'll probably applaud the decision she made with this book. If she DID write another Children's book, even if her heart was in it, it would be even harder for her to break out of it later. After writing this, I'd actually argue that this was probably a fantastic branding idea in terms of planning ahead, because now she can write whatever the fuck she wants and no one will shout and say "BUT IT'S NOT KIDS FICTION!" ;)

  • http://twitter.com/JanetBrent Janet Brent

    that’s one of the things people may not realize about branding when they’re living it.. you tend to start putting yourself in a box. is it the right kind of box you want to be in??

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      Yeah, it’s a really important decision. Everyone labels everything. I’d rather watch closely which label I slam on myself – and make sure it sticks both on me and the people who “experience” me and my work.

  • http://twitter.com/JetSetCitizen John Bardos

    Hey Mars,

    Interesting perspective. I think celebrities often get typecast as one style of actor, or in this case author. It can be very hard to break out of that.

    I’ve never watched or read any of the Harry Potter series, nor the new book, but if I were J.K. Rowlings and I wanted to completely change my audience and writing style, I think I would probably write something that is the complete opposite of my previous work as well.

    The fact that the new book is so controversial, shows that this tactic is working for her. She doesn’t have to be the Harry Potter author for the rest of her life. She is reinventing herself to focus on other topics and writing styles that she finds interesting. That is very cool in my mind. :-)

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      John, interesting view, and yeah, being a billionaire certainly allows for these options. But if you’re smaller, much much much smaller, it would be difficult to move on – UNLESS you have established right from the get-go that you do things differently and in a surprising matter (e.g. Tarantino )

  • http://twitter.com/AnnieAndreHacks Annie Andre


    I think from the perspective of the customer expecting something similar to JK’s Potter series but in an adult version it may be bad. But.. from the perspective of a person who’s trying to live her own truth or try new things. She should just go for it.

    there are going to be naysayers. It’s just a fact of life. We all try to comply in this lives maybe a little too much. It’s when we step outside that we get criticized.
    So yes from a branding stand point maybe it’s bad. But maybe she’s at a different point in her life maybe she just wanted to give it a try despite all the possible back lash.

    I give her Kudos for doing it…

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      Annie, of course she has ALL the right in the world to just go for it, and she did.
      I’m just thinking – if you build an incredible loyal and rabid fans base that goes into the millions, you have soo much influence (and even responsibility) to create something awesomely new that doesn’t go against the core of everything you stood before.

      • http://twitter.com/AnnieAndreHacks Annie Andre

        Wow mars, I’m surprised you would say that. Are we not all allowed to be who we want to be and change course no matter what our fan base is. I get your point of view. But should she really just stay the course just because her fans expect it? Must she be type cast into this one genre? will you stick with your brand and never change if you are unhappy with it> what if one day you decide you want to do something different.?

        • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

          not at all – you should (and must) evolve, but why would you create something so drastically different after your huge success that pretty much misrepresents everything you stood before ? I think in her case she could have created a less hardcore renaissance.

  • http://twitter.com/Phaseling Michael Henderson

    Whenever I think Disney, I think Mickey Mouse, Lion King, Jungle Book… What I don’t think of is Pirates of the Caribbean. But it is! It’s an old original story that was redone by Johnny Depp (and co), just like Robin Williams got to do Hook long before that. So this shift happened gradually. Disney still has its roots firmly planted in those iconic stories that made it great, but it branched out, touched different audiences in new ways, and started shaping its brand’s image.

    What Disney didn’t do, is just say “Screw Mickey Mouse, let’s do something new.” Like Mars was saying with the porn example. Disney built around their core, and told everyone “We can be more than we are today, but we must stay true to our foundation.” Just like JKR should have written probably a couple short novels that drew toward a new audience.

    Instead, JKR decided to lash out like an angry teenager cutting her wrists for the first time.

    • http://www.qaqn.com/ Daniel M. Clark

      Whenever I think Disney, I think Pulp Fiction.

      Because they have a ton of subsidiaries now, most of which are not in-line with the core values and image that you describe.

  • Angela

    She tried something different and maybe it tanked (I haven’t read it so I don’t know how good or bad it is)…but so what. I agree with Sarah Bates…Harry Potter is the brand. Stephen King write extremely well in different genres. Also the women who gave her kid the book for her birthday is spectacularly dim. How do you not check the contents of a book (no matter who it’s by) before giving it to your 8-year-old to read?

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      Hey Angela,
      Stephen King wrote dozens of books with different settings, he’s not particularly known for one like JK Rowling. If you become known that ONE thing, and then you create something that’s totally different and even against it, than you’re messing up reader expectations.

      • Angela

        Hmmm…that sounds like you’re ‘boxing’ her. I don’t buy it.

  • http://www.qaqn.com/ Daniel M. Clark

    I’m not buying it—the premise, not the book (although I’m not buying that either). Here’s what I’ve known about this book since the day it was first announced? That it’s for adults and that there’s profanity and sex and other adult things in it. That was a selling point! *Everyone* was talking about that! There wasn’t a preview, news story or review on the planet that didn’t talk about the massive difference between this and Harry Potter and how this was completely the opposite of the Potter series.

    Rowling and her PR team handled this just fine. At some point, you have to trust people to actually pay attention to what you’re saying because if the advice here is “manage your expectations”—she *did*. Idiot parents buying the book for a kid without so much as looking at the back flap are to blame here, not the author who has been doing nothing but talking about how adult the book is since before it came out.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      Yeah, but how many people do you reach with media announcements like that versus the reach of her actual books (over 450,000,000). I’d say over 90% of the people who read and loved HP didn’t know about that, as there’s so much clutter in the media world. People who buy your stuff and love you for that ALWAYS judge your next project by what you have done before.
      That’s the power of branding, you make people buy your new stuff, even if they DON’T know anything about it, just because they have set expectations that they think you fulfill.

      • http://www.qaqn.com/ Daniel M. Clark

        And yet how many buyers of a book by a world-famous author do so knowing nothing about it? 90% of the Potter readers didn’t know this new book was for adults? How did they even know the book existed then? These buyers don’t live in a vacuum. They knew the book was coming out, they knew when and where to get it, and if they can’t be bothered to read a single paragraph about what the book is about, then they have only themselves to blame. What you’re suggesting is one step up from pigeonholing—Rowling shouldn’t have written this book? Why, because part of her audience of Potter fans are lazy?

        • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

          People always label / pigeonhole you. It’s not bad, it’s just how we are wired. From a natural point of view, labeling things allows us to save precious energy, because we don’t have to re-adjust every situation & person from scratch, which is a energy-intensive. Knowing this, you put the label on yourself and get put into a category that you like, allowing you to gain more influence and impacting the world much better.

          • http://www.qaqn.com/ Daniel M. Clark

            Not everyone wants to be pigeonholed ;) Clearly, Rowling is taking this opportunity to expand and grow as a writer. If the Potter audience comes along, great. If not, well, she’s a billionaire, so it’s not like she can’t afford to write whatever she wants. Unlike an author like Jeffrey Deaver, for example, who is pretty well entrenched in crime and murder mysteries, someone like Rowling can do whatever she wants and nobody will tell her no.

  • http://mindfull.co/ Good Guy Robert

    I don’t see any reason JK shouldn’t write the book she wants to write at this point. Why bend your art to the expectations of others, especially when you don’t need the money?

    • http://www.ryanhanley.com/ Ryan Hanley

      She can… We can’t… That’s his point…

      • http://mindfull.co/ Good Guy Robert

        And my point is that if your aim is to produce the kind of content you’re passionate about, maybe it’s ok for your brand to evolve along with your audience.

  • Leo Dimilo

    “I’m not here to sell things. That’s what other people do, I’m creating them. If it doesn’t work out, I’m sorry; I’m just doing what I do. You hired me to do what I do, not what you do. As long as people don’t tell me what to do, there will be no problem. ”

    That’s a direct quote from the NYTimes article with Neil Young. I think that what you are having a hard time separating is that there is a difference between an artist (like JK Rowling or Neil Young) and a “business” (like Nestle or Coke). Sometimes, believe it or not, it isn’t about the money…or even your “fans”. And what it sounds like you are saying is that b/c she was successful selling fantasy books, her name should stay synonymous with that genre, she should branch out and really…she shouldn’t use her “name” to brand anything outside her genre.

    Now if you were going to say that “Apple” was rebranding itself, that would be a different story. But people are more multi-faceted than corporations or companies.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      No, I don’t say she only should write in that genre. It’s more about the message – Harry Potter stands for something aspirational, along with the themes of friendship, never-giving-up etc. And “The Casual Vacancy” is totally negates that, even goes against it and creates the opposite world view.
      When you message contradicts itself, people have problems for what you stand anymore – are you now a flakey, capricious Imagine PETA changing its message and now supporting animal slaughter to buildfur coats. How could you ever trust them again ?This is a crass example, but I’m using it to make a point.

      • http://www.qaqn.com/ Daniel M. Clark

        People are complex, though. Why should Rowling always write things that are aspirational with themes of friendship and never giving up? You’re not separating the author from the work, and you really should. Many authors work successfully in multiple genres and cover a wide array of topics and themes. How else can you explain Neil Gaiman?

        • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

          Neil Gaiman is really a grrreat example, because he uses a wide variety of topics while staying true to a core foundation.
          Just look at his website and the books he wrote – they’re all similar in style and delivery. You’ll never see a flat, feel good and no trouble Disney book from him – it’s just not what he stands for.
          Instead, you have fantasy, gothic style, dark-ish themes and people coping with dire circumstances in life. It’s both complex and yet Gaiman-ish, just like Tim Burton can shoot a variety of different movies (Mars Attacks, Batman, Beetlejuice, Dark Shadows) and you still see his style in EVERYTHING he does.

          • http://www.qaqn.com/ Daniel M. Clark

            To me, it’s not about style, it’s about content. Coraline and American Gods could have been written by two different people. He writes children’s books and adult novels, only he did it in the reverse of Rowling and wrote for adults first. But if Gaiman isn’t a spectacular example, there are other authors who have successfully written in multiple genres with more clearly defined differences. Rowling wants to be one of those authors.

      • Leo Dimilo

        Besides, couldn’t you argue that Harry Potter is the Brand and not JK Rowland? Stephen King has been branded the king of horror, but he has books out there that aren’t in the “horror” biz.

        The argument would be like saying that because Spielberg made his name on the Star Wars trademark, he shouldn’t branch out to other genres in fear that he would alienate the sci-fi fans.

        • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

          The problem is that JK only wrote HP before, so, yes, she’s directly associated to the brand. Stephen King wrote a variety of topics, so he doesn’t have a problem in that department. Like I said before – it’s not about the genre, it’s about the message you put out. And if you become directly associated with a certain message, it’s tricky to create something right after that which totally contradicts it.

  • Mauro D’Andrea

    Hi Mars, finally another post! You make us wait too much :)

    I agree with you: she made a huge mistake.
    You can’t make a so radical shift without bad results.
    Ok, maybe she felt that she had to change his writing style, but she could make a more gradual change.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      haha, the next one is coming way earlier, I promise. In her case, it won’t really matter money-wise, because she got the money. But on a fan base…

  • fangirlwriter

    sorry if my english its not good but here is my opinion, despite i love Harry Potter books and respects JK as an human being and not a brand, she was a role model for me (im not a teenager if you ask) she deals with depression and life sucking and its seems like Harry Potter books was like her “graduation” from life crap. i know humans are complex, and its not like we put ourselves in a box, its not like she has to be a role model she has the right to be herself, but somehow for me she was a living message of moving on. Not to mention i feel i little betrayed, i love childrens book and youth literature and jumping to write the opposite its like trying to say “im a serious writer who writes for adults now”. Still ill respect her, and im thanks her for giving such a wonderful series of book to the world.

  • Heather Fonseca

    I do wish Joanne Rowling had really thought long and hard about using her pen name, and the Harry Potter/JK Rowling brand, to push “real” writing, or whatever she thinks she doing. The thing is she could have used her real name, not her initials, and people would probably not have been upset. She could have build a whole different brand around a different name. Anne Rice did a similar thing when she started writing soft porn. She didn’t want it confused with her massive vampire empire, so chose a pen name instead.

    It’s a good lesson, and one I’ll keep in mind.

    However, lets say you do want to do something a little different with a blog or whatever, how do you go about leveraging your brand without creating a problem for said brand? I know a lot of fashion bloggers are trying out new things with their blogs and encountering problems from their fan base.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      that’s a tricky question – the ideal way would be to create something like a bridge – pleasing the “old” fans while slowly introducing the new. It can be a gradual process, so people slowly get accustomed to your evolution. What JK did was a drastic 180 turn right from the get-go, and that’s tarnishing the message and feelings she put out with HP.

  • http://sdavismedia.com/ Sean Davis

    I don’t care what anyone says, JK was known for a certain thing and produced something else. Harry Potter was definitely the brand but in this specific case, Harry Potter was the kind of stuff she was known for. So really, she was the brand just as much as Harry Potter was.

    With that being said, she can write whatever the hell she wants. But her marketing team should have done an overly thorough job of explaining what this new book was about. There shouldn’t have been any mixups.

    As for the last quoted comment, that mom should be ashamed of herself. You don’t just pick something up off the shelf, wrap it up, and give it to your little girl. That’s just plain silly. I understand her reasoning and trust but seriously? Let’s be a mom and filter everything that your child is exposed to… as much as you can. Given that she picked the book up off of the shelf herself, she has absolutely no excuse!

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps this issue of expectations and brand continuity could have been solved if JK Rowling simply wrote under a pen name for her new adult novel. A pen name would serve a dual marketing purpose:

    – Prevent confusion with the casual shopper who is buying a present for his 8 year-old daughter and thinks JK Rowling = children’s fantasy & magic stories.

    – Generate additional publicity for the book by “exposing” just before the launch that it’s really JK Rowling writing the book under a pen name. That alerts her adult-age fans so they can buy it if they want, but also tells the reader that this book is DIFFERENT, which is why a pen name was used.

  • Robin

    Oh boy, sorry but you are all wrong on that one. Just because you are all over marketing and branding shit and only care about dollars, supposedly fans and if people like you, it is not an universal truth you know.

    As some people said before writing is an expression of ideas and thoughts. Real writers usually feel the need to express themselves through this form of art.

    As you said, it is not about the money for her, she simply doesn’t need it and probably does not even care about people’s expectations. And rightfully so.

    Harry Potter might be a brand, but first and foremost it was just a story, and a lot of people including Rowling just took the opportunity to exploit it. But Rowling is just a name and a person. If she writes another Potter spin-off or something similar in that genre, people who loved Harry Potter will buy it anyways, no matter if she wrote some depressing adult book or not in the meantime.

    It doesn’t hurt her reputation at all.

    Seriously, if you read the amazon reviews it actually just shows how stupid people are. What people expect is not her fault. If people cannot read a synopsis it is their fault. If people lead their lifes like brainless zombies it is their fault.

    The only thing missing is an explicit content sticker for stupid parents and other stupid people.

    Marketing and branding is mostly necessary for people like you, selling the same old content in a very nice package and talking people into needing it. Because most products, virtual and real, would be just worthless crap, if not in a nice box and the usual lies about why people really need to buy it. Cheap psychological tricks? Yes. Art? Not so much.

    So marketing and branding is actually only absolutely essential for products, which would have not much value without it. Shoes are shoes, so lie about why people should buy Nike shoes.

    Marketing online guides have pretty much the same content, so lie about why people should buy yours as well, when they already bought Seth Godin and the other A-bunch. Same message, different styles.

    Believe me Tim Burtons style might be unique and the same every time, but he sure as hell delivers different messages with each of his movies. And so does almost any other director. They have their styles, but different stories are told and different messages are delivered. Rowling has her style and tells different stories. Their style is their brandmark, not their message, because that would be extraordinarily boring.

    And that is the difference between art and you marketing and branding guys.

    Your message might be right for your bunch, but your example…fail.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      First of all – this blog post is my opinion, and not universal truth. Everything on this blog is my opinion, that’s why it’s my blog.

      And it’s not about people being stupid, it’s about knowing how the brain works.
      Like I said, if a family go sees a Disney movie, and it’s a porn movie made by Disney, would you call the family “stupid” for NOT checking what the movie is about ?
      No, because they expected to see a Disney-style movie, based on what the company produced in all the decades before. That’s how our brains work – we don’t reevaluate everything from scratch each time, we always make assumptions based on what we have experienced before. It saves us energy, and nature is all about
      getting the most with the least amount of energy.

      And to be clear here – nothing’s original, not even Seth Godin or Harry Potter. It’s all remixed information, flavored with a personal touch. Everything you there has been seen and said before, thousands of times. But does this mean we should all shut up and stop producing because the old Greeks and Romans did and said it all before ?

      No, because that would mean the end of human history. We regurgitate, enhance, flavor, make progress, remix and combine – that’s why we have this awesome variety in products and works today. Sure, for pure survival, you wouldn’t need
      99% of it, but we do buy and create it because we live in a capitalist world, the only
      system that works so far.

      I appreciate your opinion, but remember,
      it’s yours alone, and obviously, I respectfully disagree with it.

      • Robin

        Disney is a cooperation, Rowling is a person, a single person, Sorry dude, I really see your point, but you’re seriously mixing up some terms here.

        Your example just does not work. It does not mean your opinion on what you actually wanted to say is not valid. See the difference? So relax. Just admit to yourself that you might be wrong from time to time. And you are wrong with this blogpost here.

        In this case of course it is about stupidity of people, brain only works this way, if you don’t use it;)

        Ok, slowly now…Disney is the brand, some new Disney movie is the new product, people expect? Not porn, but a Disney movie and they are right to do so. Because that is where Disney has its niche, it is what they stand for, willingly and on purpose. It is what they advertise.

        J.K.Rowling is a person, Harry Potter is the brand, some new Potter book is the product, people expect? Another Potter.

        So if she doesn’t publish a Potter but some other adult book then it is not branded Potter. And yes if people expect to read a Potter it is plain stupidity. First of all because the front and back cover of the book say otherwise. Secondly because she never branded herself being a Harry Potter writer only. She never claimed to be a children’s book writer only. She wrote other stuff before and she always said she would write other stuff after the last Potter was finished.

        Her niche is writing fiction, her niche is not Harry Potter, her niche is not children’s books and her niche is not fantasy.

        Ken Follett might be most famous for epic historical novels, but he wrote a lot of successful thrillers as well, even before he wrote historical novels. And yes some stupid people complain, because not all his books are Pillars of the earth part 2;-)

        Her story happened to become famous. She never promised Rowling will be a synonym for children’s books.

        You promised to help people to stand out online, so did many others, that is your brand. People are right to expect exactly that from you and no stories on dogfood. In your niche it would be a terrible branding mistake to write about dogfood.

        For Nike it would be a terrible branding mistake, if they started to sell televisions, washing machines and such.

        But for a person who never claimed to be a brand, there is no branding mistake to be made.

        As for psychology and how the brain works…

        Of course nothing is original, everything has been told in one way or another. But some things are just more repetitive than others.

        Did Rowling write and publish Harry Potter Part 1 seven times in a row? No. She actually published seven different books with a different story in each of them. A new story? No. But a strong sory, which went viral even before the whole marketing machinery set in.

        Your guide for example would be weak without your slick drawings. It would be weak, if you had not branded your name in a memorable way, and it would be weak without the crossmarketing with your buddies. The mere content, the told story is weak, because all the Godins, Brogans and Risleys are telling the same story, right now. And they don’t tell the story once and in one book, they tell the same story in every book. Time and again. Today in a blue package, tomorrow in a yellow package, next week in a red package. This means the story is getting weaker and weaker and wouldn’t survive without branding, good marketing and psychological tricks. And that’s ok, if people are willing to buy it time and again, their problem. Seth Godin did not become famous for his “stories”, he became famous for selling promises, promises to teach people how to sell promises. And he sure does sell promises in a nice package. In other words, it’s messing with people’s heads.

        My point is, this kind of stuff is where branding and marketing is actually really needed. The weaker the product the more an artificial value has to be created. The more you have to mess with people’s heads. This goes for your niche, for 50% of the Hollywood movies, food and even authors who try to sell their own same old time and again.

        Strong products tend to need less psychological voodoo than weak products. Strong products are less vulnerable to branding mistakes. It is about reliability. So for Rowling and her name as a “brand” this means, people rely on the fact that she is a good writer. The only disappointment concerning her name would be to write a bad book, not an unexpected book.

        Your advice is mainly targeted at people with weaker products where concise and consistent branding and good marketing is absolutely essential. Otherwise it would be deadly for the product. But you just gave these people, who expected exactly that from you, a false example. Nothing more, nothing less. Peace.

        • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

          Thanx for taking all the time to write this passionate comments, no joking, I really appreciate that. I see your points, and can guess where they’re coming from, after all, I always want to stay open minded and I usually surround myself with people who challenge me.

          For me, branding and marketing is not something you slam on the a weak product/work (that’s advertising for me), it IS part of the product, it’s all holistic. It your work feels good, looks good and has a good message targeted to a specific group, than it’s one coherent created piece of work. In my opinion, every single person who does business (in the widest sense) is a (personal) brand, as you build up expectations and succeed if you fulfill them. That’s why it’s essential to know the rules of branding to make your (creative) work as successful as possible, both mentally and pocket-wise.
          And of course this discussion can go on and on, but we both shared our opinions here and they don’t have to overlap.
          That’s why I have my comments open – everyone can share their thoughts here.

        • http://josephratliff.com/ JosephRatliff

          So, I haven’t seen where you’ve addressed the personal branding aspect, Robin. J.K. Rowling isn’t popular enough to have a brand herself, much like Disney does, in your opinion?

          It’s because of her product, her art, the Harry Potter series that she really is known at all (aside from true followers of her work). It just so happens that her product (Harry Potter) was SO strong, that it also became a brand in and of itself and launched a franchise.

          But, she also maintains her own brand despite the success of Harry Potter, and she might have done a better job of marketing this new book so as to “qualify out” the people who associate Harry Potter with her brand IMO (through her blog, publicity, appearances, etc…).

  • http://www.loveyoursmallbusiness.com Janine Ogg

    Great debate, although it seems as if the point Mars is trying to make about branding is being missed at times (but does it really matter if a great debate ensues?!)

    We’re in the process of exploring a re-brand and from this post I take away an important lesson – if you want to be an artist, entrepreneur, designer (or whatever it may be) and you know you don’t want to be put ‘in a box’ or you are scared about being pigeon-holed in the future, think about it from the beginning and be clever about the way you build your brand. Set yourself up to be able to expand your horizons in the future, in other words. That way you can become a superhero in your niche, then leverage all the wonderful attention you gain from kicking ass in one area, to kick ass in the next.

    We’re certainly going to be thinking very carefully about this now!

    Thanks @twitter-22962691:disqus for introducing me to Mars Dorian’s blog and thanks Mars for being unique. Off to listen to your podcast with Nat Sisson now.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      Awesome Janine, welcome to my little world . Yeah, it’s all about thinking far ahead and building your “right” brand way.
      Janet’s awesome, just skyped with her a few weeks ago.

      If you have any questions, just shoot me a message on http://www.marsdorian.com/contact

      • http://www.loveyoursmallbusiness.com Janine Ogg

        Thanks Mars, I’ve come up with a question and would love your thoughts. Off to post it now.

  • http://twitter.com/buildingplanner Sarah Woods

    Right….all I can see here are body parts lying every where, looks like you got up a few grills Mars. I just want to say a big thank you, for offering to ask you a question, really appreciate your time and I’m totally back into cartooning and made it work for my building and renovating website. I’ll send you one I’ve done. I’m going to buy your ‘out stander’ guide to thank you but I’m sure it will still be a win win for me as I’m sure it will be great value. If I can do anything for you ever, please let me know. And I’ll throw in my 2c reg. JK, maybe the book has got her style of writing throughout it, but the problem lies with her current fans that have received years and years of consistent content. She had this massive, massive flywheel spinning consistently for so long and then, not only did she stop it, she changed the flywheel to a completely different one. She’s obviously brilliant, and will no doubt get rabid fans for her new stories, but the ones left behind will more than likely not follow anymore because the contrast was so dramatic. It’s a dam shame for her, that if she wants this new direction to become her legacy (if she gives a hoot ) she has to pretty much dismantle her empire she spent years building and start building a new one. I’m thinking of the quote from Spiderman “with great power comes great responsibility” especially when kids look up to you. Fantastic post, who needs tv right?

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      Can’t wait to see your cartoons – and I mean it, Sarah !
      No doubt she’s brilliant, and yeah, she can do what she wants, but I wouldn’t been
      wayyy more careful with her next release. Like you said, if you have grrrreat power,
      you do have a lot of responsibility, and mistreating that is always an insult on your fans (and maybe even confuses them ). I wonder why she didn’t “bridge” that release with something “less opposite” in-between.

      Enjoy the guide – I poured lots of sweat and heart into it !

  • Beyazgol

    You critique her because she doesn’t suit your perception of what builds brand value? She built brand value through the Harry Potter series, demonstrating keen brand insight through product placement. Having accomplished so much, she’d like to try her hand at a different genre and switch gears as a writer.

    You’ve missed the gap between being corporate and being human, between conforming to textbook models and experimenting with life, and between having something to say instead of something worth saying.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      branding has nothing to do with corporate – farmers invented it set their places and herds apart. It’s made famously through corporations, but that doesn’t mean it goes against being human. And like I said before, it’s NOT about changing genres, it’s about being careful with the message and style you put out and become famous for, and then going completely against that style.

  • Stephanie

    I disagree. For one, you’re treating a novel, as a whole, as a brand. This is wrong. Her name is her brand, her style of writing is her brand. NOT the novel. Moreover, “branding” pertains to the business side of creation, not creatives themselves. If an artist of any medium continues to work within the confines they and others set for themselves, they won’t learn or grow. Their work will become stale. Of course, some people won’t like the direction the artist takes. That’s perfectly within their rights, but it isn’t the artist’s problem if they continue to strive to put out work of VALUE. Some artists don’t feel the need to change up what they do, and that’s fine, too.

    Mars, you are the perfect example of branding. Your entire site is written in the same tone of voice, with the same cartoons, the same haphazard humor. A lot of people like it. I know I do. But you are definitely not an example of value. Your articles are riddled with grammar mistakes. In a few months time, will I come back and read your articles again? No. You could have elaborated more on why her book was a “terrible branding mistake,” but you chose not to because you’re focused on your brand and the niche of people who are already attracted to that brand, not the potential value of your content.

    Basically, stick with what you know. If you’d like to have an intelligent discussion on branding, then work on your own content, first.

    I sound harsh because I’m so sick of people like you who can’t take the time to do a little research pointing the “shame on you” finger on artists who dare to branch out from their own comfort zones and stretch their creative muscles.

    But anyway, thanks for the poorly written and uninformed opinion, Mars! Stick with the doodles, please.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      Hey Stephanie,

      thanx for your sharing your opinion. And don’t worry – you don’t sound harsh at all.
      If I can’t take sugar coated criticism then I shouldn’t be in this business at all. I practically welcome these kind of opinions !

      This made me think a little –
      “Basically, stick with what you know” ? Then everything you wrote before that line absolutely contradicts your point, because JK Rowling should stick to Harry Potter based on that statement.

      Anyways, it’s a statement like yours that give me strength to continue on this path. Major disappoint for you – I’ll continue to write even more, especially in the fiction world.

  • http://www.knavesmireit.co.uk/ Phil Johnson

    OUCH! She bought it for her daughters birthday!! EPIC FAIL!! Ya gotta laugh, but at the same time I totally see whether you are coming from.

    Chopping and changing doesn’t give your brand any stability. Do what you are known for, and do it well. Boom!

  • http://www.facebook.com/sophiagubb Sophia Gubb

    I don’t see it as a screw up. If you say she screwed up you’re making an assumption about her goals. And I get the distinct impression her goals weren’t to make a great business move (as if she needed one). I think the main thing she is interested in is enjoying creating stuff, expressing the messages she has inside through fiction, and perhaps touching people’s lives with her work.

    The first two things were unaffected by her bad business move. The third thing was probably not affected SO much by it. So what that some people didn’t read the blurb or couldn’t get over their own expectations for a Harry Potter repeat? She wrote what her inspiration brought her to write and there will always be some people who appreciate that. There will always, too, be people who are not a good fit for your message, whatever you write. It’s up to everyone involved to try to ensure the right books get to the right people.

    I also think that if she attempted to write only what people expected of her, her inspiration as an author could be at risk of drying up. If it did, no one would win, not her, not the businesspeople, and not her readers.

  • http://andrewrlong.tumblr.com/ Andrew R Long

    Wow, I had no idea. . . what a colossal miscalculation. I wonder if Rowling just saw he success of Fifty Shades and was trying to cash in — I mean, cash in more than she already has? The pursuit of money can lead one down strange paths. . .

    Anyway, also just wanted to comment on how awesome this site is, man. Design and branding and your own unique style, I’ve really enjoyed poking around.

    Cheers man

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      Hey Andrew, yeah, I don’t think she did it for the money. When you’re a billionaire, you don’t have worries in that department ;) Thanx for the compliment, doing my best to take this site to the next level !

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