Do You Really Need to Brand Yourself to Sell Your Stuff ?


My “JK Rowling’s Terrible Branding Mistake (and What You Can Learn From it)” caused quite the wild fire. It gathered over 50 comments and sparked a fired-up discussion.

The main idea of the post is that JK Rowling did a mistake by going totally against what she stood before and wrote a new book that pretty much goes against what Harry Potter represents, clearly alienating her fan base.

Many of you shared your opinion, a lot of which went against the idea of branding yourself.

There were actually two major “factions” of belief :

  • the ones that believe you should be a brand and know the DO’s and DON’Ts
  • the ones that believe you are a creative, HUMAN individual and not “lifeless” brand

I want to clarify the (personal) branding once and for all, since it comes with a lot of
undeserved flak fire.

Hint: If you want to sell your stuff and you’re (partly) using the internet to achieve that, this article
affects you.

First of all – the word “branding” comes from the German word “Brand” which means burn / incendiary.

It comes from the last century when farmers started using hot-ass iron sticks to BURN their initials into the butts of their cows, to differentiate their herds from other farmer’s.

( in German “brandmarken” – to “mark” something with a “Brand” / burn )

Yeah, I feel sorry for those cows getting butt-burned with initials, but this shows us the true meaning of the word.

Branding has nothing to do with being corporate.

It has always been about differentiating yourself from everyone else, especially when your rivaling people and products are similar to you ( there was literally no visual difference between the farmer’s cow herds, hence the butt-burn of their initials ).

And when you a digital creative / entrepreneur, I think it’s in your personal interest to stand out and differentiate yourself from your competition.

So pleeease, let’s get rid of this false accusation that branding is corporate and anti-human.

The internet has blown competition to the global level. When your biz is related to the web in any way, then you’re not competing with some schlock down your street anymore. Now you’re going VS with a kid in Bangalore India, or a mommy blogger from Singapore.

If you want to survive in that challenging climate, and sell your stuff, you have to be a brand.

You MUST make yourself stand out and answer the important questions a potential
customer will ALWAYS ask you (unconsciously) :

What makes you different from your competition ? Why Should I buy from YOU ?

In order to answer this, you have to be position yourself effectively.

Which brings us to the whole labeling thing :

A lot of people whine about “I’m a complex human being and not a label. I’m fucking 4 dimensional, DON’T YOU DARE CATEGORIZING ME.”

Fat chance, you complex string of meat packs.

Labeling and categorizing is how our brain works.
Why ? Because nature is more lazy than a sloth smoking weed on a Sunday afternoon.
It wants to accomplish the most with the least amount of effort possible.

Thinking requires precious energy. Categorizing and labeling saves us energy.
Instead of assessing every experience and person every time from scratch, we simply make assumptions based on our past experience.

So, instead of crying about how unfair and degrading that is, we should use that to our advantage. That’s the power of branding. We label ourselves effectively and publicly so that people can easily put us in the category. So that potential buyers interested in that category
can find and buy from you.

That’s how …


Labeling labeling labeling, baby.
If you don’t label yourself, others will, and they may put you in a category that you won’t like.
And what’s the value in that ?

Which brings us to the last major complaint :

“Does this mean I always have to do the same things ? What if I want to do something different ?”

No, you don’t have to always to do the exact same.
In fact – if you do that you will go out of business. Kodak used to focus on solely on its
film material and analog camera empire, and went down the toilet because of it.
They refused to adapt (=change) to digital and lost their empire because of it.

You have to change and adapt if you don’t want to go under. But there’s a fine line
between adapting and evolving AND changing drastically.

If you are an author who is primarily known for family-friendly fiction, and you feel like
cranking out one hardcore porn novella at one point, yeah, I highly advise you to go for
a pen name (= different brand) IF you want to stay in business.

Because family-fiction and porn are on the opposite poles message-wise, and you will cause
a lot of needless friction and tarnish your reputation if you want to publish it under the same umbrella.

To a minor extent, this is what I believe JK Rowling did wrong with her new book.
She drastically changed her direction and style, instead of doing gradually and smartly.

Now let’s summarize it all up :

  • accept that fact that people will label you. They always have and they always will. It’s not personal, it’s just natural. Label yourself first with a category that YOU like.
  • accept that now in the 21st century and you create stuff that you want to sell, you’re a (personal) brand, whether you like it or not. You sell promises, expectations, emotions and the better you fulfill them, the more you will succeed.
  • learn the rules and break them when appropriate. Get rid of the notion that you only have to stick to one type and direction, that’s bullshit with a capital BULL. Adapt and evolve, but do it gradually and smartly. Don’t just go against what you represented before because you feel like a emo-raging teenager that needs to riot against its parents.

I needed to get this load of my mind, and I hope I clarified some of the major complaints. Branding is not a curse that stifles us, it’s an useful concept so that we can create epic shit and sell it effectively to people who want it.

Please share this post if you find it useful.

  • Turndog Millionaire

    Mars, you have got this spot on

    Branding doesn’t mean selling out, it simply means you want to stand out, which if you want to sell (ANYTHING) you need to do.

    More important than that, though, it helps you remain consistent. You take your true essence and put it on the page each and every time. You use the right colours, fonts, style, message, ideas, accent, words…for YOU.

    Top post my main man

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

    • Mars Dorian

      thanx man, yeah, I really hope that the “brand-haters” really find the value it provides.
      After all – everyone wants to sell something, right ?
      Why then flak the tactics that get you there ?
      It’s all about perception.

      • Turndog Millionaire

        Perception, this is the keyword

        Damn haters got to hate

  • Mauro D’Andrea

    Hi Mars, how are you?
    I loved your definition about nature…the “lazy sloth smoking weed on a Sunday afternoon” is officially the best joke of the week! :D

    I agree, labeling is a must in the business world: people want to know what they can expect from you.
    Recently I saw some blogs where I couldn’t understand the main topic. Great design, but really bad organization. Obviously I left because I didn’t know if they was relvant to me.

    • Mars Dorian

      ha, just wanted to make a point with that line, visually ;)

      Yeah, in the biz world, it’s even more important. At least if you want to make moolah from your ventures. I wish more people in other fields would adapt to it
      (especially creatives in the online space )

  • Rob

    I love your wrap up. Human brains are pattern recognition and labeling machines, you will always be labeled, use that to your advantage!

  • Murtaza Ali


    Simple & very digestive article. Loved your terms and examples. Thank You.

  • Craig McBreen

    Hey Mars,

    “Fat chance, you complex string of meat packs.”
    –You win a gold star for that line ;)

    I also love the three examples you gave: Pat, Srini and Ashley. I’m a big fan of each and love, love the way they deliver.

    About the term “Personal Branding” … I think arguments against it are simply a matter of semantics, really. And I never want to get bogged down arguing about the interpretation of this de-facto term. It is here to stay, like it or not.

    Also, I say bring it – Your personality, that is. If you’re a bit odd … well Mr. Godin has said that weird is in, right? But really – funny, super creative, snarky, whatever. Bring it and it will simply make your online presence rock and will resonate with the right crowd.

    So, I guess I’m saying I agree with you. People get way too hung up on arguing semantics vs. getting things done :)

    • Mars Dorian

      I almost wish there was a better name for personal branding, you know, something that wasn’t so “badly” flavored with corporate associations. You right, I think it mainly comes down to semantics.

  • Pherez

    yadda yadda yadda

  • Srinivas Rao

    Thans for the shoutout my friend. When somebody labeled us the “Oprah” of the blogosphere we realized we were doing something right. I think it’s worth paying attention to how people label you. Sometimes the way they label you is actually to your advantage if it’s an amazing one. Of course if they label you something negative that’s no good.

  • Phil Johnson

    Lovely little speech sir :]

    I hear exactly what you are saying.

    I have some crazy ass clients that don’t have any kind of branding, for the exact reasons you stated. But branding is vital to success. Whether we choose to accept it or not the human mind is conditioned to accept branding, and to use it to distinguish between out likes and dislikes.

    As an example, I can recognise the Virgin Airways TV Commercial within the first 2 seconds of frames… why? Because of the brand identity that they have created.

    How many people can recognise the Golden Arches of Maccy D’s??? Pretty much everyone I think!! Why? Because of Branding!

    The end.


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